It is over seventy years since the Second World War ended in 1945 yet we still regularly hear stories of unexploded ordnance around the UK. As recently as February 2018, there was an unexploded WWII bomb found near London Airport that forced its closure and measures to be taken to deal with it. So why do we still have problems with these old, unexploded bombs and what happens if you find one?
According to figures from the Ministry of Defence (MoD), they have been involved with the safe disposal of 450 German WWII bombs in the last eight years – around 60 a year. This doesn’t account for the additional work done by private companies who work to back up the military and assist with this dangerous and specialist work.
In fact, one estimate by a private contractor said the figure is around 8,000 a year based on theirs and others work. This includes bombs but also grenades and mortars. And not all of these are from World War II
Many of these cases don’t make it into the news. The biggest devices that are discovered tend to be the ones that make the headlines – for the obvious reasons and mainly because they require hundreds of people to be evacuated from the potential danger area. But many smaller devices are routinely dealt with by the military and expert contractors with few people realising that itis taking place. And not everything is from the war – unexploded ordnance from training exercises can also cause problems but these tend to be confined to training areas.
The good news is that while there may be far more unexploded ordnance that people realise through a combination of factors, the chance of someone literally stumbling across something is relatively small. For example, bombs dropped during WWII were mostly focused on major cities and critical infrastructure such as railway junctions, ports or military facilities.
The London City Airport bomb was the 4th 500kg bomb that the MoD had dealt with in the last 15 months. Others were in London, Bath and in Portsmouth. Larger bombs were dropped towards the end of the war, with the typical German bomb being 50-250kg. And they also estimate that about10% of bombs dropped didn’t explode on impact; some of which were designed that way to catch the unsuspectingbomb disposal operator.
London is far and away the most likely place to see unexploded bombs and other ordnance. Figures obtained by the BBC show that there have been over 48,000 unexploded bombs discovered around the capital. The next highest number is 6,200 in Bristol, 4,400 in Birmingham and 3,400 in Coventry.
This is why it seems that most of the unexploded ordnance found seem to be in London – that and the fact that there is a lot of renovation work taking place in the capital. Like many city centres, there is a drive to renew and upgrade facilities and housing and digging new foundations means there is an increased chance of discovering an unpleasant reminder of the past.
Getting the right help
While finding unexploded ordnance is terrifying, the chances are very slim any of us will ever need to have a visit from a bomb or Mine Disposal Equipment experts to deal with a leftover from past times. If you do come across something that you are concerned may be dangerous in any way, it is always important to contact the authorities immediately. They can then arrange for the military or experts to visit the site with specialist equipment and deal with the problem. Never try to move or investigate the bomb and keep everyone away until the experts arrive.