Wednesday, December 01, 2004

New Theory on Fauld Explosion -was it a V2?

A new theory about the biggest explosion on the UK mainland-

4,000 tonnes of high explosive bombs and ammunition went up that day, creating a 100ft-deep crater which still remains. It is a poignant memorial to the 70 who died.
An official inquiry blamed one of the victims, an airman, who tried to chip away at a bomb with a brass chisel, causing a spark and an explosion.
But Alec Savidge, whose father survived the blast, has a new theory about what caused it.He says it was not an accident, but was caused by a German V2 rocket. Suzanne Harrop tells his story. ON the morning of November 27, 1944, electrician Tom Savidge was walking back to the offices at RAF Fauld when he heard an enormous blast and saw smoke billowing above the trees.The 66-year-old headed straight for an air raid shelter. There he heard a second bang.Some 4,000 tonnes of bombs and ammunitions had just exploded. An investigation into the incident concluded that an airman had tried to chip at a bomb with a brass chisel. This caused the spark which set off the explosion.But in the 60 years since many have refused to accept the official line. Instead they have suggested that the incident was the result of sabotage, lax security or inexperienced employees.Now Tom Savidge's son, who was 19 years old at the time, has put forward a new theory. He believes the two bangs heard by his father and many other witnesses hold the key.Alec Savidge had been serving in London at the time, when German V1 rockets were attacking the capital. He had moved back to serve in Nottinghamshire before the V2 attacks started. But he had friends there who experienced the horrors and recounted them to him.It was these tales that led Mr Savidge to believe that the ammunitions store explosion had been caused by a German V2 warhead. This would explain the two bangs, he says.He is convinced that the first was caused when the V2 hit the ground, and the second when the ammo exploded.It has taken him two-and-a-half years to find evidence to back up his theory."I think the RAF knew right from the start that it was caused by a German V2 rocket, but it was covered up because the RAF did not want to create a panic by revealing the Germans could accurately pinpoint military targets in Britain."I believe it was a very very carefully arranged operation by the Germans", Mr Savidge said.The spectacular theory is based on a photograph contained in the Official Findings of the December 1944 Court of Inquiry into the explosion. The findings had been kept under wraps until 1974, when the official secrets' 30-year rule expired.Mr Savidge, who is originally from Shobnall but now lives in Wodonga, Victoria, Australia, obtained copies of the documents two-and-a-half years ago. He has studied them since. The photograph is captioned "fragment of thick-case bomb" and the RAF says it is the remainder of an exploded bomb from the ammunitions store.But Mr Savidge is convinced this is a fragment of the V2's tail section, after comparing the photograph with V2 dimensions.But his dramatic theory does not stop there. He also believes the V2 was filled with an uranium warhead that did not explode. He says instead it went into meltdown causing an extreme heat that led to the devastating explosion. In short it was a Nazi attempt to create an atomic explosion."It is historically documented that Goering asked scientists how much explosive would be needed to set an atomic bomb off", the 79-year-old said."They said it would take thousands of tonnes of explosives, which could be why they wanted to target Fauld. The Germans hoped the explosion of all the bombs at Fauld would set off the atomic bomb."What I do think happened is that the V2 was filled with a uranium warhead that did not explode. Instead it went into meltdown releasing heat which in turn caused the bombs in Fauld to explode. This is very difficult to prove." But there is evidence to back up the sensational theory, according to Mr Savidge.The 1944 Court of Inquiry into the explosion heard of a terrific heat coming from the crater, which Mr Savidge believes was caused by the meltdown of the nuclear warhead.Claims have been made that radioactivity was found around the crater from John Bowley, an Anslow man who is also now living in Australia."In around 1949 or 1950 he bought what he thought was a metal detector which he attached to his tractor to find any unexploded bombs in the farmland soil he was ploughing", Mr Savidge said."As he went near the crater the metal detector was making so much noise that he thought it was faulty so he shut it off and put it away in his shed."A few days later a police officer went around and confiscated the metal detector, which turned out to be a Geiger counter." But could the V2 rocket be sophisticated enough to accurately pinpoint RAF Fauld and could it travel that far? The V2 rockets detonated over London were fired from Holland and Mr Savidge thinks the V2 rocket was fired off the coast near Skegness.He believes the accuracy of the bomb was due to a homing device smuggled in by a German parachutist.He said: "Weeks before the explosion a young schoolboy took a shortcut across the fields near Fauld and he saw a parachutist in a German uniform."He told his school friends and they told the teachers who told the police, but the police did not believe him."Was this German parachutist carrying a homing device which would have directed the V2 to Fauld?" Mr Savidge has contacted Burton and Uttoxeter MP Janet Dean about his theory, who wrote to Ivor Caplin MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Defence and Minister for Veterans.He also contacted the deputy head of the RAF's Air History Branch, Group Captain Steve Lloyd who disputes the theory. He says the metal skin of the "fragment thick-case bomb" is too thick to be a German V2 and Fauld was beyond the V2's range at the time and could not have pinpointed Fauld with such accuracy.Mrs Dean said: "Ivor Caplin's reply to me basically maintains the findings of the official inquiry." Mr Savidge said: "They have tried to disprove my theory, but I believe that I am right and they are just continuing the cover-up."Sixty years later the Ministry of Defence still denies the fact a V2 rocket could have caused the Fauld explosion, even though confronted with photographic evidence from their own files." So Mr Savidge's theory just adds to the speculation and mystery.Joyce's 15-year-old brother was never foundThe people who experienced the Fauld explosion, or lost relatives in it, will remember that fateful day for the rest of their lives.Ken McLeod, who lives in Burton, was working in a large cavern, known as the old alabaster mine, at RAF Fauld, on the day and was aged just 21.He remembers that everything went pitch-black and the air was full of dust and grit. Luckily, he escaped with only a few grazes.He said: "I was very, very lucky. It'll be something I'll always remember for as long as I live." His wife, Joyce, who he met after the explosion, will also remember the day. She lost her brother, Lewis Frow (15), in the disaster.Mrs McLeod, who was 17 at the time, said: "I was working in a factory in Burton and it shook. We thought we were being bombed. It wasn't until later that we discovered it was the ammunition dump."My brother worked there. I went home and my mother said I should go to the dump and fetch Lewis."When I got to the main gate you could not see the devastation there because it looked normal."I spoke to a Ministry of Defence policeman, who said the dump had gone up but Lewis was OK and he would be home at the usual time."But he never came home. We waited for news, and it came three days later in a telegram which said he was missing and presumed dead."His body was never found." Explosion anniversary marked with memorial serviceThe 60th anniversary of the Fauld explosion will be marked today with a service at the gigantic crater.The service is held each year and is organised by Hanbury Parish Council in memory of the 70 people who lost their lives. They included workmen, members of the local community, RAF personnel and Italian prisoners-of-war.