The Conflict Never Ends: Bomb Disposal Heroes Die in Gaza

It seems as if there is never any good news emanating from Gaza. Even in the midst of a well-observed ceasefire tragedy struck Wednesday when six people were killed after an Israeli missile detonated during attempts to make it safe. Such occurrences are, unfortunately, fairly common in war zones and the dangers provided by unexploded munitions are often overlooked.

The explosion caused major blast damage
The explosion caused major blast damage

I have written before about the dangers still posed by ordnance buried in the ground from previous wars. However, whilst this still provides a periodic hazard, it is the immediate clearance of battlefields (either of infantry munitions or aerial weapons) that provides an intensified, and more urgent, risk.

Many of the unsung heroes of World War Two worked in bomb disposal. At least 11% of the bombs that fell on the UK did not explode. In a bid to prevent major disruption to the war effort, and ensure the safety of residents, bomb disposal squads worked around the clock to defuze and remove a wide variety of bombs.

A Royal Navy bomb disposal squad removing a UXB in Plymouth during WWII
A Royal Navy bomb disposal squad removing a UXB in Plymouth during WWII

The number of lives these men saved is unknown and their contribution to industry (in terms of securing buildings and preventing loss of work hours) is inestimable. Yet whilst some individuals defuzed thousands of items over the course of the war without coming to harm, others were not so fortunate.

One example is Michael Gibson. On the 14th September 1940, Gibson, of 9th Bomb Disposal, Royal Engineers, made safe a large unexploded bomb in the centre of Coventry, just minutes after an adjacent bomb had detonated.

On the 18th October he was called into action again, removing a 250kg UXB from a housing estate. Still live, the bomb was transported to the open area of Whitley Common for a controlled explosion. During the unloading phase, however, the UXB detonated killing Gibson and six others.

Many of the bombs dropped during WWII were fitted with volatile time-delay fuzes, making their safe disposal extremely difficult. Gibson and his colleagues suffered a tragic misfortune, replicated in Gaza today, which on other occasions they may have got away with.

It is a reminder that even when the missiles stop flying, the conflict is never over. Those working in bomb disposal are heroes in the truest sense of the word.

A selection of munitions rendered safe recently in Iraq
A selection of munitions rendered safe recently in Iraq
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Author: Stefan Lang

An interested observer of current affairs, researcher and writer

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