The RAF Fauld explosion of 1944 turned a pocket of British countryside into a barren crater of rubble with a closer resemblance to the surface of the moon than the rolling hills of Staffordshire.
The blast was the largest to ever occur in Britain and one of the largest non-nuclear explosions of all time. It killed at least 60 people, formed a huge mushroom cloud over the north Midlands and was felt as far away as Morocco.
As Tom Scott explains in this fascinating YouTube video, RAF Fauld, an underground storage depot for bombs, was severely understaffed on the day that it went up in smoke. Both the commanding officer and the officer responsible for underground stores were on leave. The latter’s deputy was away too.
Overworked and inexperienced, it was no surprise that workers made mistakes. The official inquiry found that someone had used a brass chisel to remove a detonator from a live bomb. Friction caused sparks, and 4,000 tonnes of bombs detonated in a devastating explosion.
The story comes with an unnerving conclusion. Through the late 1940s and 1950s, the Americans repeatedly asked the British government for information about how the blast impacted the surrounding area.
Scott says: “[They essentially asked,] what happens if you detonate something with the yield of a tactical nuclear bomb underground? Britain never answered. And America went on to make its own mushroom clouds.”