Plymouth WW2 bomb timeline: From discovery to disposal

Credit: PA

The evacuation of people living near to where an unexploded bomb was found in Plymouth is one of the largest of its kind since the Second World War, the Ministry of Defence has said.

The explosive device was removed from a garden in Plymouth and was disposed of at sea.

More than 1,000 homes were evacuated since the discovery - affecting more than 3,000 people.

Here is a timeline of events since the device was discovered earlier this week.

Tuesday 20 February

Devon and Cornwall Police officers were alerted to reports of possible ordnance being found in a garden at around 10.30am on Tuesday 20 February.

A major incident was declared after the device was found in a garden on St Michael Avenue.

A cordon of 200m was put in place while bomb disposal experts from the Army and Navy assessed the device. Around 1,000 people were asked to leave their homes for safety reasons.

The bomb was discovered in a back garden in the Keyham area. Credit: FPS Images

They were advised to go and stay with family or friends who lived outside of the cordoned area.

Residents who had nowhere to go were offered shelter at the nearby North Prospect Library and in local community centres.

A rest centre, at the Life Centre, was set up for people to use as a refuge.

An ordnance disposal expert in Keyham, after homes in the area were evacuated. Credit: PA Images

Wednesday 21 February

There was a heavy police presence in the area as an estimated 1,200 people were forced out of their homes.

Residents spoke of the "chaos", with one couple explaining that it was the first time they had had to leave their home since moving there 53 years ago.

Denis White, from Beatrice Avenue, arrived at the Life Centre with his wife Pauline.

Denis and his wife Pauline had to leave the house they've lived in for over 50 years. Credit: BPM Media

Plymouth City Council announced that the cordon around the device would be extended as bomb disposal experts continued their investigations.

Thursday 22 February

The cordon area was extended from 200m to 300m at 9am on Thursday.

Around 3,000 were thought to be affected by the incident at this point.

Friday 23 February

The device will be removed from the Plymouth garden and taken to be disposed of at sea, the city council announced this morning.

Bomb disposal experts from the Army and Royal Navy had been assessing the device to determine the best approach to deal with it.

A council spokeswoman said: “It is a very complex situation, and a number of factors need to be considered by the members of the resilience forum, alongside the overriding objective of people’s safety, including damage to property and impact on underground utilities.

“Following more information about the device and after considering all options, including a controlled detonation on site, partners have agreed that the safest and least impactful option is to remove the device from St Michael Avenue and travel to the Torpoint Ferry slipway – for the bomb to be disposed of at sea (beyond the breakwater).”

She added that anyone living within 300 metres of the route the bomb will travel must leave their homes by 2pm on Friday and should be able to return by 5pm.

A military vehicle at the scene near St Michael Avenue on Friday morning. Credit: PA Images

Update 6pm

Evacuated residents can now return to their homes after the bomb was successfully removed by a military disposal team, Plymouth City Council said.

The device is now being taken by convoy to the Torpoint Ferry slipway to be disposed of at sea.

In a statement, the council said: “We have been notified by the military that operation has been a success and the bomb has been removed.

“We can now start removing the cordon so people who have been evacuated can return to their homes.”

Where is affected?

An emergency alert has been sent to mobile phones warning people nearby to evacuate as a suspected Second World War explosive device is moved to be disposed of.

Around 1,219 properties have been evacuated and an estimated 3,250 people affected since the discovery.

Properties in Alexandra Road, Alexandra Terrace, Alfred Place, Alfred Road, Barton Avenue, Beatrice Avenue, Bedford Street, Berkshire Drive, Brunel Avenue, Brunel Terrace, Cambridge Road, Clyde Street and Cotehele Avenue were evacuated.

The Severe Alert text message on a smart watch that was sent to local residents today - warning them of the disposal. Credit: PA Images

Neighbours in Epworth Terrace, Henderson Place, Kempe Close, Kent Road, Maristow Avenue, Moor View, North Down Crescent, North Down Gardens, Ocean Street and Parkside were also asked to move.

The cordon extension also covered Railway Cottages, Renown Street, Royal Navy Avenue, Sanctuary Close, St Aubyn Avenue, St Michael Avenue, Station Road, Sussex Road, Sussex Terrace, Townshend Avenue, Warleigh Avenue and York Terrace.

What will happen to the bomb now and why has it only just been found?

On examination it became apparent that if the bomb was detonated where it was found, there would be too high a risk of significant damage to properties in Keyham, the council said.

Several houses could have been destroyed and others damaged by flying debris.

The council said “there are still risks with moving the device”, but experts consider them to be much lower following further work.

St Michael Avenue lies around 800m west of the HMNB Devonport, which were a major Luftwaffe target during the war, according to 1st Line Defence, a company which manages risks posed by unexploded bombs.

A military vehicle seen in Plymouth, where residents were evacuated and a cordon was put in place following the discovery of a WWII bomb Credit: PA

More than 2,500 high explosive bombs were dropped on the city during the war, with many missing their intended target and falling on residential areas.

Around 10% of bombs dropped on the UK did not explode, it is estimated.

A map obtained from local archives “shows the locations of an astonishing number of recorded unexploded and delayed action bombs (removed or exploded) which fell in the area”, the company added on its website.

The reason the bomb did not explode “will never be known”, it added, but it may have been that some of the properties in the area were evacuated for a time, and the bomb was simply overlooked.


A spokeswoman said the bomb had been “detonated successfully at 9.51pm” after being taken out to sea at Torpoint Ferry slipway in Plymouth on Friday night.

A military convoy towed the unexploded bomb from the home where it was found and through the densely populated residential area to Torpoint Ferry slipway, where it was taken out to sea and later detonated.

Lt Colonel Rob Swan, who was at the scene, explained before the detonation that the bomb would be taken to a depth of at least 14 metres before a diver would place a donor charge on the bomb to ignite the explosive.

On Friday at 5.32pm, town hall chiefs declared the operation a “success” telling residents “you can now return to your homes in Keyham”.

Tudor Evans, the leader of Plymouth City Council, said: “I think it is fair to say that the last few days will go down in history for Plymouth.”

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps thanked the personnel who had been involved in the “highly complex operation”.