canal

A local has pulled a small explosive device from a canal, using a magnet fishing technique. The man, an experienced magnet fisherman, recognised the object as UXO and established a safety cordon.

Police officers closed a section of the canal towpath, near Dewsbury, for three hours. Explosive Ordnance Engineers from the Royal Logistics Corps later attended the scene. They declared the UXO to be a 2-inch mortar bomb (live). 

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Capture3 Live mortar bomb pulled out of a canal in West Yorkshire
British soldiers firing a 2 inch mortar during WWII.
How common are such finds?

2-inch mortar bombs are one of the UK’s most commonly encountered type of historic land service ammunition.

Such UXO is often so badly corroded, positive identification is not possible without a chemical clean. The most common type of this munition was the high explosive (HE) bomb. These bombs contained approximately 300g of Amatol or TNT. Consequently, they are more hazardous than grenades, containing less HE.

The 2-inch mortar differed from larger mortars. With such a short barrel, the normal firing method, where the bomb is dropped down the tube and a pin in the base of the barrel strikes the detonator in the tail of the bomb, would not work. So firing was initiated by a small trigger mechanism at the breech. The barrel was also handheld, as opposed to utilising a tripod.

Capture2 Live mortar bomb pulled out of a canal in West Yorkshire
Types of 2-inch mortar bomb. Left to Right: High Explosive, High Explosive Practice, Smoke, Smoke Practice, White Phosphorus, Illumination.
How did a mortar bomb end up in a canal?

There are a number of reasons why UXO can end up in a canal. Bodies of water are ideal for disposing of hazardous items that might be a hassle to dispose of through the correct channels.

Recent UXO finds and anecdotal evidence confirms that surplus or unwanted ammunition was often thrown into ponds, lakes and rivers throughout Britain during WW2. This ‘out of sight out of mind’ attitude appears to have been the norm throughout the armed forces.

The same can be said for civilians disposing of unwanted war souvenirs that they may have inherited.