Thursday, 5 June 2014

Bombs Gone!

"A German mortar bomb found on the beach at St Ouen in Jersey has been detonated by bomb disposal experts. The World War Two bomb was spotted by a member of the public on Wednesday afternoon, when it was uncovered by the tide.  A cordon was put up, but when the bomb disposal officers got to the site the object was already back under water. The team returned to the site on Thursday afternoon and it was successfully detonated." (1)
Bombs still continue to be discovered and detonated. The one in the above BBC news report was detonated on 29 May 2014. But nothing has probably ever been quite like the hazards faced in 1979.
On 5 April 2012, bomb disposal experts detonated a wartime mine which was found at Jersey's Gorey Castle.
"The device was moved to Seymour Tower in Grouville Bay to be detonated on the next high tide where 19 similar mines were destroyed in 1979." (2)
The 1979 cache of explosives were called "roll bombs", and they were in fact French shells, although imported by the Germans, and dated from the 19th century! As one account notes:
"When the Germans overran France large amounts of these shells were captured. The shells varied in weight from 335lbs to 365lbs with an explosive charge weight of 70 to 90lbs. In the guise of a Roll Bomb they would be placed into wooden chutes which when needed could be used to roll the shells down onto the target. They were held in position by a cable looped around the shell with a further cable attached to a pull igniter which was put in place rather than the normal nose fuse. When the shell was released it would drop, and as it did on reaching the end of the cable attached to the igniter the safety pin would be pulled out which in turn would initiate the explosive charge in the shell." (3)
The tale of the bombs destroyed in 1979 was told in this article by Senator John Riley, who was then the President of the Defence Committee.
Bombs Gone!
by Senator John Riley,
President, Defence Committee
Shortly after 2 p.m. on Monday, 26th February, 1979, the last of a series of heavy explosions shook the South East of the Island and rattled windows as far away as St Peter. Thus ended another chapter in the history of Mont Orgueil Castle-a chapter which could well have told of a monumental disaster.
The story starts in June, 1941 when a number of heavy guns of various calibre, some of French manufacture in World War 1, were brought to the Island by the German occupying forces. One battery of four 22 cm guns was sited at La Moye.
There is no record of any larger-28.5 cm-guns being imported into Jersey but it is certain that a large number of shells of this calibre were used by the Germans as ` Roll-bomben ' and a German document in the possession of Mr D. C. Holmes (to whom I am indebted for this information) gives a total of 497 in Jersey alone.
Of these, a number were used in a suitably medieval fashion for the defence of Mont Orgueil. The shells were suspended by wires from the battlements so that in the event of enemy infantry crossing the castle green they would be met, not by boiling pitch, but with a hail of shrapnel from a number of ` roll-mines ' each weighing 365 lbs. and containing 100 lbs. of Lidite explosive (which substance, incidentally, the British decided was too unstable for use after the Crimean War).
Mont Orgueil is not the only place where these shells have been found and Mr Eric Walker, the Island's Bomb Disposal Officer recalls having disposed of about 100 since 1946. The castle and its ramparts have been searched on a number of occasions, the last time during the summer of 1978 when the whole of the Eastern cliff side was pronounced clear. It was therefore with some surprise that the Castle Guardian, Mr Denis Walters, uncovered a shell whilst returfing a part of the lawn on the Grand Battery.
By 4th January it was evident that a large number of shells were buried in a shallow trench close to the outer wall and by 9th January Mr Eric Walker and Police Constables Elliot and Underwood had completed the dangerous and laborious task of unearthing 19 shells and relocating them in positions where the risk of sympathetic detonation would be minimal.
Eric Walker advised the Defence Committee that although the shells were not fused the explosive charge could have deteriorated to such an extent that movement of any kind was hazardous. He further advised that detonation of the shells should be carried out at least three-quarters of a mile from any populated area to obviate risk from blast or splinters.
There is only one place in Jersey where this is possible-the area of Seymour Tower at Low Water Spring Tide. This was the site selected and the date of 26th February chosen as on that day low tide (+2.1 ft.) would allow some 13 hours either side of low water on the sand bank immediately north of the Tower.
On 10th January it was decided to request assistance from U.K. military authorities in order that a helicopter could be used to lift the shells rather than risk removal manually from the castle and subsequently by Land Rover to Seymour Tower.
On 15th January a reconnaissance party from 49 E.O.D. Squadron R.E. arrived in the Island and the Commanding Officer Major B. J. Birch confirmed the plan for 26th February and arranged for a mine clearance team of some 12 men to search the remainder of the castle grounds in the meantime.
26th February was, for almost the first day of the year, brilliantly clear and sunny with light N.E. breeze and the PUMA helicopter from R.A.F. Odiham alighted on schedule on the Castle Green where Police control and Emergency services were stationed throughout the operation. By 11 a.m. the helicopter was hovering some 20 ft. above the Grand Battery with its main rotor blades within a few feet of the main bastion, by 12.30 p.m. the last of five lifts was completed and some 3 tons of shells safely landed near Seymour Tower where Major Birch and his detonation team were already preparing the charges.
The first blast was of three shells detonated simultaneously by means of hollow charge `beehives' placed on each one. The Honorary Police of Grouville were on duty at all entrances to the beach and as the helicopter finally climbed away one of them was heard to say " that's a b.... fine way of getting a feed of sand-eels ".
This article would be incomplete without a tribute to Eric Walker and his assistants from the States Police for their continuing dedication to the hazardous job of disposing of all dangerous material, nor without an expression of the Island's thanks to the Armed Forces of the Crown for their immediate and freely given assistance and expertise.

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