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The RAF Fauld explosion was a military accident which occurred at eleven minutes past eleven on the morning of Monday, 27 November in1944 at the RAF Fauld underground munitions storage depot in East Staffordshire. It was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history and the largest on UK soil.

Between 3,500 and 4,000 tons of ordnance exploded, mostly high explosives. The explosion crater has a depth of around 100 feet (30 m) and a maximum width of 1007 feet (307 m). The crater is still visible just south of Fauld, to the east of Hanbury in East Staffordshire.

A nearby reservoir containing 450,000 cubic metres of water was eradicated in the incident, along with several buildings including an entire farm. Flooding caused by the destruction of the reservoir added to the damage caused in the area.

The exact death toll is uncertain; it is believed that about 60 people died that day.

The cause of the disaster was kept quiet at the time, to keep the extent of the disaster from enemy troops. There had been reported staff shortages, a lack of a manager, and 189 inexperienced Italian prisoners of war were working in the mines at the time of the accident. There were equipment shortages, a lack of training, a lack of an organised chain of command, and pressure from British government and military to increase work rate for the war effort which resulted in safety regulations being overlooked.

In 1974, it was concluded that the cause of the explosion was a site worker removing a detonator from a live bomb using a brass chisel, rather than a wooden batten, resulting in flying sparks. 

No. 21 Maintenance Unit RAF Bomb Storage dump consisted of old gypsum mine workings, which had been made into storage for a variety of ordnance; in addition to shells and bombs, the specifications included several types of weapons and up to 500 million rounds of small arms ammunition. Up to 4,000 tonnes (4,400 tons) exploded, including 3,500 tonnes (3,900 tons) of bombs packed with high explosives.

On 27 November 1944, two huge explosions took place at the site. Two columns of black smoke in the form of a mushroom cloud ascended several thousand feet, and a blaze was seen at the foot of the column. Property was damaged within a radius of 34 mile (1.2 km) of the crater. The crater was 300 yards (270 m) by 233 yards (213 m) in length and 100 feet (30 m) deep, covering 12 acres (4.9 ha).

No precise records were kept to monitor the exact number of workers at the facility and while the exact death toll is uncertain it appears that around 70 people died in the explosion. Although the official reports states 90 people died, the inscription on the memorial stone placed at the crater in November 1990, lists a total of 70 names of people who died as a result of the explosion, 18 of these names are people who are still missing and presumed dead.

Much of the storage facility was annihilated by the explosion, but the site continued to be used by the RAF for munitions storage until 1966, when No. 21 Maintenance Unit was disbanded. 

In 1979, the site was fenced off, and the area is now covered with over 150 species of trees and wildlife. Access is restricted as a significant amount of explosives are still buried deep in the site; the UK government has deemed their removal too expensive to be feasible. REF

Whilst access onto the site is not permitted, due to unexploded bombs, the site can be seen from a Hanbury Walk, starting from The Cock Inn. You can find the walk map here.


The local Tutbury Museum stocks books on the Fauld Disaster if you wish to read more on the subject. See here


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Train: Tutbury


Other attractions in the area: Please see bottom of page


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Photo Credit Daily Mail




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