It’s one of Britain’s most unique locations, yet to most people, it remains largely unknown.
Staffordshire’s Fauld Crater was born in late November of 1944 when 3,500 tons of high explosives and an estimated 500 million rounds of rifle ammunition exploded underground. There was no warning.
The resultant four kiloton explosion (some sources says as high as 5.7 kilotons) tore the earth apart, jarring seismographs as far away as Switzerland and Rome.
Eye witnesses reported seeing a huge mushroom cloud climbing several thousand feet into the sky and lit from beneath by the rolling orange of a fearsome blaze.
The munitions had been stored in RAF Fauld’s* subterranean spaces, parts that were originally a gypsum mine. This was the main storage centre for high explosive ordnance in Britain. If the explosives had detonated above ground, the blast might have been similar in effect to that of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.
“Debris and damage occurred to all property within a circle extending for 1,420 yards (1,300 m). Upper Castle Hayes Farm completely disappeared and Messrs. Peter Forde’s Lime and Gypsum works to the north of the village and Purse cottages were completely demolished. The lime works was destroyed by the destruction of the reservoir dam and the subsequent release of water into the works. Hanbury Fields Farm, Hare Holes Farm and also Croft Farm with adjacent cottages were all extensively damaged. Debris also damaged Hanbury village. The crater was some 900 by 700 feet (210 m) in length and 380 feet (120 m) deep covering 12 acres. Approximately one third of the RAF dump exploded; an area of 65000 square yards, but barriers of rock pillars between No. 3 and No. 4 sections held and prevented the other munitions storage areas from exploding in a chain reaction. Damage from earth shock extended as far as Burton-upon-Trent.”
“A nearby reservoir containing 450,000 cubic metres of water was obliterated in the incident, along with a number of buildings including a complete farm. Flooding caused by destruction of the reservoir added to the damage directly caused by the explosion.”
The exact number of those who died remains uncertain, but it seems that a little more than seventy people lost their lives, with 18 bodies never being recovered. The official report claimed 90 people had in fact died, but this figure seems to have since been reduced. Two hundred cows were also killed, “many having been blown to pieces”.
The Fauld explosion stands even today as the largest explosion to occur on British soil. Something like a million tons of earth and rock were thrown into the air to rain down over a wide area as dark sludge.
Of course, the crater still exists to this day, although it is now less ‘raw’ having become overgrown with flora. The Ministry of Defence still operates at RAF Fauld and some of the underground stores are even now still stocked with munitions. The site is closed off to the public partly due to the unexploded bombs that are still supposed to exist in the surviving tunnels.
With such terrifying explosive forces cutting short so many people’s lives, it hardly comes as a shock to find that since 1944 some people to visit the area have experienced a “terrible feeling of desolation” with some even becoming “overcome by feelings of utter grief”. Other visitors have reported hearing disembodied voices and the sounds of echoing sobs emanating from somewhere below ground. Undoubtedly these experiences are psychological rather than supernatural.
Surely the most puzzling aspect of the Fauld Crater, though, is that hardly anyone knows about it. The German propaganda machine tried to claim it was of their doing, but to this day, nobody really knows exactly how it happened, although the official thinking surmises that it was nothing more than a terrible accident. In 1990 a memorial was erected to those that had lost their lives.
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