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UK site of one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever could still contain explosive materials

30 October 2015

The explosion of up to 4,000 tonnes of ordnance at the RAF Fauld underground munitions storage depot near Hanbury in Staffordshire on 27 November 1944 was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history and the largest ever to occur on UK soil. The blast devastated a large area and was felt miles away, creating a crater with a width of 230 metres, and about 70 people are thought to have died in the explosion.

Fauld exclusion zone -  Photo credit: M. R. Phelan
Fauld exclusion zone - Photo credit: M. R. Phelan

A Freedom of Information request submitted by the Burton Mail showed that while the site is secured, and inspected annually, there is a possibility that some of the thousands of tonnes of munitions did not detonate during the explosion, and so remain on site.

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) said: "The crater has not been fully cleared of ordnance, as it would be too dangerous to do so. As there is no public access and a security fence, it is not high risk."

The MOD said the crater rim and fence line are inspected annually by 5131 (Bomb Disposal) Squadron, and that a report of the annual visit is sent to the Explosives Safety Representative and Health and Safety Representative at RAF Cosford to address any follow-up actions.

The crater was the subject of a shallow instrument search between 1966 and 1969 and a subsequent visual search between 1974 and 1976, but the bombs were stored in a vast network of underground caverns and tunnels which were not explored and made safe.

Ageing unexploded ammunition might still pose an explosion risk, and Fauld is one of several sites in the UK where unexploded ordnance from the Second World War still poses a threat.

Another is the SS Richard Montgomery, an American Liberty ship, which was wrecked off the Nore sandbank in the Thames Estuary, also in 1944.

It still has 1,400 tonnes of explosives on board, and an investigation by New Scientist magazine concluded in 2004 that the cargo was still deadly, and could be detonated by a collision, an attack, or even shifting of the cargo in the tide.

It is considered a particular risk for the port of Sheerness 2.5km away.





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