Unexploded WW2 bombs threaten civilian safety


Although WW2 bombs are largely relics of the past, hundreds of unexploded WW2 bombs are still lodged underground, corroding more each year and posing a lethal threat to unsuspecting civilians. Last October, one of the largest WW2 bomb explosions occurred when the whopping 12,000-pound Tallboy bomb detonated underwater in Swinoujscie, on the Baltic coast. Overall damage was minimal since the massive bomb had exploded underwater at the bottom of a river. However, such detonations of lethal WW2 bombs foreshadow the disaster and casualties that may result if such bombs explode in the middle of highly populated areas. In fact, many bombs have been found in the center of cities and towns, such as the 500kg bomb at Heathrow Airport. Other than Britain, other European countries heavily involved in the WW2 conflict such as Germany, Bavaria, and France are also plagued by the growing hazard of unexploded bombs lodged deep underground. The Baltic Sea with its massive stores of dumped WW2 chemical weapons is especially alarming considering the deleterious long-term health effects of chemical weapons. 

“WW2 bombs are nothing close to modern bombs,” said Leo Byun (9), military enthusiast. “Even the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are less powerful than the vast majority of modern hydrogen bombs. But they are still potent bombs capable of inflicting serious injuries if not fatalities to unsuspecting civilians. Chemical bombs especially would severely deteriorate the health of a large civilian population compared to conventional bombs because chemicals can spread throughout a large area.”

The frequency with which unexploded WW2 bombs are being discovered and the potential risk of such bombs being chemical weapons poses not only an immediate threat to lives but a potential detriment to civilians’ health in the long run. Every year, more than 2,000 tons of unexploded ammunition is found in Germany, according to the Smithsonian Magazine, which is equivalent to the total tonnage of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki. An explosion of these massive tons of ammunition would surely wipe out parts of cities and towns, or at the very least, start a large city fire. Even more problematic is the potential explosion of chemical bombs. The most recent discovery of an intact, unexploded chemical bomb was in 2015, when a deadly mustard gas bomb was found right off the Danish island of Bornholm, one of Denmark’s largest fisheries. The explosion of the mustard gas bomb would have severely injured local fishermen in the area and shut down Denmark’s key fisheries by contaminating the fish and the waters with toxic mustard gas. If consumed, fish contaminated with chemical warfare agents can cause painful burning, rashes, and even fatalities in critical cases. But what is most alarming is that the mustard gas bomb discovered in 2015 is just one of the thousands of chemical munitions lurking in the depths of the Baltic Sea. Following WW2, Britain and the Soviet Union dumped around 65,000 tonnes of Nazi chemical weapons into the Baltic Sea, meaning many tonnes of discarded chemical bombs are slowly corroding in its depths, leaking harmful chemicals, and slowly nearing a potential mass explosion. The explosion of such bombs over the next few decades would be catastrophic for both people and wildlife as it would contaminate the entire body of water with toxic chemicals, affecting both the immediate health of seafood consumers and several generations of their descendants.

“Throughout history, chemical weapons have proven to be especially destructive,” said James Kowalski, AP US History teacher. “During the Vietnam War, for example, the American soldiers’ use of Agent Orange, a toxic plant killer for wiping out thick tropical forests, proved to have extremely deleterious effects on human health. Aside from causing rashes, Agent Orange has had long-term repercussions including thousands of birth deformities that affected several generations. Similarly, an undetonated chemical bomb going off would not only cause immediate casualties but critical long-term effects of birth defects and gradual weakening of the immune system if the lethal chemicals are released.”

Every year, WW2 bombs grow more and more dangerous as corrosion weakens the safety locks on the bombs’ detonators. Spontaneous explosions of unexploded WW2 bombs are alarmingly more common than ever nowadays as the eight decades of corrosion start taking their toll on bomb detonators. To deal with this increasingly dangerous lethal threat, government and military officials are taking quick action to defuse the bombs. Consisting of skilled bomb technicians, specially trained bomb-disposal squads risk their lives every day to disarm corroded WW2 bombs. Despite their expertise, however, some WW2 bombs are simply too dangerous to disarm due to excessive corrosion. If a disarming operation is deemed too risky, the bombs are intentionally detonated. Intentional detonation in itself is a high-risk method that requires placing the bombs in holes that are at least 4 ft deep and burying them with several tons of industrial explosives and dirt for canceling out the explosive force of the target bomb. Most recently, the Chinese military intentionally detonated 885 Japanese WW2 bombs in 2018, saving the lives of hundreds of local residents and sparing the environment critical damage. WW2 bombs will only pose an increasingly hazardous threat in the future with corrosion, but increased efforts by military and government officials to defuse or safely detonate the bombs will hopefully minimize the destructive capacity of the bombs.

“I think the element of fear posed by the unexploded bombs alone is enough to critically demoralize people living in areas susceptible to bomb detonations,” said Sean Lee (10), a passionate traveler concerned about the safety of his European destinations. “Just thinking about it makes me nervous. Most of the bombs are buried deep underground meaning some of the bombs might explode without warning even before officials are able to evacuate the area. I think it is imperative that governments and militaries defuse all the bombs as soon as possible.”