The Biggest WW2 Explosion on British Soil was Apparently Caused by the Brits

The blaze was partially attributed to an open dump of incendiary bombs which caught fire. Between 3,500 and 4,000 tons of ammunition exploded. Much of it included high explosive bombs and 500 million rounds of rifle ammunition but numerous other weapons exploded in the blast as well. The explosion was so large that it left a crater 100 feet deep and 750 feet wide and covers 12 acres. Property damage from the explosion itself was found in a ¾ mile radius from the crater.

The thick walls of the storerooms meant that most of the munitions stored at the RAF Fauld did not explode. Only a third of what was stored detonated, while the rest were protected from what could have been a devastating chain reaction. The thick walls also meant that most of the men working in the RAF Fauld were able to get out or get far enough away from the explosion to survive.

The same could not be said for a nearby farm. The Upper Castle Hayes Farm completely disappeared along with the 6 people known to live there and their cattle. Peter Ford’s lime and gypsum works and Purse cottages were also destroyed in the explosion. The destruction of the lime and gypsum works caused a secondary disaster when the reservoir dam burst. The resulting flood caused a fast moving mud slide similar to those caused by volcanic eruptions. The mud slide destroyed a nearby plaster factory, killing everyone inside. Other homes and businesses were destroyed either by falling debris or from the mudslide.

It was found that 70 people lost their lives in the explosion and resulting flood. Rescue efforts to save or find the bodies of the men who had been in the storeroom were impeded by unexploded bombs and pockets of gas. 18 bodies were never found. Despite the tragedy and the danger of unexploded bombs still below the crater, the RAF Fauld remained in operation until 1966. It was re-opened for a short period after France left NATO in 1966, in order to store U.S. ammunition that had previously been stored in France.

Today the crater is still visible and is off limits to the public. It has largely been overtaken by nature but there is still the fear that those who walk there may stumble upon unexploded munitions. The crater is now known as the Hanbury Crater and the explosion remains to this day as the largest explosion ever on British soil.