WWII Mortar Exploded in Controlled Detonation

The Coast Guard’s Explosives Unit was dispatched on Friday to detonate an unexploded British mortar that was found on Mt. Hlíðarfjall, just west of Akureyri, RÚV reports. The mortar dated back to World War II and was found not far from an area the British occupying forces used for training at the time.

The mortar was found by local teacher Brynjar Karl Óttarsson. “I found [it] last fall and immediately suspected that it was a bomb,” he explained. “I waited  [to report it] because winter was setting in but then I let [the authorities] know about it in the summer and they came yesterday. We went back up there and blasted that bomb to smithereens.”

Brynjar Karl Óttarsson

Brynjar accompanied two Coast Guard specialists and an explosive expert from the British army to the site where the mortar was found and was allowed to observe the controlled detonation.

“Hlíðarfjall is now one mystery poorer, but also a safer place to be,” he wrote in a Facebook post about the experience.

“Dangerous explosive remnants have been found on the mountain in recent years,” wrote Brynjar Karl. “But this is the first unexploded bomb to pop up on Hlíðarfjall since I started making a habit of going there. The cylinder intact and the tail like new. Einu með öllu: ‘one with everything,’ as the saying goes.”

“I got to watch the ceremony that goes along with destroying such a troublesome artifact,” he continued. “Place it against a large rock, attach an explosive device, position yourself at a reasonable distance, relay messages via radio to the appropriate parties about the impending explosion, and then press the button. KABOOM.”

Brynjar Karl Óttarsson

“I was shocked, to be honest. I figured on a sound, but not such a cacophony. Even the veteran jumped: ‘I never get used to this,’ said the Brit. The stillness and peace of the mountain of course magnified the din. The plume of smoke was not as magisterial. That bomb finally got to explode after 80 years. Mission accomplished and back down the mountain before dark.”

Asked if he thought it was possible that there were more unexploded bombs hidden on Hlíðarfjall, Brynjar Karl said it was quite possible, given the area’s history as a military training site. But the location where the mortar was found is well off the beaten track, he assured reporters, and quite a distance from the nearest ski area. Even so, caution is always the best policy, he said. “There’s always associated risk if you’re out in nature.”

Sunken WWII Tanker Still Leaking Oil Into Seyðisfjörður Fjord

The British tanker El Grillo is still leaking oil into Seyðisfjörður 75 years after it was sunk by a German air raid, despite repeated efforts to stop the leak. The Environment Agency of Iceland along with the Icelandic Coast Guard is now assessing the situation. A leak had been spotted in the fjord, and divers from the Icelandic Coast Guard confirmed the leak at the wreck site.

A leak from a different tank

A leak from one of the ship’s tanks had been closed off earlier this spring. The leak this time around was coming from a different tank, situated under the ship’s bridge. The oil leaks out of an entrance which is blocked off by rubbish as well as sediment on the ship deck. The government approved funding up to ISK 38 million ($278,000, €240,000) this spring to stop the leak. The initiative is led by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources. The operations last spring focused on stopping the leak by placing concrete over the opening. Those operations were successful but the oil surfaced this time around found its way out of a different part of the ship.

It is believed that higher sea temperature during this time of the year can lead to increased leakage. “According to the results from the dive this spring, and the following operations, the tank did not appear to be leaking. But the leak has appeared now. The temperature of the sea has risen and it is normally then that leaks start to appear around El Grillo,” says Sigurrós Friðriksdóttir, a project manager at The Environment Agency of Iceland. When asked about the size of the leak, is it relatively small compared to the last couple of years. “No, it’s not a lot of leakages and we’ve been in contact with the port of Seyðisfjörður town due to the leak. They estimate that a lot less of oil is surfacing than in the last couple of years,” Sigurrós stated in an interview with RÚV.

Sunken WWII ship

SS El Grillo was sunk after a German air raid on February 10, 1944. Although there were no casualties, the ship was heavily damaged and the captain decided to sink it to remove the ship as a target and a risk. The air raid, which set out from Norway, was comprised of three Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condors. The wreck lies at a depth between 22 to 45 metres, lying almost upright. The site is one of the more popular diving sites in the country.

El Grillo sinking in Seyðisfjörður fjord

Polluting the fjord
A significant amount of bunker oil seeped out into the fjord after the attack, and the subsequent voluntary sinking. Oil dirt can be seen under stones when they are turned, and a foul smell rises. The wreck constantly leaked oil, so cleaning operations have been carried out twice. The last one took place in 2001 when a Norwegian contractor was hired to clean out the estimated 2,000 tons of oil in the wreck. Ultimately, only 90 tons of oil were found and cleaned from the wreck.

The wreck is still leaking oil into the Seyðisfjörður fjord and is affecting local birdlife. Eider duck ducklings can ill handle the oil as it becomes stuck in their feathers and immobilize them. This development can be difficult to spot as seagulls quickly seize the easy prey. Visible oil slicks can be seen in the fjord itself.

More Icelandic Hikers Discovering WWII Explosives

WWII explosives Iceland

The COVID-19 pandemic has pulled travel-hungry Icelanders outdoors on hiking trips, where they have been discovering more than the beauty of nature, RÚV reports. An unusually high number of WWII-era explosives have been found by hikers in Iceland this spring, and the Icelandic Coast Guard’s explosives experts have been kept busy safely disposing of them.

Soldiers are Gone, But Bombs Remain

The British Royal Navy and Royal Marines invaded Iceland on May 10, 1940. The British were later replaced by Canadian and then American forces. Though the troops are long gone, the same can’t be said of all of their explosives. Icelandic authorities have received 15 notifications of bombs already this year – usually they receive around 50 during the summer, only starting in July.

“What we have become aware of this spring is a higher frequency of people finding military artefacts out in nature which usually doesn’t happen until later in the summer. This is, of course, related to the fact that people are travelling more domestically,” stated Ásgeir Guðjónsson, an explosives expert from the Icelandic Coast Guard. “These cannonballs and bombs that are in nature here are made of steel and have lain here for up to 70 years and have therefore become dangerous because time itself has made the material unstable.”

Explosives Scattered Across Land and Water

Ásgeir says it is not known how many such explosives remain in Iceland, but they could number in the thousands or even hundreds of thousands. They are not only scattered across the land, but also in the ocean surrounding Iceland. Sometimes the safest way of disposing of the bombs is to detonate them, as explosives experts did just a few days ago on the Reykjanes peninsula.

Ásgeir cautions hikers to avoid touching or handling any explosives or military artefacts they come across, and inform the police right away. “We want people to take a picture at the location and contact the police directly, call the police and notify,” so that police can deal with the explosive immediately.

Sunk British WWII Tanker Still Leaking Oil in Seyðisfjörður

The British tanker El Grillo is still leaking oil into Seyðisfjörður 75 years after it was sunk by a German air raid. The oil is killing off birds in the fjord while old oil can still be seen on beaches in the area. Municipal authorities intend to request the United Kingdom for assistance with cleaning up the wreck and preventing further pollution.

SS El Grillo was sunk after a German air raid on February 10, 1944. Although there were no casualties, the ship was heavily damaged and the captain decided to sink it to remove the ship as a target and a risk. The air raid, which set out from Norway, was comprised of three Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condors. The wreck lies at a depth between 22 to 45 metres, lying almost upright. The site is one of the more popular diving sites in the country.

Polluting the fjord
A significant amount of bunker oil seeped out into the fjord after the attack, and the subsequent voluntary sinking. Oil dirt can be seen under stones when they are turned, and a foul smell rises. The wreck constantly leaked oil, so cleaning operations have been carried out twice. The last one took place in 2001 when a Norwegian contractor was hired to clean out the estimated 2,000 tons of oil in the wreck. Ultimately, only 90 tons of oil were found and cleaned from the wreck.

The wreck is still leaking oil into the Seyðisfjörður fjord and is affecting local birdlife. Eider duck ducklings can ill handle the oil as it becomes stuck in their feathers and immobilize them. This development can be difficult to spot as seagulls quickly seize the easy prey. Visible oil slicks can be seen in the fjord itself.

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A duckling in the tidemark struggling to deal with oil

Rúnar Gunnarsson, head port security officer and chairman of the security council, says the conditions have been especially bad this summer in an interview with RÚV. “As the sea warms, more oil surfaces as the oil needs only a small change in temperature to start to move. The ship is presumably getting more and more damaged, as it’s laid there for 75 years. The current brings the oil into the fjord, which enters the beaches and affects the birds. It’s very serious. Adolescent birds and the eider duck ducklings can’t seem to handle the oil. The adult birds seem, for some reason, to handle the oil better, but the adolescent birds have died in drove this year,” a worried Rúnar said. He wants to see a floating pen placed over the wreck before the oil starts to rise again next summer. No-one knows for sure how much oil can be found in the wreckage. “I’ve heard people speak of 14 tons which is quite a lot in the grand scale of things. We are going to contact the British embassy and see whether the British want to take any part in the cleaning. When it boils down to it, it’s their ship. They owned the ship and the oil which went down with it.”

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El Grillo the day of the attack in Seyðisfjörður fjord

Wartime Iceland
Although Iceland remained neutral in World War II, the British invaded Iceland on May 10, 1940. The country was considered of strategic importance due to its position in the North Atlantic. It was mainly used as a base for Allied shipping convoys headed with supplies to Murmansk in northern Russia. On July 7, 1941, the United States took control of the defence of Iceland. It is believed that around 230 Icelanders lost their lives in the war, most on fishing and cargo vessels sunk by German aircraft, U-boats or mines.

Seyðisfjörður was home to one of the Allied bases in the country, as both warships and merchant vessels moored in the bay before heading to Russia. Seyðisfjörður was attacked once more in WWII, other than the attack which led to El Grillo’s sinking. On September 5, 1942, two German aeroplanes attacked Seyðisfjörður and dropped two bombs into the fjord. One of the bombs fell only seven metres from four boys who were playing in an old rowboat. Luckily, none of the boys lost their lives but one of the boys lost his leg while two others sustained injuries. Aðalbergur Þórarinsson was one of the boys and he was struck in the groin by a bomb shard. Although Aðalbergur long dealt with a fear of aeroplanes, he remains stoic about the event, “I bear no ill-will towards the man who flew the aeroplane. These were men who were summoned to war and were simply fighting.” Just last year, a group of twelve-year-old boys were throwing an active bomb between them, putting themselves at considerable risk. The bomb is believed to be from El Grillo’s anti-aircraft gun.

Seyðisfjörður
Seyðisfjörður is situated in East Iceland, home to 673 people. Nowadays it is home to an active art community, hosting the yearly art festival LungA. The ferry MS Norröna travels sails from Denmark to Seyðisfjörður, stopping in the Faroe Islands capital Tórshavn en route.

Video of the wreck, oil slicks in the fjord along with affected ducklings, can be seen here: https://www.ruv.is/frett/bretar-hreinsi-drepandi-oliu-ur-seydisfirdi