Shropshire Star

Second World War bomb taken out to sea after mass evacuation

The Ministry of Defence said the 500kg bomb had prompted ‘one of the largest UK peacetime evacuation operations’.

Plymouth incident

A 500kg Second World War bomb discovered in a back garden, which prompted “one of the largest UK peacetime evacuation operations”, has been safely taken out to sea.

Around 30 of the armed forces’ most experienced bomb disposal specialists had worked around the clock since Tuesday to assess the condition of the device since it was discovered in St Michael Avenue in the Keyham area of Plymouth that morning, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said.

Around 10,320 people and 1,219 properties were affected by the 300-metre cordon which was put in place around the site.

On Friday, a military convoy towed the unexploded bomb from the home where it was found and through the densely populated residential area to Torpoint Ferry slipway, and it will be detonated in the sea within the next 24 hours.

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps thanked the personnel who had been involved in the “highly complex operation” .

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.”

The MoD said the munition, identified as an air-dropped German bomb from the Second World War – designated SC-500 – was assessed as posing a significant risk to public safety, prompting “one of the largest UK peacetime evacuation operations since WWII” and the movement of residents within a radius of about 300 metres.

More than 100 personnel from the British Army and Royal Navy, including bomb disposal experts, were involved in the complex operation along with Plymouth City Council officials, Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service, Devon and Cornwall Police and members of the armed forces, to ensure the device was removed and people were safe.

Mr Shapps said: “I would like to express my thanks to all our personnel involved in this highly complex operation, who worked both night and day this week to keep the public safe and minimise the risk of damage, as well as the public for their patience and cooperation.

“The success of this operation is testament to the level of skill and expertise across our armed forces, as well as the bravery and fortitude of our personnel when faced with high-risk situations and working under extreme pressure.”

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

Mr Evans added: “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.”

He said the successful operation 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.

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.”

Plymouth incident
The Severe Alert text message (Ben Birchall/PA)

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.”

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