Unexploded Bombs (UXB) by Simon Bloomer
The story of the Quarry Bank "luftmines" (parachute mines)
This page is published with the assistance of the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Simon Bloomer recounts the story of the night of 20th December 1940 when Luftwaffe squadrons passed over Cradley and neighbouring Quarry Bank on their way to bomb Liverpool. As it flew overhead, one of the bombers dropped 2 "Luftmine A" type parachute mines, for reasons unknown.
September 1940 until March 1941 were the darkest days of World War 2 for Great Britain. Britain was suffering a sustained and heavy attack by the German air force. This period is known as the Blitz.
The strategy behind the German attacks was simple. Britain was to be forced to surrender by laying waste to her cities. Civilian areas were deliberately targeted. Thousands of people were being killed or maimed every month.
On the night of 20th December 1940 over 200 bombers were despatched to attack Liverpool. The first aircraft left the ground at 6.36pm. The leading aircraft belonged to KGr.100 and II/KG55, elite squadron sized units (10-16 planes each). They were equipped with special radio navigation equipment to find targets even in the worst weather conditions.
On arrival over Liverpool these two groups of aircraft dropped flares and incendiary bombs to mark the target area. The remainder of the bombing force arrived in a long "stream" over several hours. They unloaded 205 tons of high explosive and more than 27,000 incendiaries over Liverpool. This concentrated onslaught did much damage to the city, and resulted in over 300 people being reported as killed.
The bomber stream passed over Cradley on its way to and from Liverpool. They were engaged by local anti aircraft batteries. One of the bombers in the stream dropped 2 "Luftmine A" type parachute mines onto Quarry Bank High Street as it flew overhead.
This cannot have been a deliberate attack. The aircraft must have been lost, or was suffering from a mechanical problem and needed to jettison weight. Cradley could have been seen as a "target of opportunity".
A "Luftmine A" was 1100lb in weight and 5' 8" long. Floating down to ground on a parachute it was fitted with a clockwork fuse that ran for 17 seconds after the mine was jolted by hitting something, like a rooftop or the ground.
The blast from a Luftmine was powerful enough to destroy buildings in a 300 foot radius and could blow out windows up to a mile away. They often detonated at rooftop height, which magnified the destruction achieved.
For some reason neither Luftmine detonated. One landed on soft ground behind the local cinema. The second mine broke through the roof of a clubhouse and dangled into one of the rooms. It was suspended by its parachute. A local man, Mr Frank Webb, shored up the roof to prevent it collapsing. This was a feat of grave bravery.
ARP wardens tried to organise an evacuation. Although many people cooperated and moved straight away, some locals crowded into the wardens' post and refused to move further. It took a great deal of persuasion to get them to re-locate to Colley Lane School, which had been designated as a rest centre.
Unexploded Luftmines were the responsibility of the Royal Navy because they were originally dropped into the sea by the Germans to attack shipping. A team of Royal Marines arrived to disarm them in the morning. This was an extremely dangerous job as Luftmines were notorious for exploding at the slightest disturbance. They were also designed to explode if they detected a magnetic field. This meant that the Marines had to take off anything made from ferrous metals like buttons, belt buckles and shoes with studs. They couldn't use steel tools.
Several methods were available to disarm the Luftmines. One was to simply pull the fuse out with a piece of string and hope for the best. The other was to fool the mine into thinking it was in deep water and did not need to explode unless it detected a magnetic field. This was done by pressurising the fuse with a car horn attached to a bicycle pump. It was then safer to dismantle.
The Marines successfully disarmed both mines by 3pm. Local people were then able to return home.
As night fell anti aircraft defences stationed near Cradley engaged another stream of German bombers flying overhead. They were on their way to Liverpool to finish off the job they had started 24 hours earlier. A bomb clearance team removed the mines at 11am the following day.