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Remembered Today:

Live Shells at Ypres


Guest Simon Bull
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Guest Simon Bull

An article at http://www.greatwar.nl/ (mainly re gas shells) suggests between 200,000 and 250,000 shells rise to the surface each year in the Ypres area.

I am well aware that a substantial quantity of ordnance rises to the surface in the Ypres area, but a quarter of a million shells each year???

What do Pals think?

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I am not sure of the up to date figures for ordnance found but have a search for 'demineurs' - there has been plenty of talk of the numbers involved. As has been said before the Great War was a war of artillery fought with incredible intensity in a few relatively small and static places.

Remember that the number of 18 pounder shells (regardless of other calibres) fired by the British alone in the Great War averages out to 65,000 a day or more than 40 for every minute of the War. The percentage of duds is argued about but it is maybe around 20%. We threw 5 million tonnes of ordanance at the Germans and the estimate of time for clearing the Western Front is some 400 years.

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Since Divisions keep count of the amount of shells fire on their front: Canadian first division in Ypres 1916, front between the Comines canal and Hill 62. On a quiet day in april: 600 shells fired on their front. 280 German shells fired at them. That's almost 1000. On a quiet day in april 1916, with no major bombardments, just some random shooting. On 1/4 of the Ypres front. Just to give a picture of the huge amount of shells that was shot.

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Estimate of 400 years, wow, thats unbelievable.

Andy

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Sounds like a huge overestimate to me. That's over 500 per day. The farmers wouldn't have time to farm!

I'm not surprised by that figure. Some 20 years ago I wrote a story on the Belgian bomb-squad. In those days -and still, I believe- they did two tours a day in the Ypres-region alone. After visiting the underground dugout near Zonnebeke (can't remember it's name, it was only recently discovered by then) I remember passing by some 20 shells, some, huge, some small, lying around in the grass. I was shocked by the sight! But the men of the bomb-squad didn't pay them any attention, and said they'd be back for them some time later. On the same day we spoke an old farmer near Kemmel, who had ploughed a meadow for the first time since 1918. After the work was done he had collected more than 200 duds.

Just to show how dangerous these shells still are, even in professional hands: a few months after my tour with the bomb-squad a corporal of this team was killed when a gas-shell exploded.

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There are statistiscs of DOVO in the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 at Zonnebeke.

Over more than 10 years the average is indeed 200- 250000 Kg's a year!!!

Don't forget some shells can be 300 kg or even maore (rare) for example thay found one this year of 687 kg!!

Also WW2 airplanebombs are quite heavy.

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Over more than 10 years the average is indeed 200- 250000 Kg's a year!!!

Aha! I think the truth of the statement may lie there - assuming that (for want of a better bottom point) that anything bigger than, say, the small german grenades eg the Eiergranaten, is a shell then probably 250,000kg of shells turn up each year - the smaller ones will obviously make up the major part of these, but it only takes a few whoppers to reduce the overall number substantially without the total avoirdupois being reduced. If for example nothing but 20kg munitions turned up you'd be looking at 12,500 of the things (I think - arithmetic usually lousy).

Still more than I'd care to find on my backdoorstep, thank you!

Adrian

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That was indeed the biggest confusion, it are Kg's not shells!

We, in the Salient, live with it... sometimes people are to comfortable with it... and accidents happen. :(

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by the way, this:

In a forest in Belgium, not 45 kilometers from the border of Holland, stands an enormous stockpile of poison gas out in the open, rusting, and barely guarded. The stockpile grows every day. An accident here would have unimaginable consequences.

this is quite an overreaction...

There are only a few hunderds in very good condition in stock. And Dovo is now working day and night disarming them and they can destroy what they find + a bit of what is still in stock. This thanks to a new machine to destroy chemical shells.

BUT

if an accident would happen, it wouldn't be a major disaster. The shells are stocked inbetween HE shells, so the heat of an explosion would only destroy the outside stockage and the buttes around it. There would no not much gas in the air and certainly not enough to kill people living in the villages around it.

I have this info of an officer of Dovo who doesn't come on this forum because he finds himself unable to express himself in English.

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Just to show how dangerous these shells still are, even in professional hands: a few months after my tour with the bomb-squad a corporal of this team was killed when a gas-shell exploded.

Off the top of my head the number of French demineurs killed since serious battlefield clearance began in the 1950's is around 400. The last year (1988?) the French Government published yearly figures for civilians/farmers killed by unexploded ordnance the number was 30 or more...

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And even more....

In an interview with the commander of Dovo , in "Het volk" and "het Nieuwsblad"07/08/2005 , he says that in 2007 all stock of chemical shells will be destroyed!

The article (for dutch understanding members):

Steeds meer obussen opgegraven

De Eerste Wereldoorlog mag dan bijna een eeuw oud zijn, de ontmijningsdienst van het leger haalt nog steeds enorme hoeveelheden niet-ontplofte munitie uit de grond. ,,En het einde is nog lang niet in zicht'', weet Dovo-commandant Patrick Merckx.

In de eerste helft van dit jaar ruimde Dovo nog maar eens 169 ton niet-ontplofte munitie uit de Eerste en Tweede Wereldoorlog op, vooral in de Westhoek. Als dat tempo wordt aangehouden, overschrijdt de ontmijningsdienst de vangst van vorig jaar toen 248 ton explosieven werden geruimd.

,,We gaan ervan uit dat we met die ,sanering' nog vele jaren werk hebben'', zegt luitenant-kolonel George Valentin. ,,Het is heel moeilijk te berekenen hoeveel explosieven er nog kunnen liggen, maar ruwe schattingen doen ons vermoeden dat we nog maar een paar procent van wat er in de grond steekt, hebben opgeruimd. Ik werk hier nu al een hele tijd en heb de hoeveelheid niet-ontplofte munitie nog nooit zien afnemen.''

Gifbommen

Merckx benadrukt dat die oude munitie nog steeds levensgevaarlijk kan zijn. ,,Hoe ouder, hoe gevaarlijker zelfs. Door het roesten, komt het ontstekingsmechanisme soms bloot te liggen en dan kan een klein schokje al voldoende zijn.''

,,Het aantal slachtoffers blijft gelukkig wel beperkt'', aldus nog Merckx. ,,In de meeste gevallen worden de explosieven door landbouwers gevonden die onderhand wel weten hoe ze ermee moeten omspringen. Gevaarlijker zijn de mensen die met een metaaldetector op zoek gaan naar oude munitie, vaak om ze op wapenbeurzen door te verkopen.''

Met het onschadelijk maken van de gifbommen die tijdens de Eerste Wereldoorlog werden gebruikt, bereikt Dovo in 2007 wel een keerpunt. ,,Tegen dan moet de enorme berg die we doorheen de jaren van deze explosieven verzamelden volledig zijn vernietigd in onze verwerkingsfabriek in Poelkapelle.''

(WER)

(WER)07/08/2005

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Guest Simon Bull

I thought a quarter of a million shells seemed too much - the true answer would seem to be a quarter of a million kilos - I agree with Adrian and others.

Thanks to all those who answered my query.

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I thought a quarter of a million shells seemed too much - the true answer would seem to be a quarter of a million kilos - I agree with Adrian and others.

Thanks to all those who answered my query.

Very interesting post. Can I ask what happens to the millions of tons of metal after they have been 'de-activated? Can it still be used for scrap?

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