Post #385

The world’s largest unexploded bomb

18th April 2004, late evening | Comments (16)

Back in January I read a story in The Daily Telegraph that I meant to share with you. It’s the story of the world’s largest unexploded bomb.

Luckily it’s in Belgium…

Farmer who is sitting on a bomb

The bomb — or more accurately mine — was the product of one of the greatest and most secret engineering exercises of the First World War. It lay half-forgotten for 80 years until British researchers were able to establish its exact whereabouts using maps of the period.

A map showing the area in question

In January, 1916, thousands of British miners began tunneling out of the Ypres Salient towards the German lines on the Messines Ridge.

The plan was to plant 25 enormous mines under the enemy trenches and then blow them shortly before a major offensive, planned for the summer of that year. The operation was postponed until the summer of 1917, but when it took place the results were spectacular.

More than 1,000,000lbs of high explosive were packed into underground chambers along a seven-mile front. On June 7, 19 of the mines detonated in the space of 30 seconds in the biggest series of controlled explosions yet seen. Buildings within a 30-mile radius rocked on their foundations, and the bang was heard in Downing Street. In Switzerland, seismographs registered a small earthquake.

As many as 6,000 German troops perished in the inferno and Messines Ridge quickly taken by General Sir Herbert Plumer’s Second Army. The Battle of Messines was regarded as the most successful local operation of the war.

But it left a legacy: six mines were not used. Four on the extreme southern flank were not required because the ridge fell so quickly, and another, a 20,000lb mine codenamed Peckham, was abandoned before the attack due to a tunnel collapse.

The sixth, and one of the biggest, was planted under a ruined farm called La Petite Douvre. It was lost when the Germans mounted a counter-mining attack, and never used.

After the war La Petite Douvre was rebuilt by its owners, the Mahieu family, and later renamed La Basee Cour. The mine is beneath a barn, next to the farmhouse.

Amazing, eh? And the Mahieu family still lives there, apparently unconcerned by the thought of 22 tons of high explosives lying 80 feet below them.

*tick tock, tick tock* … Oh la vache!!

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Comments (16)

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  1. Phil Baines:


    Sorry, I couldn't help my self!

    Back to the moon!

    Posted 2 hours, 4 minutes after the fact
  2. Kelly:

    I wonder how that would affect the property value, were they to sell.

    Posted 6 hours, 26 minutes after the fact
  3. JMF:

    You are wrong Dunstan. The bombs are in Belgium not in France as the map shows.

    Ypers and Messines are Belgian towns, near the French border but in Belgium. ;)

    Posted 8 hours, 46 minutes after the fact
    Inspired: ↓ Dunstan, ↓ Dunstan
  4. Dunstan:

    That map _does_ show that the bombs are in Belgium... are you getting confused over what the maps show?

    The left hand one depicts the countries, and clearly shows the two towns as being in Belgium. The second map is a close-up of the Ypres area and shows the Allied lines (in light grey), no man's land (in orange), and the German lines (in darker grey). Also the two towns again.

    Posted 10 hours, 8 minutes after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ JMF
    Inspired: ↓ Dunstan
  5. Tony Crockford:

    "Luckily it’s in France…"

    is what JMF is referring to I guess!

    Posted 10 hours, 11 minutes after the fact
    Inspired: ↓ Dunstan
  6. Dunstan:

    Whoops! How right you (both) are.

    I shall change that now :o)

    Posted 10 hours, 51 minutes after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ JMF, ↑ Dunstan, ↑ Tony Crockford
  7. Lee:

    I've been there!

    The old dear won a WWI battlefield tour some time last year which found the old man and I sitting on a coach with a load of war enthusiasts being taken around all the famous battle scenes in France and Belgium.

    I saw the crater left by a mine, and they still find the occasional body. Sometime recently they found an English soldier's arm (or hand, or something - it was a complete body) sticking up out of the mud there (some guy walking his dog spotted it) where it had lain since 1917. That particular part of France is a big potato growing area and every year the farmers uncover literally tons of munitions, many still live.

    The mines in Belgium are made with distinctly unstable explosive if memory serves, in fact, one blew up not so long ago, luckily there was only a field above it, but I'd be worried!

    I remember reading a story about the Belgians laying a new road recently and finding a completely preserved trench with 3 soldier in it. They were going to divert the road until someone pointed out that they entire area is littered with the same sort of stuff, so there wasn't much point!

    Posted 11 hours, 35 minutes after the fact
  8. Daniel:

    I believe it has to be the world’s largest conventional unexploded bomb, as there are several nuclear bombs scattered around the world which were lost during the cold war.
    You might find these interesting: (U. S. NUCLEAR WEAPONS ACCIDENTS) (Training accident at Lakenheath airbase. Mark Six is a nuclear bomb.)

    Posted 13 hours, 37 minutes after the fact
  9. JMF:

    You guessed correctly Tony. ;)

    Nobody's perfect Dunstan. :)
    BTW I really love your blog. It is such an inspiration for mine and my works.

    Posted 13 hours, 49 minutes after the fact
  10. Rahul:

    Can anyone say "rip off Dunstan on my new site design"? What's that? You can't? Damnit...

    Posted 18 hours, 41 minutes after the fact
  11. Seth Thomas Rasmussen:

    That's great stuff. hehe..

    Posted 19 hours, 38 minutes after the fact
  12. Hans:

    If I lived one day at that farm, I'd get the hell outta there the next morning. I'd go mad.

    Posted 1 day, 4 hours after the fact
  13. Jay:

    Now i must say i was a bit shocked to read the "Luckily its in Belgium" part, dunstan.
    Being a belgian, i do not find myself so lucky. For i do like my country - the +20,000 lb mines mind you. Sure i am located a long way from Ieper (Ypres for you english lot) yet still i have some friends living there and i don't like the idea of them being in potential danger.
    If it would have been something like "luckily its in the middle of the dessert and there isn't a living thing in a 30 mile radius" then i would agree. But now i just see it as an unlucky choice of words.
    (please take the above rant not to seriously)

    Just to add a little for those who are intrested:
    Every year the army detonates a whole lot of life or dangerous amunition and explosives found on our coastline. When i was younger, every year in september i would go spend a weekends at the sea with my grandparents and allmost everytime they we're uncovering a bomb or mine. Which was ofcourse of the an extremely high "wow-factor" for an 8 year old kid.

    Posted 2 days, 13 hours after the fact
    Inspired: ↓ Dunstan
  14. Dunstan:

    Jay, I could have simply said "Luckily it's not under my farm", but this way I get to have a friendly dig at you Belgiums as well ;o)

    And your beach trips sound excellent - I think I would have wet myself with excitment if I'd found a real bomb when I was that old!

    Posted 2 days, 14 hours after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ Jay
  15. Matthias:

    Being Belgian too and originating from Flanders Fields, I find it always quite peculiar how people react: It's not suprising to find left-overs from back then all the time. Stick a spade in the ground and you will dig up a grenade for sure, to say it a little bit blunt. We still have some shell-cases, artistically decorated by my great-grandfather who fought in the Great War in the Belgian army. We are almost constantly confronted with the War, so to speak: all those graveyards with young soldiers who died in that slaughter. That's why I am so much opposed against any war.

    Posted 6 days, 17 hours after the fact
  16. Jeff:

    I don't want to take this thread off course but in response to Matthias's parting comment: Here here!! Being an American and living in a country apparently gone entirely mad I find it completely refreshing to hear the opinion of anyone who lives in a country that indeed has gone through a war on its native soil. If only more people who had lived through or grown up in war ravaged areas would be included in the decision making process I personally think we'd be in a bit less international trouble than we are now. IMHO of course. ;-p

    Posted 1 month, 4 weeks after the fact

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