Dangerous war relics bomb explosions: the danger is getting worse

Every year a bomb goes off in the German-speaking world – all by itself. Often they are smaller, but there are also those with several hundred kilos of explosives. 75 years after the end of the war, the danger of bomb explosions is far from over.

It is impossible to say exactly how many bombs are still in German soil. Deutschlandfunk Nova reporter Cedrik Pelka is on site during a defusing operation. He has seen for himself that even if a bomb is found, it does not mean that it can be defused.

The bomb found in Soest weighs 500 kilos. It is located right next to a transformer station – which makes it a special challenge, Cedrik explains. Within a radius of 500 meters is evacuated. Hours later, the news comes: The defusing is canceled because the risk is too high – it must be blown up. The detonation will be felt as far as the city center.

Detonator decisive for danger

How dangerous a bomb still is 75 years after the end of the war depends on its fuse, explains Karl-Heinz Clemens of the Westphalia-Lippe Explosive Ordnance Disposal Service. If a bomb detonates via an impact fuse, a bolt strikes the so-called detonator as soon as the bomb hits the ground, and the explosive detonates. This has not happened with countless bombs at the time for various reasons – often it was luck.

If such a bomb is still in the ground, it is possible that vibrations will cause it to ignite late after all. If, for example, an excavator drives over the area, this could lead to the detonator hitting the firing pin and thus initiating the ignition.

Another type of detonator is a chemical-mechanical long-life detonator. It was designed to go off only when people thought they were safe again after a hail of bombs, explains Karl-Heinz Clemens. A period of between half an hour and a few hours – but sometimes it just didn’t go off at all.

The detonator works by means of a glass ampoule containing acid. When this is destroyed, the acid eats through a celluloid disc and releases a preloaded firing pin – then there is an explosion.

Accidents are rare

Such a detonator is also in the bomb in Soest. If it were to be defused or removed, the danger would be far too great that it would explode after all, explains Deutschlandfunk Nova reporter Cedrik Pelka. But: Accidents with unexploded ordnance are rare. The last time an excavator operator died was in 2014 when he hit a bomb and it exploded. Pedestrians can hardly cause such a detonation, because the bombs lie too low.

Ignition systems become more unstable

Nevertheless, there is a danger: The ignition systems become more unstable over time, explains Karl-Heinz Clemens. Over the years, for example, fine cracks could develop through which water enters. If it mixes with metal and explosives, ignitable substances could be produced.

In addition, many bombs cannot be accurately located even by reconstructing the drop forts. Due to fills, changes in location or because of the depth of the bombs, it is not easy to look for them. They continue to lie in the ground and could still go off at some point.

  • 16. July 2020
  • Author: Cedrik Pelka, Deutschlandfunk Nova

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