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Nearly 2,000 years ago, a cataclysmic eruption of Mount Vesuvius buried the ancient Roman city of Pompeii under 13 to 20 feet of volcanic ash along with people, animals, art, roads, and buildings. But that’s not all that’s buried. Even unexploded World War II bombs are lurking underneath the ashes.
During World War II, the Nazis controlled all of Europe, including Italy and stationed German soldiers in Pompeii. Supply routes were also established in the area. In an effort to weaken Nazi defenses and pave the way for liberation, the Allies, unfortunately, had no choice but to execute bombing runs against various locations across the continent, including Pompeii.
According to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles:
As part of Operation Avalanche to liberate southern Italy in the autumn of 1943, Allied forces fought to dislodge German soldiers and disrupt their resupply routes. Important targeted roads, railways, bridges, and overpasses were located near the archaeological site of Pompeii, whose ruins were badly damaged by a series of bombings carried out by American and British fighters. Significant destruction occurred throughout the site, and some of Pompeii’s most famous monuments, as well as its museum, were struck.
You can see the Allies in Pompeii below from British Pathé:
It turns out the Allies dropped around 165 bombs on the site, and some are still encased in ash and are waiting to be excavated.
Unless they explode first, of course.
Reports of the unexploded ordinance have gone viral in recent days, resulting in a call to action by archaeologists and assurances by Pompeii officials that the site is perfectly safe.
“This is an occasion to acknowledge the spirit of Pompeii and its valuable heritage,” Confederation of Archaeologists president Alessandro Pintucci told the Independent. “While protection of the site is conducted on a daily basis for any damage caused by tourist traffic or the passage of time, we need to broaden our scope.”
Indeed, an unexploded World War II bomb may be old, but is still a viable danger.
For instance, a World War II bomb recently exploded in a German field and left a crater 33 feet wide and 14 feet deep. Luckily, no one was killed or injured because the explosion happened at night in a field. It could easily have been under a city square.
See the enormous crater from Sky News below:
Millions of tourists visit the priceless ruins of Pompeii every year, and it’s likely the bombs encased in ash are similar to the one that exploded in the field.
“Explosive ordnance demolition teams concluded the explosive device was a 250 kilogram (551 pound) aerial bomb dropped by the Allies during World War II. The bomb was likely a M43, AN-M43, or AN-M64 500 pound general purpose bomb. General purpose bombs at terminal velocity will penetrate 3-4 building stories before detonating, so it’s not surprising this bomb buried itself so well.
The M65 was five feet long and 14 inches wide, and carried a payload of 280 pounds of TNT. The bomb casing, designed to produce fragment into lethal shrapnel, was .3 inches thick. An explosive ordnance disposal guidebook describes their purpose as to destroy “steel railway bridges, underground railways, seacraft such as light cruisers, concrete docks, medium sized buildings, etc.”
So, these bombs penetrated the ground at Pompeii easily and some just never exploded. But at some point, they might because of decaying fuses. In other words, they are ticking time bombs waiting to be triggered.
The situation at Pompeii is unique because one-third of the 170 acre UNESCO World Heritage site has yet to be excavated, and archaeologists cannot do so by law until the bombs are found and diffused.
Massimo Osanna, the director of the Pompeii Archaeological Park, stressed that security was paramount whenever excavations took place.
“Under the law, before any excavations can be carried out, we must work together with military engineers to clear the site,” Pompeii Archaeological Park Director Massimo Osanna told The Telegraph on Sunday. “A bomb went off 30 years ago but that is impossible now under the regulations. Two years ago, we spent two months actively monitoring and clearing Zone 5 ( or Regio V) where the Great Pompeii project is taking place. There could be unexploded bombs beneath the soil in the area that has not been excavated but the total number is hypothetical.”
Again, Pompeii officials claim that the site is still safe for workers and tourists, but as the bomb in Ahlbach, Germany demonstrates, these unexploded munitions can go off at any time even if they have been undisturbed for the last 70 years. Even minor vibrations could be enough to accidentally cause them to explode.
In fact, the Allies dropped millions of bombs across Europe, and a lot of them are still buried and pose a threat to public safety.
A German bomb specialist told Air & Space in 2016 that there are so many unexploded bombs around Europe that “there will still be bombs 200 years from now.”
It’s a really depressing thought that a war fought so long ago can still kill people born long after it ended.
That’s why it is crucial that these bombs be detected as soon as possible and removed before further tragedy ensues in Pompeii, a city that has already suffered enough tragedy to last another 2000 years.
More from Sky Ireland below:
Featured Image: Wikimedia