On March 3 1942, the British RAF Bomber Command ordered a mission to destroy the Renault factory at Boulogne-Billancourt, on the fringes of Paris. Renault, at the time, built an estimated 18,000 trucks a year for Nazi forces, who had then been occupying France for two years.
One of these bombs was discovered unexploded several days ago causing 6,000 resident to be evacuated. This bomb was originally dropped 69 years ago in a successful mission involving a then record 223 aircraft. French military experts worked from around 8am to noon to diffuse it, with the all clear being given early in the afternoon. Men, women and children were led from their homes in the morning by some 400 policemen. Many of the evacuees carried food and family pets with them, while some even had suitcases "People were asked to leave their homes at dawn this morning because the bomb was considered live and dangerous," said a local police spokesman. "It was found by builders on land which was heavily bombed during the Second World War. Homes which fall within a four hundred meter radius of the bomb have been evacuated." One of the older evacuee's shook his head and said, "It's like what happened here years ago. The horror has never stopped."
In 1942 the bombers were sent in three waves, with pilots ordered to bomb the factory as low possible so that the civilian population living nearby were not hit. Flares were also used to light up the target. Incredibly, there were no flak defences, meaning the planes could drop their explosives almost uninterrupted for a full hour and 50 minutes. Few German fighters were scrambled against the British either, and there were no collisions, which meant that the RAF only lost a single Wellington Despite this, however, there were in fact thousands of civilian casualties, especially in apartment blocks close to the factory. While industrial areas on the outskirts of Paris were heavily bombed during the war, the historic centre of the city remained largely unscathed. The tonnage of bombs dropped – some 470 tons – was a record. Last October in Rennes in Brittany Sixty five years after the surrender of Germany, this city in Brittany was closed as engineers worked to defuse a 550lb RAF device. Just one of thousands dropped on northern France in 1944 as Allied troops prepared to invade. 10,000 people living in Rennes were involved in the evacuation as the center of the city resembled a ghost town. "I remember the bombing raids during the war when hundreds were killed," said Maurice Leclerc, an 81-year-old pensioner who was among the evacuees. "The fact that the bombs are still disrupting our lives all these years on is truly incredible." Further east, 4,500 people were moved out of Woippy, in the suburbs of Metz, as bomb disposal experts worked on devices around a former Wehrmacht supply center. It's now being converted into a bus station, but was bombed so many times during the war that its basement and foundations are littered with ordnance, including RAF and US air force devices. All of the work was being coordinated by France's Département du Déminage - Department of Mine Clearance - which recovers around 1,000 tons of unexploded munitions every year. Since 1945, around 650 of its staff have died handling unexploded munitions, two as recently as 1998 in the former First World War battlefield of Vimy Ridge. Their work is concentrated on the so-called 'Iron Harvest' of unexploded ordnance which is littered around the battlefields and bombing targets of northern France. Many of the devices are still live, and the workers are particularly wary of artillery shells containing chemical warfare agents like mustard gas used during the trench warfare of World War I. Also in Italy last October the area around George Clooney's lake front villa in Italy was sealed off by Italian soldiers for a recovery operation while navy divers brought 500 pound munitions to the surface and took them to a cave to be detonated. They had been on the floor of the lake for more than 60 years before they were discovered after a fisherman pulled a device from the lake bed. While in Germany the affects are still felt in the unexploded bombs from the Allies. Technicians routinely clear munitions from one of the most bomb-contaminated regions in Europe -- the state of Brandenburg surrounding Berlin. In Brandenburg alone, an average of 631 tons of old munitions from the two world wars and from Soviet army exercises in East German times are found every year by builders, bomb location squads or children playing. In the whole of Germany, more than 2,000 tons of American and British aerial bombs and all sorts of munitions ranging from German hand grenades and tank mines to Russian artillery shells are recovered each year. Barely a week goes by without a city street or motorway being cordoned off or even evacuated in Germany due to an unexploded bomb being discovered. Most estimates for the percentage of unexploded bombs range from 5 to 15 percent -- or between 95,000 and 285,000 tons. As Germany hastily rebuilt its cities after the war, authorities didn’t have the time or the means to locate and dispose of a large part of that tonnage.
Cara - Tuesday PS this line explodes with P's starred * Kirkus review for the forthcoming Murder in Passy: "The ideal mix of the personal, the political, the puzzling and the Parisian make Aimée's latest a perfect pleasure."