Over the weekend, an explosion rocked the German town of Ahlbach. Residents were woken up around 4 a.m. by a loud explosion and tremor that according to residents, felt similar to an earthquake. “My house shook from the blast. My husband and I were very, very confused at first. We thought an earthquake had hit our town but that didn’t explain the loud explosion we heard. It was deafening! When we looked outside, we didn’t see anything. It was really confusing at first. All of our neighbors were outside too trying to figure out what was going on. We called the police. We weren’t sure what else to do.” According to Hessenschau, a German TV program, the bomb’s explosion registered as a magnitude 1.7 tremor on the Richter scale. This lead a lot of people to believe that it was in fact an earthquake.
Social media and police lines quickly became congested with rumors, suspicions, and concerns regarding the incident. Within a matter of hours, the topic was trending all over social media with people throwing out some wild theories about what had had happened. Luckily, it didn’t take long for officials to discover the cause of the noise and put both the townspeople and the world at ease. “Everyone was saying that we were under attack! It was really, really scary. Others were saying that it was a violent earthquake and we should all be concerned. There was so much misinformation floating around online that I eventually just had to unplug from it,” said one resident.
They were able to track the noise/tremors to a large cornfield where they stumbled upon a massive crater. At first, many assumed that it was the result of a meteorite. After all, what else could create that kind of a blast zone? However, the fact that a meteorite and traces were missing meant that it wasn’t the cause. Investigators eventually found the source of the noise and tremors: a World War II bomb that had detonated in a cornfield. The bomb had been buried deep within the ground and forgotten about. Once it went off, it created a crater that was 13 feet deep and 33 feet wide according to Limburg officials. “It was a big bomb as you can tell by the damage it did to the cornfield. Luckily, nobody was injured when it blew. We’re very, very thankful for that,” investigators said regarding the incident.
How did the Bomb get There?
But what was the bomb doing out in the cornfield in the first place? Had someone put it there and if so, how did they get access to such weaponry? Should the city be concerned about more attacks? Or had it actually be dropped by invaders? And if so, who dropped the bomb on the cornfield and why there? Once again, social media was set aflame as both residents and people around the world spoke their concerns. “When something like this happens, people always assume the worst. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and in many cases it’s the appropriate response. However in this case, they were creating widespread panic over nothing. Sure, the bomb’s explosion caused significant damage but nobody was hurt and it’s not a sign of an imminent threat. People were quick to blow things out of proportion,” officials stated in response to the explosion making its way around the Internet.
Limburg officials were also quick to address these concerns. In their statement, they mentioned that that specific area had been a prime target for bombing raids during the war. A former Nazi operated railway facility and radio stations were located nearby, making it a target for bombs. Because of this, many bombs were dropped on the area. The ones that didn’t explode simply sunk into the ground to be forgotten about. While this sounds weird to think about, apparently it’s not all that uncommon. “In certain areas there are a lot of undetonated bombs, landmines, and other relics of the war that remain buried underground. A lot of these require some form of trigger mechanism to activate it such as stepping on the area or messing with the piece. This area is unfortunately one of those. It was a hotbed for bombing activity and a lot of those remain buried and forgotten by time until something like this happens.”
What Triggered the Explosion?
Was someone messing with the bomb at 4 in the morning? And if so, how did they manage to dig 13 feet into the ground to access it in the first place? After all, the bomb wasn’t just sitting exposed above ground begging for someone to come mess with it. Experts were quick to answer this as well. According to them, undiscovered bombs can explode somewhat randomly. “We can’t necessarily determine when or even if an unexploded bomb is going to go off. Some were ‘duds’ that landed while others still have a chance of exploding. Most of the time, these things require someone to mess with them in order to explode. However in some cases, the bombs simply go off on their own,” experts say.
But what would cause a bomb that’s laid dormant for so long to just suddenly go off? Well, this happens when their detonators deteriorate and become compromised. As the bomb sits underground, a lot of the gears and intricacies rot/deteriorate and the structure becomes compromised over time. Eventually the parts just wear out so much that the bomb is triggered and explodes. The bombs also have long-term acid ignite fuses that keep them “active” for a long time as well making them extremely susceptible to explosions. And unfortunately, Germany is full of them.
WWII Bombs aren’t that Uncommon in Germany
“70 years after the war, we’re still finding undetonated bombs and in some cases landmines. The landmines aren’t as common, but they do show up from time to time. We’re unfortunately a hub for these kinds of things. Certain areas were more popular than others because of their importance to Nazi soldiers and commanders. Those fighting against the Nazis dropped a lot of bombs on Germany in an effort to halt progress and end the war. As others have said, not all of these bombs went off. Even though great cleanup efforts were made to get rid of them after the war, it’s impossible to do a thorough sweep and get them all. A lot were covered up by rubble and blown up pieces of land so we were already at a disadvantage. Over time, they were simply reclaimed by the earth.”
Finding bombs in Germany is fairly common. In fact, many have been defused in large cities like Frankfurt and Berlin over the years. “It’s become so commonplace now that you hardly see it online or hear about it on the TV. If news is slow, you might hear them mention that another bomb was found and defused, but nobody gives it much attention. The only reason why this one got as much media coverage as it did is because it exploded on its own, causing a large crater. It garnered a lot of attention. It’s far more newsworthy and interesting to talk about a bomb that went off and blew up a field than it is to talk about how experts cleared out an undetonated one.”
Another bomb was found in Berlin last April. It was quickly defused and then another showed up in Frankfurt. This one forced 60,000 people out of their homes and the city as technicians worked to defuse it. The whole process took several hours, but nobody was injured and nothing was damaged in the process. 50,000 people were also evacuated in Hanover when bombs were discovered during a construction project. In other words, they’re unfortunately not all that uncommon in Germany.
You’ll also hear about this kind of activity in other war torn countries. In some places, especially near war camps, people sweep the grounds around them multiple times a day in order to find landmines and undetonated weaponry that could be triggered by stepping on it or go off on its own causing a lot of destruction. In Vietnam for example, there are hundreds of thousands of landmines, traps, and undetonated bombs scattered across the jungle. “In some areas you simply can’t safely cross the terrain without some sort of bomb of metal detector. My dad and I sweep the area frequently and we always come home with handfuls. It’s nerve wracking but you get used to it. So far there have only been a few injuries from these landmines and that number is shrinking everyday as we clear out more and more of them,” say residents.
Should Residents be Concerned?
One of the biggest things on everyone’s mind right now is how concerned they should be regarding this incident. If Germany is “full of bombs” as it’s self described, how likely are other incidents like this to take place? Should citizens be worried? “It’s always concerning when we stumble across an undetonated bomb, but we always take precautions. We evacuate the surrounding areas and call in professionals to defuse it. There’s also a lot of concern from citizens that they will come across these buried bombs and set them off by accident but that’s highly unlikely. They are buried so far underground that it’s nearly impossible for someone to walk over it and trigger it,” officials say.
On Monday, residents outside of Frankfurt were evacuated when not one but two World War II bombs were found. According to TheLocal.de, 2,500 people were evacuated from the area. “We didn’t believe that they were a direct threat to the citizens of the town, but we didn’t want to take any chances,” authorities said. Most of the time, the bombs are detonated by professionals on site if they’re far enough away from civilization so no damage is caused. If this isn’t an option, they can be defused where they lay if the parts are still in working condition or they can be moved to a safer location for detonation.
“You’re more likely to be hit by lightning than you are to trigger a bomb, “ say local officials.
Self-detonations are also incredibly rare; even for Germany who is full of them. According to Wolfgang Spyra, who is both an engineer and professor at the Brandenburg University of Technology in Cottbus, only about one or two WWII era bombs detonate by themselves each year. “They’re typically not in densely populated areas either. The ones located in suburbs and cities are typically discovered quickly before they can detonated and they are rendered inert immediately,” Spyra said.
The Bomb’s Past
After the bomb exploded, a lot of people began asking questions about its past. Had it been placed in that location and forgotten about? Was it dropped from a plane? At first, experts had their doubts that it was a World War II bomb, but evidence quickly swayed them in that direction; especially given the area’s importance as a railway center during the war.
Now according to experts, the 550 pound bomb was dropped by plane. “The bomb was incredibly huge and was designed to do a lot of damage as you can tell by the photo of the crater. Something of that size and caliber doesn’t just get ‘placed’ down; it has to be dropped by an aircraft. As to why it didn’t detonate upon impact is up in the air. The bomb was definitely alive, but it didn’t explode once it hit the ground. Instead, it detonated after its mechanics rotted away.”
The aerial bomb possessed a chemical detonator. This likely explains why it didn’t detonate once it hit the ground. “Sometimes the chemicals just don’t mix properly right away or don’t get exposed to each other to create the right reaction. Because of this, they sit dormant until their detonator materials decompose. Then, they go off.”
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