Murphy's Law: November 20, 2001


: Blasts From The Past- Unexploded ordnance (UXO) continues to patiently wait for discovery, decades after the conflicts that spawned them have been forgotten by the majority of civilians. Cities across the globe are undergoing construction booms, and World War I Western Front and World War II Eastern Front battlefields are particularly likely spots to find these hidden treasures.

The glass dome and observation deck of the German Reichstag were temporarily closed on 14 November, after a World War Two-era 25-kilogram bomb (built from a Russian shell) was found nearby. Unearthed during construction work in front of the building, the bomb disposal experts carried out a controlled explosion.

Many of these UXOs would make an extremely memorable impression, if they went off. In November 2000, Hamburg's red-light district was sealed off as a 4,000-pound British "Blockbuster" bomb was made safe while traffic in Europe's second busiest port after Rotterdam came to a halt. Cargo ships were anchored upstream, major roads were closed and 600 police evacuated the population within two miles.

In August, three experts defused a 1.3 ton bomb discovered in a popular city park in Berlin. Only four other copies of this 6 1/2 foot long bomb have been discovered A dredge operator was clearing a section of the Elbe River in September 1999 scraped his bucket against another live "Blockbuster" and, thinking it was a rock, knocked the dredge's bucket against the shell's midsection to get a firmer grip. After the mud-caked bomb cleared the water, he thought it was only a water boiler.

Sappers and ordnance experts across the world have become fairly adept at defusing these antiques. Italian Army munitions experts took 70 minutes on the afternoon of 5 August to neuter an 1100 pound World War II bomb found during construction near Rome's Trastevere train station. In the morning, 2,565 people living in a radius of 250 meters were evacuated. All utilities, including water, gas and electricity were cut off in the area and public transport was either stopped or re-routed. After studying the design for ten days, the Italian sappers started at 3:05 PM and only had problems unscrewing the rusted parts of the bomb. The operation was concluded by 4:15 PM and area re-opened by 4:30 PM. 

In July, a 330 pound World War II bomb was discovered in the Volgograd region's Novozhiznenskoye experimental farm (Gorodishchensk), the site of fierce fighting between Soviet and Nazi forces in the 1942-43 period. Sappers spent several hours defusing the device, which was then destroyed in a controlled explosion. On 21 May, about 5,000 people were evacuated from their homes in Oranienburg (north of Berlin) as explosives experts defused a U.S.-made 1,000-pound bomb discovered in a 
construction site. Experts only took about three hours to defuse the bomb.

On 22 April, Italian authorities in Vicenza evacuated 77,000 (two thirds of the population of the northern Italian city, 325 miles northeast of Rome) for several hours so experts could disarm a 4,000-pound unexploded bomb dropped a RAF raid on 2 April 1944. Discovered several weeks prior buried in Vicenza's main cemetery, the UXO was successfully defused shortly after midday.

Sometimes the ordnance was just forgotten and left behind in the heat of battle. On 31 May, municipal water supply workers came on a stock of rocket projectiles and 46-76 mm artillery shells as they were repairing water pipes in Volgograd (wartime Stalingrad). Army sappers were summoned to remove the explosives and work continued before another stock of sixty shells were unearthed. These were harder to access, since they were under a paved sidewalk. 

The problem persists beyond Europe as well. In Australia, the Northern Territory police sectioned off an area in Carey Street Darwin on 23 August 2001 and stopped traffic while a 30-centimetre long World War II bomb examined and taken away by ordnance experts.

In Teresa, Philippines, five treasure hunters who discovered an unexploded World War II bomb in March 1998, were killed when it detonated. At the time the bomb exploded, these geniuses were pounding on it with hammers in an attempt to open it up. - Adam Geibel




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