Bomb Disposal in World War Two...

 

... from Pen and Sword

 

Title: Bomb Disposal in World War Two

Author: Chris Ransted

Publisher: Pen and Sword

ISBN: 978-1-52671-565-4

My first thought on seeing this new book from Pen and Sword, and author Chris Ransted was to remember watching the 1970s TV series, 'Danger UXB', which starred actor Anthony Andrews.  No actors in this one though, using material held in the National Archives, this tells us the stories of real events which give us the story of the men who carried out the unenviable but vital task of bomb disposal.  One of the things which is quite an eye opener is the sheer number of unexploded bombs there actually were.

The breadth of the stories in here is interesting in itself.  It starts by dealing with Allied bombs, as both British and American bimbers taking off to attack the continent would sometimes crash, or jettison bombs that did not explode and needed to be disarmed.  It is a bit of a shock, though sort of understandable, that the RAF/USAAF would not pass on information about how to disarm these bombs just in case word got through to Germany, which would have helped them.  Then there are the German Bombs, mostly dealt with by the Army Bomb Disposal units.  As the workings of the fuses and booby traps were mastered, so new ones came along.  There are a host of individual stories in this section, not all of which have a successful outcome.  Quite how those bomb disposal officers managed to continue to walk up to a device that could easily mean their death hardly bears thinking about.  Equally, many were well buried in the ground, and had to be found and dug down to before they could find out what they were having to deal with.

As well as Luftwaffe bombs, there were also aerial mines which missed the water they were aimed at and had to be dealt with on land.  Weighing up to 1 ton of explosive made these a major undertaking.  As naval mines, the disposal task rested in the hands of the Royal Navy.

Chapter 4 tackles the particular topic of the small but deadly little Butterfly Bombs.  Bombs and mines fell near many key sites, and chapter 5 is 'Looking for a Man Named Smith', which includes the story of how a Lieutenant Ronald James Smith managed to disarm a 1 ton mine by the wall of St.Paul's Cathedral and thereby save this valuable London landmark, though he received little publicity for having done so.  The next chapters give another idea of how much disposal work there was to be done, as both Home Guard and Auxiliary teams were formed with volunteers at many factories and a list of these shows just how many people got involved.  Other Non-Combatants also got involved, with a good number being Conchies, or Conscientious Objectors.  As the war went on the volume of bombing over the UK was reduced, and this released experienced bomb disposal officers to get involved with other things, and a number went on to SOE (Special Operations Executive), developing equipment for the agents dropped behind enemy lines.  Chapter 9 details ONe Man's War, that of Squadron Leaders Kenneth Scamell, who lifted thousands of mines left on airfields, and even V1 and V2 warheads that had come down soon after take-off.  Finally we get the story behind the creation of the British Bomb Disposal Badge in WW2.  All together a fascinating book, packed with detailed research and supported by plenty of reference photos from the collection of the National Archives,

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Thanks to Pen and Sword for this review copy.

Robin