Bomb Sights

In my house in suburban North London we had a joke about my Father’s war wound. Thankfully his war service concluded without injury, his garden fence on the other hand did not survive unscathed.

Returning from a day working in what is now
the MI5’s headquarters, my Mother was
confronted with the back door hanging
off its hinges, a bomb had fallen some way away.

[I]t was, apparently the result of a stray German bomber’s attempt at hitting the nearby railway siding, missing its intended target, the resulting shrapnel decapitated Dad’s fence. Thankfully, I believe no injuries were sustained; others where bombs fell were, of course, not so lucky.

I was reminded of this when reading of a huge project which aims at mapping the location of every bomb dropped during World War II. The reasoning, apart from the obvious danger of unexploded ordinance, is that bombs contaminate the surrounding land with copper, zinc, lead and mercury as they corrode.

It is estimated that one in ten bombs dropped by the German Luftwaffe failed to explode; this was in part due to sabotage. Unlike bombs assembled by the allies much of the German ordinance was produced by slave labour who took every opportunity to thwart Germany’s ambitions. Some failed to explode on impact, others with delayed timers have jammed, and their clockwork mechanisms could still explode if disturbed.

In all 21,000 locations where bombs have fallen are logged on the website Bomb Sight. The culprit for my garden fence I found was a high explosive bomb, falling between 7th October 1940 and 6th June 1941. Present-day address: Norfolk Close, Cockfosters, London Borough of Enfield, EN4 0BX, London. Source: Aggregate Night Time Bomb Census.

Because of these unlocated bombs construction in London tends to be higher as provision for locating buried bombs has to be written into any costings. During the construction of the Olympic Park work had to be halted when a 1,000kg device was found. Estimates at the time put at 200 the number of unidentified bombs within the Olympic site.

Now experts have studied aerial photographs taken by the RAF after the war and maps created by insurance companies to assess the extent of the bombing damage which hopefully will minimise injury and reduce construction costs.

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