Friday, 2 December 2011

Problems in the Rhine ...

Attention in Germany, certainly along the Rhine at the moment, is not on the crisis over the €uro, it is focussed on Koblenz. We have had a very dry Autumn here and the Rhine is at it's lowest recorded level since the 1920s. This has, in turn, meant that a lot of things are now exposed to view, which brings me back to Koblenz.

The low water level has exposed a lot of unexploded ordnance from 1939 - 45, most of it unexploded bombs. These have had to be made safe, detonated or recovered and removed to a safe location, and the German Ordnance teams have been busy. Just as everyone thought they'd found everything they were going to, they've found a real lulu of a bomb. An aerial "mine" weighing in at around 1.8 metric tonnes (4,000lbs of explosive charge in 'Imperial' weights, around 5,000lbs all told) and it is very close to the heart of Koblenz. Worse, it is still very much alive despite 60 years in the mud and water of the Rhine.

It is now planned to attempt to defuse it and make it safe on Sunday. So, what's the big deal?

If things go wrong during this operation, just about everything in a 300 yard radius will be flattened, windows up to 2,000 yards away will be smashed, roofs will be damaged or torn off and as for the people ... The trouble is that there are some 45,000 people living within the area that could be affected, so they all have to be evacuated for the duration. This includes the residents of seven Old Age Homes, two Hospitals an enormous number of blocks of flats, umpteen hotels and so on. Even the Intercity Train services (IC and ICE super trains) are stopping at Köln and Mainz and the Koblenz Bahnhof is closed to all traffic. All shipping will be held at points above and below the city as well.

Just to complicate things, the rains have begun. It may be a day or two before the river begins to rise again, but a dam has had to be constructed around the bomb so it can be accessed in safety - if standing next to it can be considered 'safe' - and not submerged while they work on the thing. It is definitely going to be a very tricky operation.

These bombs were dropped on a parachute and designed to detonate about 30 metres (100 feet) above the ground. This smashed down everything in a radius of 300 metres, tore roofs off up to 2,000 metres and opened the way for the incendiary bombs the Allies followed one up with. Even sat in the mud and shingle of the Rhine, this bomb has the potential to wreck the heart of Koblenz, a city that has withstood the French invasions of the 17th - 18th Centuries and various other upheavals including the bombardment of WW2. It has been rebuilt and recovered from each of these events painfully. Let's hope this latest threat can be averted.

All I can say is that I'm glad I'm not one of those in the Emergency Services having to plan and execute an evacuation of this size - and even more glad we're not among those being evacuated. My thoughts and prayers will be with everyone involved in the coming days.


  1. Apparently everything is now in place for tomorrow and they have moved all the patients and OAPs, plus an entire prison ... Tomorrow they'll move everyone else early in the morning and somewhere around midday there'll be a large bang and hopefully nothing else!