The day the Blitz came back to Dorset

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S biggest peacetime bomb disposal operation, to defuse a half-ton wartime German bomb on the Isle of Portland in Dorset, began late yesterday after angry residents refused to move from their homes.

Nine people in five households showed a little too much Dunkirk spirit and declined to budge, as 4,000 of their neighbours were evacuated. Union Jacks were flown from several departing cars, and a young man in tin helmet poked his head out of one vehicle's sunroof to give directions. Captain Mainwaring, you felt, should have popped out of his bank to scold him.

Instead we had Captain Mike Lobb, 26, of the Royal Engineers Explosive Ordnance Disposal Squad. Last night he carried out the hair-raising task of making the bomb safe with the refuseniks, who all live within a one- and-a-quarter-mile exclusion zone around the bomb, still at home. They were made to sign disclaimers, and were warned by police they would be "detained" if they left their homes during the operation - which could last until later today.

One of the die-hards, Ted Andrews, 71, a former prison instructor, said he was entitled to stay in his own home: "They implied that we had no right to stop here and that we could be arrested if we did. That got my back up, because I knew I couldn't be arrested.

"They say this is the biggest evacuation since the war. If so, why is there no state of emergency - no martial law? If there's looting, people around here will want compensation."

Captain Lobb eventually started to defuse the device at 1:35pm, an hour and a half later than scheduled. He and a squad of six climbed down to the site on a football pitch where quarrymen unearthed the half-ton bomb 10 days ago.

Late last night the captain and his team were preparing to steam out the main load of explosives, having successfully neutralised the fuse, an operation which involved fitting a trepanning machine - a motorised circular saw - to the fuse extension cap near the bomb's rear end, and then drilling the fuse out by hand.

Captain Lobb had said the fuse could be one of two types: "If it's electric I'm happy, as even the Germans couldn't make a fuse that would last this long." A clockwork fuse would pose no problems, he added, as long as it did not start ticking.

The next danger point was expected in the early hours of this morning. Once the fuse was safe, the team would use a machine to cut holes in the metal casing of the bomb and steam out the171lb (78 kilogrammes) of explosive filling, which would drop into a webbing sheet underneath. The high explosive fuse could then be cut out and destroyed in a controlled explosion. The explosive filling would then be taken away and burned.

This operation was Captain Lobb's first with a live bomb. "This seems to be a source of amusement to everyone," he said yesterday. "But I am happy that we can do the job."

A police spokesman said as the operation started: "Clearly the police and Army are concerned there are still people in the area. We are maintaining close liaison with them.

"We are deeply appreciative of the way most residents have co-operated."