The Fauld Explosion and Hanbury Crater
If you are visiting the Dog and Partridge for lunch and are looking for somewhere to walk off that ‘full’ feeling, then you may like to drive to the nearby village of Hanbury, where you can visit ‘The Hanbury Crater’.
On November 27, 1944, at 11.11 am, the quiet English countryside was rocked by one of the deadliest explosions to occur during the Second World War. Aside from nuclear explosions, it was one of the worst explosions in history. Its legacy is known as the Hanbury Crater, which measures around 76 metres in diameter and is 91 metres deep .
At the time of the explosion, the RAF Faulds munition depot was packed full of explosives. This underground facility was located within tunnels created from the exhausted gypsum mines, a major industry in Staffordshire.
By this point in the war, tunnels provided storage for somewhere between 3500 and 4000 tonnes of explosive. This included high explosive bombs as well as millions of rounds of rifle ammunition.
According to eyewitnesses, there were two explosions which seemed to happen at the same time. They saw a giant mushroom cloud rising from two black columns of smoke. These rose to a height of 304 metres as the fire from the explosion blazed at the bottom. The explosion caused extensive damage to an area within a radius of 1,300 metres.
In addition to the immediate damage caused by the explosion, it also blasted 450,000 litres of water from the nearby reservoir. A local farm, Castle Hayes Farm, was also destroyed by the force of the water as were the lime and gypsum works and local cottages. However, the blast could have been worse as the munitions store was divided into four sections and the stone pillars between the sections restricted the spread of the explosion.
It is difficult to know for sure how many died at the scene of the explosion as accurate records of who was working on the site were not kept at the time. The estimated death toll assumes anyone who was likely to have been there and was not accounted for was probably killed. Official figures at the time listed 90 people killed, missing or injured. The real death toll may well have been higher. Some died from injuries caused directly by the explosion whilst other deaths were the result of poisonous gasses created by the blast.
How did it happen?
There was much speculation, but the cause was kept under wraps in the immediate aftermath, and for many years afterwards. The information did not become available until 1974 when it was released under the UK government’s 30-year rule which allows certain classified documents to be made public after 30 years.
Like so many tragedies, it appears to have been the result of simple human error. It was discovered that, just before the explosion, a witness had seen someone using a brass chisel as they attempted to remove a detonator from a bomb. This was against regulations which stipulated that wooden mallets must be used. There were also several other factors which may have contributed to this tragic accident. The storage facility was understaffed and poorly managed. In fact, there had been no manager there for almost a year. Without a manager to ensure people followed regulations, accidents were more likely.
The site today
Since the area is out of bounds to humans, it has become a sanctuary for wildlife. Looking at the crater today there is little evidence of the destruction that was caused by the explosion. The area is now filled with trees including silver birch and hawthorns and is rich in wildlife.
The area around the crater has become a popular route with walkers. Following the path which extends halfway around the crater, walkers can see the memorial plaque which was unveiled in 2014 to mark the 70th anniversary of the explosion.