More than 54,000 people are being forced to leave their homes on Christmas day in Germany’s biggest evacuation since the Second World war.
An unexploded ‘blockbuster’ bomb from World War II was found in the southerly city of Augsburg, meaning all residents living within a mile radius are leaving their homes while the device is defused.
The massive British aerial bomb – which was the largest ever dropped by the RAF, weighing 1.8 tonnes – was discovered on a construction site in the city.
The city was located in an important strategic military position and housed three large barracks during the Second World War.
It also had a sub-centre of the Dakau concentration camp supplying approximately thousands of workers for war-related industry.
The most particular of these was the Messerschmitt AG military aircraft firm headquartered there, which had more than 18,000 people helping to construct warplanes at its peak.
Having already been bombed as part of Operation Margin in 1942, large parts of central Augsburg were destroyed on February 25 and 26 1944, when the city was attacked by hundreds of RAF and US bombers.
MESSERSCHMITT IN AUGSBURG
Messerschmitt was established during the First World War to supply planes, but struggled somewhat following Germany’s defeat.
The company relocated to Augsburg’s Haunstetten region and underwent major reform in 1926, and two major production sites were set up prior to the Second World War, Werk III and Werk IV.
As the workforce continued to swell, the population of Haunstetten more than doubled and a mini-housing crisis was created in the area.
A complex known as the Messerschmittsiedlung – the Messerschmitt Settlement – was created.
When production was at its peak in 1944, there were approximately 18,000 working at Messerschmittsiedlung.
Nearly half of the the workforce was heavily from the Dachau satellite camp, which was located near the border with the Inningen region.
The Nazi’s reliance on this superfactory made it a prize target for the RAF and American air force, and it was subjected to heavy bombing towards the end of the war.
This aerial onslaught destroyed almost a quarter of the homes in Haunstetten and killed 300 people, around half of which were prisoners of the Dachau satellite.
It was razed to the ground by bombs and the war in Haunstetten was declared over on April 28, 1945.
The evacuation began at about 8am (7am GMT) on Christmas Day, with the area to be completely cleared by 10am, involving around 900 police officers in total.
This included the city’s Augsburger Vincentinum hospital, with all patients having to be transferred to other hospitals.
And at three minutes past, the police force tweeted: ‘It is 10.00 am – To all who are still in the protection zone – this is now to be left immediately!’
Nearby schools and sports halls, as well as an exhibition centre, have been opened for those unable to stay with relatives or friends.
The evacuation is expected to affect 32,000 households living within a one mile radius.
It seems not everybody took heed of the warning, as half an hour after the clear out cut-off point the Bavarian Red Cross had to tweet: ‘IMPORTANT! Only when all people have left their homes is the defusing started.’
However, authorities are now suggesting that everything is going according to schedule.
Locals reported that after 10am the city’s streets were almost completely deserted, as Augsburg turned into a ghost town.
Police vans were driving all around the city giving out evacuation warnings as residents left their homes.
The city’s medieval cathedral and City Hall are also set to be sealed off.
Police say it is impossible to predict exactly how long it will take to make the bomb safe.
The evacuation may continue into the night, according to a local news website.
Authorities said Christmas Day was chosen for the bomb to be defused in order to minimise the impact it would have on the city centre.
Augsburg mayor Kurt Gribi said in a video message posted on the city’s Twitter account: ‘Today I ask everyone concerned to leave the area, if possible by themselves.’
Gribi also called for ‘each person to verify that their relatives, parents and friends have found places to stay outside the (security) zone… Look out for one another.’
And the patient locals tweeted their thoughts during the operation.
One said: ‘Hopefully everything goes as planned .. and we may all back home .. to all the forces of strength..’
Another added: ‘Goodbye #augsburg! See you again tonight hopefully.’
And some were thinking of those who were having to spend their Christmas Day working on the operation, with one tweeting: To all who must do service today because of the #Evakuierung of the #Fliegerbombe, best regards!’
More than 70 years after the end of the war, unexploded bombs are still found buried on German territory, vestiges of the intense bombing campaigns by the Allied forces against Nazi Germany.
In 2011, 45,000 people were evacuated temporarily to remove a bomb in Koblenz, central Germany.
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Paddy Dinham and Emily Chan