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PETERTHEEATER
10-03-2011, 12:04
The disused Swainsby railway tunnel was used by the RAF during WW2 for munitions storage. Also known as Butterton Tunnel.

It was a sub-site under the control of 28 MU Harpur Hill located to the north.

Due to the limitations of the tunnel section, it would have been difficult handling large HE bombs.

Believed also to have been used to store CW when Harpur Hill was found structurally unsafe following the Llanberis FAD collapse.

The original Light Railway was a 2ft. 6ins gauge track and was authorised in 1898. The crown of the tunnel is rather high for such a narrow gauge railway. This was to allow additional space for clearance for the passage of of large wagons, loaded to a high gauge.

It is likely that issues and receipts were via a rail head at Hartington Halt Station to the north east which was on a line which connected to Harpur Hill. (to be confirmed)

Here's the good bit; if you locate the line of the tunnel in Google Earth and drag the little orange man down you will see the Street View 'blue road' goes through the tunnel so you can now see what a tight squeeze it was for bomb storage!

Where's the Path - http://wtp2.appspot.com/wheresthepath.htm?lat=53.11514449905571&lon=-1.8652832508087158&gz=17&oz=8&gt=1

Google Earth paste: 5306'56.24" N 151'55.53" W

YellowPinkie
10-03-2011, 12:31
That is tiny! I can't imagine there would be a lot of room for bombs and a route past, so would the munitions be accessed from both ends?

Carnaby
10-03-2011, 12:59
Peter's GS Link (http://maps.google.ca/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=butterton&aq=&sll=51.58899,-3.054564&sspn=0.040635,0.132093&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Butterton,+Leek,+United+Kingdom&ll=53.11622,-1.865873&spn=0.009814,0.033023&t=h&z=16&layer=c&cbll=53.11665,-1.865521&panoid=EdR5Gtp-iD2kL0H553EM8g&cbp=12,211.54,,0,-0.11) The've added electric lighting to the tunnel since my visit 20 years ago. H&S no doubt.

http://i118.photobucket.com/albums/o102/grahamcrisp/Butterton2.jpg
From the notes:
Mustard gas had been shipped to France with the BEF at the beginning of 1940, however all stocks were successfully returned in June via Fowey and transported to 28 MU where a great deal of time was spent in inspecting for gas leaks before putting the units into store. A new section of Harpur Hill ('E' site), plus the sub site at the Butterton railway tunnel, was set aside for this purpose.

6.12.40 Butterton Approved as a sub-site of 28MU

February 1942: Butterton and a new area of Harpur Hill is in use for 250lb LC storage.http://i118.photobucket.com/albums/o102/grahamcrisp/250lb.jpg
The 250lb Light Case weapon was normally charged with Y3 Mustard, but could also hold Phosgene. A tail unit was fitted, but a detonator / exploder was optional and might be used if there was the potential of not hitting brick / concrete etc. as might be the case when attacking invading troops. Dimensions 3' x 1' diam approx. (Source: SD 357 (1944) Manual of Chemical Warfare AIR10/4071)

YellowPinkie
10-03-2011, 16:33
Carnaby - how was the mustard gas returned? I can't imagine it was high priority for the BEF to bring it with them; standing up to their necks in the sea, each holding a 250lb canister...

Richard Drew
10-03-2011, 18:23
I am convinced that the Government of the day new that the BEF were going to lose round one and that plans had been put in place to evacuate not only personnel but also lots of other items that needed to be got out in a hurry. I would think that gas was a priority and was probably held back at base storage somewhere around Le Havre and when it was obvious that they were losing the gas was returned via Fowey so that the Germans did not get to know that we had it and would have used it. Churchill's ideas on Gas was tit for tat. If they had used it we would retaliate.

Richard
www.atlantikwall.co.uk (http://www.atlantikwall.co.uk)

PETERTHEEATER
12-03-2011, 12:03
That is tiny! I can't imagine there would be a lot of room for bombs and a route past, so would the munitions be accessed from both ends?

Access may have been from one end only for security purposes. A Decauville track railway was probably laid full length along on side and bombs stored nose to tail in not more than two layers so that they could be rolled on/off a dilly (manual rail cart).

Carnaby
12-03-2011, 12:28
I noticed from my visit years ago that there was evidence of door hinges having been attached to at least one end.

PETERTHEEATER
13-03-2011, 05:05
Carnaby - how was the mustard gas returned? I can't imagine it was high priority for the BEF to bring it with them; standing up to their necks in the sea, each holding a 250lb canister...

On reference reports that in March 1940 the Air Ministry suggested that used empty bomb cases be returned to the UK on civil aircraft (such as the Ensign) for refilling at Randle (that is if CW had been used). Clearly this did not apply to the 65 pound Light Case which ruptured completely on impact.

When the BEF withdrew from France the British CW bombs (filled but unused) would have been returned to the UK by ship (probably Landing Craft) and were stored at 28 MU Harpur Hill. When that store was inspected and found to be in danger of collapse due to structural cracking (as had already happened at Llanberis) the CW stocks were hastily moved to the Swainsley tunnel which presented the only available convenient undercover storage.

PETERTHEEATER
13-03-2011, 05:11
The 250lb Light Case weapon was normally charged with Y3 Mustard, but could also hold Phosgene. A tail init was fitted, but a detonator / exploder was optional and might be used if there was the potential of not hitting brick / concrete etc. as might be the case when attacking invading troops. Dimensions 3' x 1' diam approx. (Source: SD 357 (1944) Manual of Chemical Warfare AIR10/4071)

My bomb disposal notes indicate that for RAF use the 250 pound LC bomb was 'fused' using a No 36 Nose Fuze whereas for USAAF aircraft carriage the No 44 Nose Pistol (and separate detonator and burster charge) was to be used. This was for safety because US aircraft had tier carriage bomb racks (one above the other).

The 250 pound LC bomb rear closing disc was lightly welded so that when the nose Fuze or Pistol combo fired the buster charge blew the base off spreading the contents.

Carnaby
14-03-2011, 17:51
[I]...and were stored at 28 MU Harpur Hill. When that store was inspected and found to be in danger of collapse due to structural cracking (as had already happened at Llanberis) the CW stocks were hastily moved to the Swainsley tunnel which presented the only available convenient undercover storage.
Regarding the 'French' mustard bombs, from No.42 Group History: Chemical Weapons were dispatched to France via Fowey in March 1940 - this was the first movement of this type of weapon within the UK. All these were successfully
brought out of France during the evacuation in June 1940. Two main storage areas for CW were opened - one at Harpur Hill as part of the Main Unit, and a separate one at Bowes Moor.

My original feeling was that the weapons probably went straight into the Butterton Tunnel and 'E' site, Harpur Hill. I now suspect that 'E' site was not available in 1940, however I don't think they would have been stored in Harpur's underground tunnels along with all the HE ('confined spaces' etc.). How much of this stuff was there?

I note that 220MU Wortley (pre USAAF handover) was used in 1942 to store the underground contents of 28MU during the roof maintenance work.

Harpur 'E' site'

The latter is the most southern of Harpur's dispersed sites and is completely flattened here (http://wtp2.appspot.com/wheresthepath.htm?lat=53.218699383136176&lon=-1.905328631401062&gz=18&oz=8&gt=1)

Post WWII, following the closure of Bowes, this became the principal C/W depot in the UK. The RSP states that it was returned to PPPB (?) in July 1960. The Where's the Path view today shows considerable remains of dispersed sites, B, C and D. ('B' is immediately to the north of the road.)

Following a discussion with Colin Ba regarding a niggle I had re these weapons - the fact that they were charged with Pyro Y3 which was well known for being unstable and having a poor shelf life. What was it doing sitting in storage depots for well over two years? Colin suspects that the contents may have been WWI or Sutton Oak stocks.

E.g.
http://www.suttonbeauty.org.uk/suttonhistory/poisongas.html

However, the pilot production plant at Sutton Oak was also a de facto factory. In 1939 a Ministry of Supply memorandum marked 'Secret' stated that Sutton Oak had the capacity to produce 50 tons per week of mustard gas and when war broke out in September, the total UK stockpile was only 10 tons. As there was no production of Runcol at any agency factories until March 1940, for a period of six months from September 1939, the whole of the country's supply (1100 tons) came from Sutton Oak.

PETERTHEEATER
15-03-2011, 07:33
My original feeling was that the weapons probably went straight into the Butterton Tunnel and 'E' site, Harpur Hill.

Yes, most likely. One reference mentioned CW and BEF recovered munitions meaning, presumably, RAF stores and not Army.

The 'E' site Harpur Hill was protected by a couple of Type 23 pillboxes on the adjacent hills which may reflect the importance given to the site in 1940.

ColinBa
09-02-2012, 15:28
Chemical Weapons were dispatched to France via Fowey in March 1940 - this was the first movement of this type of weapon within the UK. All these were successfully brought out of France during the evacuation in June 1940. Two main storage areas for CW were opened - one at Harpur Hill as part of the Main Unit, and a separate one at Bowes Moor.
Some observations and questions. There is no mention of mustard gas in this statement and there was little of it around at the time. Y 3 mustard was Runcol and there was virtually no production prior to this period. There were no WWI stocks as Runcol was not invented until 1932.
The RAF aircraft in France tasked for CW were Lysanders and Blenheims, These aircraft were being withdrawn or had been decimated by March 1940. So why would we ship valuable CW munitions at this late date?
It is a fact that the Royal Engineers had hundreds of CW trained troops in their CW companies and they did have thousands of Livens tubes, CW land mines, 25lb CW bombs fired from crickets and some Bulk Contamination Vehicles. I would have thought this was the standard kit for a withdrawal and when they were not used they would have been evacuated to the UK as we did not wish the Germans to Know we were considering using them
If this is true the question is why were the RAF carrying the army's stores?

Carnaby
09-10-2012, 14:06
Some dates from 28MU ORB:

21 May 1940 Air Ministry order states that chemical weapons will be stored in the underground area of Harpur Hill
25 May 1940 Decontamination squads and extra guards will be provided for the marshalling yard
27 May 1940 First consignment arrives by rail: 108 30-lb LC Mk.I bombs, 461 250-lb LC Mk.I bombs, 469 500-lb SCI Mk.II spray tanks.
26 Feb 1941 Butterton (Swainsly) Sub-unit opened
27 May 1941 Harpur Hill's 'E' site inaugurated (for chemical defence weapons).


I would have thought storing mustard filled containers in an enclosed space which contained personnel doing their daily duties was not a great idea. No details of when the weapons were actually moved to the sub-sites.

PETERTHEEATER
10-10-2012, 05:51
The Swainsley (Butterton) tunnel is recorded as having been acquired by the Air Ministry in December 1940.

The collapse of Llanberis RAD in January 1942 caused a structural inspection of the Harpur Hill RAD and cracks were found resulting in removal of much of the overburden that had been piled atop the reinforced concrete 'underground' structures.

The BEF recovered CW would have been on site but whether they were below ground or on the surface I don't know. Much CW must have been moved to Butterton from Harpur Hill when the structure was found to be unsound at which point the MSU was in existence. Other stocks would have gone to Bowes Moor out of sight out of mind!