Experts Attempted To Diffuse Lost World War II Bomb When Disaster Struck

In 2020, citizens of a Polish city in Europe were forced to flee their homes and take shelter in an evacuation center, much like they had to during World War II. A Tallboy explosive had been discovered in the canal next to the city, and it was up to the bomb experts to defuse the bomb to save themselves and the city. Read on to learn what happened!

The Quiet City Of Świnoujście

Picture of a plane
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Little did the citizens of the Polish city of Świnoujście know that death was just beneath their feet for 75 years. It was a bomb that had been dropped by Britain’s Dambuster bomber squadron when they were launching an attack on a German ship that had been stranded off the coast.

Yet, although most of the bombs hit their mark, one of them never detonated and sank to the bottom of the canal waiting to be discovered.

A Truly Dangerous Bomb

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Fox Photos/Getty Images
Fox Photos/Getty Images

Even the smallest explosives like a hand grenade should be enough to scare anyone. However, the bomb near the Polish city was no ordinary weapon. Beneath the waters of the Piast Canal lay what is known as a Tallboy.

This is an explosive that was so destructive that many people referred to it as an “earthquake bomb.” This particular device was known to have the capability to lay cities low, killing countless people at once.

There Was No Shortage Of Tallboys

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Keystone/Getty Images
Keystone/Getty Images

Over the course of World War II, the Allied forces dropped more than 850 Tallboys on enemy targets, completely devastated major parts of Europe. Whether it was a good or bad thing, not all of the bombs detonated when they hit the ground, leaving them scattered throughout the various countries.

One of these undetonated bombs happened to be discovered in 2019 in the Piast Canal, which is on the German border. Upon discovery, experts got to work attempting to diffuse the bomb.

It Exploded

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Jeremy Grayson/Radio Times/Getty Images
Jeremy Grayson/Radio Times/Getty Images

Unfortunately, all of those years later, the bomb beneath the Piatz Canal detonated while experts were trying to diffuse it. When the dust after the explosion had finally settled, many people were left wondering how the bomb was still so powerful after all that time.

The answer is behind the work of British engineer Barnes Wallis. He began his career designing airships and planes, but turned his attention toward warfare at the breakout of World War II.

Destroying German Dams

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Chris Ware/Keystone/Getty Images
Chris Ware/Keystone/Getty Images

Doing anything that he could to help the Allies, Wallis became involved in the project to destroy German dams in the most efficient way possible. However, one of the targets, the Möhne Reservoir, proved to be a challenge.

The dam was over 100 feet tall and 100 feet thick. Wallis suggested hitting the dam with a volley of large explosives from the air, but hitting all of the targets perfectly would be nearly impossible, so the plan was put on the back burner.

Wallis Wouldn’t Give Up

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Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

However, the issue with the German damn continued to annoy Wallis. If they couldn’t attack it from the air, what were the other possibilities of how to destroy it?

After some experimenting, he came up with the theory that they might be able to skim bombs across the reservoir to make contact with the dam and explode on impact. In that instance, the engineer came up with the bouncing bomb, which would prove to be highly effective.

Putting His Plan Into Action

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Culture Club/Getty Images
Culture Club/Getty Images

At the time, Wallis’ plan may have sounded crazy when he explained it. So crazy, however, that it just might work. So, they went back to the drawing board and decided how they were going to execute the attack.

Then, on May 17, 1943, Royal Air Force No. 617 dropped a series of bouncing bombs above the Möhne Reservoir. Incredibly, after some time, the Allies had completed their objective of taking out the once impenetrable dam.

He Was Now Respected

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

After his successful plan to take out the plane, Wallis was admired and respected among his colleagues and superiors. Now, he had room to present ideas that would have otherwise been rejected.

One of these included his plans for what he called an earthquake bomb, which would burrow itself deep beneath the target and explode underground. According to Wallis’ calculations, the shockwave alone would be catastrophic against their enemies in even the strongest of fortresses.

His Initial Bomb Was Impossible To Build

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Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

In his first mock-ups for his earthquake bomb, Wallis had plans for an enormous ten-ton bomb that would be dropped on the enemy from the height of 40,000 people. Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible at the time due to a lack of technology.

So, Wallis had to settle for a weapon that only weighed six tons and would be dropped from 18,000 feet. Regardless, this was still going to be incredibly destructive even though it had been “toned down.”

The Initial Test

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Robert F Sargent/Getty Images
Robert F Sargent/Getty Images

Given the name Tallboy, Wallis’s new bomb was finally put to the test in France on the night of June 8, 1944. Its target was the Saumur railway tunnel, which was key in connecting southern and northern France.

Just days before, the Allies had landed on the beaches of Normandy and began making their initial invasion of Europe. Now, it was up to the bombers to clear the path ahead of them, including the tunnel that the Axis could use to send reinforcements to the beaches.

History Was Made

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Fg. Off. J R Watkins/ Imperial War Museums via Getty Images
Fg. Off. J R Watkins/ Imperial War Museums via Getty Images

That night the 617 Squadron may not have known it at the time, but they were about to make history as they took to the skies armed with 19 Tallboys. Without a hitch, the bombs completely destroyed the railway line, preventing the German troops from having access to northern and southern France.

From that point forward, Wallis’s weapon would be used consistently throughout the war, utterly destroying whatever was in its path across western Europe.

It Was Raining Tallboys

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ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images
ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Over the course of World War II, the Allies would continue dropping hundreds of Tallboys on targets all over Europe. They destroyed battleships, fortresses, buildings, anything in the radius of the blast.

It was around this time that it was clear the Axis was on its way out, but the war would continue on for more than half a year after the Allied invasion of France. The fighting was fierce during that time, especially in countries such as Poland.

Escaping Poland

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adoc-photos/Corbis via Getty Images
adoc-photos/Corbis via Getty Images

As the Soviet Union began to move into Poland in January 1945, the German citizens began to flee the area. By March of that year, many of these German citizens met in the city of Świnoujście.

While waiting to escape across the Baltic Sea, the United States made an attempt to stop them. They then proceeded to launch an attack on the city where the Germans were gathered, which resulted in the death of thousands of civilians.

The Axis Came To Fight

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Michael Nicholson/Corbis via Getty Images
Michael Nicholson/Corbis via Getty Images

Although the city of Świnoujście was under attack by the Allies, the Axis came to fight using the Piast Canal outside of the city. Using the German cruise Lϋtzow, the Axis launched a final attack to hold off the Soviets, but it would all be over on April 16, 1945.

On this day, the 617 Squadron flew in and dropped 12 Tallboys onto the Lϋtzow. However, things didn’t go as planned, and one of the planes ended up crashing on Karisbor Island, leading its undetonated Tallboy to sink to the bottom of the canal.

Victory At Last

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BettmannGetty Images
BettmannGetty Images

Just a month after the 617 Squadron dropped the Tallboys on the Lϋtzow, destroying it, Germany finally surrendered, and the war in Europe finally came to an end.

This meant that the Tallboys dropped over the Piast Canal were some of the last Tallboys to ever be dropped in Europe. Finally, the slaughter was over, and there was no longer a need for such destructive weapons like Wallis’s.

Świnoujście Today

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LUKASZ SZELEMEJ/AFP via Getty Images
LUKASZ SZELEMEJ/AFP via Getty Images

Around 75 years later, Świnoujście is no longer a city filled with Germans trying to escape across the Baltic Sea. Instead, it has become a popular tourist destination in the area, with people taking vacations there on a regular basis.

And while everyone was busy enjoying themselves, in September 2019, construction workers discovered something that would shatter any level of peace that was within the city. Before long, the entire city would be in a panic.

A Project Exposed The Bomb

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LUKASZ SZELEMEJ/AFP via Getty Images
LUKASZ SZELEMEJ/AFP via Getty Images

In September of 2019, there was a project underway in the canal outside of Świnoujście. Then, as the canal was being dredged, the unexploded Tallboy from World War II was discovered from the deep.

When it was found, it was reported as the biggest dormant World War II explosive that had ever been discovered in Poland. Now, the question was if the bomb could still be active and, if it was, just how destructive it would be if it were to explode.

It Remained In The Canal

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LUKASZ SZELEMEJ/AFP via Getty Images
LUKASZ SZELEMEJ/AFP via Getty Images

Unbelievably, even after the Tallboy was first discovered, it remained at the bottom of the Piast Canal for almost half a year. Yet, life continued on as usual in the city, even though there was a threat just below the water.

Then, work finally began on diffusing the dormant bomb in October 2020. However, before the real work could begin, they had to make sure the area was safe. In order to do so, according to CNN, 750 people had to be evacuated from their homes.

The Citizens Were In Shock

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LUKASZ SZELEMEJ/AFP via Getty Images
LUKASZ SZELEMEJ/AFP via Getty Images

When the citizens learned that not only was there an incredibly dangerous World War II bomb just outside of the city but that a lot of them had to evacuate, everyone was shocked.

On the evacuation, citizen Halina Paszkowska spoke to AFP, saying, “I’ve lived here 50 years, and there have been other bombs. But this is the first time there’s an evacuation! Before, we just had to stay indoors.”

Not Everyone Was Happy About The Evacuation

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Krzysztof Zatycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Krzysztof Zatycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Unsurprisingly, not everyone was thrilled about the evacuation orders. Some people even directly told reporters that they had no intention of moving. However, when word began to spread that they were preparing to defuse a 20-foot bomb that contained more than 2 tons of explosives, people started getting a little more concerned.

Thankfully, in the end, people finally started to take the evacuation order seriously, and just about everyone left their homes to take shelter at the evacuation sites.

The Day Had Come

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Vladimir GerdoTASS via Getty Images
Vladimir GerdoTASS via Getty Images

Finally, on October 12, 2020, a team of sappers from the Polish Navy swam out to where the undetonated Tallboy was located in the Piast Canal. The plan was to first spend five days preparing the explosive, considering the state it was in, and then moving on from there.

When discussing the mission to the press, Polish military spokesman Grzegorz Lewandowski explained, “It’s a very delicate job… The tiniest vibration could detonate the bomb.”

Defusing The Bomb

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Ilyas Tayfun Salci/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Ilyas Tayfun Salci/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

However, one of the concerns that began circulating around the operation was why the bomb needed to be defused at all. Countless World War II explosives have been discovered over the years across Europe and then detonated in a controlled environment.

This seemed to be the easiest and safest way to handle this kind of situation. Yet, according to Lewandowski, this wasn’t an option because the bomb was so close to the nearby bridge in Świnoujście.

A New Strategy

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Vitaly NevarTASS via Getty Images
Vitaly NevarTASS via Getty Images

So, the military decided that their best course of action would be to use a method called deflagration, which involves burning off the explosives without causing a detonation. This involves using a remote-controlled device to heat the bomb to the point that the Tallboy has been rendered no longer dangerous.

While it was a better idea than trying to move it or detonate it, experts were still only 50% sure the process would be effective.

Things Didn’t Go As Planned

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Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

It was a good thing that it was decided to use the deflagration method, as their worst fears came true. On October 13, just one day after the process had begun, the Tallboy exploded. The explosion shook the ground and sent a massive jet of water into the skies above the Polish cities.

Luckily, they had decided to use this method because nobody was near the bomb at the time – if they had been, they would have surely lost their lives.

It Wasn’t The Worst Case Scenario

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LUKASZ SZELEMEJ/AFP via Getty Images
LUKASZ SZELEMEJ/AFP via Getty Images

While the bomb had exploded, which was what the military was trying to avoid, it worked out better than planned, with experts claiming the explosion had still been controlled. The day following the detonation, Lewandowski made an announcement on the Ministry of National Defence of the Republic of Poland’s Twitter, which read:

“The deflagration process turned into detonation. The object can be considered neutralized. It will no longer pose a threat to the Szczecin-Swinoujscie shipping channel.”

It All Worked Out

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Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Because the bomb had been accidentally detonated, a lot of people were wondering if there was any damage as a result, such as to infrastructure or if anyone had lost their lives.

In a later report, a spokesman for the Polish military reported to CNN that “Every step of [the] operation was under control.” So, when the bomb did happen to go off, there was no real damage to anything, and nobody was hurt during the operation.

Better Than Expected

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Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images

While the real concern was that if anyone was harmed during the operation, people turned their attention to other potential damages. Luckily, there was no damage to any of the surrounding buildings in the city, which meant that everyone would be able to return to their homes just as they had left them.

However, there was also a concern for marine life, yet marine experts indicated that the explosion had not had any harmful results to the marine environment of the canal.

Not The Only Tallboy

Picture of the canal
Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Unfortunately, this isn’t the only undetonated Tallboy that has been discovered across Europe since World War II. Back in January of 1995, around 650 citizens of Langscheid in West Germany were hastily evacuated after it was discovered that one of these deadly bombs had been discovered at the bottom of a reservoir.

Even back in the 1990s, the same organization that had helped in Poland was used to help safely get rid of the bomb.

The Bomb Was Handled By A British Man

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Barry Batchelor – PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images
Barry Batchelor – PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

During World War II, the British Air Force were those who dropped the earthquake bombs all across Europe. So, when a bomb was discovered in Germany in 1995, it was ironic that it was a British flight lieutenant who helped defuse it because it would have been the RFA that dropped this bomb over Germany’s Sorpe Dam of those years ago.

Reports say that the lieutenant was successful in his mission without causing an explosion, with it being the biggest bomb his unit had ever handled at the time.

Hoping That’s All of Them

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Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images

To date, the two Tallboys found in Langscheid and Świnoujście remain the only two of those types of bombs to have been discovered undetonated in Europe. Nevertheless, countless other explosives are constantly being discovered, as all of Europe was a battlefield during World War II.

So, it wouldn’t be a surprise if any more of these Tallboys were unearthed in the upcoming years. Of course, the bomb squad units hope that won’t be the case.