Alte Bomben (achtung Baustelle!)

Ok! Jesus! I give in! You there. Look at my phone. How many missed calls do you see this morning? Can you believe that? Look, it’s ringing again. How many is that now, 75? 75 missed calls! You know why? Hell, you’re all going to see why on the news today anyway. I’m done hiding. I need to tell someone. You want to hear why I’ve got… 77 missed calls, straight from the horse’s mouth? Anyone here from the press? No? Ok. Gather round.
So they found this old bomb yesterday under some building they had knocked down.
You get old bombs all the time when you dig up cities.
The British dropped millions of them and so many were duds that just sank into the ground. It makes you think how much worse it could have been if they’d all gone off.
Anyway now these old bombs turn up and we go and deal with them. It’s steady work usually. Sometimes you get a weird one like yesterday though. What a palaver. Like I say, some half-assed version of it’ll probably be on the news later.
What, so you do want to hear it? Get them in then. Mine’s a weissbier, cheers. Lovely. Look, we’re up to 80 missed calls now.
Right then. So the office gets an emergency call sometime yesterday morning, and we’re in our armour and on the road in three minutes flat which isn’t bad. The office said the call was pretty desperate, that the foreman at this place was laying an egg. I was thinking that he must just have been new to the job because like I said you get these things all the time when you dig up cities. But then the address looked like a busy kind of high rent place so I just supposed his ass was on the line.
So we’re there within the hour and it’s a big site right in the middle of town off the autobahn. The police have cleared everyone out and taped it up, and when we get to the site office the foreman wants to know when he can get his blokes working again because he’s running at two hundred grand a day or something, and I give him the usual spiel about safety being paramount and how we’d be as fast as possible and all that pointless stuff that wastes time but helps foremen think that they’ll be alright if there’s an investigation later.
Anyway we go through the site office into the site proper and blow me if doesn’t look like they’ve started an open cast mine in the middle of the bloody city. I’m looking down into a huge crater at least thirty feet below street level. At the bottom of it there’s one of those humongous rock crushers, you know the kind that they use in quarries to make aggregate? A big MAN TAKRAF thing surrounded by these huge Mitsubishi backhoes. I mean huge. The tracks of these things were above your head. Down in the bottom of this hole the crusher has this conveyor belt thing fitted that goes up the slope and into trucks that look like they take the ground-up stuff across the site and to who knows where else.
So we’re looking at all this and the foreman is telling me how they were going about their day digging out ground using this fleet of backhoes, just scooping out great big lumps of what used to be factory floor and whatever else, those huge arms pivoting round and dumping the buckets into the giant hopper of this crusher. He said they were waiting to dump the next bus-sized bucket of crap into the thing when suddenly there had been this horrible screaming noise and then cracking as the safety pins had sheared off the crusher and what did they see just sticking out of the top of this crusher but the back end of some kind of bomb for Christ’s sake, twenty feet long, tail fins and all, clear as day.
Is someone paying for these drinks? This is thirsty work. Yeah? Another bier cheers. 85 calls now. Where was I.
So the foreman says that after all the shouting and the panicking and hitting all the emergency stops and standing there gawping at these big fucking bomb fins straight out of an old Warner Bros cartoon, like they should have had ACME stencilled on the side, they had called us.
Now there I am stood on the edge of this crater looking down into this big rock crusher with a bomb jammed in it, before we schlep down there. You ever use a mincer? Like at the butcher’s? Well this crusher is basically a big mincer for rock. It had these sheer, sloped reinforced steel sides down into a base that was just two huge spiked rollers that would turn into each other like gears. You know, for turning big rocks into smaller rocks. A roll crusher, they call it. And there jammed between these rollers is this big bomb.
The one roller’s gone slightly to cock, which the foreman says is because of the way the stress had popped the shear pins that these roll crushers use as pressure valves. So this damn bomb is wedged in really good. I can see straight away that it’s a British bomb called a Tallboy and that actually the first couple of feet of it are mangled right into the crushing mechanism.
See, here they’ve already got lucky. There are two kinds of bombs that you could get away with this kind of damage. HEAT weapons, High Explosive Anti Tank, which you find pretty often because the allies dropped so many. They have a nosecone of empty space with a concave detonator and payload sitting back behind it. This shape focuses the explosion forward and all in one direction so you get some major punch, see. Bunker busters they sometimes call them. It’s the same principle they use with demolition charges when they blow up buildings, you know when they want to cut through steel girders? They use these tiny little charges which shaped just right with hollow steel cones’ll blow right through inches of good steel. Anyway HEAT bombs don’t have explosive in the nose, and neither do what they call earthquake bombs. The Tallboy was one of these. They have a huge heavy steel nose before you get to any explosives, because these are also bunker busters but this time the bomb’s meant to actually sink into the target before it goes off. Bloody heavy, too, tons of hardened steel with explosives inside. They’d drop them out of high altitude bombers and the bomb would corkscrew down and down, faster than the speed of sound, and drill through he concrete or whatever they were bombing, and then go off. Much better than your ordinary explosion that would barely scratch good, thick concrete. Anyway in the war they made bigger and bigger bombs which drove us to build thicker and thicker concrete until some clever bastard over there worked out that with a big enough bomb you could get through any defences by screwing deep into the ground next to your target, rather than hitting the target directly, and blasting a big ass hole in the ground that would destabilize the foundations of a building, no matter how thick the concrete was. That’s what this bloody Tallboy was: an earthquake bomb. You don’t see many because they usually went off but this one clearly had burrowed deep down and then failed to detonate. Lucky. But for who, eh?
So we go and have a look below this roll crusher and sure enough there’s a yard or so of fresh swarf being extruded out of it like tagliatelle, as the Tallboy’s steel nosecone has gone halfway through.
Anyway there was no way the robot we use could get in the hopper to access this thing remotely so there was nothing for it except for us to actually climb into this giant fucking mincer and try to sort out this half mangled World War Two Tallboy.
So I climb back up to the perimeter and I start telling the foreman to disconnect all the crushing equipment and obviously he’s going ape. Well, I wasn’t about to get in there, not at least until I’d seen the diesel hoses disconnected with my own eyes, for a start. Can you imagine.
Once all that was handled there we were, rappeling down the sides of this giant mincer with all our kit. I don’t mind telling you it’s no fun being boxed into a steel funnel walking on spikes that, you can’t stop thinking, crush concrete into powder.
Those rollers were a sight. They looked like trunks of big old monkey puzzle trees, only they were single solid sausages of drop forged steel. Made you think. We’ve all seen what happens to the big fellow in Temple of Doom. But we knew the engine was disconnected and that it was just our imagination playing silly buggers so of course we got to work opening up the Tallboy and taking out the connectors and all that and we huffed and we puffed but we couldn’t shift the thing any which way.
It couldn’t be cut out safely. And there was no way to reverse the mincer and try to winch it out without reconnecting the one roller, and reattaching that mammoth piece of cold steel was impossible, especially with half a metre of this Tallboy still jammed through it, which left us with one option. Controlled detonation.
So I went to give the foreman the good news but he’d stopped shouting by now. He’d sent all his blokes home for the day rather than pay them to drink coffee and read the paper. He just looked pale and sweaty and spent the whole time on his phone. He didn’t even react when I told him we’d have to blow it up.
Three corporate heavies from some big company showed up half an hour later to sign the paperwork, after they’d copied every piece of documentation we had. Three women, but only one did any talking and she was straight to the point. They weren’t there more than ten minutes which was a shame because what use is blowing things up if there are no girls to see you do it? Those women didn’t say a word to the foreman either, and he just seemed to get paler and paler. I would too if a million quid’s worth of plant was getting blown up on my watch.
Anyway we get the old heavy shrapnel-proof blast curtain and its tent poles off the van and haul it down the crater but after we fart about a bit we suss out that there’s nothing to actually fix it down onto inside this crusher hopper. The sides are thick sheer steel and the floor’s these bloody rollers. So we’re stood there scratching our heads when I realise that we could chain it down over the edges of the hopper. So we open out the blast curtain and throw it right over the Tallboy like a blanket, and we chain down the edges.
Then I get to setting up all our own shaped charges on the bomb. That’s the fun bit. We use the smallest amount possible to set off the device you see, more like a little detonator really.
And then we seal up the edges of the blast tent as best we can, just so there’s no risk of any debris flying out of this bloody hopper, and head back up to the site office to sink the plunger so to speak.
By the time we’d done all that the day was wearing on and it was getting dusky and lights had come on in the windows of the big city buildings all round us. Word must have got round that we were going to blow it up because you could see all these little silhouettes of people in the windows watching, hundreds of them. And some of the blokes the foreman had sent home had nipped back to watch the action through the fence, and a couple of the more senior ones had even made it back into the site office for a cup of coffee with the show.
So we do all the procedures and I check everything again and I flick the little switch and
Bong!
That hopper peals like the biggest bell you ever heard and the fucking blast curtain takes off about five hundred feet in the air and everyone shits themselves.
And there’s me just staring up at this thing as it goes up and out like a shuttle launch, dust and smoke trailing behind it as it arcs away like a home run and all I’m thinking about is how perfectly shaped that hopper would probably be to direct a blast like a shaped charge and how fucked I am. And where does it come down but slap bang zeroed in like, well, like a guided bomb, into this Jaguar dealership over the road.
I haven’t been home yet.
Jesus. Just look at my phone. I’m up to 98 missed calls now. Look – there’s another one coming in right now. Jesus. I’m not going to fucking answer it! I don’t get paid enough!

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