Bomb Explosion at RAF Graveley (25/07/1943)

On 25th July 1943 a 1,000lb GP bomb exploded during the fusing operation in a Fuzing Shed at RAF Graveley.

The RAF Graveley Operations Record Book shows that seven station personnel were killed, A McAllan, RM Williams, JW McKenzie, W Mitchell, RW Castell, ES Mulcahy and LA Saunders.

The bomb dump was declared unsafe, with five 1,000lb fuzed bombs still lying in the area.

On 26th July 1943, armament staff from the Air Ministry, together with armament officers from HQ No. 8 (Path Finder Force) Group and RAF Station Wyton, visited the bomb  dump and rendered the fuzed bombs safe.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s records show the following burial details:

  • CASTELL, RONALD WILLIAM, ‘1152895’, CAMBRIDGE CITY CEMETERY Grave 14531.
  • MITCHELL, WILLIAM, ‘952826,’ ARBROATH WESTERN CEMETERY Compt. D. Grave 502.
  • MULCAHY, EDWARD STEPHEN, ‘1468681’ PLUMSTEAD CEMETERY Sec. Q. Grave 1515.
  • McALLAN, ALEXANDER, ‘525353’ CLUNY CHURCHYARD EXTENSION Grave 264.
  • McKENZIE, JOHN WILLIAMSON, ‘950891’ SUNDERLAND (MERE KNOLLS) CEMETERY Ward 28.B. Grave 5260.
  • SAUNDERS, LESLIE ALBERT, ‘1627455’ CAMBERWELL NEW CEMETERY Square 91. Col. grave 7840. Screen wall. Panel 11.
  • WILLIAMS, RONALD MAYHEW, ‘541394’ CAMBRIDGE CITY CEMETERY Grave 14332.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

GLIMLAMP ARTICLE

Jack Brewe was working within 50 yards of the fuzing point sheds and recalled the events in an article in Glimlamp

The drama of the first bomb dump explosion at Graveley began on the evening of the 24th July 1943. All squadron aircraft were fully bombed up and fuelled, and queuing for take off.  When it came to S Sugar something went wrong half way down the runway. The pilot tried to abort take off, was unsuccessful, the undercarriage gave way and there was an almighty pile-up at the Offord end of the airfield boundary.

All aircraft that night were carrying a Long Delay 1000 lb bomb fused with a No. 37 pistol. This one had a 12 hr delay. Armourers were quickly on the scene and, knowing exactly the position of the bomb, they were soon at work, hacking their way into the bomb bay, keeping their fingers crossed that all being well they were OK until 9.00 hrs the following morning. With the use of ropes and levers they finally got the bomb clear of the a/c and onto a trailer which Sammy Marshall, the bomb dump tractor driver, took to a remote spot at the far end of the drome where it was left to await the course of events.

The following day, just as the bomb dump armourers were preparing to go to dinner, a lorry load of 500 lb bombs arrived and had to be unloaded straightaway. Cpl Jack Brewe was in charge of “A” fusing team and Cpl Mitchell in charge of “B” team. One team had to stop and unload so the coin was tossed. Cpl. Mitchell won and elected to take his team to dinner, the “A” team going to a late dinner. When they returned, Cpl Mitchell and his team were in the fusing shed, so the “A” team went to the dump to send the bombs up to be fused. During the afternoon there was a large explosion and Jack Brewe remembers thinking to himself that it was the Long Delay 1000 lb bomb from the previous day finally going up. Then corrugated sheeting etc. started raining down. He dived under the Coles crane he was standing beside until the commotion had subsided. On standing up he realised it was the main fusing shed. He and two others dashed over to a scene of complete carnage. There were no survivors from the fusing shed.

The group armament officer was on camp at the time over the previous night’s crash and after the already prepared bomb loads had been moved on to the perimeter track, he sealed off the bomb dump for 48 hrs, in case of sympathetic explosions; it wasn’t known if amongst the rubble there were more delays that were not marked with the code letter for the delay time. Sammy Marshall and Jack Brewe drove a tractor apiece and got all the loads for that night out to the aircraft concerned for a Maximum Effort.

Seven armourers were killed and four injured. Jack Brewe was the only NCO to survive.