The island of Herm, just east of Guernsey in the English Channel near the coast of France, is a popular vacation site for many British and French citizens. An unexpected visitor was found there in December of 2017. Due to spring tides, an unexploded British torpedo was found halfway buried in the sand on the beach.
Believed to have been deployed by a British ship in 1943, the Guernsey police bomb squad quickly determined the explosive warhead was no longer attached, and the torpedo was not dangerous. PC Simon Hamon of the Guernsey police told a reporter from the Jersey Evening Post that war ordinance washing up on the beach was common, but this was the first torpedo he had seen. If the warhead had still been attached, the bomb would have been too dangerous to move and would have been detonated on the beach, putting the grey seal population in danger, as well as any other local wildlife.
The torpedo would have been fired at ships leaving the Nazi-occupied coast of France near Normandy. The island’s executives have decided to restore the bomb as much as possible and put it on display for next season’s walking tours.
This was not the first time the island of Herm was put in danger because of World War II explosives. In January of 1952, someone reported seeing a mine floating in the water off St Martin’s Point on the island of Guernsey.
The Harbor Master, States Supervisor and the Harbor staff were sent out in two boats to find the mine, which was difficult in the choppy sea. When they found the mine, they attempted to pull it in with a cable but were unable to safely hold onto the floating explosive.
The Royal Naval Mine Disposal Unit at Calshot was called in, but by the time they arrived, the approaching darkness made the mine impossible to see. The Royal Navy issued warnings to vessels in the Channel and residents of Herm to be on the lookout for what they believed was a Mark 12 British mine.
About two hours after the search was abandoned for the night, Herm was rocked by a huge explosion. While there were no serious injuries, the majority of the buildings on Herm were extremely damaged. Windows were blown out, buildings shook and roofs fell in.
The Royal Navy surmised that the cable, used to try to recover the mine, was still attached and when it caught on a rock, the movement of the mine in the choppy water caused it to crash onto a rock, setting it off about two hundred yards from the harbor. The fact that the mine detonated was a surprise to the Royal Navy because of the length of time it had been in the salty water.They had wrongly assumed that the firing mechanism had rusted so badly that the bomb could not go off.
Jenny Wood, the author of Herm, Our Island Home published in 1972, recounted that the explosion in the water had sent a mini-tsunami toward the Mermaid Tavern, inundating those who had run out of the building with water, seaweed, and pieces of small stones. Inside, a man standing by the bar found himself clutching the handle of a beer mug, while the mug itself was sitting on the bar without a drop spilled.
Finding abandoned war ordinance is fairly common all over the areas of the British Isles and Europe that saw heavy fighting and aerial bomb drops. Farmers find munitions from both World Wars while working in their fields, especially along the Western Front in Northern France and Belgium. In 2012, a 50,000-pound mine was found eighty feet below a barn in Flanders. The landowner, Roger Mahieu, the third generation to farm the land, claims,” It doesn’t stop me sleeping at night. It’s been there all that time, why should it decide to blow up now?” A courageous or possibly foolish man, indeed.