French Ferry Terminal Evacuated After British Tourist Caught With WWII Explosives in Suitcase

Allied soldiers with artillery shells, 1945
Allied soldiers with artillery shells, 1945

On Wednesday, a British tourist attempted to take a ferry back to Britain from France while carrying three World War II-era bombshells in his suitcase leading to the evacuation of the ferry terminal.

The bomb squad was called and the ferry terminal was evacuated after the shells were discovered during a bag check when the Briton was trying to take the ferry home from Ouistreham in the north of France.

The entire port was cordoned off and all waiting passengers were evacuated. A ferry on its way in from Britain was sent to another port. Travel was disrupted for several hours while French authorities tweeted warnings to travelers, advising them to make other plans.

The tourist is thought to be approximately forty years old. He told police that he was a collector, but police have not yet confirmed this. He was placed under arrest and police are working to determine how he came to obtain the explosives.

A French news station reported that the bombshells were recovered from the beaches in Normandy and that they were part of the D-Day landings in June of 1944. This has not been confirmed by the authorities yet.

This is the second incident of its kind in recent times. A passenger on Eurostar tried to smuggle a shell on a train to Britain in 2013. He also was carrying the explosives in his suitcase.

Most of the Gare du Nord station in Paris was evacuated at the time while the explosives were defused and removed. Even so, the police stated that the public was not at risk from the shell.

But WWII explosives keep showing up in other places, too. In May of this year, a 51-year old collector in Germany had several of the WWII-era hand grenades in his collection explode. They were stored in a wooden crate in his garage. The unusually high temperatures in Germany this year played a role in the explosions.

A large area in the town of Hennef, which is east of Bonn, had to be evacuated while authorities determined the extent of the threat from the carelessly stored explosives.

The man explained to police that he had purchased the grenades at a flea market. He was taken into custody by the police and his remaining explosives were detonated by experts in a field.

The incident in Germany illustrates the dangers of aging WWII-era munitions. British experts estimate that Germany unloaded 24,000 tons of bombs on London alone in the war and that ten percent of those never detonated. The Allies dropped over a million tons of bombs on Germany and experts believe 10 percent of those also never exploded. They are literal time bombs waiting to explode.

After 70 years, those unexploded ordnances are incredibly dangerous. A single hit with a shovel or shaking them too hard can cause them to detonate. Their fuses have become corroded and rusted over time and can trigger a detonation without notice. Many bomb diffusing experts have been killed when WWII munitions unexpectedly exploded while they were trying to disable them.

Smaller shells and hand grenades stored in collectors’ basements and sheds are also incredibly dangerous. It is impossible to know what circumstances will set them off. Every year, German and British experts are called in to remove WWII-era explosives. Hundreds to thousands of people are evacuated while the explosives are defused and removed.

It is clear that the toll from World War II is still being exacted even more than seventy years after the end of hostilities. It may be many more decades before we see the final casualty of that war.


Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE