According to the historian Piotr Laskowski, author of a book on the Royal Air Force (RAF) raid on Germany’s Lutzow cruiser in Germany in April 1945, the North-Western Polish town of Swinoujscie was one of the leading German navy’s Baltic bases during the Second World War and was subjected to heavy bombing.
In an attack on a Nazi war-ship in the area, on 16 April 1945, British warplanes released 12 explosives known as ‘Tallboys’. But one of them never detonated and lay in the city’s harbour for years without being detected. The ship survived the raid, but the Soviet army captured it and used it after the war for target practice. In September 1947, it finally collapsed in the Baltic.
The Soviet forces occupied the city after the German troops protecting the city were evacuated. The Soviet Union imposed new borders in Eastern Europe during the Potsdam Conference, behind Germany was defeated in the war, which made this region part of Poland, including Swinujście. Years later, Polish navy divers launched an unprecedented operation to defuse one of the Second World War’s largest bombs.
The Earthquake Bomb
When the war got over, one bomb had been released but had not yet detonated, buried deep underwater. The Tallboy was designed to explode underground next to a target, triggering shock waves that would cause massive destruction, hence giving it the nickname of ‘earthquake bomb.’
This concept was invented by the British aeronautical engineer Barnes Wallis early in World War II. It was further developed and used during the war against strategic targets in Europe.
Unlike the ordinary bombs, earthquake bombs were dropped from high altitude (and those planes had to be specially crafted). This helped attain very high speed and penetrate and explode deep underground, causing massive craters and intense shockwaves. Even tricky targets such as bridges and viaducts could be destroyed with it.
The Tallboy that got lost was around 19 feet long and was loaded with 2.4 tonnes of explosives equivalent to approximately 3.6 tons of TNT!
Defusing The Bomb
The dangerous bomb was lost for many years, but luckily, it was spotted by some workers dredging a nearby channel in 2019. Years after the dangerous bomb went missing, Polish military divers began the operation to defuse the massive World War II bomb situated at the bottom of the channel near the Baltic Sea.
“The initial two or three days will be preparatory. Our bomb disposal divers will scrape the explosive, embedded in the bottom of the channel 12 meters deep. Only its nose is sticking out,” Grzegorz Lewandowski, spokesman for the Polish Navy’s 8th Coastal Defence Flotilla based in Swinoujscie, told AFP.
Maritime traffic on the navigation channel and nearby waterways have been suspended 16 kilometres around the disposal operation.
As the option of a controlled explosion was ruled out for fear of destroying a bridge 500 meters away, the navy divers used the deflagration technique to ignite the explosive charge while preventing a detonation, using a remotely controlled device to pierce through the shell to begin combustion.
Considering the risk of COVID-19, some residents have decided to stay right at their place even during the operation.
Halina Paszkowska, one of the residents, mentioned that the “key danger” for her was the risk of catching COVID-19 in a sports auditorium where residents are being given shelter during the operation.
Except for the few who decided to stay, around 750 residents are being evacuated from an area of 2.5 kilometres (1.6 miles) around the bomb. “It’s a very delicate job… The tiniest vibration could detonate the bomb,” Grzegorz Lewandowski added.
A Polish Navy spokesman told BBC that the earthquake bomb detonated during the defusing process. “The deflagration process turned into detonation. The object is neutralized. It will not pose any more danger to the Szczecin-Swinoujscie shipping channel,” Lieutenant Commander Grzegorz Lewandowski, spokesperson for the Polish Navy’s 8th Coastal Defence Flotilla, mentioned.
The detonation rattled nearby houses in the town, which contains a liquefied natural gas terminal. A video shows the blast throwing up a large column of water into the air. Fortunately, all divers were reported outside the danger zone, and no casualties or injuries were reported.
It goes on to show the adverse consequences of wars that continue to affect our lives even after a better part of a century.