Working on a construction site, it’s not unusual to find objects that might seem out of place. Whether it’s jewelry, antiques, and in some cases, even ancient artifacts, it’s easy for things to become buried under the ground, only to be discovered years later by the construction workers digging into the earth. However, one construction crew in Germany couldn’t believe their eyes when they uncovered a deadly item that was buried deep beneath the ground of a bustling city. Once they realized what it was, they knew it wasn’t just their lives that were in danger.
Just Like Any Other Day
Back in 2016, a construction team was working hard in Augsburg, one of the oldest cities to ever exist in Germany. At the time, they were in good spirits, as the job was going well and they hadn’t run into any major issues at that point, something that’s rare when working on a construction site.
However, once their digging tools struck a large object, they halted their work. It was at this point, they knew they had found something out of the ordinary.
It Was The Holiday Season
The construction crew was in anticipation of Christmas, which was just one week away. Many of them were looking to get some time off work to spend with their families. A lot of their relatives were also visiting from out of town.
Yet, once the crew learned what they had found beneath the earth, they wished that all of their loved ones were as far away from the city as possible.
Bringing In A Specialist
Being safe rather than sorry, the crew knew that the only thing to do now was to bring in a specialist to examine the object. With no other options, they made the call.
Five days after the specialist visited the site and ran some tests, officials were forced to make the decision whether to evacuate the whole city or not. At this point, the public was unaware as to what was going on.
Identifying The Object
To everyone’s horror the object they unearthed turned out to be an unexploded two-ton bomb, right in the heart of the city.
Judging by the type of bomb it was concluded that it was one that was supposed to be detonated during World War II, a horrifically deadly conflict that lasted between 1939 and 1945. If the bomb had in fact gone off when it was supposed to, it’s likely the city of Augsburg may not have existed today.
One Of The Countless Bombs
During World War II, there was certainly no shortage of bombs. Throughout the conflict, more than 2.7 million tons of bombs were dropped on Europe by both the British and United States air forces, wreaking havoc on the Axis forces.
Incredibly, 1.35 million tons of these bombs were dropped on Germany alone, devastating the major parts of the country. Regardless, the Axis forces in Europe refused to surrender regardless of the relentless bombings until May 1945.
Germany Was In Ruins
By the time the Nazis finally waved the white flag, their country was in utter ruins. In fact, the majority of their country had been reduced to nothing more than rubble.
The Nazi soldiers had suffered defeat from the allies, and in the process, entire cities had been decimated by relentless bombings by the Allies. Incredibly, while some areas of certain cities had been reduced to dust, some other parts remained eerily untouched by the bombings.
A Frightening Amount Of Unexploded Bombs
Unbelievably, it’s estimated that around ten percent of the millions of tons of bombs that were dropped never exploded and were buried by the piles of ash that made up the newly named East and West Germany.
After the conclusion of the war, German cities began to slowly rebuild under the watchful eye of the occupying Allied soldiers. However, builders and soldiers couldn’t keep track of where some bombs had fallen that had never detonated.
Assessing The Situation
The city officials of Augsburg gave the bomb’s location and the retrieval responsibilities over to the Kampfmittelbeseitigungsdienst (KMBD), in hopes they would be able to solve the problem.
The KMBD forces are a bomb disposal unit made of trained police officers and firefighters whose job is to handle situations exactly like this.
The Search Never Ends
Even in 2020, the KMBD is still hard at work removing thousands of tons of bombs that remain covered under the earth in Germany. Unfortunately, many of them still haven’t been found, which makes building and working on construction particularly hairy in some parts of Germany.
When Horst Reinhardt, the chief of the Brandenburg state KMBD joined the force in the 1980s, he never imagined that he would still be doing the same job more than 30 years later.
People Don’t Understand the Severity Of The Situation
Incredibly, every year, the KMBD teams still discover close to 500 tons of weaponry and have to regularly defuse bombs that were dropped by Allied strategic bomber planes. Horst expressed his concern when he stated, “People simply don’t know that there are still many bombs that are under the ground.”
The hardest part is both finding these unexploded bombs, as well as informing the public to be extremely cautious when they are digging into the ground in order to avoid a catastrophe.
The Job Isn’t For The Faint Of Heart
As you can imagine, being a member of the KMBD takes a lot of training and a lot of bravery, considering they’re defusing old bombs.
According to Horst, “You need a clear head. And calm hands. If you’re afraid, you can’t do it. For us, it’s a completely normal job. In the same way that a baker bakes bread, we defuse bombs.” Clearly, it’s not a job for everyone, and it takes a certain type of person to do it.
Horst’s Team Is Only A Fraction Of The Bomb Defusing Effort
Although Horst and his team do a lot of work on their own, they are only a small part of the German bomb retrieving effort. Nationally, KMDB teams have located 2,000 tons of unexploded materials, which is a frightening number.
Over seventy years have passed since the bloody conflict that was World War II has ended, and there’s still no end to finding these unexploded bombs in sight.
Precautions When Building
Today, in many parts of Germany, before a new construction project breaks ground, typically, there’s a survey completed of the area, although they aren’t always precise.
For example, at one point, 20,000 people were evacuated from Cologne, Germany, when a one-ton bomb was found in the city during a construction project. Incredibly, the bomb found in Augsburg was twice that size!
However, the bomb found in Cologne isn’t the only one that resulted in an evacuation of the surrounding population. Another 20,000 Dortmund citizens were evacuated while a half-ton bomb was in the process of being defused.
On top of that, 45,000 residents in Koblenz were also evacuated in 2011 when a bomb was discovered at the bottom of the Rhine River. Luckily, none of the evacuations took place during the holiday season, which was the case in Augsburg.
The KMBD Had Their Concerns
When the KMBD arrived on the scene in Augsburg, they were eerie about what they were looking at. As it turns out, the bomb that had been uncovered belonged to the British Royal Air Force.
Concerned for the safety of the whole population of the city, they prompted the largest evacuation since World War II. Fifty-four thousand people in Augsburg would be forced to leave their homes. What’s worse is that it would have to be on Christmas morning.
Deciding On The Perfect Time To Evacuate
The construction team discovered the bomb on the 20th of December, but the city waited until Christmas to enforce the evacuation for specific purposes.
City officials claimed that “On a working day, the evacuation would be much more difficult since the whole work and business life would be disrupted. On a holiday there is also less traffic.” Even though this would surely put a damper on the city residents’ Christmas, it was the best possible solution.
Getting The Citizens Out Of The City
In order to ensure that the evacuation went as smoothly as possible, the city used over 100 buses and trams to help the citizens of Augsburg out of the city as quickly as possible.
At the same time, police and other officials walked the streets with air horns and megaphones to notify anyone that hadn’t heard about the evacuation order.
Defusing The Bomb
At 3 PM on Christmas day, two bomb-defusing experts from Würzburg got to work on the explosive. At the time, they were the only two people let within a mile of where the bomb had been found at the construction site.
With all of the citizens safely out of harm’s way, it was time to get to work. However, even though the citizens were out of the city, they still didn’t want to risk the explosive detonating and destroying the surrounding area.
It Was A Tedious Process
Considering that both of the men’s lives were at risk, as well as the safety of the surrounding buildings, the two bomb experts worked tirelessly for hours to make sure that the job was done right.
The experts also were surrounded by a wall of sandbags just in case an explosion to happen. It was a stressful four hours, but in the end, they were successful. Everyone breathed a big sigh of relief that nothing went wrong.
Christmas Was Back On
Luckily, the two-man bomb team was successful in their mission thanks to their skill and bravery they demonstrated through their work. The Augsburg bomb was defused and the city’s residents were allowed to return to their homes just in time for Christmas dinner.
Although it was an incredibly stressful day for most, everything worked out in the end. This experience also helped to raise awareness about the dangers of unexploded bombs throughout the country of Germany.