World War Two Bomb Causes Massive Evacuation In French Town

An interesting piece from the London Daily Mail. I have often written about unexploded World War Two bombs in Europe. There are several hundreds of thousands of what used to be known as “UXBs”


More than 3,000 evacuate French city after massive British WWII bomb found near town hall





A 250kg bomb, containing approximately 70 kilos of high explosives, was discovered around Rennes’s town hall area during the works on the new metro line. Photo courtesy of


Workers spent two hours defusing the aged weapon, which is believed to have been dropped by Britain’s Royal Air Force between 1943 and 1944 as the Allies fought Nazi Germany.

The discovery of a gigantic World War II bomb forced thousands of residents to flee their homes in the French city of Rennes on Sunday.

More than 3,000 people were evacuated after the potentially devastating 550-pound device was found near the city’s town hall, reports France 24.

Workers building a new metro line were stunned to unearth the aged weapon – which was packed with 155-pounds of high-grade explosives.

All homes and businesses within 300 yards of the scene were cleared, including a fire station and a home for the elderly.

Bomb disposal experts then moved in to disarm the shell, in what was described as a “very delicate operation.”

Hunting the Hun

While not used very much today since it is an insult, ‘Hun’ as a derogatory reference to Germans, was in common usage in the Allied armies. The term refers to barbarian tribes of German ancestry who constantly attacked the frontiers of the Roman Empire.

16 April 1945. Infantrymen of the 255th Infantry Regiment move down a street in Waldenburg to hunt out the Hun after a recent raid by 63rd Division.

Obviously the caption dates from the time and presumably was written by the photographer, 2d Lt. Jacob Harris, Army of the United States or AUS.

Only regular army officers who were graduates of the USMA at West Point were commissioned into the regular army. Hence, the wording, US Army at the end of their names designated their special status. Other men without military experience who were called to the colors and given 90 days of training as officers (hence the expression of the era, ‘ninety day wonders’) were commissioned into the Army of the United States and not the US Army. It was a critical distinction at the time.

In memoirs by front-line US soldiers who fought in the last months and weeks of the war such as the men above, there was an intense sense of rage that the Germans would not stop fighting. Clearly they were beaten. RAF Bomber Command, US 8th Air Force, and US 11th Air Force had flattened Germany. Large numbers of German troops had already surrendered yet others fought on.

No one wants to be the last soldier to die in a war and certainly none of the men above did although it is probable that one or more were killed in the last few weeks.

After the formal surrender of Nazi Germany on 8 May 1945, a German officer was asked by an American interrogator why they had kept on fighting when the war was clearly lost. “Because no one told us to stop,” the officer replied.

[Image courtesy of Wikipedia.]

Margaret Bourke-White’s Photos of US Bombers

This collection of images come from a Life Magazine retrospective about Margaret Bourke-White’s photography and includes the following note:

“To photograph Bomber Command, Life sent photographer Margaret Bourke-White to the headquarters of Brigadier general Ira. C. Eaker, commander in chief of Bomber Command, and to one of the secret airfields from which the Flying Fortresses operate… Miss Bourke-White’s pictures arrived in the US just when the Bomber Command was making its biggest sorties. Flying Fortresses roared out over the Channel and attacked German industries in the Lille region. Another group of six Fortresses a few days before dropped 600lb. bombs directly on the German airfield at St. Omer, France. On the way home they were attached by 35 crack Nazi pursuits. When the brief fight was over, at least 13 Germans were plunging earthward and the six Fortresses were sailing on. Another time a Fortress came back to England with one motor shot away, one disabled, a third missing badly, and with 12 cannon holes and 2,000 machine-gun holes in the fuselage. Still other squadrons of Fortresses scored better than 70 percent hits in their first two weeks of bombing operations over Europe. “Fantastic accuracy,” said the British.

Bomber Command was ready. It was confident that although still small, it would grow and grow, and as it grew, the intensity and terribleness of the attack on Germany would grow with it, until he skies of Europe would be blacked and its earth furrowed with American bombs.”

Bourke-White, one of Life magazine’s original four staff photographers, was America’s first accredited woman photographer during WWII, and the first authorized to fly on a combat mission. For decades she covered conflicts, civil wars, humanitarian crises, and natural disasters. She documented segregation in the American South, was the last person to interview Gandhi before he was assassinated, was one of the first photographers to document the liberation of Nazi death camps and survived a torpedo attack while traveling by ship to North Africa in 1943 and was briefly married to the American writer Erskine Caldwell (God’s Little Acre, Tobacco Road). Widely recognized as one of the greatest photojournalists of the 20th century, she died in 1971. She was 67 years old.

I encourage you to explore more of her work.

Photographer Margaret Bourke-White with the US Bomber Command in England, 1942.

World War II in Color: American Bombers and Their Crews, 1942

Working on a bomber’s ball-turret during World War II, England, 1942.

American bomber crew member with stuffed good-luck charm during World War II, England, 1942.

Working on an American bomber, England, 1942.

American bomber crew member during World War II, England, 1942.

American bomber and crew during World War II, England, 1942.

American bomber and crew during World War II, England, 1942.

American bomber during World War II, England, 1942.

American bomber and crew during World War II, England, 1942.

American bomber and crew during World War II, England, 1942.

American bomber and crew during World War II, England, 1942.

American bomber and crew during World War II, England, 1942.

Loading bombs on an American bomber during World War II, England, 1942.

American bomber during World War II, England, 1942.

[Source and Images: Life Magazine.]

HMS Hunter, Sunk During First Battle of Narvik 10 April 1940, Found in One Thousand Feet of Water – Part 14

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The battleship Gneisenau in dry dock at Brest. On 6 April 1941, a Coastal Command Beaufort plane (Lieutenant Kenneth Campbell) of the 22º Squadron scored a torpedo hit on Gneisenau‘s stern. The British aircraft was shot down by the anti-aircraft batteries, but the ship was damaged and had to enter dry dock for repairs. Just a few days later, during the night of 10/11 April, the Gneisenau was hit again. This time by four bombs dropped by the RAF, and this forced to lengthen the repair work for months during 1941.

Ships in dry-dock were quite vulnerable to enemy air attack since, of course, they could not move. In the case of the Gneisenau, the short distance from British airfields to the Channel port of Brest, meant constant attacks on the ship by Royal Air Bomber Command and Royal Air Force Coastal Command (under the tactical control of the Royal Navy). These attacks were so frequent that the Kriegsmarine circled the ship along with their other warships in Brest with a forest of anti-aircraft batteries.

An incredibly brave attack by Flying Officer Kenneth Campbell of RAF Coastal Command damaged the Gneisenau and forced her into dry-dock.

Bristol Beaufort torpedo bomber of the type flown by Flying Officer Campbell, VC of RAF Coastal Command.

There were four British air crew aboard the RAF Coastal Command torpedo-bomber which came in very low and dropped the torpedo which did significant damage to the stern of the Gneisenau. After dropping the torpedo, the plane was shot down and crashed in the water. All four of the air crew men were killed. Because of the extensive damage done by the torpedo strike, the Gneisenau was forced to enter the dry-dock shown in the photograph above for extensive repairs. Once in dry-dock, she was completely immobile. Several days later she was hit by four bombs by RAF Bomber Command.

To their credit, the Germans recovered the four bodies from the water and brought them aboard the Gneisenau. From Fiasco: The Break-out of the German Battleships by John Deane Potter:

Their bodies were draped in flags and placed on the quarterdeck, where a guard of honor was mounted as a mark of respect.

This was also confirmed to me by a source in the Deutsche Marine.

Lest We Forget
In memorium to the four RAF air crewmen who were killed in action:
Flying Officer Kenneth Campbell, VC (Victoria Cross)
Sergeant J P Scott RCAF
Sergeant W C Mulliss RAF
Sergeant R W Hillman RAF

[Source: Fiasco: The Break-out of the German Battleships by John Deane Potter. Images courtesy of The Battleship Bismarck and World War II Today.]

He Paid Them Back Tenfold

The Nazis entered this war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everyone else and nobody was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw, and half a hundred other places, they put their rather naive theory into operation. They sowed the wind and now they are going to reap the whirlwind.

Arthur “Bomber” Harris, Air Officer Commanding Royal Air Force Bomber Command when appointed head of that command in February of 1942. He wasn’t kidding.

The Deadly German Night Fighters

During World War Two, German night fighters shot down 5,833 RAF bombers which represent over half of the roughly 10,000 RAF bombers shot down by the Germans. While we think of fighter planes as operating during the day, specialized fighter planes on the German and Allied side flew only at night to shoot down enemy aircraft.

Truth Really is Stranger than Fiction

As a novelist I would never write a scene like this because it wouldn’t seem believable but truth really is stranger than fiction:

RAF Bomber Command only bombed by night. Obviously this was done so the night would cloak them.

Liechtenstein Airborne Interception Radar was invented by the Germans and installed in their night fighters to detect RAF bombers. It was very effective and deadly to RAF bombers. Night fighters were guided to the bombers by ground controllers. Once the night fighters were relatively close, they picked up the bomber with their on-board radar and attacked the bomber, usually firing from a position astern and slightly below the RAF plane.

The British absolutely had to get their hands on one of the radar sets to discover how it worked so they could produce counter measures.

The problem: the radar sets were only installed in German night fighters which circled above German cities during night time bombing raids by RAF Bomber Command. Obtaining one was impossible. After all, a German night fighter equipped with the Liechtenstein Airborne Interception Radar, was not going to defect to the British and land at an RAF Airforce base or something wild and fantastic like that.

9 May 1943: The 3 man crew of a German R1 Ju 88 night fighter equipped with the Liechtenstein radar defected to Great Britain with their aircraft, which they landed at the RAF station in Aberdeen, Scotland. The story is absolutely true, the plane is on display at a British museum. But there are several versions. The one told in the Wikipedia entry below says the Ju 88 was escorted through British airspace by RAF Spitfires. This assumes that the Brits had foreknowledge of what the pilots planned to do, which would have been incredibly stupid for the pilots. Although based in Norway where there was an effective underground movement, they would hardly have trusted German pilots. How would the pilots have identified the members of the underground?

Also, RAF Beaufighters, which carried a two man crew, were used by the RAF as night fighters – not Spitfires.

Another version, which I like better, has the Ju 88 slipping through the British radar and night fighter net, landing at the RAF field as described, and nothing happens because no one sees them. They have landed at a day fighter base and everyone except the duty officer and a corporal’s guard are asleep. The Germans taxi up to the Operations hut. Nothing. They cut the engines. The chief pilot climbs out, drops to the tarmac, walks up to the Operations hut and bangs on the door. In a few moments his knock is answered by one very surprised (and half-asleep) RAF duty officer.

Wikipedia Ju 88

One of the first aircraft from the R-1 series that went into service (Werknummer 360043) was involved in one of the most significant defections which the Luftwaffe suffered. On 9 May 1943, this night fighter, which was stationed with 10./NJG 3 in Norway, flew to the RAF Station at Dyce (now Aberdeen Airport) with its entire crew and complete electronic equipment on board. The fact that Spitfire fighters escorted it towards the end of its flight could indicate that its arrival had been expected. It was immediately transferred to Farnborough Airfield, received RAF markings (PJ876), and was tested in great detail. The preserved aircraft is on exhibit at the RAF Museum. The Luftwaffe only learnt of this defection the following month when members of the crew, pilot Oberleutnant Heinrich Schmitt and Oberfeldwebels Paul Rosenberger and Erich Kantwill, made broadcasts on British radio.