There are several terms that I use a lot on this blog that I generally take for granted because I read about them so often in books or wartime reports. I sometimes forget that what is familiar to me may make no sense to some readers, so with that in mind I thought it would be helpful to do a series of posts explaining some of these terms, and thought I would start with bombs.
This is a fairly generic term that is used frequently both during and after the war to describe any kind of device dropped by the Luftwaffe on the city. In general they came under three main categories: Parachute Mine, Incendiary and High Explosive. These were often referred to in short form as PM, IB and HE respectively, sometimes accompanied by the letters UX beforehand to indicate that it had failed to explode.
Different sizes of German High Explosive bombs
They varied in size from tiny 1kg incendiary bombs all the way up to the 1800kg monster that the Germans nicknamed “Satan”. Generally speaking the larger the device, the more damage it was likely to inflict, however much also depended on the circumstances and location where it went off. For example incendiary bombs were often very easy to deal with, especially if they fell in a well populated area and were not accompanied by any high explosive devices. Local people had received training or pamphlets on how to deal with these, and often did so without trouble (until that is the Germans started to include an explosive charge in the device)
An example of one of the small incendiaries used by the Germans
Should these same incendiaries land in a commercial or industrial area however, or the locals be in shelters due to the high explosives, fires could easily be started by the incendiaries. The authorities deployed fire watchers to try to counter this, but it was impossible to locate every device in time to prevent it from starting a fire. Should the fire brigade then be unable to control these fires, the damage to the buildings concerned would be out of all proportion to the size of the bomb.
Parachute Mines were another example of a device that inflicted damage out of proportion with its size. Although still large, the standard types used by the Luftwaffe were 500kg and 1000kg, smaller than the largest high explosive bomb. These mines however would be designed to descend on a parachute and explode above ground 25 seconds after impact. The resulting blast and shock wave could easily demolish half a street if they came down in a residential area. Virtually all of the major incidents during the blitz on Merseyside were caused by parachute mines.
A parachute mine which landed in the garden of a house in Score Lane, Childwall. The device was one of 30 which fell on the night of the 28th/29th November 1940, 8 of which failed to explode
A major problem for the authorities was also unexploded bombs. They standard procedure was to evacuate the immediate area and prevent any traffic passing through. A bomb disposal team would then be called in, sometimes from the Royal Navy if a mine was involved (the parachute mines were technically a naval weapon adapted for use against land targets). Such devices caused great problems as it made a lot of people homeless, even if only temporarily. Often the bomb would still go off, either as there hadn’t been time to get a disposal team to it, or because their efforts had been unsuccessful. The work was very dangerous and many of these brave men lost their lives in the process.
There are almost certainly still some of these devices around today, in May 2006 a 500kg device was discovered in the Mersey, close to Twelve Quays in Birkenhead. Although dealt with by the Royal Navy without incident, it was a stark reminder that the legacy of the blitz is with us still in more ways than one.