Bomb Disposal Unit

Bomb Disposal Unit

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The Air Raid Precautions (ARP) had the problem of dealing with unexploded bombs (UXB). Herbert J. Gough Director-General of Scientific Research, was given responsibility of dealing with UXB. In November, 1939, Gough and three other colleagues from the Royal Engineers, dealt with the first two unexploded bombs dropped on England in November 1939. (1)

A warden would arrange for all premises to be evacuated and all roads within a 600 yard radius of the unexploded bomb. At the beginning of the war it is estimated that one in ten bombs during the early days of the Blitz were "duds". When the ARP discovered a German bomb they would inform the Bomb Disposal Unit (BDU) and skilled men from the Royal Engineers would be sent to remove the fuse. (2)

On 12th September 1940, a 2,200-pound bomb had fallen close to St Paul's Cathedral and lay embedded in the ground near the front of the building. Its removal was a highly dangerous task for the bomb disposal squad, and took several days. Finally, the eight foot long missile was removed and taken on a lorry to what became known as the "bomb cemetery" on Hackney Marshes. The streets on its route was cleared in case it went off prematurely. on 15th September it was exploded in controlled conditions, where it made a crater one hundred feet in diameter. (3)

By September 1940 there were 3,759 UXBs in London. At first the main reason for this was faulty mechanism. However, within a few weeks it became clear that Germany had changed its strategy. Some bombs had been fitted with a sophisticated time-delay mechanism instead of a simple impact fuse. This was to ensure that the bombs would cause maximum havoc in the area where they fell, with premises evacuated and roads closed until they could be defused or moved to the "bomb cemetery". (4)

In 1940 the government decided that a Unexploded Bomb Committee (UXBC) should be formed under the chairmanship of Dr. Gough, Director-General of Scientific Research. Gough then set-up a Research Sub-Committee (RSC), a weekly conference of scientists from the key ministries and laboratories that could react more swiftly to technical problems requiring rapid solutions. This included the co-ordinating of experimentation on fuzes. (5)

The Germans began dropping bombs with two fuze pockets. The first being the time delay (fuze 17) and the second the anti-handling fuze 50 that required a movement of less than a millimetre to activate the trembler switch. The process of attaching the unwieldy clock-stopper was more than enough to cause the 50 fuze to detonate. Scientists working on the problem developed a BD discharger. A mixture of alcohol, benzine and salt was forced into the fuze and if left for thirty minutes, the fuze would become inert and the clock-stopper could be attached. (6)

People got used to this lurking hazard of unexploded bombs and after a while they refused to have their life interrupted by warnings of an unexploded bomb. Vere Hodgson, who helped to run a local charity in Notting Hill Gate, pointed out that when a large section of Hyde Park was cordoned off, with seats resting against the rope carrying placards marked "BEWARE - UXB!". However, Hodgson pointed out that people were peacefully sitting on the seats and some had penetrated the barrier and were relaxing on the grass inside. (7)

Frederick Leighton-Morris removed a 50kg bomb from his neighbour's flat in Jermyn Street, Mayfair, and decided to dump it in St James's Park. He was arrested when he put it down to have a well-earned rest. The magistrate praised his courage but fined him £100. You cannot decide, he was told, "in which part of London a delayed action bomb should go off". On appeal the fine was reduced to a more modest £5. (8) In court he pointed out that he had been rejected from national service for health reasons, but it was later reported that as a result of the case he was allowed to join the Royal Engineers. (9)

In September, 1940, George VI announced that "in order that they (Civil Defence workers) should be worthily and promptly recognised, I have decided to create, at once, a new mark of honour for men and women in all weeks of civilian life" for valour on the home front, as there were medals for those at the battlefront. The George Cross was intended to be the civilian equivalent of the Victoria Cross, which was awarded for "acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger" Most of the medals went to members of the bomb disposal squads. (10)

At the beginning of the war conscientious objectors who refused to join the armed forces became members of the Non-Combatant Corps (NCC). It consisted of fourteen companies totaling 6,766 men and took part in all aspects of the war effort, apart from those that required the handling of weapons. By the end of 1940, 123 members of the BDU's had been killed and 67 wounded. It was therefore decided in January 1941, to send two companies of the NCC to London to clear bomb sites. (11)

Christopher Wren, was a member of the NCC who was sent to London: "I thought that it would be very good to destroy armaments and at the same time protect people. Both aspects seemed to fit with why I had become a non-combatant. The training was minimal. We went to Chester and were under canvas on the racecourse… We were told we would be going to London because there was more to be done down there… A few weeks later we were sent to Chelsea Barracks for real training. We really enjoyed that. It was with the Royal Engineers and everything was enjoyable. No prejudice at all." (12)

Tony White was another conscientious objector who carried out bomb-disposal work. "It was doing something constructive in the sense that you were digging out bombs that were meant to harm, immunizing them, and you could see it as a direct service for the community. But the major reason was my proving something to myself, that I wasn't ‘dodging the column'… I didn't want to escape the risk and here was a chance to prove my sincerity, not in the front line but dangerous… There were several 1,000 pounders that we got, about 4 or 5 feet long, they were a pretty good size. They were heavy of course, and we got them out by winching them out, with a tripod type of rig to haul them out. We'd take them away and try to neutralize them. You'd screw in and make a hole in the casing trying not to disturb the fuse… that job had to be done very carefully, and then we'd inject steam which would neutralize the power or the explosive and then one could remove the fuse safely. And then the officer would retreat to what was theoretically a safe distance and then explode it with an electrical device. This was when the thing could explode before the officer had got far enough away, he was always the one at the greatest risk and we did suffer casualties. You were never sure when you moved the bomb out of its hole… if you'd disturbed the mechanism and there was always the risk that the thing might explode." (13)

The bomb-disposal unit had the skilled and dangerous task of removing the device of making it safe. One of the major problems was the bombs usually penetrated through earth and tarmac to lie deep underground, making it extremely difficult and perilous to defuse them. As Juliet Gardiner has pointed out: "Throughout the war, bomb disposal was a perpetual deadly game of being one step ahead. As soon as the sappers worked out how one fuse could be neutralized, it seemed the Germans would adapt it or invent another that would test the ingenuity - and courage - of the soldiers (and those 350 or so commanding officers who had volunteered to help) to the very limit." (14)

Dr. Gough, was appointed as Director-General of Scientific Research. When an unexploded bomb fell on Deptford Power Station. Dr. Gough went to see it and took his friend, Charles Howard, 20th Duke of Suffolk, with him. "The highly-dangerous 'game' of removing fuses became the young earl's new occupation. Gough formed the first and only Experimental Field Unit, and put Suffolk in charge of it. As raid after raid left in his wake deadly unexploded bombs, Suffolk and his men would remove the fuses and send more interesting examples to H.Q. for examination." (15)

M. J. Jappy, the author of Danger UXB (2001) has pointed out: "Dr Gough at the Ministry of Supply set Lord Suffolk out on what was to be his most daring venture yet: the world of bomb disposal. His health had prevented him going on active service but with characteristic disregard for rules and regulations, he bought himself a large van and kitted it out with the necessary equipment to investigate methods of defuzing unexploded bombs. His high level connections aided his maverick approach and eventually a small team of soldiers was seconded to him to help him with his work." (16)

Duke of Suffolk's detachment consisted of himself, his secretary Eileen Beryl Morden, and his chauffeur, Fred Hards. The first scheme that Gough asked Suffolk to devise was a method for burning out the filling from bombs that could be steamed out, or where corrosion prevented the removal of the base plate by hand. To do this a "beaked cruciblecontaining about six pounds of thermite was placed about three or four inches above the nose weld of the bomb casting". (17)

Over the next few months the team successfully dealt with 34 unexploded bombs. He was described as being "tall and debonair, often wearing a stetson, fawn duffel coat and sporting a matinee idol moustache, Howard would smoke with his 9-inch cigarette holder as he pondered the latest UXB." (18) Harold Macmillan met Suffolk in 1940: "I have had the good fortune to meet many gallant officers and brave men, but I have never known such a remarkable combination in a single man of courage, expert knowledge and indefinable charm." (19)

James Owen, the author of Danger UXB: The Heroic Story of the WWII Bomb Disposal Teams (2010), has pointed out that his bomb disposal work was sometimes criticised: "One officer accused him of carelessness after a five-hundred-kilogram bomb half wrecked a house while Suffolk was trying to neutralise its fuze with gelignite. The Earl did his best to defend himself against the charge that his team were meddlers. A few weeks later, however, a detachment of the East Surreys stationed in Richmond Park complained about several violent explosions set off by Suffolk that had, without warning, sprayed red-hot metal close to the guard room and officers' mess." (20)

Lieutenant John Hudson of the bomb disposal unit, was another person who had misgivings about the Duke of Suffolk's approach: "He was a very colourful, very odd man. He used to have a pistol in a holster under his arm and when he wanted his van he would fire his pistol twice in the air, that sort of thing. He had a very pretty girl as a sort of secretary, we all envied him her... We didn't care for Suffolk at all. He wasn't disciplined, and he wasn't one of us." (21)

One of the major criticisms of Suffolk was that he took unnecessary risks: "His apparent disregard for the safety of those around him was anathema to the officers of the Royal Engineers. The regulations were clear: only those who were absolutely necessary should be in the vicinity when defuzing was taking place. It was very rare indeed for there to be any more than one person anywhere near the bomb after it had been uncovered." (22)

Richard Tunbridge, tells the story of how his grandfather encountered the Duke of Suffolk in the spring of 1941: "My grandparent's shop had been damaged on numerous occasions but they kept it open as they were the only newsagents functioning in a heavily bombed area. Getting stock was very difficult and my grandfather used to travel all over London to find supplies, often bringing these back on a handmade barrow. They were about to give up when a remarkable event occurred. They woke up one morning to local pandemonium; an unexploded parachute landmine was hanging from a building. Everyone rushed into the shelter but later that morning a bizarre event occurred. A limousine pulled up and two men and a woman got out and came into the shelter. This smartly dressed trio announced themselves as Lord Howard, Earl of Suffolk, his chauffeur and his secretary. Everyone was amazed when they said they were the ‘Holy Trinity' bomb disposal team! They changed into overalls and went about defusing the landmine with the secretary taking detailed notes for future reference." (23)

On Tuesday, 12th May, 1941, a bomb for examination by Lord Suffolk's squad was taken to the Belvedere Marshes, just outside south-east London. It was an aged bomb, about 18 months old, and very rusty. A stethoscope was called for and preparations were made to sterilize the bomb. The bomb exploded at 3.20 pm and created a crater 5 ft in diameter. Suffolk and seven sappers were killed immediately. Rescuers found "Beryl Morden in an extremely serious condition. Fred Hands had managed to drag himself a few yards and died calling for Suffolk... Beryl, who had been in the service of the Earl for eleven months, sadly succumbed to her injuries and died in the ambulance." (24)

There were fourteen people around the bomb when it exploded. No trace at all could afterwards be found of four of them. "Some fragments of clothing and feet were identified as belonging to Suffolk, but in essence all that survived of him was the silver cigarette case." Among the dead were Staff Sergeant Jim Atkins, who had been operating the stethoscope, as well as Sappers Jack Hardy, Reg Dutson and Bert Gillett, and Driver David Sharratt. Six other soldiers had very serious injuries. (25)

A bomb disposal expert, William Wells, later argued: "It seemed a blunder on the part of the higher authorities to employ Lord Suffolk on bomb disposal experiments. He was a courageous man, but too adventurous, too much the showman for the cold-bloodied business of bomb disposal experimental work." Lieutenant John Hudson agreed: "We were all very thankful to have him off our chests, but we were very sorry that he took a lot of our chaps with him... He was an amateur, the one and only amateur bomb disposer... I mean, to have people standing around watching you in bomb disposal just wasn't done." (26)

One newspaper reported that throughout the Second World War "countless lives were saved by a group of selfless, silent men - the volunteer heroes of bomb disposal units, the scientists and engineers who worked continuously in the shadow of sudden death. Many of these brave men did lose their lives in the pursuit of their hazardous work, but there were always others ready and willing to take their place." (27)

Between 1940 and 1945, no fewer than 50,000 unexploded bombs were examined and disposed of in Great Britain. The deaths of members of the Bomb Disposal Unit did not end when peace was achieved in 1945. Unexploded bombs continued to be discovered. By 1947, 490 members of the BDU had been killed in the battle to extract those "great, torpid, iron pigs from the holes" and render them harmless. (28)

Unexploded German bombs were very dangerous. The Chief Warden and I would go and inspect the holes armed with rods, to enable him to fill up the necessary forms, etc., for the Bomb Disposal Unit. Once when going to Gulledge Farm to inspect an unexploded bomb, we were informed it had just gone off. Next came the Hoskyns Farm bomb, where a one-ton unexploded bomb fell only ten feet from the house. It was decided to evacuate the area at once. The BDU arrived and confirmed this and stated no one must go near it for ninety-six hours.

The policeman waved his hands towards the rosebed which edged the path. There, at full length, almost entirely buried in the soil, was lying one of the largest types of magnetic mines, badly damaged and in an exceedingly dangerous condition. We had everybody out from all the houses at once.

Unfortunately, the fuse was underneath the mine and I had to make one of the cold-blooded calculations which are so common on these occasions. The houses, though charming, were worth perhaps £1500 each and if they were completely destroyed no harm would be done to the war effort. The mine, I could see, was a standard type and was not likely to yield any secrets. In other words, it was a case, in the jargon of the Service, where "damage could be accepted".

It would be possible to request one of my officers to dig a hole under the mine, crawl in, and work on it from underneath. Alternatively, I could call up a boiler and a steam hose, and request my friend to stand over the mine and dissolve the explosive filling with steam, till so little was left that if it did go up nobody would lose anything but a few windows. But either method was so dangerous that it would only have been justified if the mine had been lying in a vital spot, a power house, an important telephone exchange, a water works, or something of that sort. I decided to trust to luck and an ordinary municipal steamroller.

It is a cardinal principle of mining that you should carry out every possible process from a distance of 200 yards, under cover. Certain operations have to be performed actually straddling the mine, and these cannot be avoided, but there is a surprising amount that can be done at the end of a 200-yard line. My plan of action was to make fast one end of a wire cable to a projection on the mine and the other to a steamroller, and then very gently back the roller down the hill, heave the mine out of its hole and expose the fuse for attention. The joy about these operations is that everybody is keen to help, everybody wants the mine cleared, and I have never asked in vain for any piece of apparatus which was needed, however bizarre. The answer was always 'Yes'. A steamroller was immediately produced; there was an excellent driver in charge, who grasped perfectly what he had to do and quite understood that there must be absolutely no jerk at any stage of the proceedings. We made fast the wire, took cover in a position from which we could watch and signaled the driver to let his roller slide slowly down the hill. The wire took the strain sweetly, the huge bulk of the mine heaved slowly up out of the rosebed; when suddenly there was an appalling explosion.

When the dust subsided, there was practically nothing left of the circle of houses. The curious thing was that the people were angry. They said that the thing had been lying there a week and if we had only left it alone, they would never have lost their property.

I was a conscientious objector until Dunkirk…. I was horrified by the sight of civilians being shot at and bombed… that we (NCCs) were prepared to go and help… do anything that was needed to save life… I thought that it would be very good to destroy armaments and at the same time protect people. No prejudice at all.

It was doing something constructive in the sense that you were digging out bombs that were meant to harm, immunizing them, and you could see it as a direct service for the community. But the major reason was my proving something to myself, that I wasn't ‘dodging the column' … I didn't want to escape the risk and here was a chance to prove my sincerity, not in the front line but dangerous… There were several 1,000 pounders that we got, about 4 or 5 feet long, they were a pretty good size. This was when the thing could explode before the officer had got far enough away, he was always the one at the greatest risk and we did suffer casualties.

You were never sure when you moved the bomb out of its hole… if you'd disturbed the mechanism and there was always the risk that the thing might explode. There were all sorts of things like sensible safe distances and safe times and so on to mimimise the danger, but it was always there.

By the spring of 1941 my grandparent's shop had been damaged on numerous occasions but they kept it open as they were the only newsagents functioning in a heavily bombed area. Getting stock was very difficult and my grandfather used to travel all over London to find supplies, often bringing these back on a handmade barrow.

They were about to give up when a remarkable event occurred. Everyone was amazed when they said they were the ‘Holy Trinity' bomb disposal team! They changed into overalls and went about defusing the landmine with the secretary taking detailed notes for future reference. Next month the team were all killed whilst trying to defuse a bomb. They became an East End legend having defused over 30 bombs. The bravery of these three people convinced my grandparents to stay and try to keep the shop open.

(1) M. Jappy, Danger UXB (2001) page 51

(2) Martin Gilbert, The Second World War (1989) page 118

(3) W. R. Matthews, Saint Paul's Cathedral in Wartime 1939-1945 (1946) pages 36-37

(4) Juliet Gardiner, The Blitz (2010) page 104

(5) James Owen, Danger UXB: The Heroic Story of the WWII Bomb Disposal Teams (2010) page 47

(6) M. Jappy, Danger UXB (2001) page 50

(7) Vere Hodgson, Few Eggs and No Oranges (1976) page 147

(8) Philip Ziegler, London at War: 1939-1945 (1995) page 99

(9) The Aberdeen Press and Journal (21st December 1940)

(10) King George VI, speech (23rd September 1940)

(11) Juliet Gardiner, The Blitz (2010) pages 256-257

(12) Christopher Wren, quoted by M. Jappy, in Danger UXB (2001) pages 92-93

(13) Tony White, quoted by Felicity Goodall, in a A Question of Conscience (1997) page 130

(14) Juliet Gardiner, Wartime: Britain 1939-1945 (2004) pages 342-343

(15) The Liverpool Echo (2nd July, 1955)

(16) M. Jappy, Danger UXB (2001) page 84

(17) James Owen, Danger UXB: The Heroic Story of the WWII Bomb Disposal Teams (2010) page 180

(18) Danny Buckland, The Daily Mirror (21st October, 2015)

(19) James Owen, The Daily Telegraph (24th June 2010)

(20) James Owen, Danger UXB: The Heroic Story of the WWII Bomb Disposal Teams (2010) page 225

(21) John Hudson, Imperial War Museum Sound Archive (23212)

(22) M. Jappy, Danger UXB (2001) page 87

(23) Richard Tunbridge, The Tunbridge Family in the Second World War (May, 2019)

(24) Kerin Freeman, The Civilian Bomb Disposing Earl: Jack Howard and Civilian Bomb Disposal in WW2 (2014) page 200

(25) James Owen, Danger UXB: The Heroic Story of the WWII Bomb Disposal Teams (2010) page 227

(26) John Hudson, Imperial War Museum Sound Archive (23212)

(27) The Liverpool Echo (2nd July, 1955)

(28) Juliet Gardiner, The Blitz (2010) page 104

Were there German bomb disposal units in WW2?

There is lots of information about British bomb disposal units in Britain during WW2. Britain dropped a lot of bombs in Germany. Many of them didn't explode - they're still digging them up now.

The information that I'm having difficulty in finding is whether there were any German bomb disposal units in Germany during WW2? All the searches I've done only ever talk about the British bomb disposal units. I haven't found anything about whether Germany or Japan had bomb disposal units.

Were the British bombs equally deviously booby trapped or have equally unreliable detonators? Did the Germans have a knowledge base on how to defuse British bombs?

A short history of RAF bomb disposal

The RAF&rsquos specialist bomb disposal unit, No. 5131 Squadron, disbanded last month, with its responsibilities passing to the British Army. Here, we look back on the history of RAF bomb disposal.

In every bombing campaign since the First World War a proportion of the bombs dropped have failed to go off even in peacetime there is an ongoing need to deal with weapons that have failed to detonate during training on dedicated ranges, terrorist bombs or munitions left over from previous wars. Over many years an increasingly sophisticated organisation has developed to deal with these weapons, to which all three services have contributed, together with government and civilian agencies. RAF bomb disposal teams have, from the Second World War onwards and alongside their British Army, Royal Navy and civilian colleagues, made a significant contribution to this work. As Dave Lowe, an RAF bomb disposal operator, explained, RAF bomb disposal teams provide &lsquospecialist knowledge for things like ejection seats and missiles &hellip it gives a subject-matter expert view on air-delivered weapons, on how they operate, how they work and what needs to be done to them&rsquo.

In recent years, bomb disposal within the UK has been divided between the Royal Navy, British Army and RAF on largely geographical lines, with the Metropolitan Police providing their own capability in London. Mike Stocks, a former commanding officer of No. 5131 Squadron, explained how &lsquoWe had a call-out responsibility for improvised explosive devices and conventional devices, so we had an area, a patch based around Wittering that we had to respond to, in 10 minutes and 30 minutes respectively for the teams.&rsquo

Bomb disposal within the RAF has a long history, however. During the First World War the bombs used were, for the most part, relatively small and simple in design. In many cases they could be exploded where they fell or made safe by members of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC). Although the RAOC had expertise in handling munitions, skilled personnel were not always called on in such situations. Norman Macmillan, a pilot serving with No. 45 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps in France, recalled how a suspected unexploded bomb on the Squadron&rsquos airfield was dug up for inspection by a team with no training or experience in bomb disposal work &ndash and discovered to be an unexploded British anti-aircraft shell.

By the start of the Second World War, the RAF had developed the armourer&rsquos trade to a much higher level of sophistication, and it naturally fell to these servicemen, with their training and expertise in air weapons, to deal with the RAF&rsquos share of unexploded bombs during the conflict and, more specifically, bombs that fell on RAF airfields or those found in crashed aircraft. Meanwhile, the Royal Navy&rsquos bomb disposal experts specialised, naturally enough, in naval weapons such as torpedoes and sea mines, and the Army&rsquos Royal Engineers took on a great deal of the bomb disposal work that did not fall into the remits of the other two services.

Courses in bomb disposal were run at various locations during the Second World War, including the RAF Armament School at RAF Manby in Lincolnshire. Christopher Draper, a naval officer who attended an early course, recalls how much of the teaching was on British bombs due to lack of knowledge of German weapons at that time:

&lsquoA few weeks previously I had been sent to the R.A.F. Armament School at Manby, in Lincolnshire, for a one week course on &ldquoUnexploded Bombs&rdquo. This was more amusing than instructive because, at the first lecture, the instructor began by saying: &ldquoOf course we know nothing about German bombs yet, so we will give you this brief course on our own bombs and pyrotechnics&rdquo. Nevertheless, when, a few days after the blitz on Ford, two holes in the ground were discovered, obviously containing unexploded bombs, &ldquoFish&rdquo sent for me and said: &ldquoYou&rsquove just done the unexploded bomb course at Manby, so go and dig &lsquoem up&rdquo.&rsquo

Mervyn Base, an RAF armourer who trained in bomb disposal at RAF Melksham in 1940, similarly remembered how &lsquoThis course was largely based on the practical knowledge gained by Army personnel in the field, and as a result was somewhat limited&rsquo and that at the end of the course the officer in charge said &lsquoWell chaps, that&rsquos all we know to date, the rest I&rsquom afraid you will have to find out for yourselves&rsquo.

Experience, however, developed rapidly with the rising tempo of German air raids on the UK. One of the best-known RAF bomb disposal experts from this time, Wilson Charlton, was awarded the George Cross early in 1941 the citation published in the London Gazette gives some indication of the intensity of operations through the second half of 1940:

&lsquoFlight Lieutenant Charlton is responsible for all work in connection with enemy bombs in an area comprising the greater part of two counties. Both by day and night, during recent months, he has dealt with some 200 unexploded bombs. He has successfully undertaken many dangerous missions with undaunted and unfailing courage.&rsquo

Charlton was later sent to the Far East where, under slightly mysterious circumstances, he recovered a number of Japanese bombs and fuzes from China, providing valuable intelligence on a previously unknown area (a fuze was the component of a bomb that causes it to explode. It can work in various different ways, including detonation on hitting the ground, detonation a given time after impact or detonation if the bomb was moved after hitting the ground).

The impact on training of the experience gained in a short time is perhaps illustrated by Alec Haarer, who trained in bomb disposal at RAF Melksham towards the end of 1940. He recalled how:

&lsquoFor the most part the course at Melksham gave us a good grounding on bombs and fuzes, on how they acted, on safety precautions, and on some of the methods of bomb disposal such as the use of special machines to cut out discs of metal by remote control. It was intensive training, and being new to the service and somewhat awed by the mass of information we were expected to absorb, we worked hard and soberly. We knew that safety for ourselves and our men depended on our ability to recognize one fuze from another and how it operated.&rsquo

By September 1940, 188 RAF armourer NCOs had qualified in bomb disposal. They were distributed around eighty RAF stations in the UK, known as &lsquoX&rsquo stations, and were supported by mobile teams, able to move to wherever they were most needed at any given time. The organisation of RAF bomb disposal developed further in April 1943, with the formation of a wing headquarters overseeing the work of six bomb disposal squadrons. These squadrons would continue to serve through the rest of the war, several of them landing in Normandy in 1944 and one &ndash No. 5131 Squadron &ndash would provide the RAF&rsquos bomb disposal capability into the 21st Century before disbandment in 2020.

The UK&rsquos first unexploded bombs of the Second World War were dealt with by Arthur Merriman, a civilian specialist who had served in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps during the First World War, and Flight Lieutenant (later Squadron Leader) Eric Moxey at Sullom Voe in the Shetland Islands late in 1939. Moxey would later go on to develop an automatic fuze extractor, allowing bomb disposal operators to take cover at a distance during this potentially very dangerous procedure. This did not, however, remove all risk, as the device had to be fitted to the bomb, someone had to approach the bomb to confirm that the fuze had been extracted and it would not, in any case, always work as intended.

The first action of the war leading to the award of a George Cross (although not the first medals to be awarded) was that of Flight Lieutenant (later Squadron Leader) John Dowland and Mr Len Harrison (an ex-RAF civilian armaments instructor) for their actions in dealing with an unexploded bomb in a steamship at Immingham Docks near Grimsby in February 1940. According to the citation &lsquoThe bomb was extremely difficult to inspect and handle as it was wedged with its nose penetrating through the main deck&rsquo and a similar situation was dealt with onboard a trawler in June 1940. These bombs featured a simple impact fuze, designed to detonate the bomb when it hit the ground. If it did not explode on impact it was likely to be due to a fault of some description it was not designed to catch out anyone attempting to make it safe, but such weapons would not be long in coming.

In the summer of 1940 disposal experts were called on to deal with unexploded German bombs fitted with the Type 17 clockwork time fuze. The clockwork mechanism could be set to detonate a bomb after an interval of anything up to more than eighty hours after being dropped, and there was no way of knowing how any particular bomb had been set from the point of view of the bomb disposal teams, they could potentially go off at any moment. Methods were, however, developed by which Type 17 fuzes could be made safe, including the use of powerful magnets or the injection of viscous liquids to stop the clockwork mechanism. One significant contributor to this work was Wing Commander Cornelius Stevens, who developed a method of creating a vacuum within a fuze, which would then efficiently suck in the liquid and jam the mechanism. Even so, weapons such as this could cause a great deal of disruption simply by their presence, and introduced a greater degree of danger and uncertainty to the bomb disposal operator&rsquos work this was even more the case when used in conjunction with other types of fuze, such as those designed to detonate the bomb if it was moved or tampered with.

One example of this was the Zussatzünder (auxiliary fuze) 40, an anti-withdrawal device fitted below a Type 17 fuze. Put simply, if the Type 17 fuze was removed from a bomb, the ZUS 40 would cause it to explode. Squadron Leader Eric Moxey, who had participated in the disposal of the unexploded bombs at Sullom Voe in the Shetlands and made a significant contribution to the development of the automatic fuze extractor, was called to RAF Biggin Hill on 27 August 1940 to deal with unexploded bombs that appeared to have new features, possibly including the ZUS 40. If the fuzes could be recovered intact they would provide valuable information, essential for operators dealing with similar bombs in future. Although he was able to defuse one bomb successfully, the second exploded, killing Squadron Leader Moxey instantly Moxey was awarded a posthumous George Cross for his actions at Biggin Hill. An example of the ZUS 40 was retrieved for examination only days later in south Wales by Lt Archer of the Royal Engineers.

A further, even more dangerous, development was the German No 50 fuze, first identified by the British in September 1940 and an example of this was also obtained by Lt Archer. This featured highly sensitive switches that would detonate the bomb at the slightest movement after impact. When combined with the ZUS 40 anti-withdrawal device and the clockwork timer of the Type 17 fuze, all of which could be fitted to the same bomb, this created a complex problem for a bomb disposal operator to deal with. The Y fuze, first dropped on London in 1943, was another development, specifically designed to kill bomb disposal operators, and it was only due to luck, in that the first bomb encountered was faulty, that officers of the British Army&rsquos Royal Engineers were able to retrieve an example and develop a procedure for dealing with it. Experiments showed that, if the temperature of the fuze could be lowered sufficiently through the use of liquid oxygen, the batteries would cease to provide power and the fuze could be safely removed.

Alec Haarer, an RAF bomb disposal officer, recalled the danger posed by German &lsquoButterfly bombs&rsquo, small anti-personnel weapons which &ndash once dropped &ndash could be so sensitive that even the slightest movement would set them off. Examples were urgently wanted for examination and for use in training British bomb disposal personnel, and this was greatly facilitated when Flight Sergeant Handford discovered several bombs that had failed to arm after being dropped on RAF Harlaxton in Lincolnshire in August 1941.

Bomb disposal specialists also had to be fully aware of traps built into British bombs. Eric Chadwick recalled how the &ldquoNo 37 pistol&rdquo &ndash a fuse fitted to some British bombs &ndash had been designed to catch out an unwary German who might try to dismantle it. According to Chadwick it was &lsquoeasy to identify but not to deal with&rsquo and a number of British Army bomb disposal specialists were lost to it, in addition to its intended German victims.

Second World War bombs have, however, continued to appear up until the present day and there has, since 1945, been an ongoing need to deal with these weapons as they are found. Probably the largest of these was a 12,000lb &lsquoTallboy&rsquo bomb, discovered when the water behind the Sorpe Dam in Germany was drained for repairs. It had been dropped during an attack on the dam in October 1944, and was made safe by a German specialist, Walter Mitzke, working with Flt Lt J M Waters, officer commanding the RAF&rsquos No. 6209 Bomb Disposal Flight.

Alongside their ongoing work on &lsquolegacy&rsquo munitions left over from previous wars, and the disposal of unexploded weapons dropped during training, the smaller conflicts of the Cold War period also provided work for bomb disposal teams. Two RAF bomb disposal specialists, Ted Costick and Alan Swan, each awarded the Queen&rsquos Gallantry Medal, highlight some of this work.

In 1974 Flt Lt Ted Costick was serving at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus as Officer in Charge of the Explosives Servicing Flight of the Weapons Engineering Squadron. Turkish air attacks during the conflict of 1974 provided a considerable amount of work for Costick and his bomb disposal teams, including a bomb buried in mud, a 750lb bomb in a 6th-floor hotel room in Famagusta and the clearance of a number of unexploded weapons from Nicosia International Airport.

In 1982 an RAF bomb disposal team was sent to the Falkland Islands as part of the task force following the Argentinean invasion. Flt Lt Alan Swan, commander of the team, was called on to deal with two unexploded bombs lodged in the hospital at Ajax Bay. As Alan Swan remembered:

&lsquoIt was a bomb in the roof, a bomb in the fridge the bomb in the fridge had a fuze that I think, they made it up, just welded this on, welded that on, and we had no kit that we could [use] to get at it, and I spoke to the colonel and he said &lsquowell, we&rsquore going to Stanley shortly, so is it going to go off? I said &ldquowell, I would say no&rdquo, but, I said, just to put my money where my mouth is, I&rsquoll sleep in that room and a) it was the only empty room, because it had an unexploded bomb in it and b) I was convinced it wasn&rsquot going to go off. And the one in the roof, we couldn&rsquot get at really, we&rsquod have [had] to drop it to get at it, so again I was convinced it wasn&rsquot going to go off so we left it and the army follow-up teams took it out.&rsquo

Alan Swan and his team then moved on to Goose Green:

&lsquoMy prime directive was to go to Goose Green and clear a Harrier landing strip, which we did, and when we got there we found napalm by the ton on these steel-runnered sledges in the establishment, where the people lived and so that was a major effort trying to get that out without striking sparks and then when we blew it up, Christ, I didn&rsquot know that napalm would blow up like that but it was a massive explosion, massive, and we looked up and we could see one of these things had flattened out, it was the size, like two of those doors, we could see it spinning, coming down to earth, like that, we were running this way, that way, wow, it would have taken you to pieces.&rsquo

RAF bomb disposal teams would continue to deal with a variety of situations, involving conventional and terrorist weapons, through the years after the Falklands War, but it was not until the Kosovo conflict in the late 1990s that an RAF bomb disposal team would again deploy overseas. In Kosovo, RAF personnel worked closely with the Royal Engineers to clear a large number of unexploded bombs, shells and other weapons left by the conflict. Michael Haygarth, an RAF officer serving with No. 5131 (Bomb Disposal) Squadron, recalled how, in conjunction with the Royal Engineers, they &lsquocarried out hundreds of tasks in Kosovo, the guys were doing between eight and thirteen tasks a day, the teams, they were going out at first light, back at last light, we worked with loads of different nations out there, we worked with loads of the non-government organisations, Mine Action Clearance and all those sort of people.&rsquo The value of deploying both RAF and Royal Engineers to Kosovo was also highlighted as Haygarth explained: &lsquoThey were really good with land-service ammunition, mines and mortars and things, we were really good with air-dropped bombs.&rsquo

Dave Lowe, an RAF NCO with No. 5131 (BD) Squadron in Kosovo, recalled how, in contrast to what was to come later in Iraq and Afghanistan: &lsquothe operations in Kosovo were more routine and it was a peaceful environment while there was still hostility between people there wasn&rsquot a threat to us, we would routinely not wear body armour in our Land Rover and I wouldn&rsquot carry a weapon if I didn&rsquot need to.&rsquo

The use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by a variety of terrorist organisations has been one of the major challenges faced by bomb disposal specialists for many decades. While the weapons used by the armed forces of nation states are likely to have been produced by a known manufacturer and to conform to identifiable patterns, the unpredictable nature and highly variable quality and complexity of IEDs have made them particularly difficult to deal with. Although the devices produced by some groups, or by an individual acting alone, might have been relatively crude, the devices produced by the IRA in Northern Ireland during the Troubles often reached a high level of sophistication, and were dealt with by the very highly-trained Ammunition Technical Officers (ATOs) of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC) and then of the Royal Logistics Corps (RLC) after the RAOC was absorbed into the newly-formed RLC in 1993.

The IEDs (or &lsquoroadside bombs&rsquo) used in Iraq and Afghanistan during the early years of the 21st Century posed a further significant threat and these, as with the bombs found in Northern Ireland, would normally be dealt with by the ATOs of the RLC. However, during the conflict in Afghanistan the RLC&rsquos High-Threat IED course &ndash the training course through which a bomb disposal operator became qualified to deal with the devices found in Iraq and Afghanistan &ndash was opened to personnel from other branches of the armed forces and Dave Lowe, an armourer by trade, was the first member of the RAF to pass this highly demanding course. As Lowe explained it:

&lsquoThe definition of high-threat then is complex weapons, it can be a complex weapon including RC [Radio Control], so sophisticated in its design. It can be the sheer amount of IEDs, so it could be that there&rsquos so many of them that it was dangerous by that virtue, it could involve suicide bombers, so they&rsquove got a suicide bomb threat and multiple devices linked together.&rsquo

In Afghanistan, the IEDs found were not necessarily very complex in their design, but the sheer number of devices planted by the Taliban caused a significant problem for western forces in the country. In addition, considerations such as climate, terrain and the threat of Taliban attack made the use of robots and protective &lsquobomb suits&rsquo impractical on many occasions. From his own experience, Lowe recalled how:

&lsquoThere was a big clearance of a road and there was basically an IED belt along this highway, if you want to call it that, it wasn&rsquot tarmacked or anything but we needed to clear that road to link up forces and it was a huge operation and in two kilometres of road in about 48 hours I think I probably did nineteen tasks. I think twelve of those were IEDs or something, I can&rsquot remember but it was just the sheer work, I was finishing one, doing the next, doing the next, doing the next, doing the next so it was just continual, catch a bit of sleep and as soon as I could, do some more.&rsquo

Bomb disposal has developed a great deal since 1939, when Arthur Merriman and Eric Moxey approached the UK&rsquos first unexploded bombs of the Second World War. They, and their counterparts in the Royal Navy and British Army, were just beginning to develop the experience and professionalism to be seen in their successors of the 21st Century. The technology involved has clearly developed a great deal, and the situation in Iraq or Afghanistan in the early 21st Century was a long way removed from that of the UK in the 1940s.

Some things, on the other hand, have changed little. There is still the same pendulum between the development of bombs, with new features intended to make them increasingly dangerous to their intended victims, and the development of new techniques by which these devices can be made safe. Some of the techniques have themselves endured for a long time, perhaps in some cases by virtue of their simplicity &ndash the use of a cord to pull a component out of a bomb from a safe distance is one example.

And finally, there is the courage of the bomb disposal operator, making the &lsquolong walk&rsquo to a bomb with the intention of making it safe. Whether dropped by the Luftwaffe or planted by the Taliban, this, more than anything, has stayed the same.

Training America’s Bomb Squads

More than 2,000 men served in the U.S. Army’s elite bomb disposal teams during the war they suffered 10 per cent casualties in Europe alone. Yet, despite the critical work they did defusing unexploded enemy bombs, shells and rockets, clearing mines and dismantling booby traps and even dud Allied munitions, American UXB squads received very little media coverage owing to their secrecy and small numbers. Each seven-man team consisted of one junior officer, two sergeants, and four technicians each with different specialties.

The units trained at the Army’s Ordnance Bomb Disposal School, which opened Feb. 16, 1942, at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. This new school, modeled on Harper Barracks at Ripon, Yorkshire, imparted skills gained by the sacrifices of British officers in the UXB war with Germany. In fact, several Royal Engineers helped establish both the Army and Navy bomb disposal schools. What’s more, a few Americans received hands-on training from the British themselves.

In January 1942, Maj. (later Col.) Thomas J. Kane and eight others flew to war-torn England to study the latest in Axis bomb technology as well as the means to render safe these weapons. Kane, a 42-year-old Reservist from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania with several years of railway experience, later became the first commandant at Aberdeen’s BD School his colleagues would serve as school instructors and squad officers. He would go on to serve Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower as the supreme commander’s director of bomb disposal in the ETO.

Bomb Disposal Robot Design

Basically, bomb disposal machines are designed for specialized operations in places with narrow areas and some types of transportation where a bomb can be planted, such as an aircraft, train, car, ship, or a bus. These robots are designed to detect commands as far away from the operator as possible.

Challenges and common solutions

In the past, the battery of these machines weighed 80 kilograms, inhibiting them from flinging into high and narrow spaces. Also, the initial joints were bulky enough to hamper their ability to reach the smallest of bombs inside the narrowest of spaces. However, engineers were able to reduce their weight and created smaller and more flexible robots.

Good examples of components that made these robots more functional are Elmo’s Tweeter and Whistle controllers. With their smaller sizes and lighter weights, engineers are now able to create smaller arms for the machine. There is also the DC Whistle servo drive for more compact motors. These devices possess onboard artificial intelligence, so they were deemed perfect for critical bomb disposal operations.

Bomb Disposal Unit - History

17th November 1939: Germans start dropping parachute mines.

23rd November 1939: Lt Ouvery recovers first Magnetic mine at Shoeburyness and successfully defuzes it.

1st May 1940: Home Office Circular 88/40 confirms that war office is responsible for dealing with any UXB

1st May 1940: First UXB committee is held to discuss various ways and devices to tackle unexploded bombs
May/June 1940: First 25 BD sections are formed,comprising of 1 x Lt,1xSgt and 14 other ranks.
June 1940: Steam sterilizer developed to cut a hole in bomb casing and emulsify explosive fill.

13th August 1940: First type (17) fuze recovered by 2nd Lt Mitchell.

17th August 1940: Lt Archer removes a type (50) anti disturbance fuze by hand, this was needed for experiments.
17th August 1940: Lt E.W.Reynolds defuzes bomb in Bristol with a type(17) fuze.
27th August 1940: Lt Archer recovers the first (38) fuze.

2nd  September 1940: Lt Archer removes a ticking type(17) fuze to find a new type Zus40 Anti withdrawal fuze underneath, this was successfully removed in tact.
12th September 1940: The steam sterilizer was used for the first time by Capt Kennedy on a live 250Kg bomb in Regents street .
14th September 1940: Lt Robert Davies defuzes a 1,000Kg bomb under St Pauls Cathedral.
16/17th September: Parachute delivered magnetic mines dropped on London, 77 dropped,but 25 failed to explode.
23rd September 1940: King George announces a new decoration for gallantry to be called the GEORGE CROSS.
26th October 1940: First acoustic mine recovered.
28th October 1940: SD2,s Butterfly bombs dropped on Ipswich(this was the first time these bombs were dropped in the UK)

16th November 1940: Fuze Extension cap was found on a bomb in Shaftsbury Ave , fuze could not be identified ! Bomb defuzed by Lt Nevil Newitt

21st December 1940: First 2,500 Kg (max) dropped on Victoria Station, London  


EOD teams again deployed during the Iraq War in 2003. As well as conducting battle area clearance behind the advancing allied line.

They were heavily involved in the aftermath of the war clearing massive quantities of unexploded bombs and military ordnance, including mines, shells, bombs and rockets. Much of the ordnance was just scattered and abandoned as the Iraqi Army collapsed.

Why Is The Manhattan Project Wrong

The Manhattan Project “I am become death, the shatterer of worlds” remembered Robert Oppenheimer as he witnessed the spectacular explosion. The Manhattan Project had created several problems that impacted not just Japan and the U.S., but the whole world. Although the Manhattan Project may have ended WWII, it caused mass destruction, gave other countries the desire to create more powerful weapons of mass destruction, and was morally wrong. In 1938, three chemists in Berlin had made a huge discovery: they split the Uranium atom. The tremendous amount of energy released, or fission, was enough to power a highly destructive bomb (¨Nuclear Arms Race¨).&hellip

Bomb Disposal Unit - History

KARACHI: The current wave of terrorism in the country has led the Sindh police authorities to give the green signal for procurement of gadgets, tools and machinery, including robots worth millions of rupees, mainly to modernise its bomb disposal unit, officials said on Saturday.

The recent decision, they claimed, was going to pave the way for one of the biggest procurements of its history by the Sindh police’s bomb disposal unit as it ranged from anti-IED (improvised explosive device) robots to explosives detectors, while also including gadgets such as pocket jammers and bomb locators.

“The special branch, which actually looks after the Sindh police’s bomb disposal unit, is now in the process of seeking bids from local and international suppliers of such gadgets,” said an official citing details of the recent decision, with information about the items chosen for procurement and their number.

“The key items include five EODs (explosive ordinance devices) robots. Currently our unit is using a robot which was made available through a donation from the United Kingdom. A robot of this type costs around Rs10 million and the Sindh police are now procuring five of them in one go.”

Equipped with thermal and infrared cameras, a variety of sensors, signal jammers, extendable robotic limbs and a gun, which comes with a selection of barrels, he said this machine could transmit its findings back to an operator who could be a kilometre away. He said that when fully charged, the robot’s battery gives it 10 hours’ life, while it also has a long power cord. And running on a different frequency or special signal, it cannot be detected by radar.

The robot, weighing about 50 kilograms, comes with its own fully-equipped EOD vehicle. When it finds an IED or bomb, it has the capability of destroying its circuits using jammers, a water gun, or simply by firing at it.

“The aggressive procurement plan has been designed considering the level of threat which demands capacity building of the bomb disposal unit. It’s all being done through the Sindh police budget which has an annual plan for procurement of such gadgets and machinery for the unit,” he said.

The Sindh government has allocated in its current budget Rs82.3 billion for law and order in the province that includes police, jails, Rangers and other security agencies. In 2015-16, it had set aside Rs64.458bn which was an increase of 10 per cent from the outgoing financial year.

The robots’ procurement would cost the most in the recent list of items selected by the Sindh police authorities for its bomb disposal unit, which includes other machinery and modern tools.

“Apart from those robots, the Sindh police are procuring 31 explosive detectors, 10 portable IED jammers, 20 pocket jammers, seven bomb locators and four disrupting pig sticks,” said the official. “For the safety of the bomb disposal team and their technical assistance five new kits, 48 safety goggles and 14 high-definition binoculars are in the plan of procurement.”

For capacity-building of the personnel, he said, the Sindh police had made arrangements for providing training to bomb disposal unit’s team members through the British Army and the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the United States for handling the latest technology.

The Bomb Disposal Unit serves the University community and northeast Georgia with highly trained officers and specialized equipment to safely handle and dispose of explosives.

The University of Georgia Police Bomb Disposal Unit exists to provide the University and the surrounding community with safe, timely resolution to bomb threats, suspicious package concerns, and threats from actual hazardous devices. Our primary goal is to protect people from harm related to such threats and concerns. A secondary goal is to minimize the damage to critical infrastructure and property. As a result of a partnership with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), the University of Georgia Bomb Disposal Unit responds to bomb related calls for the Northeast Georgia region. The Bomb Disposal Unit is made up of certified Bomb Technicians.

Our Bomb Technicians receive their training at the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Hazardous Devices School in Huntsville, Alabama—the only nationally recognized school of its kind. In addition to receiving their Bomb Technician certification, team members regularly participate in training classes hosted by other agencies such as the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and Technical Support Working Group (TSWG). In addition to the team’s primary functions of dealing with explosives detection and disruption, the members are also trained to deal with hazardous material (HAZMAT) situations. All of the members of the Bomb Disposal Unit are required to be certified HAZMAT technicians.

The Bomb Disposal Unit maintains and trains with a multitude of tools and equipment, all of which allow the technicians to do their jobs effectively and safely. Major equipment includes a robot, a total containment vessel and a state-of-the-art bomb response vehicle. The vehicle is equipped with conventional bomb disposal equipment, the robot, bomb suits, x-ray equipment and hazardous material response gear. The bomb response vehicle and total containment vessel are part of the state’s regional response in case of major bombing emergencies. The Bomb Disposal Unit, like many other areas of the Police Department, represents a substantial investment of monetary and human capital aimed at making the University community safer.

Contact us

For Open Records requests contact the Records Division at 706-542-5813

For media related inquiries please contact UGA Office of Marketing and Communications at 706-542-8090

Watch the video: Bomb Disposal on Britains Beaches 1964. British Pathé (July 2022).


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