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You are in: Stoke & Staffordshire > Discover Staffordshire > Local History > World's largest-ever explosion (almost)

Stoke Crater

World's largest-ever explosion (almost)

The Fauld Explosion created the Hanbury Crater, a huge hole in the Staffordshire landscape. It is still the site of the world's biggest non-nuclear explosion. Mark Rowe, who's written a book on the subject, tells us more....

Anyone in Burton upon Trent on November 27th, 1944, remembers what they were doing that morning.
They remember because that was the day the dump went up - the underground ammunition store at nearby RAF Fauld blew up.

The accident left 70 dead and missing and a crater to this day, 100 feet deep and 250 yards wide, halfway between the village of Hanbury and Tutbury Castle.

Why?

With hindsight, it was an accident waiting to happen.

Mark Rowe

According to a file in the National Archives, even 30 years after the disaster and the swift RAF inquiry, RAF officers in charge of bomb dumps saw the event as a lesson in how not to do things.

In the wartime rush to supply the fighting forces, corners were cut.
Manpower was short - months before the accident, 200 Italian prisoners of war joined, to do the most menial tasks.
Management was slack. As one RAF man, Ken McLeod, put it: "You never saw a damned officer."

Fauld should have kept above ground a list of who was underground; but it was too much trouble.
So when the dump went up, no-one knew who was trapped underground.

Death toll

Yet most of the dump did not blow up, protected by a wall, and many of the men underground at the time made it to the surface.

Most deaths - 31 - came at a nearby plaster-board factory, when the blast broke a reservoir which sent a volcano-like sea of mud down a valley and engulfed everything in the way.
The recovery work was gruesome.

Inquiry

That RAF inquiry found that the most likely cause was an airman trying to remove an exploder pocket from a 4,000 pound bomb, with a brass chisel - causing a spark, which caused an explosion which set off others.

The inquiry rightly judged that "an airman was permitted to perform a dangerous operation in the mine. This indicates negligence on the part of the supervising staff present in the mine due either to lack of knowledge, lack of a proper sense of responsibility, or lack of proper direction from senior authority."

Yet no-one in authority was punished; indeed, the then commander of Fauld not only stayed in the same branch of the air force, but he ended up with the OBE.

Mark Rowe Facts

Mark Rowe is a journalist, who went to school and lives in Burton upon Trent.
He is the author of several books about local history, including The Trees Were Burning, about the Fauld explosion and other RAF bases in Staffordshire in World War Two (8.50).
The books are on sale at the Ottakar's chain of bookshops and from him directly by email at chiprowe@hotmail.com

Sixty years on

Nature has done its best to soften the crater. Trees have grown in it; birds swoop.

You can still reach it along a public footpath which can be accessed across fields from The Cock Inn, the Hanbury pub that was so damaged by the explosion that it had to be rebuilt.

There, you can still look down into the overgrown crater, which is still cordoned off after all these years. It is marked as MoD property.

It is a still, eerie place - both a grave, and a mute monument to the mistakes man can make.

Mark Rowe

See the sidebar for ways in which you can buy Mark's book.

last updated: 29/08/2008 at 11:35
created: 15/08/2008

You are in: Stoke & Staffordshire > Discover Staffordshire > Local History > World's largest-ever explosion (almost)

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