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Thursday, 21 August 2014

Big Bang ...

Yesterday a stretch of the A3 (Autobahn A3, not the UK one), was closed to traffic in both directions near Frankfurt-am-Main. The reason was the six metre (18 feet) wide and four metre (12 feet) deep hole in the southbound carriageway, the result of the detonation of a WW2 500kg (1,100 lb) bomb that was exposed during routine repairs.

Attempts to defuse it were stopped when it was discovered that the chemical fuse was so badly corroded it could not be done with any hope of safety. So the decision was taken to detonate the bomb and hope for the best. Traffic on the A3 was stopped overnight, the bomb prepared by the Bundeswehr Bomb disposal team and the area evacuated for a considerable distance. Then the thing was triggered. Reports say the nearby town of Offenbach felt the blast, flights had to be stopped at Frankfurt Airport as it was on the approach path and there has generally been a bit of a stir.

Now the dust has settled, from the blast, not the ramifications, the Autobahn is being repaired. The northbound carriageway has reopened, but the southbound one will not open until the repairs are completed. That is expected to be at the weekend. But now it begs a major question. THis is just one of the bombs found this week. Another, in Marburg, also had to be destroyed by detonating it, and it is well known there are hundreds more of these unexploded weapons buried, some of them in densely populated areas, in Germany.

The stretch of the Autobahn beneath which this particular bomb has lain since around 1944, is one the Monk has travelled more than once. So have millions of motorists over the years, and repairs to the carriageways regularly uncover these things. Recently, a widening of the A3 autobahn saw several workers killed and injured when a mechanical digger hit a similar bomb and it detonated. The Head of Bomb Disposal admitted on television and radio that a large part of the problem is the chemical detonators, used by the British in the 1,000lb bombs, frequently failed, is difficult to remove even when it is undamaged, but impossible when they are corroded. And that is what is now happening. The damned things are corroding quietly and can trigger a detonation without warning. He states that he knows of 40 'spontaneous detonations' occuring since he took office.

A part of the problem is that in the post war clear-up, a lot of these bombs were simply buried, some of them under concrete, many lie under roads, railways and car parks. More are under buildings and even new housing estates built since the 1970s on 'greenfield' sites are turning up unexploded bombs that missed targets by a wide margin. Scarcely a week goes by without someone digging one up, and though they are sometimes lucky, and the bomb can be defused and removed, often, as in Marburg and on the A3 at Offenbach, they can't be.

The reactions of people here to them 'turning up' is interesting. There is a sort of collective shrug, and well oiled preparations go into play in preparation for yet another big bang. I expect it is a result of knowing the danger and dealing with it. Many of my elderly neighbours actually lived through the events that made Germany the most heavily bombed country in history, and they are quite relaxed about it. The general feeling is 'Thank God it was found before ...'

It does make one grateful for the fact that, living well outside any of the target zones, we have no known ordnance beneath our feet!  

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