10,000 People Were Evacuated So Experts Could Safely Detonate an Unexploded World War II-Era Bomb

Residents found the German explosive in a backyard garden in Plymouth, England

Police and military men standing in front of military vehicle on street
Residents were asked to evacuate for several hours while the military transported the bomb to a waiting ship. Matt Keeble / PA Images via Getty Images

Natalie Jary’s father was digging in her backyard as part of a home renovation project last week when he stumbled upon a 1,100-pound explosive.

Unbeknownst to Jary, the unexploded German bomb had been buried in her garden since World War II. Their discovery on February 20 led to one of the largest peacetime evacuations in Britain’s history, reports Pan Pylas for the Associated Press (AP).

On February 23, more than 10,000 residents were asked to leave their homes for several hours as a military convoy removed the explosive from the Keyham neighborhood of Plymouth, a city in southwest England on the English Channel. Specialists transported it 1.4 miles to a waiting ship, which took the bomb out to sea and safely detonated it.

Military officials did not share many details from the February 24 detonation. But they told BBC News’ Chloe Parkman and Chris Ellis they planned to submerge the bomb at least 46 feet deep. Then, they said, a diver would place a charge to set it off.

Roughly 10 percent of German bombs dropped during World War II did not go off, per the AP. When such unexploded ordnances are found, they are typically detonated on site. This time, however, military bomb specialists determined that taking the explosive out to sea was the safest course of action.

“After the expert assessment, it became apparent that if a controlled detonation was carried out in situ, there would be too high a risk of significant damage to properties in Keyham, including destroying a number of houses and flying debris, which would potentially damage a wide number of properties,” according to an update posted on the city’s website. “There are still risks with moving the device, but the experts consider them to be much lower following further work.”

Truck driving through neighborhood
Military bomb experts transported the unexploded ordnance through town. Matt Keeble / PA Images via Getty Images

While the situation was nerve-wracking for some residents, it also “brought out war-time spirit” in the community, as Tudor Evans, leader of the Plymouth City Council, says in a statement.

He adds: “I think it is fair to say that the last few days will go down in history for Plymouth.”

Though the bomb was disruptive, its discovery wasn’t necessarily a surprise to the residents or leaders of Plymouth. The port city is home to HMNB Devonport, the largest naval base in Western Europe. It’s been supporting the Royal Navy since 1691.

As such, Plymouth was one of the most heavily bombed cities in all of Britain during World War II, enduring 59 separate air raids. An estimated 1,362 bombs fell on the city, killing 1,174 civilians and destroying nearly 3,800 homes, per the AP.

Plymouth historians think the explosive likely fell on April 22 or 23 in 1941 during one of the heaviest nights of bombings of the war, per BBC News’ Johnny Rutherford and George Thorpe.

Jary, who owns the home where the bomb was found, tells Sky News she was sorry for what became an “absolute nightmare” for residents of Plymouth. She was trying to build an addition to her house—and never anticipated finding an 80-year-old bomb in the process.

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