June 8, 2010:
In Germany, a two thousand pound (910 kg) bomb went off in the city of Goettingen on June 1st. The explosion killed three, wounded six and heavily damaged three nearby homes. The bomb was dropped over 65 years ago, and was discovered eight meters (24 feet) underground as work on a sports stadium was underway. This is not an unusual occurrence, as more than 2,000 tons of World War II explosives are unearthed each year in Germany. Most are found in cities that were heavily bombed. In the last two months, four such bombs were found in Berlin alone.
Usually there are no casualties, as Germany has highly skilled crews of bomb disposal technicians. But the fuzes that did not go off in the 1940s, are now getting old and more prone to detonation while being disabled.
Its not just bombs. Earlier this year, a World War II era anti-tank rocket was unearthed in Germany. It was a 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.
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.