WWII bombs, shells still a major hazard: French group

Unexploded bombs and shells from World War II remain a major hazard in western France that has been poorly investigated, the French environmental group Robin des Bois said on Monday.  ‘Around 600,000 tonnes of bombs were dropped on France between June 1940 and May 1945, and around 15 percent of that did not explode,’ its president, Jacky Bonnemains, said.

Robin des Bois (Robin Hood) issued its report ahead of the 70th anniversary of D-Day, which marked the start of France’s liberation from four years of Nazi occupation.

The landings on the Normandy coast on June 6, 1944 were preceded by an intense air assault on ports, bridges and railway junctions. As US, British and Canadian troops pushed out from the beachhead, towns in Normandy were bombed and shelled to slow progress for German reinforcements.

According to Robin des Bois, combat engineers in western France were called in 556 times between 2008 and 2013 alone to deal with unexploded ordnance. They handled 14,000 munitions found in fields, construction sites, gardens or beaches, prompting the temporary evacuation of 95,000 people in total.

More than half of the ordnance was found at a former military site at Thouars, in the Poitou-Charentes region, which was being converted to a solar farm. Normandy accounted for 221 out of the 556 call-outs, followed by Brittany with 175. Robin des Bois said the public was more 
familiar with hazards in the former World War I trenches in northern and eastern France, which each year yield a harvest of high-explosive and gas shells.

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