A relic of World War II shuts down London airport

City peppered with thousands of German bombs in 1940, 1941

LONDON — An airport in London was shut down Sunday night and Monday by a relic of World War II: a 1,100-pound unexploded German bomb discovered during construction work.

The airport, London City, is in the Docklands, an industrial area considered crucial to Britain’s war effort, and many banks and other financial institutions today have their offices in the nearby Canary Wharf neighborhood.

London was peppered with thousands of German bombs in 1940 and 1941, a period known as the Blitz. Unexploded devices from that era, including grenades, are removed every year from backyards, fields and construction sites. The docks were hit particularly hard.

The latest bomb was found Sunday at the King George V Dock on the River Thames, one of the docks between which the runway sits, airport officials said.

All flights in and out of the airport were canceled Monday, and the Royal Navy said it had put in place an exclusion zone of 214 meters, or 702 feet, to “ensure that the ordnance is safely dealt with.”

Navy bomb-disposal experts were expected to detonate the device on Tuesday in a controlled explosion at the bottom of the Thames — one of the least populated areas of the capital. Bombs weighing 1,100 pounds “can make a pretty big splash,” a spokesman for the Royal Navy said, speaking on the condition of anonymity, citing protocol.

Robert Sinclair, chief executive of London City Airport, apologized for “causing inconvenience.”

More than 20,000 bombs fell on London during the Blitz, killing about 32,000 civilians and destroying 60 percent of houses in the city. The Construction Industry Research and Information Association estimates that about 15,000 devices were removed during work at sites in Britain from 2006 to 2009.

Up to one in 10 of the bombs dropped on Britain are thought to have failed to detonate, according to the Landmark Information Group, a company that does valuations for construction sites. The cities with the highest levels of risk, it said, are London, Plymouth, Bristol, Manchester and Birmingham.

Last year, a 500-pound German bomb, more than half of which contained high explosives, was dredged from the bottom of Portsmouth Harbour, in southern England, and detonated in a plume of spray just in time for the arrival of Britain’s biggest aircraft carriers.

In 2008, an unexploded 2,200-pound bomb was discovered during work to clear a site for the 2012 Olympic Games, in another onetime industrial area of East London. The bomb was the largest World War II device to be found in 30 years, and an official from the Royal Engineers, a corps of the British Army, said at the time that had it exploded, “it would have been a bloody big crater.”

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