The Sorpe Dam Tallboy
The largest bomb ever tackled by the RAF and probably the largest ever rendered safe by any BD Unit was one of their own. This 12000 pounder known as Tallboy was found in the silt and mud at the base of the Sorpe Dam in 1958 after the dam was partially drained.
The bomb was fitted with three No 47 Half-hour delay fuzes which work by an ampoule of acetone dissolving a celluloid disc retaining a striker. The thickness of the disc determines the delay time and the delay can be set for 72 hours in some cases. The operatives who rendered this bomb safe included a West German. The crew was Flt Lt JM Waters, Herr Walter Mitzk, Corporal Technician F Smith and Corporal Mowett.
Squadron Leader Eric Moxey GC
Flt Lt (later Sqn Ldr) Eric Moxey was born on April 14th 1894 in Sao Paulo Brazil of British parents. He was educated at Malvern School and Sheffield University. During the First World War, he served with the York and Lancaster Regiment, where he saw service in Egypt, before joining the Royal Flying Corps in November 1917. In 1939, he was commissioned as a Pilot Officer in the R.A.F. Volunteer Reserve.
He invented early versions of fuze dischargers and remote fuze extractors. The fourth photograph shows a fuze being extracted from a German 250Kg bomb. On August 27th 1940, two UXBs were reported on the airfield at Biggin Hill. Moxey volunteered to tackle them and was well aware of the dangers, as he was a Technical Intelligence Officer at the Air Ministry.
Alas his luck was out on that day and one of the bombs exploded killing him outright. Sqn Ldr Moxey is buried in the Churchyard of St Peter & St Paul Cudham, Orpington Kent. His headstone shows the George Cross, which was awarded posthumously. Both are pictured above.
The Kim Clock Stopper
The first German clockwork long delay fuze (Type 17) was found and recovered a fortnight before the death of Sqn Ldr Moxey. One can only speculate that it was a Type 17, which was the cause of his death.
It was quickly established that the mechanism could be stopped by the application of strong magnetic field thus the first "Clock Stopper" was developed and introduced to deal with these hazardous fuzes. The first design was a cumbersome large coil powered by bulky accumulators which produced a powerful magnetic pulse strong enough to stop the mechanism but, it could re-start if disturbed so a Mk 2 version called "Kim" was designed using a pot magnet which was energised continuously.
Over 700 Kim devices were used and it was claimed that they never failed once. Before that, over 50% of accidents occurred with the Type 17 fuze.
The Stevens Stopper
The BD Boss throughout the war was Wg Cdr J Stevens who is on the right in the picture below. He invented the "Stevens Stopper", a device to introduce a fluid into a ticking Type 17, 17A or 17B bomb fuze to stop the mechanism and render it unable to re-start regardless of vibration or movement.
The method used was to first evacuate all the air from the fuze pocket and introduce a suitable liquid into the pocket under pressure to ensure penetration into the mechanism thus jamming the works. Later in the war, an epoxy resin was used but care was needed to clean the equipment before the resin set hard. Simple but effective.
In July 1941 a chain of incidents happened near Aldergrove in Northern Ireland which resulted in the unnecessary deaths of two BD Personnel when it was decided to re-open a shaft to establish whether some fragments were a German bomb or just a tail fin. On July 21 at about noon, Cpl. Burton was working in the shaft when the soil collapsed around him and he disappeared into the cavity created when a bomb explodes beneath the ground but doesn't break the surface known as a camouflet.
Cpl. Burton tried to climb out but was overcome by the residual fumes and Carbon Monoxide from the explosion of the bomb and fell back into the cavity. Sgt. Boulden climbed down to attempt a rescue but he was overcome as well and could not be pulled out in time to save him. Following these deaths a modified parachute harness was developed to be worn by men in the shaft where a camouflet was suspected.
These photographs show the difficult task of extracting a man from a small hole and the harness in use with shearlegs and a pulley block.
This is a story related to me by Bernard Westbrook (See Photo) and will also be chronicled in his forthcoming book on the RAF Bomb Disposal Organisation. The images in this story were taken on the weekend of the 2001 BD Reunion 27th September.
On Wednesday the 29th. of April 1942, the telephone rang in the office of No.15 BDS H.Q. in Ulleskelf, a small village near RAF Church Fenton. An Incident Report and map reference gave two German UXB's to be recovered Nr.Clifton Airfield York, between Skipton Road and Green Lane. Over fifty German aircraft had bombed The City of York that night, causing many casualties and extensive damage.
The duty airman filled-in the Bomb Disposal Report and hurried with the message, the hundred yards or so to Mrs. Archer's house, where F/Sgt. Travis is staying, and reported the Incident to F/Sgt. Travis, SNCO of No.15 BDS. He is already dressed, so without delay, walks back with duty airman to BD H.Q. F/Sgt. Travis phoned F/O Ievers, (O.C. No.15 BDS), at the Officers Mess on the RAF Camp Church Fenton. By the time F/O Ievers arrived at BD. H.Q. it was almost 08:00hrs.
F/O Ievers decided that a reconnaissance should be carried-out, to determine the safety areas, and how many personnel would be needed. Also there would be the problem of messing facilities and sleeping accommodation for the recovery crew. The outcome was, that F/O Ievers, a sergeant and two corporals would carry-out the reconnaissance, and will inform F/Sgt. Travis by phone as to the number of personnel and equipment needed for the incident.
This was normal procedure, so the reconnaissance crew left in the staff car for Clifton Nr.York. The recovery crew found the two German 250kg UXB's, and had just examined the size of the holes of entry, when both bombs exploded one after the other. A rescue party raced to the site where F/O Ievers lay with fatal injuries to both legs. F/O Ievers died on the way to hospital. They found Sgt. H. Phoenix, dazed, lying on the edge of the bomb crater. When he reached hospital, he was found not to have a bone broken or scratch on him.
Although very badly shaken, Sgt. Phoenix was kept in hospital under observation for several weeks. Corporals Bonner and Williams had both their legs broken, and were hospitalised for three months. All three returned to No.15 BDS at Ulleskelf when fit. It was a traumatic experience for the personnel of No.15 BDS, and it took quite sometime for them to come to terms with the situation.
Almost a week later, the Funeral Party for F/O Ievers assembles outside the Guardroom, just inside the gates of RAF Station Church Fenton. A low-load vehicle carries the flag draped coffin of F/O Ievers, his cap, gloves and rested sword lay on top of the coffin. The Officer i/c Funeral Party gives the order for the Funeral Party to slow march. As the cortege moves off, the Station Commander gives the cortege a smart salute.
With the personnel of No.15 BDS at the rear of the coffin, the cortege turns right out of the main gates of RAF Church Fenton, on its way to Kirby Wharfe Military Cemetery. The cortege of F/O Ievers reaches the village of Ulleskelf, where the villagers have waited patiently. The villagers stand in silence as the cortege climbs the slope past the "Ulleskelf Arms", and crosses the railway bridge on its way to Kirby Wharfe Military Cemetery. The villagers have said "Goodbye" to their gallant officer.
At Kirby Wharfe Military Cemetery, the Station Padre gives a brief funeral service. A volley of three rifle shots are fired over the coffin, the crack of exploding blank cartridges fills the air. As F/O Ievers is laid to rest, an RAF bugler sounds the "Last Post", the crisp clear notes echo around the still countryside. The Officer i/c Funeral Party gives the order for the Funeral Party to "Dismiss". In single file they slowly file out of the cemetery, and board awaiting transport, to be taken back to RAF Church Fenton.
The personnel of No.15 BDS pays its last respects to their brave officer, and assemble on the road outside the cemetery for the short march back to the village of Ulleskelf. On arrival at Ulleskelf, No.15 BDS are ushered into the village school-room, where a salad lunch and sweet have been prepared by the villagers of Ulleskelf. No.15 BDS stand while F/Sgt. Travis says Grace. No.15 BDS now sit in silence, while the ladies of the village serve them with hot sweet tea.
Once the meal is over, F/Sgt. Travis pays tribute to a gallant officer and gentleman. He also asks the squad to remember those airmen still in hospital. Two airmen are given orders to collect the crockery and cutlery, and place them at the end of the table. F/Sgt. Travis orders No.15 BDS to return to their billets to change into their working uniforms, and report back to BDS H.Q. for duty.
F/Sgt. Travis thanks the villagers for their kind, generous and sympathetic attitude at such a time of grief. The excellent meal must have come from the ration books of the village community. This was the kind and generous attitude the village community always gave No.15 BDS.
One week later a new Bomb Disposal Officer arrived to take the place of F/O. Ievers, and F/Sgt. Travis introduced him to the personnel of No.15 BDS. Two new corporals arrived to take the place of those badly injured in hospital. No.15 BDS is now back to full strength.
On April the 29th. 1992, Mrs. Gladys Jewitt, Mrs. Pauline Woods, (Mrs Gladys Jewitts Daughter), and Mr. Geoffrey Jewitt, placed a wreath of flowers on the grave of F/O. Ievers on behalf of the villagers of Ulleskelf and the Lads of No.15 BDS. Fifty years after the incident, they still remember their gallant officer. The flowers here were placed by the webmaster and his wife on the reunion weekend 2001.