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'You can't be nervous' The Royal Navy divers hunting unexploded World War II bombs


PHOTO: Navy diver Andrew Waller inspects a mock bomb during a training exercise in Portsmouth. (ABC News: Lincoln Rothall)


As he swam down through the pitch black, cold water in February, Alessandro "Alex" Bonato came into contact with the biggest bomb he had ever dealt with.


The "nicely preserved" 500-kilogram device had been dropped more than seven decades ago by a German bomber over London's East End.


It missed its target, failed to explode and embedded itself in the silt at the bottom of the George V Dock.


The Royal Navy diver carefully measured the bomb with his outstretched arms, "hoping the fuse had seized up" after more than 73 years in the water.


PHOTO: The Southern Diving Group had to deal with an unexploded World War II bomb found in the River Thames near London City Airport in February. (ABC News: Lincoln Rothall)

照片: 2月份,南部潜水小组不得不处理在伦敦机场附近的泰晤士河中发现的一枚未爆炸的二战炸弹。(ABC新闻:林肯·罗瑟尔)

"The high explosives are definitely volatile after that period of time," Mr Bonato said.


"At the time, you can't be nervous really," Mr Waller said, reflecting on the day.


"If it was to go wrong I wouldn't know a blind thing about it and there wouldn't be enough left of me to fill a teacup."


PHOTO: "You can't be nervous," says able seaman Andrew Waller (right). (ABC News: Lincoln Rothall)


The divers eventually got straps on the bomb and floated it up out of the silt, before towing it down the River Thames and safely destroying it at sea.


The impressive explosion, which sent a plume of water high into the air, provided a brief chance for reflection.


"You can see the power of the bomb, you can feel it through the boat, you think maybe for a split second, 'oh, imagine if'," Mr Bonato said.


"But it hasn't [gone wrong] to this day and I can't imagine with our technique that it would."


Bomb squad has enough work to last a lifetime


It's only the really big bombs or those that cause enormous disruption that make the news, but the Southern Diving Group, which Mr Bonato and Mr Waller belong to, is called out every 18 hours on average to towns and cities right across the bottom half of Britain.


PHOTO: A German World War II GC mine is detonated after being found in 25 metres of water in the Solent. (Supplied: Ministry of Defence)


Last year they dealt with 291 separate incidents involving Word War I and World War II unexploded ordinance, and estimates vary about how many bombs are still to be found.


Private contractors, the emergency services and other military units also regularly come across the old devices too.


Tens of thousands of tonnes of explosives were dropped on Britain by the Nazis and the country's Ministry of Defence says 10 per cent did not detonate.

英国国防部称,纳粹向英国投掷了数万吨炸药,其中有10 %是没有引爆的。

But there is thought to be plenty more unexploded devices than that out in the sea.


"Our relationship today is extremely good," he said.


A unique family history


As in all close-knit teams, there's banter among members of the Southern Diving Group.


Mr Bonato cops a bit of gentle ribbing, thanks largely to his family history — his grandfather flew planes for the Luftwaffe, though Mr Bonato says they were only supply, not bombing, missions.


The long-running joke is that he is picking up some of his relative's work.


PHOTO: The London City Airport bomb was the biggest able seaman Alessandro Bonato had experienced in his Navy career. (Twitter: UK Ministry of Defence)


"The airport bomb is the biggest I've dealt with … but it was big enough," Mr Bonato exclaims.


"I like this work … but I'm not craving much bigger ones to be honest."