Dealing with Incendiary bombs in Surrey

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Incendiary bombs

Incendiary bombs that fell on a road in London. Most bombs just burst into flames but a small proportion had a delayed explosive charge which was designed to deter people from handling them.

In Britain the Blitz continued unabated. After Coventry the Luftwaffe began extending its campaign to other major cities around the country. Liverpool suffered its first major raid on the night 28/29th but this did not mean that everywhere else was quiet.

Bombing tactics called for a combination of ‘high explosive’ and ‘incendiary’ bombs. Both the Allies and the Axis forces would experiment with different combinations of the two types of bomb, looking to find the maximum destructive effect. The hoped for scenario was that, once the explosives had blasted buildings apart, fires would be started in the wreckage by the incendiary bombs.

Incendiary bombs that fell by themselves could be dealt with relatively easily, if they could be reached before they started a major fire. Because speed was of the essence in this situation the public were actively encouraged to watch out for the bombs and to deal with them directly themselves.

R.T.A. Northrop describes how hundreds of incendiary bombs fell near Epsom in Surrey:

29.11.40

Last night raiders went over London to Liverpool which was heavily bombed. The last day or two London has had a few daylight warnings each day. Tonight’s warning went about 6 p.m. and raiders came over in large numbers. About 9.30 p.m. I went along the Spinney to borrow a tin hat to wear on patrol (home guard) when 2 or more incendiaries fell.

These bombs consist of hundreds of small bombs which scatter over a large area. These scattered over the Downs up to Tattenham Corner Station including the fields adjoining the rear of our garden (Headley Drive area). One fell in a garden four houses away. They are small magnesium and carbide bombs about 2 feet long and 2 or 3 inches wide. A small fin of alloy one end enables them to fall straight down when the basket containing them explodes in the air. There must be hundreds or even thousands of these small bombs alight around us tonight. The place was like fairyland. Luckily no material damage was done.

At the time we could have read a newspaper so bright was everywhere and above the German plane was circling looking for a good place to drop his H.E. bombs. Luckily he realised that nothing was important here and flew away. Some of the small bombs exploded within 30 seconds or more of burning. The visible result from a distance was a shower of fireworks, but anyone trying to put out a bomb like this would get hurt. Later on I heard of a fellow with severe head injuries by one of these explosive fire bombs.

Shrapnel was falling everywhere and aeroplanes were passing over continuously. Saw many flares over direction of Epsom, Ewell, Sutton, Banstead and Croydon, most of which were shot down.

The following day he went out with his 5 year old son to collect the fins from burnt out bombs. His full account can be read at BBC Peoples War. Almost everyone who visited the cinema will have seen the following official advice film:

WRNS AT WORK. 1940, At a Fleet Air Arm Station, the Fire Fighting Squad. Using the stirrup pump on an incendiary bomb.

WRNS AT WORK. 1940, At a Fleet Air Arm Station, the Fire Fighting Squad. Using the stirrup pump on an incendiary bomb.

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