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The Munich bomb
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    Unexploded bombs are still found along the coast, in lakes, rivers and above all buried under the earth – a deadly legacy from the Second World War. Although losses due to acts of war are excluded, insurers showed themselves to be highly cooperative in settling claims resulting from the controlled explosion of a WWII aerial bomb in the centre of Munich. Unlike the state, which took some time to accept its responsibility for resulting losses, insurers paid out quickly and without fuss.
    In August 2012, building site workers in the Schwabing district of Munich came across a 250 kg aerial bomb from the Second World War. This unexploded bomb was fitted with a chemical delayed-action detonator, which was a major worry for bomb disposal experts. As it was impossible to defuse the bomb safely, it was decided to carry out a controlled explosion.

    How a chemical detonator works

    Chemical Detonator
    © Munich Re
    A propeller at the bomb’s tail-end begins to rotate when the bomb is dropped which drives a spindle. This spindle drills its way into a glass container filled with acetone until the container bursts. The acetone escapes and drips onto a small celluloid sheet. This starts a chemical reaction which dissolves the celluloid sheet and releases the detonating mechanism.

    Overall loss of €4m

    Extensive precautions ensured that major damage only occurred in the immediate vicinity of the bomb site. Several roof fires proved to be short-lived, as the hard roofing effectively prevented secondary damage to the roofs themselves. A shop and the flat above it suffered the worst damage. Located only a few metres from the scene of the explosion, both were completely gutted. In addition, numerous windows were shattered and façades severely damaged. The shock wave produced by the explosion was so strong that even doors inside buildings shattered and household belongings and furnishings were damaged or destroyed. Fortunately, there was no permanent damage to structural parts of the buildings. Nevertheless, the 17 buildings affected did sustain considerable overall damage. According to media reports, the total loss was in the order of €4m.

    Uncomplicated claims settlement

    After insurers had ruled in favour of insureds under glass and fire policies, the city of Munich and Free State of Bavaria also agreed to help. As the Federal Republic of Germany is considered the legal successor of the Third Reich and public bodies in Germany are responsible for all decisions regarding the consequences of the Second World War (such as explosions), the state is therefore also responsible for dealing with unexploded bombs and the losses they cause.

    German property insurers promised their policyholders cover quickly and directly. That is not a matter of course, as insurance policies generally exclude damage and losses due to acts of war. In a press release relating to the detonation of the Munich bomb, the Association of German Insurers (GDV) emphasised that in the case of losses attributable to war events, the war exclusion clause applies in the form underlying the terms of insurance recommended by the GDV. Losses sustained through detonation of the bomb are therefore excluded. This statement is based on the wording of the exclusion clause. Since 2008, the wording in property insurance has consistently been as follows: “Regardless of concomitant causes, the insurance does not cover losses due to war …”
    Munich a bomb was covered with 20 tonnes of straw
    © Feuerwehr München
    The bomb was covered with 20 tonnes of straw on the building site where it was found, in order to reduce the risk of damage and injury from flying shrapnel. Given the high groundwater level in the area, it was also important to ensure that only some of the energy released by the explosion was diverted into the ground.

    Removing unexploded bombs likely to take decades

    Attempts to defuse unexploded bombs or to detonate them in controlled circumstances naturally do not constitute a war event per se. Through the use of the term “due to”, however, the wording of the war exclusion encompasses not only the direct consequences, but also the indirect consequences of war. Known in jurisprudence as adequate causality, this causal relationship also includes consequential losses which are only indirectly associated with the war insofar as – to put it simply – general life experience indicates that the outcome, i.e. the result of a chain of events, is to be expected.

    The losses sustained through the controlled detonation of an American bomb in Munich therefore qualify as a final outcome of the massive aerial attacks over Germany during World War II, the warlike nature of which cannot be denied. This case proves once again that bombs and associated causal chains do not simply disappear, not even 70 years after the end of the war. Bomb disposal experts believe that it will be decades before all the unexploded ordnance has been eliminated.
    Leonhard Rolwes
    is a property insurance expert at Munich Re and a member of the Model Conditions Working Group in the Association of German Insurers.