Aerial bombs removed from site of papal mass

By Capt. Christine Bazarin
First published June 13, 2003

On May 27-29 the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team from Multinational Brigade Northwest was in Petricevac, assisting local authorities and Civil Protection Agency (CPA) with the removal of 21 World War II aerial bombs from the site where the Papal Mass is to be held on 22 June.

Petricevac - With approximately 70,000 pilgrims, high church dignitaries and VIPs from across Bosnia and Herzegovina and neighbouring countries expected to attend the Papal Mass and an unconfirmed number of bombs of questionable stability buried on site, local authorities in charge of security turned to SFOR for assistance.
Experience and technical assistance
"The CPA are the lead on this project; but we were asked to assist in ensuring this area was safe from improvised devices and the iron bombs that were reported to be here," said Captain Dave Hemmings, head of the Bomb Disposal Team. "Our Regiment was founded to dispose of World War II bombs and we're more than happy to give our experience and technical assistance to the CPA in this relatively difficult task."
A local priest, who was a child when German troops occupied the site, remembers that approximately 20 bombs were buried near the cathedral when the trenches were filled in 1944. The cathedral was destroyed in the violent years that followed, and replaced with a new church in 1999. Those who were present during its construction claim that four of the bombs were removed and destroyed at that time, leaving, in theory, 16 to locate.
The UK Bomb Disposal team spent most of Tuesday, May 27 locating the unexploded ordnance (UXOs) with a metal detector and cordoning off the search area before they began to dig. By the end of the first day they had dug an area approximately 10 feet wide, 20 feet long and 4 feet deep beside the church, and unearthed three badly corroded bombs.
A total of 21
By Wednesday, a total of six bombs had been located in a pattern alongside the church water pipe. It now became evident that the remaining bombs were likely buried beneath the newly laid footings and metal supports put in place for the Pope's platform.
A construction company was called in to remove the structure on Thursday, 29 May, and the digging continued. By late afternoon the team's efforts were rewarded with the discovery of 15 more bombs, bringing the total to 21.
The munitions, which were identified as 50 Kg, SD50 aerial fragmentation bombs, were inspected to ensure their stability before being transported by the Bomb Disposal Team to Manjaca Range for disposal.
"We're assisting the CPA with the transportation of these bombs because they don't have the equipment or the explosive licences required to move them," explained Hemmings.
After the area has been cleared, construction on the Pope's platform resumed and was completed by June 7.
In this way, SFOR continued to provide support to the local authorities to ensure a safe and secure environment, this time for the Pope's visit. It is one of its contributions to the papal message of peace and tolerance to the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Related links: SFOR at Work
Nations of SFOR: UK

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Photos: Cpl. Yves Gemus

The bombs are destroyed at Manjaca Range.

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EOD and CPA team members at the end of a successful day.

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British Lance Cpl. Darren Jackson helps prepare the demolition charges.

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The 50-kg bombs are loaded into the back of a Landrover.