Accidents happen not only in our everyday lives but especially during perilous times when dangerous things like guns and explosives are part of everyday activity. For instance, during wars. There are a few that could just be shrugged off, like maybe when a newbie accidentally almost shot your right foot with his gun, no biggie. Then there are those accidents that are not easy to let go of. Something that forever changed the lives of people and places involved. The RAF Fauld explosion accident of 1944 was one of those. The explosion was so loud that it was mistaken for an earthquake. This was also one of the largest non-nuclear explosions not only in the UK but also in history.

The Devastating Effect

It was November 27, 1944. Switzerland’s seismologists thought that their seismograph was detecting an earthquake. In reality, what’s recorded was the tragic and massive explosion in far England, reaching them.

Meanwhile, in Hanbury, England, some 4,000 tons of, bombs, 500 million rounds of small arms ammunition, bombs, and other high explosives stored in an old gypsum mine simultaneously detonated. These were stored in No. 21 Maintenance Unit RAF Bomb Storage. Two large explosions happened, which was what the Swiss seismologists detected on their instruments. Two tall black mushroom clouds also formed with a blaze at the base of each of them.

Seventy people lost their lives that day, 18 of which were never found again. Most of the deaths were not caused by the impact of the explosion directly but were a result of the six million gallons of water from the reservoir dam that got damaged, and the water came rushing out and swallowed everything along its path, especially the plasterboard factory nearby.

The structures surrounding the RAF Fauld were also destroyed— the homes and shops were pulverized. The Upper Castle Hayes Farm was completely wiped out, while the Messrs. Peter Ford’s lime and gypsum works north of the village, and the Purse cottages were all demolished.

An explosion at an underground bomb storage depot at RAF Fauld in Staffordshire killed 70 people in 1944. (Unknown author (Royal Air Force photographer), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The large impact of the blast also resulted in a crater that was 270 meters by 213 meters long and 30 meters deep, covering about 12 acres of land. This was from a force of approximately one-fifth of the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.

What Caused It?

It was not clear what really caused the disastrous and tragic accident. It was a tangled chaos of disasters, from being short-staffed to management positions that had not been filled for a year, then add to that the 189 inexperienced Italian prisoners of war working in the mines that day.

In 1974, it was announced that what really caused the explosion was more likely one of the site workers who attempted to remove a detonator from a live bomb and decided to use a brass chisel instead of, you know, non-conducting wooden batten. When the chisel and the detonator came in contact, it caused a spark, and we already knew what happened next. The conclusion was that there was negligence on the side of the supervising personnel who lacked knowledge, were irresponsible, or were not properly guided by the senior managers.

Lasting Effects

The rescue operation took three months to finish, slowed down by the 10,000 tons of rubble and the six million gallons of water from the aforementioned reservoir. The local people arranged a relief fund for the victims of the tragedy, as well as their families. They made payments to them until 1959.

Warning sign at the crater’s edge. (Trevman99 at English WikipediaCC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The site was completely barricaded in 1979. Access is still restricted due to the significant amount of live explosives still buried in the area. The government decided not to clear the area as they deemed it to be too expensive.

Today, we could still see the crater that was formed that unfortunate day, a reminder of the accident, even more, solidified by the carved names of those who lost their lives that day. There were also memorial plaques and warning signs around the twelve acres of the pristine country that were forever changed that day.