Heligoland Explosion, the 'British Bang'.

Discussion in 'Postwar' started by von Poop, Apr 18, 2008.

  1. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    61 Years ago today, 18/04/47 the British were responsible for the world's 'largest single explosive detonation' on Heligoland, in what seems to have been an attempt to destroy the entire island by setting off 4-7k tons of surplus ammunition.
    List of the largest artificial non-nuclear explosions - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    This Torygraph article says they're reconstructing the Island:
    Island levelled by British to be whole again - Telegraph
    And mentions that the Explosion was to destroy military facilities there.

    As that sounds a little sketchy to me, and I've not yet turned up a solid explanation, does anybody know for sure what the intention was?

    I thought maybe beginning exploration of megaton explosions for nuclear work?, but that's pure speculation.

    Or just... because they could? :huh:

  2. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    Early post war.Heligoland was used by the Royal Air Force as a bombing range to dispose of bombs left over from the European War and at the same time to destroy the U Boat facilities that had been developed during the war.Free fall bombs had little effect on the U Boat facilities that the Kreigsmarine had built up from Hitler gaining power in 1933.The task of the disposal of munitions gave the British the chance to also destroy these facilities which free fall bombs could not.The intention was that the island could never be used as a naval base against Britain at a time when the Cold War was unfolding.

    I do think at the time it was envisaged that Heligoland would be returned to civilian use but it has and apparently one of those islands which gives tranquility.About 10 years ago I watched a enjoyable German documentary on German analogue TV which illustrated the island as worth visting for a holiday althought there is little to do for the younger person.The people shown visiting were of the older age groups, for some it was the interest in the wildlife that had returned since the days of the forties.I found it interesting from an historical point of view and as the island is easy to get to from Cuxhaven (for foot passengers only), I will visit it if I find myself in that part of Germany.
    Historic Steve and von Poop like this.
  3. GRW

    GRW Pillboxologist

    Ok, I was about to repeat the same thing.
  4. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    Thanks Harry (& Gordon), so it was just a modern 'slighting' using convenient materials.
    Makes me wonder just how much surplus ordnance (Allied & Axis) was disposed of postwar, perhaps before it became required again in Korea.

  5. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    Interestingly there was a wheeler dealer by the name of George Dawson who postwar bought quite a lot of surplus war equipment from the Ministry of Supply (not armaments).When the Malayan Emergency broke out in 1948 followed by the Korean War in June 1950, it transpired that there was a shortage of such equipment and George Dawson was able to make a premium on sales back of the equipment to the Ministry of Supply.

    Postwar there were a number of RAF Bomber Command wartime airfields on which wartime bombs were stacked and stored managed by MU units.I think this lasted until about 1958 when all the bombs had been safely disposed of and the airfields were then closed down and in many cases the sites returned to previous owners. Bomber Command meanwhile used 25lb practice bombs on their bombing ranges.

    Its surprising how many inland bombing ranges were used during the war for crew training.Some were close to rural populations and for this purpose practice bombs were used.Theddlethorpe in Lincolnshire springs to, mind being a practice bombing range from the pre war days. Now closed and occupied by a gas terminal
  6. Hellofawaytodie

    Hellofawaytodie No-Combat Experience

    There's very little out there that tells you much about the small island of Heligoland. After the war, the british navy decides to blow it up with the largest non nuclear explosion known in history, while making bombing raids to the homes of the inhabitants. I'm quite surprised this isn't mentioned in more television documentarys or in books.

    Perhaps somone here could share their knowledge on this small island?
  7. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin

    You may wish to view this earlier thread with several more links of interest on the subject.


    It is always wise to carry out a search on the forum before posting as you may be surprised at what has been oposted previously.

    I am not saying that you can always pick up a thread, but it is a very useful search tool.

  8. 4jonboy

    4jonboy Daughter of a 56 Recce Patron

    There was a bit about Heligoland on the Coast programme the other day on BBC2. I thought it was very interesting as I didn't know much about it.

  9. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin

    The demolition or attempted demolition of the arms cach underground is still recorded as one of the greatest non nuclear explosions of all times.

  10. Jedburgh22

    Jedburgh22 Very Senior Member

    I believe Helgoland used to belong to Britain in Victorian times
  11. Orwell1984

    Orwell1984 Senior Member

    The History Press just released a book on Heligoland the beginning of June.
    Heligoland: The True Story of the German Bight and the Island that Britain forgot.
    Heligoland: The True Story of German Bight and the Island that Britain Forgot

    Grub Street recently released a book about the early WW2 air battle near the Bight as well.
  12. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    Heligoland was a U boat base during the war.As a important naval base in the German Bight it was able to control access from the North Sea to the Elbe,the Wesel and the associated ports,principally Hamburg and Wilhelmshaven.

    Helioland was solely a naval base, its civilians were evacuated from the island when the Kriegsmarine decided to fortify it after the Nazis came to power.It had been fortified by the Germans in the Great War who were required to dismantled the fortress by the terms of the Versailles Treaty.Post Second World War,the island was used to exhaust high explosive stocks concurrent with the neutralisation of the fortress in order to eliminate its worth to enemies of the British.The RAF also used it extensively for live bombing practice of surplus stocks.

    It was acquired by the Germans in 1890 from the British in exchange for certain rights in German East Africa,notably the island of Zanzibar and the right to exercise protectorate of land which became known as Kenya.The Danes lost Heliogoland to the Britsh in 1807 after being on the wrong side in the Napoleon Wars.

    In late September 1939, a Bomber Command No 144 Squadron operation against Helioland resulted in heavy Hampden losses and demonstrated that the Hampden was no match for the Luftwaffe in daylight operations.Even so at this opening point of the war,the official policy was that Bomber Command aircraft were forbidden to attack German ports and naval facilities and this type of operation against Heliogoland would be restricted to one of a reconnaissance operation.Was to prove a worthless policy costing valuable aircrew.

    I think from the mid 1960s,civilians were allowed back on the island and since then a flourishing tourist industry has developed.Cuxhaven has a ferry service to Heliogoland and I believe there is also a service from Hamburg.
  13. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    After the war, the british navy decides to blow it up with the largest non nuclear explosion known in history, while making bombing raids to the homes of the inhabitants.

    I hope the Royal Navy weren't bombing the inhabitants after the war.

    Going off on a tangent when I hear or read the word ''Heligoland'' it always makes me think of one of these.
    Heligoland trap - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

  14. Hellofawaytodie

    Hellofawaytodie No-Combat Experience

    I never knew it was the name of a trap, that's quite amusing :)
    And it's rather hard to search in this forum. I thought i did look, but i guess not hard enough. Thanks for the link Smudger. I'll check it out.
  15. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    Regarding tourists to Heligoland,it has always been a location for people to appreciate the island, its nature and beauty.Recently there has been a discussion to make the place more attractive to visitors,ie, increasing the interest to younger vistors in addition to what might be termed the genteel.Its location up now and the time to get there has somewhat restricted the type of visitor travelling there.

    Day visits allow about 4 hours on the island and there used to the added attraction of the old duty free laws.

    Overall a rock which featured in both world wars.As a fortess in the Great War,the Germans were directed to dismantled it under the Versailles Treaty.Then in the Second World War, as a fortress and U Boat base, destroyed by the Britsh as agreed by the Allies at the Potsdam Agreement.
  16. Za Rodinu

    Za Rodinu Hot air manufacturer

    If you wish to travel a little further you might want to go to Rügen island :)
  17. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin

    I drove past this monstrous piece of architecture last year. It still looks as awful as when it was first built, but never fully finished as the 2nd World war started and interrupted things.

    Otherwise Rügen is a nice island and also has a wonderful metre gauge preserved steam line!

  18. Za Rodinu

    Za Rodinu Hot air manufacturer

    Blimey, Tom, when are you going to start sending drawings of vacuum cleaner parts home :D
  19. sanglier

    sanglier Junior Member

    I visited on a day trip in 2005 it is a long way out in the North Sea by fast jet catarmaran. I went from Emden and the catarmaran stopped at various places in Germany and Netherlands on the way there.

    Attached Files:

  20. pauldawn

    pauldawn Senior Member

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