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Don't Collect This Shell – Unexploded WWII Bomb Turns Up at Cape Lookout National Seashore


More than 60 years in the briny deep has been a bit hard on this old bomb, but it's still potentially dangerous. NPS photo by Devin Seybert.

Searching beaches for interesting shells is a favorite pastime in many coastal areas, but everyone can be thankful a visitor used good judgment and decided not to haul away an unusual kind of "shell" he spotted at Cape Lookout National Seashore. It turned out to be an unexploded WWII-era bomb.

It was the kind of report from a visitor that can put a nasty kink in a ranger's day: last Sunday, a park visitor advised ranger Devin Seybert that what appeared to be an explosive device had washed ashore at the northern end of North Cove Banks.

Seybert tentatively identified the device as an unexploded aerial bomb, marked a wide area as a safety buffer, and passed the word up the chain of command for some expert help.

The following day, an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD)team from the Marine Corp Air Station at Cherry Point was taken to the bomb’s location. The Marine Corp team identified the device as a World War II era bomb, possibly containing up to 75 pounds of TNT. This is a case where it's always better to assume the worst, and the EOD team destroyed the bomb by detonating it in place with C-4 explosives.

Most current Americans weren't even alive during World War II, and unless they paid close attention during history class, they probably don't recall that the coastal areas of North Carolina experienced considerable military activity during World War II. The area was not only used for training exercises; there was actual combat right along the coast involving shipping convoys and German U-Boats.

The park website for Cape Hatteras National Seashore, located not far up the coast from Cape Lookout where this bomb was found, includes an excellent summary of this coastal naval action. That article, "Torpedo Junction," reminds us that,

In the dark days of early 1942, enemy submarines descended upon local waters, wreaking havoc on defenseless merchant ships in full view of the Outer Banks. The pivotal naval campaign that followed, one marked by conspicuous instances of ignorance, frustration, and heroism, came perilously close to knocking the United States out of World War II.

… The massive shipping losses, timely British assistance (which was finally accepted), and some hard-learned lessons provoked an effective reaction from the U.S. Navy. Long-range aircraft patrols were implemented, a coastal convoy system was initiated, and more anti-submarine vessels were deployed. A few enemy U-boats were even sunk.

As a result of all that military activity, it's possible that other pieces of old ordnance will turn up along the coast from time to time, and this incident is a good reminder of what to do when it does: leave it alone and call the experts.

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