Krupps Arms Dump
- Contributed by
- People in story:
- F/Lt Wyn Cartwright
- Location of story:
- England then Europe post D Day
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 16 November 2005
RAF Bomb Disposal Flight 6225, 83 Group
F/Lt Wyn Cartwright, Commanding Officer
MR CHAIRMAN - GENTLEMEN First you must blame your Secretary who persuaded me to give this talk. Normally I stand up, speak up and am brief. However, on this occasion, with some trepidation, I agreed to give this address, as Commanding Officer of 6225 BDF, 83 Group, covering Europe and Norway during 1939-45 war.
My biggest problem is a severe loss of hearing. Due to several years of constant noise when bombs exploded; some by intent, some by accident. Bombs don't always respond to fuses which operate to vibratory, acoustic, magnetic and time clocks.
However, more by luck than judgment I am here to speak to you. It is not my intention to refer to the sad part of life in bomb disposal as far as possible.
My talk will centre on how I became involved, and hopefully, the more interesting issues relating to Royal Air Force Bomb Disposal operations, which differ dramatically from the Navy or Army, being a full time operation.
Bomb disposal is not the most popular of jobs, but is one of the most interesting, exciting and rewarding. We enjoyed many
privileges for obvious reasons, plus hospital food rations. Danger is reduced to a minimum if rules are obeyed, which, of course, they are not. Urgency demands short cuts. After some experience one learns the short cuts and the risks involved, and one survives.
All disposal personnel are volunteers and can ask for transfer at any time.
We were paid danger money.
My company would not release me so I waited for my call up and joined the RAF as Armourer 1st Class.
Without going into details, I was summoned to the Air Ministry and asked to take a commission. This I did after 7 weeks of intensive training at Cosford, Wolverhampton (not in Bomb Disposal) from 7am to 10pm, passed out as a Pilot Officer and accepted Bomb Disposal as my future in the services. Bomb disposal is one of the occupations in the RAF which is completely voluntary. My first command was with Flight 6220, stationed at Nuneaton. Sometime later I was transferred to Flight 6225 only to learn that this flight was destined to go overseas on D-Day. A senior officer switched flights and I was obliged therefore to take this command with 83 Group as Flight Lieutenant.
From then on we were always in the front line, and often between and behind the German lines.
My first experience of privilege - I told my warrant officer I wished to take a short leave to my home, and asked would he make the necessary arrangements, only to find my staff car was prepared with a large bomb, very visible on the back seat and a police escort to take me to Blackburn and back.
On one occasion whilst the invasion of Europe was in progress I came over to England for a brief leave, only to be reported by the Military Police for being on unofficial leave. I received a summons and told myself off accordingly, as Commanding Officer.
RAF BOMB DISPOSAL ESTABLISHMENT - 1942-45 - 6225 B.D
Flight Sergeant 1
Bedford 4-wheel drive 7
C/O Staff Car (Humber) 1
Motor Cycles 2
Explosives l5cwt Van 1
Water Carrier 1
Long Wheel Base Truck 1
Steam Jennies 2
B.D. Flight was completely independent with own cooking facilities and privileged to:-
* Pay Wages - carry own stores, explosives, revolvers etc.
* Authorised to set up camp in any wing of Air Force camps.
Mostly we camped as we decided, usually on sites outside Air Force wings.
My First Job
A British 500 pound bomb shell fitted with a nose inertia pistol fuse, and dropped near an army unit on the beaches, had failed to explode. These fuses had spring-loaded firing pins which detonated on impact, firing a mercury pellet and thus exploding the bomb. In this case the firing pin remained embedded in the Picrik pellet, without disturbing the shell. To set example I rendered this safe.
The problem was to remove the firing pin without disturbing the shell which could easily explode at any minute.
All's well and I'm here to prove it!
Thank God for cigarettes and sand bags (rarely effective).
French girls married to Germans during the occupation became snipers. A number were shot by the French military. First experience of bazooka, shot from the shoulder. Cordtex - fuse wire useful for small demolition, travels at some 20,000 ft per second, one way only..
All bombs were unarmed until actually lifted into the aircraft cradles, when a telescopic arm is attached to the fuse in the bomb. When the bomb is released, and just before the arm contact is broken, a small electric current is passed into the fuse. The condenser can hold this small charge for many years.
Camped in the village of Roucort but the town Mayor, who had lust had the chateau decorated after occupation of German Wher Macht, called on us and asked us to occupy the chateau as long as we required it. We stayed here for 14 days or more to rest and bring equipment up-to-date. The village adopted us and we lived like Lords. We had 52 bedrooms to chose from. I have visited this chateau on several occasions since.
Some 300 found near the beaches. These contained 200 pounds of TNT in brick form. Removed the explosive but, owing to close proximity of troops and the danger of becoming targets for German bombers, had to bury explosive in a field to be destroyed later. Air Ministry and local command informed not to use the field as a transit camp, but was ignored, causing several problems. On the soft ground where we had buried the TNT, the troops made their latrines!! Some days later I received a dispatch rider from the transit camp which was partly surrounded by fire. Had to take immediate action to put the fires out before nightfall. Done by controlled explosive demolition.
The Beatle Tanks did not appear to have been used. Powered by 2 x 12 V batteries, one in each caterpillar. Directed to the target and exploded by remote control. Caen Carpiquet Airfield Spent a few days here working mostly between the German and British troops, investigating why a new type of warhead, dropped from Typhoons, did not explode. On examination found faulty fuses.
Spent 2 days in a bug infested dugout between the lines. The RAF having pinpointed an old tank as the target for the warheads.
Ironically, the officer who was able to switch flights, as mentioned earlier, came over with 84 Group, landed on the beaches and came direct to Carpiquet. As he got out of the car he trod on perhaps the only jumping mine not found and received injuries which put him out of action for some 12 months.
These are 2 ton bombs and one was found on the runway of Hanover airfield along with some hundreds of anti-personnel bombs, 1 and 2 killograms, strewn on the runway. Received instructions to clear runways at once as British aircraft were expected within the hour. Dragged bomb, on wooden skis to edge of runway. Found suitable dugout some 400 yards away with 3 foot thick solid concrete walls just below ground level. Exploded the bomb by remote control. Shock waves travelled through the ground and the 5 of us in the dugout where knocked out for a short time and covered with bruises demanding medical attention. (So we live and learn.)
Used 2 tanks with thick chain to sweep the runway clear and then checked buildings for booby traps. We found several, such as photographs of beautiful nude women, with small antennea fixed on jumping mines. If one was to walk closer, as was, perhaps, inevitable, the mine would automatically ignite causing the loss of a leg or something more serious. There were many similar booby traps, ie opening doors, filling water basins to a certain depth, telephone plugs connected to bombs in sewers. Anti-personnel bombs fused with a number of different types (vibratory - magnetic and time).
It was an interesting experience to enter sewers but not to be recommended.
Used Cordtex fuse wire for demolition.
Aircraft arrived just as we had declared airfield fit for use.
Occupied the Krupps bomb dump. Came across a large number of flying bomb units and their explosive drums, rather like large dustbins. Very thin casing to increase the blast effect. We took over a large farm area and used the farmhouse as our firing point with 7 demolition sites about 300 yards away. As the ceasefire had been declared we were very much restricted. The farmer was allowed to work from 4 pm to 9.30 am, when we took over, destroying bombs all day. We had guards posted for safety. Lost some 50 tons of explosive when one load did not explode. F/Sergeant did not report this. Later when we fired a new load the lost one blew as well, causing damage to the nearby village and partly destroying our firing point (farmhouse). Commanding Officer always blamed.
Travemunde and Lubeck
It was here that we came into contact with the Russians coming in from the Baltic area. There were many problems as the Russian soldiers seemed so destructive. Nothing was sacred.
The Germans had a rough time, particularly the girls and not so young women. I was asked on several occasions to interfere when rape occured. This was, of course, impossible. The Russians were allies. We were sited at Lubeck with the use of Walrus aircraft, which we retained until after operations in Norway. We then returned to England before going to Norway.
Stationed in Eindhoven for the Christmas period. Came across a new mine some 40 ft long weighing many tons. Took photographs for Air Ministry - called away (very unusual) for about 30 minutes only to hear a tremendous bang. On returning to site found a crater 40 ft wide and many feet deep. If I hadn't been called away would probably have gone up with it. At times I felt we were being looked after by a divine power. Could quote a number of instances of similar experiences. Poison Gas Never used as far as known, we dumped hundreds of litres in the North Sea. We became responsible for all bomb dumps - take records, tidy up prior to demolition. Air crew were a nuisance as they ignored notices to keep out and fooled around. On one occasion we found some 15 air, crew disturbing our sorting out. More than one life was lost by our men when tidying up after the air crew.
Steam Jennies were useful as we could melt the explosive from UXB by cutting a hole at the top, inserting steam nozzle and dispose of bomb without causing too much trouble locally. When explosive which has been so melted dries out it becomes extremely volatile and has to be handled with great care. Interesting to note that many years after the war 2 UXB were found under St Paul's Cathedral and this method was used and claimed as a new approach. We had used it many times in 1944/5.
Belsen Concentration Camp Liberated 15th April 1945
Situated a few miles from Celle near Hanover. Received an urgent call from the Canadians who had occupied the camp. We entered the camp through huge gate posts but in each wheel track there was a large trough with 2 inches of disinfectant in which everyone entering or leaving the camp had to tread.
As soon as one entered the camp one was met with several large stacks of bones.
There had been much activity by the Germans before leaving the camp suggesting booby traps, minefields and time bombs. However, on investigating found most of the buried stuff to be watches, rings, jewelry, gold teeth etc, filling 4 x 5 ton Bedfords.
Before entry we were examined by the medical staff, stripped and treated with white anti-typhus cream, then wearing linen jackets.
The camp was divided into 2 sections, A and B, each covering some acres. B Camp was by far the worst and after a few weeks was burned down after the living bodies had been asphyxiated. Imagine numerous huts each with some twenty 3-tier camp beds,2 per bunk, with 3 or 4 living bodies on each, vomiting, passing excretia on each other and all covered with typhus disease. One could smell this for weeks after. Several open pits with dead and dying humans, some showing sadistic signs of grafting etc practised by the doctors.
Most inmates seemed to have been French girls, Jewesses and prisoners of war.
Records indicated that at one time as many as 5,000 living bodies were sent weekly to the crematorium and gas chambers in Belsen, with the consequent smell of burning flesh.
This had to be led by the C/O with suitable personnel. First we checked the ground for a number of small mounds by lying on the ground near the suspected mine field. Or perhaps by a number of planted saplings or bushes which were not in keeping with the area. Having decided, the CIO led with 2 columns who had their work detailed. No deviation, no talking or rushing. Usually we found Teller mines and also Plastic which did not respond to mine detectors, with all sorts of varieties of trip wires and antennae. Hence the use of probes as well as mine detectors -probably the most unpleasant job in bomb disposal.
Locating Bombs UXB
When we looked for bombs we noted the hole of entry, size of hole and angle. If burnt grass or bushes around. Enquire from local people how high the plane was, if known. Suprisingly, after checking, we could dig down some 50 to 60 feet and normally expose a part of the bomb. Stethoscope to listen to clock. Freeze. Remove fuse, taking care of anti-handling devices.
Many of these fuses had several types of delay from seconds to many hours, vibrating magnetic etc.
This is a bomb that has exploded underground but not broken the top earth, causing a sealed chamber underground full of poisonous gas. When we attacked these we had to exercise great care in case anyone fell in,, as death would be almost instantaneous. When
bomb disposal personnel were doing this they are normally held by ropes from the surface with the NCO keeping constant watch.
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