May 13, 2010:
In Germany, several pigs foraging for food, dug up a World War II era anti-tank rocket. This was the single shot Panzerfaust, a cheap weapon that Russians later modified into the multi-shot RPG series of rocket launchers. Over six million Panzerfausts were manufactured by 1945, and thousands are still buried throughout Germany, Russia, Italy and France. Many have been removed from collapsed buildings in cities that were fought over during World War II, and then rebuilt. The Panzerfaust was an ideal weapon for knocking out tanks in urban areas.
The bomb squad was called to carefully remove the Panzerfaust, because the explosives still have some bang left in them. European bomb squads still get lots of practice doing this sort of thing. The most dangerous jobs involve larger munitions.
Two years ago, three unexploded World War II allied bombs were found outside the German town of Kaiserslautern. Here, during World War II, 60 percent of the buildings in the area were destroyed by allied bombs. Many of those bombs did not go off, and were buried in the rubble. Since then, every few years, more are uncovered. The recent find was a hundred meters from a rail line, and 300 from a residential neighborhood. Everything in the area was shut down for half a day, as bomb disposal teams came in to disarm the weapons and haul them away.
World War II era munitions continue to show up throughout Europe. Although most of the millions of land mines were removed from Europe within a few years of the war ending in 1945, there are still a huge number of unexploded of grenades, shells, rockets and bombs buried all over the place. At least the mine fields were easy to find, although dangerous to clear. But the remaining munitions were left behind, in unrecorded locations, for some pretty simple reasons. First of all, many bombs, artillery and mortar shells (over ten percent, for some manufacturers) do not explode when they are supposed to, but just buried themselves into the ground. These shells are still full of explosives, and often have a fuze that, while defective, is often still capable of going off if disturbed. Other munitions were left in bunkers, or elsewhere on the battlefield, and got buried and lost. Most of these lost munitions eventually get found by farmers, or anyone digging up the ground for construction. London and Berlin, two of the most heavily bombed cities during World War II, still suffer from construction crews unearthing unexploded bombs.
The problem goes back farther than World War II. Unexploded munitions from the World War I (which ended in 1918), and the American Civil War, which ended in 1865, are still showing up, and some of them are still deadly. Currently, over a thousand World War II munitions are discovered each year in Europe.