Duds can still be stuck in the ground where bombings took place in World War II. This applies above all to larger cities and areas of facilities that were once essential to the war effort. In 2020, the Bavarian ordnance disposal service disposed of around 150 tons of ordnance. These included 63 duds from Allied high-explosive and fragmentation bombs, which the ordnance disposal service could usually render harmless on site (as of November 2021).
Around one million euros per year for ordnance disposal
The Bavarian Ministry of the Interior has commissioned a specialist company and invested around 1.2 million euros in the removal of the munitions found in 2020 (as of November 2021). The commissioned company has around ten specialists, most of whom have learned their trade with the German Armed Forces, and who also evaluate war aerial photographs. According to Interior Minister Joachim Hermann, there is no end in sight to the ammunition finds: Even decades after the end of the Second World War, remains such as bombs, grenades, bazookas and cartridge ammunition can still be found in Bavarian soil.
“Especially in places where there were bombings during wartime, for example in the vicinity of former armaments factories or in urban conurbations, you must continue to expect blind people with bombs.”
Joachim Herrmann (CSU), Minister of the Interior of Bavaria
Defuse the bomb – step one: find the duds
Some duds are just below the surface, others meters deep below. Some of these bombs are found accidentally, during construction work or by farmers. Anyone who finds a dud must report it to the police, who then notify the demolition squad around the clock, even on weekends. But you can also search for duds specifically: in road construction or in front of a house. For this purpose, aerial photos of the Allies are used, which were taken during the war shortly after the bombs were dropped. Experts can then tell whether there are duds from back then in the building area of today. The ordnance disposal services then use metal detectors to track down the bombs on site.
Disarm the bomb – step two: remove the detonating mechanism
Most duds also have to be defused on site; transporting them would often be too dangerous. Because no armored car in the world could shield a detonating aerial bomb. There is also no protective clothing for defeaters that could protect their lives in the event of an uncontrolled explosion. The bomb is exposed in the ground with excavators and shovels. The fireworkers have to be very careful, if duds are moved, they can suddenly explode. The next step: identify the ignition mechanism. A delicate moment, because if there is a detonator in the bomb, it is definitely armed. It must absolutely be removed.
“If you want to defuse bombs, there are a hundred models that you must be familiar with and you must be able to use 30 day and night. The question must no longer arise: How is it going now?”
Peter Bodes, Head of the Ordnance Disposal Service of the City of Hamburg
There are impact detonators and chemical-mechanical long-term detonators, both of which are dangerous. The older a bomb is, the more unpredictable it becomes. Because the expiry date for the explosives is well past 65 years after the end of the Second World War. Chemical intermediates can be even more explosive than the original explosive and the detonators remain functional. In Germany, for example, there is a self-detonation on average once a year.
The most dangerous moment for the defuser is turning out the detonator. In the case of chemical detonators, there is often even a dismantling block. It triggers the detonator immediately when it is turned out. That is why these bombs have to be defused in a special way. With a water granulate cutting device, the shell between the firing pin and the explosive is separated under high water pressure and the bomb is rendered harmless. It’s pretty quick and can take less than five minutes if everything goes well.
But now the detonator, which can still detonate, is right next to the bomb. This means that the defusers then carefully carry the detonator away from her and blow it up separately, another dangerous situation.
Incidentally, the big duds, where entire parts of the city have to be evacuated in a media-effective manner, are rather rare. Smaller HE shells, used as ammunition by both the Allies and the Germans during World War II, are very common. Although they contain less explosives, only 20 grams of explosives, they are just as deadly for people in the immediate vicinity. They can suddenly explode, for example if they are shaken. This is the most common dud accidents in Germany.
Structure of a chemical-mechanical detonator
Disarm the bomb – step three: destroy the explosives
Sometimes bombs and ammunition are blown on site.
Once the experts have removed the detonators from the duds, all that remains is to destroy the explosives. Thousands of defused bombs, grenades and cartridges are stored on the premises of the demolition squad in the north of Munich. In frost-free times, when there is a lot of construction, two tons of ammunition are delivered here every month. The fireworks can only destroy one ton per month. The rest of them have to wait until winter until the men from the demolition squad have time again. The grenades and cartridges end up in a burst-proof furnace, and the explosives burn with a loud bang.
Ordnance clearance – who pays?
- The search by metal detector or aerial photography has to be paid for by everyone.
- The Free State of Bavaria paid for the defusing of the duds by the demolition squad.
- The Free State of Bavaria pays for the removal of allied explosives, and for the German Reich the federal government as the legal successor to the “Third Reich”.
- Bavaria provides a total of one million euros each year for the recovery and destruction of Allied ammunition, the Ministry of the Interior is responsible.
- Explosive legacy: duds under our feet: on September 4th, 2020 at 3:15 pm in “Quarks”, ARD-alpha
- Explosive contaminated sites – deadly legacy underground: on May 6th, 2020 at 1:20 p.m., ARD-alpha
- The bomb next door – old weapons more and more dangerous: on July 18th, 2018 at 1:45 p.m., ARD-alpha
- Old war burdens – deadly legacy underground ?: on August 29, 2015 at 10.30 am in “X-enius”, BR television
- Beware of the risk of explosion: on September 11, 2014 at 4 pm in “W wie Wissen”, ARD alpha