Which country has the most dangerous weapon?

BOMBS Dangerous CONTESTS on land, in lakes and seas

From: Tanja Fieber

Status: 02/15/2021 9:33 a.m.

Old bombs appear on land in Germany, but also in lakes and seas. After the Second World War, munitions were dumped en masse in the North and Baltic Seas. Toxic substances get into the water through corrosion. It is high time to take stock.

Bombs appear in Germany mostly by chance during construction work that encroaches on the ground or the sea floor, for wind farms or pipelines. Ordnance weapons are only cleared on an ad hoc basis and in accordance with the legal requirements of the federal states. Unless there is already evidence that an area is contaminated with ordnance. On land there are 2,098 such suspected sites within the area of ​​responsibility of the Federal Agency for Real Estate Tasks (BImA). This number is in a small question to the federal government that the Green MPs made in November 2020. How many weapons are located where on the seabed of the North Sea and the Baltic Sea is less well researched than the situation on land. Experts estimate that 1.3 million tons of conventional ammunition can be found on German territory in the North Sea and 300,000 tons in the Baltic Sea.

Shown Ammunition in the sea

This map shows only a section of areas with explosive ordnance in the North and Baltic Seas. In the Baltic Sea these are north and northeast of the Kiel Fjord, especially the restricted area Kolberger Heide is notorious, as well as on the Lübeck Bay and near Usedom. On the North Sea there are hotspots between Wangerooge and Wilhelmshaven (Minsener Oog, Schillig) and near Helgoland. Where do the bombs, mines, grenades or chemical weapons come from? They were dropped in both world wars, fell into the sea during exercises or fighting at sea, were thrown into the water after the Second World War or dumped on a large scale in the North and Baltic Seas. On behalf of the Allies, around 85 percent of the chemical weapons found in Germany are said to have been sunk in the sea.

Seen Dumping of ammunition


Ordnance disposal at sea

Out of sight, out of mind: This is what it looked like after the end of World War II, when massive amounts of ammunition were dumped in the sea.

Said "That was 100 years ago!"

"The ammunition (from World War II) is still there. And the ammunition from World War I is still there. That was 100 years ago! You still have to deal with the burdens of war for 100 years!" Professor Jens Greinert, marine Geologist, Geomar - Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research Kiel, in the SWR documentary 'Time bombs on the sea floor'

Found Explosives on the beach

Really amber, is it amber or white phosphorus? Here it is amber. White phosphorus looks very similar to amber and fossils. The substance is a component of incendiary ammunition and smoke ammunition and is extremely dangerous! If phosphorus dries in the air, it can self-ignite from 20 degrees, becomes liquid and can reach temperatures of up to 1,300 degrees. Laypeople cannot put out the fire.

Worldwide Ammunition in the sea


Explosive ordnance in coastal areas worldwide

Not only the North and Baltic Seas are contaminated with ordnance. Bombs and grenades lie in seas around the world and are washed up on coasts. This map shows how big the problem is. At AmuCad.org there is more information.

At a glance Why ammunition is dangerous in the sea

  • Explosives in the ocean that are mechanically affected can explode.
  • If a bomb is in the silt and a ship drives on it, a detonation can occur.
  • Bombs contain explosives and some also contain chemical warfare agents. Most chemical warfare agents are toxic to any organism in contact with them. One component of explosives is TNT. The substance is carcinogenic and dissolves in water like sugar candy in tea, but much more slowly.
  • Entire ammunition bodies or parts can be washed ashore. They can be picked up by strollers and children playing with them.
  • For environmental reasons, ammunition should only be blown up in water if absolutely necessary. In the event of an explosion, explosives are left behind and the substances are well distributed in the water. During these so-called "blast in place" evacuations, it is very important to weaken the force of the pressure wave so that marine mammals in particular are not endangered. There is a risk of damage to the hearing and balance organs.

Facts What we know - and what not

  • It has been proven that old ammunition in the sea releases explosive substances.
  • We know that there are dump areas where ammunition is lying.
  • Studies by the University of Kiel, the Alfred Wegner Institute and the Thünen Institute for Fisheries Ecology show that mussels and special local fish, dabs, the typical explosive compounds (STVs) and chemical warfare agents from the ammunition absorb. The more explosives that are exposed and the closer the fauna to it, the higher the concentrations in organisms can become.
  • In laboratory tests, the ingestion of warfare agents and explosives in mussels led to adverse effects on their health. What effects this has on the ecosystem still has to be investigated.
  • Dump areas are known in the North and Baltic Seas, but not the routes to them. Finds indicate that munitions were also thrown into the sea in front of the dump areas ("en-route dumping"), for example to save fuel or to make several dumping operations. The areas were originally designated by the Allies.
  • It is not known where duds are located that did not explode as drops during war operations.
  • Whether it is currently dangerous for people that mussels and dab ingestion of explosive substances and these end up on our plates is currently being researched. As things stand (February 2021), there is no risk. However, in the next few years considerably more explosives will find their way into the sea through rusting ammunition.

In 2017, Ulf Gräwe from the Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research Warnemünde (IOW) used realistic data to calculate for the first time how TNT that had been detached from bombs could be distributed in the Baltic Sea (white, land area is gray). This simulation shows the course of the flow within a year (green, yellow, red). The rate of degradation of the TNT depends on the temperature and the salt content of the water. Microbial degradation was not included. Based on new mappings, we now know that the TNT sources are significantly more distributed than assumed for the model calculation in 2017.

Master plan Ammunition inventory in the sea


Geomar's Intelligent Vessel (AUV) launches.

The disposal of ordnance in ports or the laying of pipelines is well regulated, says Professor Greinert. “Good organization stops where ecological aspects come into play.” Greinert and other scientists and explosives experts have therefore teamed up and drafted a master plan to get an overview of the pollution in the sea. With 3-year projects, the aim is to collect step by step information about ammunition in the sea, from probing the seabed to explosives in the water to the removal and disposal of ordnance.

The BASTA project (Boost Applied ammunition detection through Smart data integration and AI workflows) has been running since the beginning of 2020. A high-resolution 3D sediment echo sounder and intelligent underwater vehicles (AUVs) will systematically search the seabed for ammunition. The collected data is fed into a database together with historical information. The next project, called CONMAR, aims to clarify how dangerous munitions pollution is for the marine environment and how it could spread through the food chain to humans. One thing is already clear: the later the inventory is made, the more expensive and dangerous the recovery will be, "if it really has to be," says Greinert.

Found A torpedo in Lake Starnberg


Ordnance clearance in Lake Starnberg in 2008

Dangerous finds are not only found in the sea or on the beach. Ammunition is also found in inland waters, regularly and across the country. So it was said on September 17th, 2008: Torpedo found in Lake Starnberg! The diver Lino von Gartzen had already discovered the underwater weapon during a dive in 2003. Near a skeletonized corpse. In 2008 he was able to present such a good photo that his warning was taken seriously and ordnance clearance personnel were deployed. The approximately 60-year-old torpedo had to be deliberately blown up. Eviction was not possible. In June 2018, air bubbles in the Sennfelder See, district of Schweinfurt, first caused amusement and shouts of "Nessie", then shudders: two leaky, around 15 kilogram incendiary bombs from the Second World War caused the bubbling. When more air bubbles rose, around 26,000 square meters of the lake were searched. Result: more bombs, including an incendiary bomb weighing 125 kilograms.

Two examples, but not isolated cases! "Pretty much everything" of bombs has already been found in inland waters in Bavaria, says the operations manager of an explosive ordnance disposal company, Andreas Heil. “And depending on the water level and movement, a lot gets to the shore!” For example, during floods. Or divers and swimmers come across the dangerous finds. Although there are significantly fewer bombs in German inland waters than in the North and Baltic Seas, they are there and corrode after decades in the water.

TIP Andreas Heil recommends

  • Stay away from suspicious objects!
  • If you have phosphorus on your hands after contact with ammunition, you don't see it at first. Contact with eyes, mouth or - men peeing wildly, watch out - there is a massive risk of injury!
  • Call the police if you find anything suspicious. It regulates the disposal of ordnance.
  • Better to call the police twenty times too many than not to call.

fact Bomb hotspots on land


The bombed city center of Nuremberg in June 1945

On land in Germany, ordnance can be found especially in the Ruhr area, Berlin, Cologne, Hamburg, as well as in large cities and in areas where intense fighting took place during the world wars. The centers of bombing and hotspots in Bavaria are: Nuremberg, Regensburg, Ingolstadt, Munich, Cham, Würzburg, Aschaffenburg and Schweinfurt.

Curious Trial after the bombing in Munich

Munich-Schwabing 2012 On August 28, 2012, a 250-kilogram bomb from the Second World War was detonated in a controlled manner in Munich-Schwabing.

fact Ordnance disposal in Bavaria

Around 230 tons of ordnance were disposed of in Bavaria in 2019. Cost point: More than 1.2 million euros. Experts estimate that around ten percent of the high explosive bombs and fragmentation bombs dropped in World War II did not detonate. The disposal of munitions in Bavaria is regulated as follows: landowners or investors are - depending on the occasion - responsible for exploring and uncovering a building site. If a bomb is found, the lower security authorities (e.g. municipality, district offices) are responsible and the ordnance disposal service works on the state budget. The regulations for all federal states can be found here.

Despite the regulations, there are lawsuits because, like in Munich-Schwabing, a bomb has to be blown up in the middle of a city or property owners are supposed to contribute to the clearance costs. And dangerous finds like phosphorus can be found not only on the north German coasts, but also in Munich.

Left Do you want to know more?

Book tip: Dr. Frank Rudolph - Dangerous Beach Finds (Kiel / Hamburg, 2015)

question Curious? Should we report more often on this topic?