The Largest Explosion Ever On UK Soil, RAF Fauld

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RAF Fauld was a military munitions storage in Staffordshire. It exploded by accident in 1944 and was the largest explosion to have ever occurred on UK soil. It is also the largest non-nuclear explosion in the world.

History of the store.

The RAF took over an existing alabaster mine in 1937 for use as a munitions store. Well away from any roads or towns, it could hold up to 400,000 tonnes of bombs and explosives.

The explosion.

At 11:11 on Monday the 27th November 1944 between 3,500 and 4,000 tonnes of ammunition exploded within the intermediate area of the mine in a matter of seconds. 26 people instantly died. The casualties included RAF personal, Italian POW’s and civilians.

The munitions that exploded contained “High Explosive” bombs, weapons and over 500 million rounds of rifle ammunition.

The explosion was seen and felt over 50 miles away. There was over 250 tonnes of rock and soil that was blown into the sky. The crater the explosion left over was over 90 metres deep and over 250 metres across. The site is still visible today. It is known as the Hanbury Crater.

A nearby reservoir was also obliterated in the incident. Over 450,000 cubic metres of water added to the damage caused by the explosion. It instantly destroyed a plaster factory in its wake. Killing 33 workers within.

Upper Castle Hayes Farm sat directly above the mine and was instantly obliterated, along with the family of 6 who worked it. Several buildings were also lost in the accident.

The debris damaged the Hanbury village Church and Inn. Rock from the explosion was found over 6 miles away. It took over a year to clean up the area and repair the damaged buildings. Over 3,000 tonnes of explosives are still buried today.

The exact death toll is uncertain. Approximately 70 people were believed to have died in the explosion.1

The cause.

Like most accidents that happen in the military, cost cutting and shortcuts led to stupid mistake that could of easy been preventable. There had been staff shortages, no senior management and 189 inexperienced Italian POW’s working in the mines at the time.

It took till 1977, 33 years after the incident for the military to determine what had happened at the storage mines.

It was announced that the cause of the explosion was a site worker removing a detonator from a live bomb. He had been using a brass chisel rather than a wooden batten. This in effect caused a spark that cause the massive explosion.

The use of metal tools in the mines was strictly forbidden, but again there was a lack of management on the site at this time.

An eyewitness testified that he had seen a worker using brass chisels in defiance of the strict regulations in force.2

Casualties.

At the time, there was no tally of the number of workers at the facility. So, while the exact death toll is uncertain, it appears that about 70 people died in the explosion.

90 people were killed, missing or injured according to an official report. This included:

  • 26 killed or missing at the RAF dump—divided between RAF personnel, civilian workers and some Italian prisoners of war who were working there. 5 of whom were gassed by toxic fumes; also 10 severely injured.
  • 37 killed (drowned) or missing at Peter Ford & Sons, a nearby gypsum mine and plaster mill, and surrounding countryside; also 12 injured.
  • Perhaps six or so farm workers at the nearby Upper Castle Hayes Farm.

Also 200 cattle were killed by the explosion. Some live cattle were removed from the vicinity but were dead the following morning.3
4

The site today.

Much of the storage facility was annihilated by the explosion, but the site itself continued to be used by the RAF for munitions storage until 1966. Following France’s withdrawal from NATO’s integrated military structure in 1966, the site was used by the United States Army, until 1973, to store US ammunition previously stored in France.

By 1979 the site was fenced off and the area is now covered with over 150 species of trees and wildlife. The area is restricted as a significant amount of explosives are still buried deep in the site; the UK government has deemed their removal infeasible on the grounds of cost.

“Urban Explorers” still visit the underground facilities to this day. They have been mostly covered in graffiti, anything of value as been taken and the air can be very stale and dangerous.

There is a nice walk circling the crater. A memorial to the men who lost their life is unfortunately forgotten at the site.

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Book Recommendations.

If you are interested in Post-War Leicester then we recommend the following book (Click on the images or links below)

Post-War Leicester

In the thirty years following the end of the Second World War Leicester underwent some of the most dramatic changes in its history. Along with the rest of Britain it saw the austerity of the late 1940s and ’50s, the shortages and rationing, followed by the boom period of the ’60s, when full employment brought an interlude of prosperity. During these postwar decades sweeping changes were made to the physical structure of Leicester: areas of bomb damage and slum housing were cleared from the old city centre, and an intensive building programme in both the public and private sectors resulted in people moving out to new housing estates on the edges of the city. Ben Beazley vividly describes the story of everyday life in Leicester during this period. Illustrated with more than 120 photographs, maps and plans, Postwar Leicester will capture the imagination of anyone who knows the city today, and will rekindle memories for those who lived through the years of redevelopment and change.”

  1. Landmarks of Geology in the East Midlands
  2. BBC Peoples War
  3. Ministry of Home Security report File RE. 5/5i region IX
  4. Explosion at No. 21 Maintenance Unit, Fauld, 27 Nov. 1944: Court of Enquiry – AIR 17/10
Thomas is fascinated by the city's long and varied history. He also hates to discuss himself in the third person but can be persuaded to do so from time to time.
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