Ground Contamination and Unexploded Ordnance

Building Partnership's Rackeath eco-community website has a chapter in the first part of the Concept Statement which is headed Baseline Conditions. Paragraphs 4.49 to 4.53 cover the issues of ground contamination and unexploded ordnance but whilst admitting the possibility of the existence of both the general tone suggests that neither would be a problem.

However, an account by a USAF officer tells of a bombing mission to Royan in France where jellied-gasoline (napalm) was dropped (the first time in Europe by B24s). He goes on to say that the napalm containers had no ballistic characteristics whatsoever. They were made of heavy cardboard, and at altitude some of the detonators popped out like loose corks. These bombs were stored at Rackheath.

After the American 467th Bombardment Group left Rackheath 231 Maintenance Unit of the 42 Group Royal Air Force arrived at the site and from July 1945 this group was responsible for the storage and maintenance of explosives. Several thousand tons of bombs ranging from 250lbs to 4,000lb were stacked on both sides of the main runway and armouers would spend time de-rusting and then greasing the bombs to enable them to withstand further storage along the runway. When the high explosive bombs reached a certain age they were usually shipped out by rail from a track spur at Salhouse Station.

In the late sixties the Maintenance Unit finally left Rackheath.

The eco-community website says that there is no anecdotal evidence of unexploded ordnance and yet a number of local people have found unexploded shells on the site and the fact that napalm containers were stored there suggests that further investigation is vital.

1 comment:

  1. An interesting piece of history. It has made me remember that, when I was at school in Norwich in the eraly 1970s a boy a couple of year above me used to 'deal' in bullets etc. He seemed to have an endless supply and would frequently bring a bag of assorted stuff such as 0.50 calibre machine gun bullets, 20mm cannon shells, .303 bullets in clips, .45 pistol bullets - all live! and either sell or swap them. I bought a selection myself and got in trouble with the physics teacher once when he cought me rolling 20mm cannon shell heads along the bench. He confiscted them and told me what the different coloured tips meant: one colour for exploding tip, another for armour piercing, another for tracer etc. The boy was secretive about whrre he got them from, all he'd say was he lived by an old arifield. He didn't live far from Norwich, so it could have been Rackheath (the stuff he had was a mix of US and British ammunition, I don't know if there were any British planes based at Rackheath? Which ever airfield he got them from, he was only about 14 and clearly was able to help himself to whatever he wanted! So the security for these surplus bullets and bombs was obviously not great, and it seems more than likely that record keeping was poor and there could well be plenty left out there, in forgotten underground bunkers.