Buildings were evacuated and traffic restrictions imposed after a 220kg aerial bomb, said to date from the Second World War, was found during construction work at a site in the centre of Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia on October 24.
Police were deployed pending the arrival of a bomb disposal squad, the Interior Ministry said.
Traffic was barred from the intersection of Oborishte Street and Evlogi and Hristo Georgievi Boulevard, while Sofia municipality announced that a number of bus routes had been diverted.
One of the evacuated buildings nearby the intersection houses the Antim I and 164 Miguel de Cervantes High School.
The bomb was found during work on construction of Sofia’s third metro underground railway line.
In the late afternoon, Bulgaria’s deputy defence chief Vice-Admiral Emil Eftimov said that the bomb dated from the Second World War.
Eftimov said that the bomb was regarded as unlikely to explode. The bomb, which is in heavily corroded condition, is to be transported to a military site and destroyed.
The Allies bombarded the Bulgarian capital city during the Second World War, when the country’s government of the time aligned it to Hitler’s Axis.
Bombing raids on Sofia in 1943 and 1944 left an estimated more than 1300 people dead, more than 1700 injured, over 2000 buildings destroyed and 10 000 damaged, and saw an estimated 300 000 people evacuated from the city.
In 1941, Sofia’s decision to ally with Hitler’s Germany brought some Allied air raids, but nothing of the scale that was to follow in 1943 and 1944.
By the latter part of 1943, the situation in the European theatre had changed significantly, and the Allies had embarked on large-scale bombing of strategically important industrial installations, as well as bombing intended to obliterate morale.
This put Sofia on the bombing route, for both reasons. Allied bombing of the Ploieşti oil fields in Romania had begun in 1942, but intensified in 1943 after the Allies acquired new bases in Italy. The Ploieşti bombings were intended to deny Nazi Germany badly-needed fuel.
With Bulgaria en route, practice was to drop unused bombs, on Sofia and other cities and towns. It was a major operation, with the United States and Royal Air Force intensively involved, along with air force crews from other Allied countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa.
The military cemetery in Sofia has war graves of Allied airmen from these times, when Ack-Ack and Bulgarian fighters found their mark.
November 13 1943 saw the first of the new series of large-scale raids on Sofia, when 91 B25s attacked the city.
RAF Wellington bombers attacked the railway marshalling yards while Blenheim bombers attacked the railway line from Bulgaria to Greece.
A further raid followed 11 days later, when 60 B24 Liberator bombers hit the city, concentrating on the area around the main railway station.
There were three raids in December 1943, with targets including the railway station and marshalling yards, Sofia Airport and central parts of the city.
By the end of the year, these five raids had cost at least 110 deaths in the city, while more than 300 buildings lay in ruins.
January 10 and 11 saw the return of the Allies, the US Army Air Force coming in first with 143 B17s in a day raid, followed by 44 Royal Air Force Wellingtons at night.
March 30 1944 was among the most severe raids. As noted, the target was the centre of Sofia. About 370 US bombers flew in, leaving casualties not as severe as in other raids – this time, there had been large-scale evacuations – but leaving 3575 buildings destroyed.
Among buildings damaged in the 1943/44 raids are many that remain landmarks today – the Ivan Vazov National Theatre, the National Library, the Baths, the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Sofia University’s theological department and the Natural History Museum. Some were restored to their previous appearance while others were altered during repairs.
April 17 1944 was the “Black Easter” raid. About 350 bombers were involved, B17s and B24s, with about 2500 bombs dropped, including on the railway marshalling yards. About 750 buildings were destroyed.
(Archive photo: US Air Force)