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Hermann’ the German bomb says farewell with a bang—after 67 years

PUBLISHED: 23:25 06 June 2008 | UPDATED: 13:21 05 October 2010

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A LOUD triple bang was heard and vibration felt in a wide area of East London tonight as Hermann the stubborn German’ Second World War bomb was detonated by the British Army. The massive 2,200lb unexploded device dredged up in the River Lea at Bromley-by-Bow was finally defused tonight and the explosives burned off with a controlled explosion. It would have wrecked up to a-quarter-of-a-mile wide if it had exploded.

ABOVE: Two of the workmen who uncovered the 2,200lb German wartime bomb on the Lea riverbed

BELOW: The engineers who discovered Hermann’ on Monday: Steve Wilhen, Andrew Cowie, Jamie, Mark and Andrew Whitehead

Advertiser news team: Julia Gregory, Gemma Collins, Mike Brooke

A LOUD triple bang was heard and vibration felt in a wide area of East London tonight as Hermann the stubborn German’ Second World War bomb was detonated by the British Army.

The massive 2,200lb unexploded wartime device discovered by marine engineers dredging the River Lea at Bromley-by-Bow on Monday was finally defused tonight and the explosives packed inside burned off with a controlled explosion.

But the amount of explosives the 6ft by 2ft Hermann’ was packing surprised most experienced Army engineers.

It would have torn a hole in the East End up to a-quarter-of-a-mile wide if it had exploded—64 years to the day after Allied Forces landed at Normandy on D-Day 1944. This was Big Hermann’s revenge.

There was still half-a-ton of high explosives left burning at 7pm, an hour after it was detonated.

Bob disposal experts have been describing Hermann’ as “proven to be very stubborn” and having developed “a personality of its own, almost like a petulant child.”

Hermann’ was stubborn from the outset, booby-trapped to thwart any daring Army sapper.

It had remained dormant for 67 years, buried in the muddy riverbed until it was unearthed at low tide by a mechanical digger.

But it didn’t remain silent for long. It started ticking again on Wednesday, after nearly seven decades, following four failed attempts to defuse it by Army experts.

Tonight’s controlled explosion displaced 400 tonnes of sand which had formed a protective igloo’ around the bomb.

The officer in charge, Major Matt Davies, told the East London Advertiser: “We were not exactly sure what to expect. The sand managed to contain the blast, which is what we wanted it to do.

“There are so many different ways these bombs were made in the 1940s that you can never tell exactly how long it would take.”

He added: “If it had gone off in wartime there would have been large fragments up to a mile away which could have destroyed buildings and sewers.

“This is the biggest unexploded bomb we have found in central London.”

The sappers used a laser-guided water jet to cut two circles in the thick metal casing to run steam hoses to liquefy the high explosives packed tightly inside.

One Army engineer was sent back repeatedly to the ticking device to pour a salt solution into it, then used a powerful magnet to stop the timer.

Police Commander Simon O’Brien said: “The engineer is a hero and has done Londoners a great service. It was a serious situation.”

A British Army statement tonight described the device as “a 1,000 kilogramme Hermann’ German Second World War bomb.”

BOOBY TRAPPED

Police praised the Army’s efforts for risking their lives and finally subduing Hermann.’

Pol Supt Phil Morgan said: “They spent 12 hours neutralising the fuse which was booby trapped and had tamper’ devices fitted.

“If it had gone off, the blast would have reached more than 40,000ft in all directions, from Bow as far as Stratford.”

The bomb was just a few hundred yards from the huge Bromley gasworks, a prime target for the Luftwaffe when Britain was at war.

It was a team of marine engineers widening the riverbank to take barges for London’s 2012 Olympics construction who unwittingly found Hermann.’

“Our mechanical digger suddenly hit this large metal object about 6ft long on the riverbed,” engineer Andrew Cowie told the Advertiser on Monday, less than an hour after the discovery.

“We had waited for the tide to go out and were working against time. We couldn’t believe what we found. It was massive.

“We called the foreman over and he quickly evacuated the site. We were taking no chances.”

Police immediately cordoned off the area around Three Mills Lane and Sugar House Lane, evacuating 60 families as well as staff at Three Mills TV and film studios who didn’t even have time to get their cars out of the car-park.

People living on houseboats moored along the Channelsea and Three Mills tributaries were also evacuated and put up in hotels for five nights.

One of the returning houseboat-dwellers, Tina Sollis, was worried about her three-year-old cat Sasha which ran off when the evacuations began.

But she learned tonight that the Army had found Sasha and been feeding her.

The District and Hammersmith & City Lines on the London Underground and the Fenchurch Street-to-Southend main line which run on an open viaduct 400 yards away were shut down for a while during the week, then reopened, then shut again when Hermann’ started ticking.

The all clear’ was finally given by the Army at 6.46pm and the first trains came through Bromley-by-Bow half-an-hour later, just too late for the home-going rush-hour.


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