What do you do with leftover wartime explosives — including bombs, mines, depth charges, and sea rations? If you’re the Brits, you take out your aggression on an uninhabited German island in the North Sea. That island, Heligoland, was forever changed.
Heligoland was under routine bombardment by the British and Allied forces during WW2. It’s location in the North Sea made it a natural place for the Wermacht to put anti-aicraft guns to help protect the mainland. Heligoland was owned by Denmark for eons until it capitulated to Britain during the Napoleonic Wars. It then became a favorite resort destination for Germans and other continental Europeans looking to relax. In 1890, Britain traded Heligoland to Germany in exchange for Zanzibar.
Heligoland remained populated through most of WW2. After a huge bombing campaign on April 18, 1945 involving 969 aircraft that left the island a cratered desert, the residents of the islands, who had taken refuge in the island’s tunnel network, were evacuated. After the fall of Germany, the island was under pseudo-British control and remained unpopulated.
After the war, the British were sitting on a huge surplus supply of explosives. Rather than store them, and let them deteriorate and become unstable, the Brits decided to have some fun. Heligoland had been a thorn in the side of the Allies during the war. Between the anti-aircraft batteries and submarine base, it was a strategic little piece of land for the Germans. In order to try and prevent this from ever happening again, almost 7,000 tons of explosives were placed on the island. The tunnels, submarine pens, and other strategic aspects of the island were slated for destruction.
On April 18, 1947, the explosives were set off, creating one of the largest non-nuclear explosions man has ever created. It became known as the British Bang, and lives on in folklore. The island survived, and is once again a German territory and a resort.
[Image Credit: Netzeitung GmbH]