A look at the Wartime BD Organisation in more detail.
September 1939. First Steps and Setting of Priorities.
In the beginning there were many conferences and meetings between The Home Office (HO) and The War Office (WO) (now MOD) as to who would be responsible for the disposal of unexploded bombs and missiles.
It was agreed that rather than the Civil Defence (CD) and Local Authorities (LA), the Armed Services should be responsible for all unexploded ordnance (UXO). The Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force would be responsible for UXO on their property and installations whilst the Army would be responsible for UXO on their property and installations plus all civilian areas.
Arrangements were made to strengthen the BD Organisation and make clear the question of priority when dealing with UXO. The different priorities are listed below:
In the early days of Bomb Disposal, the responsibility of UXO of RAF property rested with the Armament personnel on nominated "X" Stations. Some primitive equipment and instruction was available for the purpose of these "X" Stations. The nominated personnel were known as "X" Station Demolition Squads and consisted of three Armament personnel of Senior Non Commissioned or Junior Non Commissioned Rank. The List of "X" Station Demolition Squads at that time was as follows.
At the time the "X" Squads were operating, there was little information available on German bombs and bomb components or even other types of enemy ammunition.
The procedure followed by the "X" squads was to uncover or recover German bombs, unscrew the locking ring holding the electrical fuze and remove the fuze. The bomb was then demolished in situ or transported to a safe site for disposal later.
Three diagrams of typical German bomb fuzes
The one on theleft is a schematic of a No 15 Fuze. In the centre is a sectioned drawing of a N0 15 Fuze and the one on the right is a No 17 with an anti withdrawal device called a ZUS 40.
The fuze however was sent post haste to BD Headquarters for examination and dismantling to find a method of immunisation. Once a method for a particular fuze was determined and the necessary equipment manufactured it was sent to all squads with instructions and correct procedures for its use in dealing with that particular type of fuze.
The Germans developed and manufactured a great number of bomb fuzes and if you are interested in seeing some others have a look here.
Accidents were commonplace when withdrawing bomb fuzes and were unavoidable in the early days but the "X" Squads who carried out this dangerous operation gained a vast amount of knowledge about the enemy weapons they were dealing with.
Summer 1940. Overstretch, a modern phenomenon in a bygone age.
By the summer of 1940 the Air Ministry realised that the squads were over tasked and stretched too far and a decision was made to disband the "X" Station Squads in favour of official RAF Bomb Disposal Flights comprising of:
Motor vehicles and the most up to date equipment for dealing with UXO was also provided. Each Flight was given a number and a name. Each Flight had a designated area of responsibility and operated within it's own area. The Flight numbers and the area HQ were as follows:
These Flights became fully operational in October 1940.
The newly operational Flights were very efficient in dealing with UXO and their equipment enabled them to undertake excavations to almost any depth. A lot of their tools were non magnetic for an added degree of safety when working on and around an unexploded bomb or missile. The Flights had the most up to date equipment for dealing with German and also Allied bomb fuzes of all known types at the time.
RAF Bomb Disposal qualifying courses were started in March 1940 at the School of Technical Training at Melksham in Wiltshire where selected personnel from the flights with the rank of Leading Aircraftsman were sent to undergo training in the art of Bomb Disposal. They were taught procedures and methods enabling them to deal with all types of munitions. The course lasted 6 weeks. If the trainee passed his course with a mark of 65% or more, he was promoted to Corporal in the trade of Armourer/Bomb Disposal. He also received a rise in his pay from Group 5 to Group 2.
April 1943. Re-organisation
On April 21 1943, the RAF Bomb Disposal Organisation was re-structured into Squadrons and Flights. The personnel compliment of the flights was not changed from the previous organisation. On this occasion, the Unit Commanding Officers and locations changed. The Squadrons were given a 4 figure number beginning with a 5 (i.e. 5xxx Sqn RAF BD) and the Flights within the Squadrons were given 4 figure numbers beginning with a 6 (i.e. 6xxx Flt RAF BD). The Squadrons were located as follows:
5130 Sqn RAF BD. Sqn Ldr E Bentley
5131 Sqn RAF BD. Sqn Ldr HH Apted
5132 Sqn RAF BD. Sqn Ldr HT
5133 Sqn RAF BD. Sqn Ldr AE Haarer
5134 Sqn RAF BD. Sqn Ldr A Dykes
5135 Sqn RAF BD. Sqn Ldr IH De Wynter
Except for changes in Commanding Officers and the transfer of Flights between Squadrons this system continued throughout the war.
D Day and beyond
The ability to support the Allied Forces on "D" Day was improved by the formation of 3 new BD Squadrons made up of Flights from the existing organisation. These were formed as follows.
5137 Sqn RAF BD Sqn Ldr D Strachan
5138 Sqn RAF BD Sqn Ldr A Dykes
Commanding (ex 5134)
5139 Sqn RAF BD Sqn Ldr K Scammel
The first BD Flight to embark for the beaches of Normandy was 6225 Flt, which was commanded by Flight Lieutenant Cartwright. On "D" Day + 1, at 0400 hrs 6225 Flt encountered enemy action when the Landing Craft they were in, No 390, was shelled by the German Shore Batteries and an "E" Boat at the port of Le Havre. The Landing Craft sank within 2 minutes. Seven men were killed, six hospitalised and one taken prisoner. In this incident, 90% of the equipment belonging the 6225 Flt was lost. The survivors were picked up by another Landing Craft and set ashore at MIKE/NAN Beaches on June 8.
6225 Flight was non operational, but by July 4 1944, having had personnel replaced and new equipment issued, the Flight was able to make a successful landing on the Normandy Beaches under their previous CO. On "D" Day + 2, 6220 Flt embarked for Gray-Sur-Mer where they temporarily merged with the survivors of 6225 Flt.
As the Allied Bridgehead strengthened and the Allied advances were being pushed home, more of the RAF BD Flights landed in Normandy with a formidable task ahead of them. The Flights who went to Normandy after the "D Day invasion cleared mine fields and German Bomb Dumps (some of which were booby trapped) that were left behind by the retreating German Forces.
At the end of the hostilities in Europe on May 8 1945, 90% of RAF BD Squadrons and Flights were employed in clearing and dismantling German Air Force (GAF) weapons in Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Holland, Italy and Norway, and by 1948, the Allied Air Forces own BD Personnel who trained at the Bomb Disposal School in South Yorkshire were able to deal with their own GAF weaponry which resulted in disbanding, one by one, the original RAF BD Squadrons and Flights. The last BD Squadron to disband was 5131 Sqn at Snaith in 1948
5131 squadron was later revived and reorganised into No's 1 and 2 Units of the RAF EOD based at Leconfield and Bicester, later to move to RAF Wittering as the primary RAF BD School and operating unit. They are equipped with highly sophisticated equipment borne out of necessity in the hostile environments of places like Northern Ireland during the troubles and the Former Yugoslavia during the Civil War where the ever inventive terrorist played a dangerous chess game with the lives of the EOD Operators. That equipment is now being put to good use in Iraq and Afghanistan but the insurgent and radical terrorist still manages to get through on occasion.
The photo's show a modern technique of cutting a bomb casing with high pressure water and abrasive grit called ACE (Abrasive Cutting Equipment). It avoids shock which could cause the bomb to explode. The other photo is of a German Fuze removed from a bomb. The thumbnail is part of 5131 BD Sqn RAF Wittering
Awards and Medals
The exploits of the RAF BD organisation are remembered in the number of awards for War Operations, some of which are listed here.
Wing Commander LH Harrison
Flight Lieutenant HBH Dickinson
Order of the British Empire Wing Commander JC Stevens
Sergeant D Rogers
Aircraftsman A Simpson
Other orders and awards were made to personnel of RAF Bomb Disposal; the above are just a few.