Russian Fire Bomb Washes Up Near Chignik

(Coast Guard Officer Jonathan Klingenberg)
(Coast Guard Officer Jonathan Klingenberg)

Coast Guard helicopter dropped an elite team of explosives experts near Chignik last week. Their mission: to detonate a suspicious bomb that washed up on a remote beach. On paper, it was a standard assignment for the Army’s explosive ordnance disposal team.

But, the case still managed to turn up some surprises.

If you ask around, no one in Chignik has heard about a World War II-era bomb washing up on their shores. That’s partially because the Peninsula village is fixated on salmon season right now.

It also has something to do with where the ordnance was found in early June. Mitrofania Bay is about 20 miles from the village.

Wallace: “Where the bomb was — I mean, it was nature. Where the bomb was, there was nothing around.”

That’s Army Spc. Vincent Wallace. He’s with the 716th Explosive Ordnance Disposal team out of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.

They got the report of a Fish and Wildlife Service employee stumbling upon a bomb in Mitrofania Bay. The person took some photos to help identify the piece, but Wallace says they didn’t offer a lot of clues.

Wallace: “Well, we knew it was a bomb. The shape and the construction of it led us to believe that it was pretty old. That narrowed it down a little bit, but we still had a wide range of options of what it could have actually been.”

The only way to know for sure was to examine the item in person. To do that, the army’s explosives team partnered with the Coast Guard, and got a ride on their MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter last week. They were able to land directly on the beach where the ordnance was left.

Wallace quickly determined that the bomb was made out of aluminum — a metal commonly used in fire or smoke bombs. But this bomb was engraved with Russian, and that’s not so common.

Wallace: “Once I found the Russian Cyrillic, that just finished out what it was. We were able to identify it as a 50-kilogram Russian fire bomb.”

Fire bombs are meant to be dropped from aircraft, to clear a path on the ground or destroy targets. They’re usually filled with incendiary material, like napalm or thermite. But in this case:

Wallace: “It was just a light aluminum shell.”

Wallace says the incendiary material inside might have leaked out over the last 70 years. Or it might have been manufactured to be empty for a reason — perhaps to be used for training during World War II.

Either way, it still presented a hazard. Wallace says his explosives team didn’t want to leave the bomb on the beach for someone else to find, and they definitely didn’t want to fly back to base with it on board.

Wallace: “Just to be safe, at that point, we disposed of it by detonation.”

And so, with a little help from some C-4 explosives, the empty bomb did the impossible.

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