The history of RAF Bomb
disposal began 61 years ago in 1939 when the threat of having unexploded enemy
bombs on British soil was realised. In the past, prior to 1939, the RAF was well
aware that not all the bombs dropped from the air would in fact explode.
Consequently, the responsibility for the disposal of these unexploded bombs (UXB's)
was laid upon the shoulders of the Senior Non Commissioned Armourers. It was
therefore assumed that when war broke out in 1939 the disposal of enemy UXB's
would also be the responsibility of the same men.
On November 6th 1939, a bomb was dropped on RAF Sullom Voe in the Shetlands. The
fuze was recovered and was probably the only type that any of the existing
service Demolition Sections or in the case of the Army, Demolition Team's had
In May 1940, the first German bomb to be dropped on Mainland Britain fell near
to the city of Canterbury in Kent. It was then that the British War Office
accepted responsibility for the disposal of UXB's. On August 27th, a meeting
took place at which the Inter Service responsibilities were thrashed out and
have generally remained the same to the present day. The various
responsibilities were defined as:
|Royal Air Force.
Responsible for all unexploded ordnance including Allied ordnance, and all
ordnance of whatever nationality found on or near to crashed aircraft.
|The Royal Navy. All
unexploded ordnance on it's property and all underwater weapons.
|The British Army. All
unexploded ordnance on Army property or not on RAF or Navy property or
In 1940, 80 RAF "Demolition Sections" existed to carry out duties at
the more important airfields in the UK which were called "X" (for
explosive) Stations. The equipment available was primitive to say the least and
there was minimal training in addition to the norm for the Armament Tradesman.
In September of the same year, the RAF Armament School had begun 5-day bomb
disposal courses to teach what was then known about enemy bombs and bomb fuzes.
The 80 Demolition Sections had by then, been supplemented by mobile squads. The
enemy had also come further along its path of destruction and chaos.
The Luftwaffe were dropping bombs containing anti withdrawal fuzes, long delay
mechanisms and many other ideas to try and outsmart the men who were tasked with
what was one of the most unpleasant and risky job of the last war. The
Demolition Sections had now become Bomb Disposal or BD Sections. They were also
awarded a Trade Badge.
Between 1940 and 1943 the Air ministry was the main controlling body for the BD
Squads. In April 1943, a proper organisation was formed with a Wing HQ, 6 Bomb
Disposal Squadrons and 29 Flights. The officers in charge of the squads went out
with the Airmen and did the experimentation on unknown fuzes and new bombs to
enable new equipment to be designed for dealing with them.
In the first 2 years of the war, RAFBD had dealings with 1512 enemy bombs and
the specialist officers had to handle a further 114. All the bombs were
actually dropped from aircraft. No bombs were from crashed enemy or allied
It may be a little known fact, but during the war, the largest number of UXB's
made safe by the RAF BD organisation were of British or American origin. The
fuzes in these bombs were just as dangerous as those in the enemy bombs and
sometimes even more so. This aspect of responsibility placed a very heavy load on
the teams at the time. When the war ended in Europe, about 84000 bombs had
been dealt with in the UK and some 92000 if mainland Europe. Of these, the
majority were British and Allied weapons jettisoned in an emergency or recovered
from crash sites.
After May 1945, a disarmament programme began, involving the physical disarming
of the Luftwaffe. It involved more RAF BD personnel than during the actual war.
Some 8000 airmen were employed of which about 800 were actual BD personnel. This
hazardous job claimed the lives of 10 BD personnel. Between May 1945 and June
1947, the RAF BD units disposed of:
|16300 Tons of HE
|13500 Tons of
|1955000000 Rounds of
By 1965, the RAF BD organisation had been reduced to 2 Flights renamed No's 1
& 2 EOD units. In 1967, they were absorbed into the Maintenance Units based
at 60 MU RAF Leconfield near Hull, and 71 MU RAF Bicester near Oxford. Therefore
the last of the original BD Flights from 1943 was no more. Later in 1974, two
units had become established at RAF Wittering near Stamford in Lincolnshire.
Eight years later in 1984, No 2 EOD Unit re-roled to become EOD Training Flight
whilst No 1 became Operations Flight with responsibility for all the operational
roles of the two former units. Training Flight had responsibility for training
flying station's armament personnel in airfield clearance. The responsibility
for local EOD activities had again returned to local squadron armament
personnel. History has a habit of repeating itself!
Bulletin No 1:
Here is an extract from an Army document "Ammunition Bulletin Number
1" which was published in May of 1939 just before the war. The references
to German bombs is particularly interesting for it seems the War Office didn't
seem to think the threat of unexploded bombs (UXB's) was Quote, "any real
Some information published in this bulletin has been proved inaccurate as to the
number of fuzes fitted to individual bombs. For instance, only one fuze was
fitted to the 1000kg "Herman" but two were fitted to the 250 &
500kg bombs. The bulletin here is reproduced as it was published in 1939 with
the available information at the time. The first paragraph verifies this as
"not entirely complete".
After reading the extract, it is interesting to note that most German equipment
and bomb fuzes were patented in the UK "To protect the manufacturing
rights." However, no-one thought of checking the patents office records at
This extract starts at section 44
German Aircraft Bombs
The following data on German Aircraft Bombs is circulated; it is not entirely
complete but will be helpful to those called to deal with unexploded bombs.
High Explosive Anti Personnel.
These are not likely to be used over towns as they are intended to burst on
impact. There are two types - the SC.10 and the SC.10t; the former has vanes the
latter has not.
The SC.10t is intended for low level attacks on personnel and has an "allways"
fuze with a short delay action, on impact, for the protection of the aircraft.
The SC.10 has a direct action fuze
The low flying bomber must use the SC.10t bomb with a two-second-delay fuze, and
troops are given some little opportunity to take cover by reason of the delay
General Bombardment Bombs.
These are most likely to be used in the attack on towns and factories, etc. They
are fitted with the Rhinemetall electric fuze. This fuze may be set:-
|For direct action
|Short or long delay
ranging from 10 seconds to 168 hours or longer, or
|It may comprise of a
booby trap, designed not the burst the bomb on impact, but only when an
attempt is made to move it.|
So far as is known, the external appearance of the fuze is the same for all
three settings. The fuze or fuzes are placed in the side of the bomb, one fuze
for 50kg bombs and two for the heavier bombs.
As the fuze or fuzes are placed in the side of the bomb, there is no need for
direct impact to cause them to function. The disposal of such bombs if
unexploded is clearly attended with grave risks on account of the likely
existence of delay and booby trap devices.
Bombers of the Hienkel III type can carry up to 8 canisters each containing 15
incendiary bombs of the GC 50 type, i.e. up to 120 such bombs per aircraft. A
larger quantity of the smaller incendiary bomb can be carried only the exact
number is not known.
The incendiary bomb also contains a quantity of explosive for discouraging the
attention of A.R.P. personnel.
The only bomb known of this type is the GC.10, which is similar in shape, and
form to the SC.10 Anti Personnel Bomb previously described. The H.E.
charge is omitted and a gas container inserted, the same type of fuze being
used. There are numerous reports concerning other gas bombs and gas spray but no
Unexploded bombs of the Anti Personnel, Incendiary or Gas types present no
serous problem regarding disposal, and any experienced I.O.O. (Inspecting
Ordnance Officer) can deal with them on the general lines laid down in any
R.A.O.S. Part II. Incendiary bombs should be gathered together and disposed of
by burning in some isolated spot. Care should be taken not to start grass or
forest fires and not too many bombs should be burned at the same time. The
burning ground should be surfaced or cleared of grass for a radius of 50 yards
at least and should not be used for the disposal of H.E. or Gas Bombs. Gas Bombs
should be dealt with by trained Anti Gas personnel fully equipped with the
necessary protective clothing, etc.
Unexploded Bombs of the H.E. Type present a very definite problem Owing to the
probability of delay fuzes or booby traps being used. If the bomb lies in open
ground, it should be disposed of where it lies. In view of the delay action, it
would be preferable in such cases to mark the position and 0lace a sentry near
the spot, i.e. in a dug out at a safe distance, and leave the bomb for there for
10 days. Don't move it then in view of possible booby traps but carefully carry
out the arrangements laid down in Regulations and blow it up in situ. Sandbags
should be placed round the bomb and care taken to ensure complete destruction at
the first attempt. If the destruction of the bomb in the open is likely to
affect important drainage, water gas, electricity or other supplies, it may be
found preferable to defer its destruction, the spot being patrolled or otherwise
The reason for
suggesting this course is the difficulty of ascertaining whether a delay of
booby trap is fitted. If the former, the bomb could be removed after 10 days,
but risk of the latter precludes this action. If the bomb is not in the open,
the above considerations are aggravated and the best procedure to adopt must be
deduced from careful consideration of all the relevant circumstances. A number
of experiments are il hand with the object of finding a solution to this
The vital necessity for the efficient functioning of the services connected with
the destruation of unexploded bombs is information. All that is available to
date is contained in the preceding notes. If the complete demobilization of Key
industries due to the risk of a large unexploded H.E. boib being a booby
trap is to be avoided, we must avail ourselves of every possible bit of
information likely to throw light on the type of fuze actually fitted. If it can
be established that an unexploded bomb in a large machine shop, departmental
store etc is actually a non-delay, non booby trap type, its removal for disposal
elsewhere becomes a reasonable proposition.
Again, if it can be
established that a delay fuze is fitted, it may be possible to leave it for 10
days having cleared the area and arrange for the removal at some risk of
valuable articles. A greater risk may be faced in very special and exceptional
cases by the immediate removal of the bomb, but this course of action should not
be attempted without higher authority.
To help in the solution of these difficulties all details of enemy bombs
obtained by military personnel should be sent immediately to CIA who will
collate and circulate them through the medium of these Bulletins for the
information of I.O.Os and Ordnance Officers generally. Early information of this
kind may be the means of saving life, as the handling of unexploded H.E. Bombs
is a risky business.