Half the German city of Koblenz, about 45,000 people, will be evacuated this weekend to defuse a two ton bomb found in the Rhine River when its waters ran abnormally low. It was probably dropped by a British Lancaster during a bombing raid on the night of November 6, 1944. It was the fourth time in its long history that Koblenz had been destroyed.
Here is an aerial surveillance photo of Koblenz taken the day after after the Nov 6 night bombing.
Koblenz traded in Rhine wines at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle Rivers. Its name means "merging of the rivers." On a clear night, you can see the river intersection, which makes for a wonderful visual aiming point for night bombers.
The anti-bombing argument is that Koblenz contained no militarily significant targets but rather was bombed to test the new Gee-H bombing system, where bombers dropped their bombs at the intersection of signals from two radio stations. It was far better than dropping bombs by dead reckoning, ie calculating your drop from heading and airspeed. Europe has a lot of mediocre weather and often is covered by clouds, which prevents visual acquisition of targets. However, the bottom line is that you don't win a war by sparing the enemy. You bomb their brains out until you break their will to make war. In the case of Germany, that required the British and Americans to drop 2,770,540 tons of bombs on Germany and all things associated with Germany.
The November 6 raid was led by a pathfinder group of twenty-four Avro Lancaster bombers of the RAF Number 3 Bomber Group, all equipped with Gee-H. Only half the sets worked, but that was enough. They laid down their flares and bombs on the city at 7:28 PM. One hundred four Lancasters followed. The fires and flares from the lead group lit the streets of Koblenz clearly for them. They dropped their bombs at 7:50 PM. In total, they dropped twenty-three high explosive bombs, 120 blockbusters, and 153,392 incendiary sticks.
This bomb they found in the Rhine is one of the blockbusters, so called by the press of the time because it could destroy a city block. The Brits developed these giant bombs, which were too big to be carried by aircraft of any other air force, to damage buildings so that incendiary bombs dropped with them would be more effective. If you break open the buildings, it's easier for the fire bombs to start fires.
A 4000 pound blockbuster was a thin-skinned bomb carrying 3000 pounds of Amatol explosive. It was not aerodynamic. It had no fins. It was basically a big, long garbage can full of explosive that you sent tumbling off to the terra. It was no smart bomb, but rather more like a big, dumb, brontosaurus bomb that smashed up everything within blocks of its impact.
Just to give you some sense of scale, the standard bomb of the USAF is the 500 lb Mk 82 General Purpose bomb. You need to maintain half a mile of clearance from the impact of one of those bad boys to avoid fragging yourself. One spectacularly unlucky F-4 crew fragged itself from over a mile away. Evidently, the super hard bomb lugs which hold the bomb to the bomb rack can be projected much further than a mile but you have to have freaky bad luck to get hit by one of those.
By contrast, a 4000 pound blockbuster is eight times as heavy as a Mk 82. You couldn't drop it any lower than 5000 feet, a mile up, for fear of fragging yourself. The bomb itself was unsafe to carry. If you had to jettison it, which happenned often in WWII when a target was weathered out, the airflow over the bomb could inadvertently detonate it. If a blockbuster detonated under your aircraft, there wouldn't be enough left to pick your teeth with.
The raid went well, one of the most accurate carpet bombings of the war, with most of the bombs falling with a mile wide circle. The fires caught on in the backyards of the city, the thermite incediaries igniting curtains and waxed floors of the smashed buildings, then proceeding down the streets. The individual fires joined into three large areas, which then joined together to make one huge firestorm about 1 AM. Rain during the night did nothing to quench it while a wind kicked up that fanned the flames. The departing aircrews of the Lancasters could see the flames all the way from Brussels.
The British Bombing Survey Unit estimated that 303 acres, 58 per cent of the town's built-up area, were destroyed. Others say 85 percent of Old Town, the center of the bombing, was destroyed. Surprisingly, only 120 Germans were killed. Most of them, seeing the rain of ruin on other German cities, had long since departed for the countryside. Two Lancasters were lost.
Horst Lenz, 56, the regional head of bomb-disposal, thinks it could be centuries before all the lost and unexploded bombs could be cleared, "Think about it: After 2,000 years, we are still finding the occasional sword from the Roman military campaigns here," he said. Compare that to the nearly 2 million tons of bombs dropped on Germany less than 70 years ago, he added, and "we definitely have a lot more to find."
French and Belgium farmers on the old trench lines of WWI have been digging up unexploded ordnance for nearly a century. Maybe a quarter of the shells back then were duds. Some areas have an average of one unexploded artillery shell buried per square meter. The farmers dig them up and place them on the side of the road for the government UXO teams to collect. They call it the "Iron Harvest." The French Département du Déminage (Department of Mine Clearance) collects 900 tons of unexploded munitions per year. Every now and then, they detonate, killing a bomb disposal guy. In other words, WWI is still producing casualties, even though all the troops who served in the war are dead, except one.
Even here in America, people are still being killed by the Civil War, like this knucklehead digging up an old cannon ball.
Clark Air Base in the Philippines, where I was stationed in the early 1980s, had unexploded ordnance buried here and there. A concrete pad bearing picnic tables had unknowingly been placed over an ordnance dump of WWII munitions, one of which spontaneously detonated in 1982, a day after it had been used.
The Japanese Kempu group had made their last stand in a series of caves and trenches on Lilly Hill when the US recaptured the base in January 1945. There was so much expended and unexpended ordnance up there that they allowed the foliage to grow and declared it off limits. The monsoon rains sometimes washed ordnance out, like the grenade which was deposited at the foot of the hill in the elementary school playground.
There was an apocryphal story about the Clark Air Base Open Officer's Mess, the CABOOM. To pass from the parking lot to the door of the CABOOM, everyone was funnelled through a gate next to the tennis court. Over the years, the asphalt at that gate was worn down to reveal metal underneath. After a few more years, somebody got curious as to what that bare metal might be, so they dug it up to find an unexploded bomb.
Of course, with the way we plastered Japan, they're finding unexploded ordnance everywhere. Some construction workers building a road in Okinawa found 902 pieces of unexploded ordnance this year. The Japanese military disposes of forty tons of unexploded ordnance each year. The US dropped 3.4 million tons of bombs on Japan in WWII. If 5% of those did not explode, then that's 170,000 tons of aerial bombs alone that remain in Japan, not even counting all the other splodey things we hurled at them. If they're only disposing of forty tons per year, that's like emptying a swimming pool with a coffee cup. The Japanese, being optimists, believe it will take only eighty years to remove the rest. In the meantime, six Japanese have been killed by the US bombing campaign of WWII in the last twenty years.
Americans are still be killed by WWII friendly fire. In 2009, Marine Staff Sgt. John H. Roy III, 32, of Muscogee, GA was preparing a WWII-era shell for disposal at Camp Foster, Okinawa when it detonated, killing him.