Wartime bomb defused after 4,000 evacuated in HK

A wartime bomb was defused in Hong Kong yesterday after forcing a busy commercial district into lockdown, with roads closed and thousands evacuated.

Bomb disposal expert Adam Roberts rests his foot yesterday on a defused American-made bomb a day after it was discovered on a harborfront construction site in the Wan Chai district of Hong Kong.

A wartime bomb was defused in Hong Kong yesterday after forcing a busy commercial district into lockdown, with roads closed and thousands evacuated from surrounding shops, hotels and offices.

It was the second time within a week that an American bomb dropped during World War II had been discovered at a harborfront construction site in Wan Chai.

Police sealed off parts of the district after a worker found the device on Wednesday, with 4,000 people evacuated and ferry services across Victoria Harbour suspended as disposal experts worked through the night.

“Bomb disposal operations are dirty, difficult and dangerous. In this particular case, all three were true,” said bomb disposal officer Alick McWhirter. The rain, tricky location and a fuse mechanism that the team “couldn’t even see” all added to the challenge, he said.

A large hole was cut through the shell to burn off explosive materials inside before a crane lifted the earth-covered bomb off the site yesterday. The bomb — the same model as another unearthed over the weekend — weighed over 450 kilograms.

Unexploded wartime bombs or grenades are frequently found by hikers and construction workers in the southern Chinese city, which was the scene of fierce fighting between Japanese and British allied forces in 1941.

In 2014, police defused a wartime bomb weighing nearly a ton, the largest found in the city. Hong Kong was an early target in what would become a full-blown Asian campaign for Japan during WWII. 

Extra troops were brought in, but in December 1941 the British outpost was crushed under heavy bombardment in the 18-day Battle of Hong Kong. The brutal confrontation saw around 1,500 allied troops die trying to defend the city. 

Japan occupied Hong Kong until August 30, 1945, setting up internment camps across the city.

Local historian Jason Wordie said the harbor where the unexploded bombs were found would have been targeted by the Americans because Japanese ships were repaired there.

“Hong Kong’s main value during the Japanese occupation was its ship repairing facilities, so putting those out of action was harming the Japanese war effort,” Wordie said.

At that time, before land reclamation extended the city further out into the harbor, the point where the two bombs were found would have been 500 meters out into the water.

Experts say they likely failed to explode because they were slowed down by the water and then sank into the mud. 

US planes started to bomb Hong Kong in 1942 and 1943, but once the tide of the war turned toward the allies, the bombardment became heavier, said Wordie.

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