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Armed forces praised for bravery after huge operation to remove unexploded bomb

Devon and Cornwall Police were called on Tuesday morning to St Michael Avenue in the Keyham area of Plymouth.

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Plymouth incident

Members of the armed forces have been praised for their bravery after a successful operation to remove an unexploded Second World War bomb from a garden and take it out to sea.

Devon and Cornwall Police were called on Tuesday morning to St Michael Avenue in the Keyham area of Plymouth after the object was discovered.

Since then, a 300-metre cordon has been in place around the site, affecting 1,219 properties and an estimated 3,250 people.

On Friday afternoon, Tudor Evans, the leader of Plymouth City Council, said: “I think it is fair to say that the last few days will go down in history for Plymouth.”

He spoke after the 500kg bomb had been moved in a military convoy to the sea, where it will be disposed of, and the council was able to lift the protective cordon.

He said: “This war-time bomb has really brought out war-time spirit, people coming together to really support each other and whilst it has been really tough, we got through it.

“I would like to thank the bomb experts for their bravery, putting their lives on the line to remove the WWII bomb from the garden in Keyham, carefully loading it on to a lorry, driving it slowly to the slipway so it could be loaded on to a boat, taking it out to sea so it could be safely detonated.

“As a naval city, this is a first-class example of why our armed forces are the best in the world.”

On Friday at 5.32pm, town hall chiefs declared the operation a “success” and announced “you can now return to your homes in Keyham”.

Mr Tudor, who said he is “so proud of Plymouth”, described the successful operation as “a day I will never forget”.

It included the work of people in a range of organisations who “demonstrated a stellar performance of community resilience and what it truly means to be a public servant”, Mr Tudor said.

He also thanked the people of Keyham, Ford and Devonport, who had been taken on “a rollercoaster of emotion (in) the last few days”, as well as council officers.

Devon and Cornwall Chief Superintendent Ian Drummond-Smith said on X, formerly Twitter: “The bomb has gone to sea!

“Thank you to everyone for your patience and good spirits.”

He also praised the British Army and Royal Navy for their “amazing bravery” and also the escorting officers from the Devon and Cornwall force.

The Ministry of Defence earlier described the scene as “one of the largest UK peacetime evacuation operations since WW2”, as the bomb was made safe and the device taken to Torpoint Ferry slipway via Saltash Road.

Bomb disposal experts carefully removed the bomb from the garden before it was transported in a military convoy.

Members of the public watched as the bomb, which was clad in sandbags, was driven away.

As it told residents the cordon was being lifted, Plymouth City Council said: “We have been notified by the military that operation has been a success and the bomb has been removed.

“We can now start removing the cordon so people who have been evacuated can return to their homes.

“Roads will be busy!”

Lt Colonel Rob Swan, who was at the scene, said the bomb would be taken to a depth of at least 14 metres before a diver places a donor charge on the bomb to detonate it.

He told Sky News that spectators “might see a jet of water on the surface” from the explosion, depending on the weather and the size of the waves, and so “unfortunately it might not be as Hollywood as people would like to imagine”.

Johnny Mercer, the MP for Plymouth, Moor View, who is also the Veterans’ Affairs minister, wrote on X: “A huge thank you and massive respect to all the police, coastguard, military, mountain rescue, Plymouth City Council staff and multiple volunteers who have worked around the clock to deal with this bomb in Keyham.

“I expect all 10,000 evacuated residents to return this evening.”

The Government’s emergency alert, first tested in April last year, was sent to all phones in the area shortly after 12pm on Friday warning people to evacuate.

It said: “The WWII bomb found in Keyham will be transported today 23 February 2024 at 2pm to Torpoint Ferry slipway via Saltash Road.

“A time limited cordon will be in place along this route between 2pm until an estimated 5pm. You are asked to leave and stay away from the cordoned area for this time period.”

More than 1,000 staff and officers were involved in the operation to remove the bomb safely, according to the council’s assistant chief executive Giles Perritt.

He said: “Today is the result of an enormous amount of planning.

“You won’t be surprised to hear that officers and partners have been working around the clock since this incident started to come up with the best and safest solution to deal with this device.”

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