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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Michael Howie and Matt Watts

Plymouth residents return home as WW2 bomb removed and taken out to sea after one of biggest evacuations since war

Thousands of people in Plymouth have been told they can return home after a huge evacuation to allow a Second World War explosive device to be moved and disposed of at sea.

Residents were sent an emergency alert to their mobile phones on Friday warning them to evacuate before the unexploded device was moved in major operation.

Devon and Cornwall Police were called on Tuesday morning to St Michael Avenue in the Keyham area of Plymouth after the object was discovered in a garden.

Since then, a 300-metre cordon has been put in place around the site – affecting 1,219 properties and an estimated 3,250 people.

On Friday, Plymouth City Council announced that the bomb would be taken by military convoy to the Torpoint Ferry slipway to be disposed of at sea.

People living within 300 metres of the route the bomb would travel were told they must leave their homes by 2pm on Friday for their own safety.

The Ministry of Defence said the evacuation was one of the largest of its kind since the Second World War.

Bomb disposal experts removed the unexploded bomb on the back of a vehicle (Matt Keeble/PA Wire)

At around 4.45pm Devon and Cornwall Police confirmed the military convoy transporting the World War Two bomb was on the move.

In a statement just under an hour later, 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."

Chief Superintendent Ian Drummond-Smith wrote on X: “The bomb has gone to sea! Thank you to everyone for your patience and good spirits."An alert was sent to mobile devices in the area shortly after 12pm on Friday, stating: “Severe Alert. Issued by Plymouth City Council.

“The WWII bomb found in Keyham will be transported today 23 February 2024 at 2pm to Torpoint Ferry slipway via Saltash Road.

The ‘severe alert’ issued on Friday (Ben Birchall/PA Wire)

“A time limited cordon will be in place along this route between 2pm until an estimated 5pm. You are asked to leave and stay away from the cordoned area for this time period.

“For more information about the route, cordon and support – go to the Plymouth City Council website. Visit for more information.”

Plymouth City Council said the decision to remove the device and take it to the slipway was considered the “safest and least impactful option”.

Highly trained bomb disposal experts will carefully remove the bomb from the garden before it is transported by road in a military convoy.

An assessment found that if the bomb was detonated where it was found, there would be too high a risk of significant damage – including the destruction of a number of houses, the council said.

Those affected by the cordon should be able to return home by 5pm on Friday, with the military advice clear that they must leave for their own safety.

Members of HM Coastguard Search and Rescue gather at a cordon (Matt Keeble/PA Wire)

Superintendent Phil Williams, of Devon and Cornwall Police, was speaking at a press conference at the cordon in Plymouth when the emergency alert rang out on mobile devices.

“As has been the way throughout this, we’ve not forced anyone to leave their home. All we can do is urge them to and offer them the best possible advice that we can,” he said.

Mr Williams said the military convoy was expected to take 20 minutes as it moved the bomb from the garden to the sea.

The main trainline will be closed as it travels through the cordon, while ferries will be suspended and buses will be diverted.

Schools and nurseries are to close to allow the operation to take place, while all businesses within the cordon have been told to evacuate.

The MoD posted on X, formerly Twitter, on Friday: "One of the largest UK peacetime evacuation operations since WW2 is underway in Plymouth, where @BritishArmyand @RoyalNavy have been working round the clock to make safe a 500kg unexploded bomb.

"Personnel are working with @plymouthcc & emergency services to evacuate residents".

Giles Perritt, assistant chief executive Plymouth City Council, said more than 1,000 staff and officers were involved in the operation to safely remove the bomb.

He said: “Today is the result of an enormous amount of planning.

“You won’t be surprised to hear that officers and partners have been working around the clock since this incident started to come up with the best and safest solution to deal with this device.

“We’re all both excited and still planning for carrying out a successful operation today.”

“I believe that after an enormous amount of work, we’ve taken an approach which reduces the risk to human life and also reduces what might have been a devastating impact on properties around where the device is situated at the moment.

“I think we’ve come up with a solution that lowers the risk to the least amount. There are still risks that we face but we think we’ve managed them the best.

“I’d just at this time like to say that the colleagues from the military who will be at the wheel of that vehicle are taking risks that I think any of us would struggle to contemplate on a daily basis and my hat is absolutely off to them.”

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