WW2 Home Defence Mine Clearance

#1
In the Where & What thread, k13eod posted this:

For the 'disposaliers' amongst you ...
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A moment on Google revealed it as being the memorial to the Sappers who were killed clearing the British-laid mines on the Norfolk coast, and is located at Mundesley.

I've looked at the WW2 defences placemarks on Google Earth and often wondered who got the job of clearing the defences, minefields in particular as the little buggers are prone to movement so even if they were recorded accurately when placed, the chances of them still being there are fairly slim. There aren't many memorials to the mine clearers (and even the one at Mundesley has got an ally aerial bomb on it instead of a boring land mine). Were the Sappers in Norfolk particularly unlucky? Or was it just that a lot of the clearance was done after VE Day and it was never thought worthy of mention?

Reading the dates on the plaques, it appears that most fatal events involved either two or three people. No further details are given, begging the question whether the clearers were close together when one mine went off, whether the mines were linked so that when one went off it initiated other mines or whether there are some instances of attempted rescue which claimed the lives of the would-be rescuers.

Geographically, I must admit that I'm more interested in the North east, that being my home territory, but it strikes me that there's a distinct lack of memorials. And addressing this omission should be done quickly while the next of kin remain extant.
 
#2
#3
I visited this in the summer and wondered why the memorial was there. I donlt think the North East bit of Norfolk was ever heavily mined or bombed by either side.
 

the_boy_syrup

LE
Book Reviewer
#5
I seem to remember reading that almost as many men were killed and injured after WW2 trying to defuse British booby traps and minefields.
Perhaps the beaches of Norfolk were quite heavilly booby trapped?
 
#6
#7
I visited this in the summer and wondered why the memorial was there. I donlt think the North East bit of Norfolk was ever heavily mined or bombed by either side.
I've just had a look at the defences indicated on Google Earth and you seem to be quite correct - Mundesley is in the middle of a 30 miles stretch that doesn't appear to have been mined. Curious.
 
#9
Thousands of anti-tank and anti-personnel mines were hurriedly laid on beaches at the beginning of the Second World War when the threat of German invasion was very real. Their positions were not always documented properly and lots of records were lost or destroyed. Many casualties occurred among the Sappers tasked to clear them after the war. Oddly enough, volunteer German ex-POWs and stateless eastern Europeans (Displaced Persons – DPs) were employed on this daunting task and several of the Poles ended up as manual workers at the Defence EOD School at Chattenden.

This excerpt from Chapter 6 of ‘Designed to Kill – Bomb Disposal from World War I to the Falklands’ by Major Arthur Hogben RE (Patrick Stephens Ltd, Wellingborough (1987) describes the scale of the problem and some of the difficulties involved:

“…Searching was the key word in perhaps the most dangerous and trying single task to be given to the Royal Engineer bomb disposal units in 1943. That was the clearance of some 2,000 separate minefields laid on the beaches and cliff tops round the coast of Great Britain as a defence against threatened invasion. Initially the task was to clear selected beaches so that Allied troops could practise their own invasion techniques, but the task quickly grew to include all the 350,000 anti-tank mines laid on British beaches and the exits from them. Technically this was not a bomb disposal task, although it was given to bomb disposal units. Its story should not therefore appear in this book. To tell the story of this work in full and to give due credit to all the officers, non-commissioned officers, Sappers, prisoners-of-war and eventually ex-prisoners-of-war would require a full-length book of its own. However, a few paragraphs must be included to pay respect to the 151 men who were killed on this task between 1943 and 1947 and to the many hundreds of unnamed and frequently unremembered men who worked in constant threat of death even when for others the war was over. Indeed, bomb disposal men will continue to do that just as long as weapons designed to kill are left in the ground posing a threat to life and limb.

The difficulties of this mine clearance task were enormous. The mines had been laid in great haste in 1940, with the result that the minefield records, although showing the general areas in which the mines were laid, contained very little reliable information as to the exact position of the mines or (in some cases) even the total numbers laid. In one classic case the map used was an un-amended 1906 edition! Even if the exact position of all the mines had been shown, there were many instances where the action of wind and tide over the years had altered the whole topography of the area. Mines laid a few inches below the surface of the sand or shingle often became buried deep beneath dunes of sand or banks of shingle. It was not unusual to find that mines had been carried by storms to points far along the coast from where they were originally laid. Similarly, mines laid on cliff tops had, as the cliff was eroded, slid to the bottom of the cliff and either been buried under tons of material or washed out to sea only to be returned to another beach which may already have been cleared.

The most modern instruments then available were used to locate the whereabouts of these mines but many were buried beyond their effective range. Furthermore, the instruments were liable to indicate the presence of a mine which, when uncovered, turned out to be nothing more dangerous than a large tin, a length of chain or any one of the many strange metallic objects with which the beaches had become strewn.

Finally, the mines themselves had suffered from long years of corrosion. One of the most numerous mines to be laid was the anti-tank mine known as the B Type C. This depended for its action upon a pressure of 50 1b (22.7 kg) on the edge or 100 1b (45.4 kg) on the centre of its domed top which reversed a simple bow-shaped spring. This spring drove a striker onto a cartridge cap and so fired the mine. After years of corrosion the bow spring became weaker and its supports less strong. This left the mine in a highly sensitive condition and instead of the intended activation pressure the weight of a man's foot or even a handful of sand could be sufficient to set off the 251b (11.4 kg) of explosive contained in the mine.

Various forms of mechanical equipment were used to clear the beaches and cliff edges. One method was to carry out a surface sweep with mine detectors, then to use armoured bulldozers to scrape off a layer of sand or shingle equal to the effective depth of the search instrument and then re-sweep and continue this until the required depth had been cleared. Another method was to use powerful water jets to clear away the accumulation of sand and shingle until the mines were exposed. Whatever method was used in the way of mechanical devices the final search had always to be carried out by men armed only with mine detectors and complete faith in the other members of their team.

The work of sweeping for and clearing beach mines must inevitably be a very slow and deliberate operation. Any attempt to hurry was all too likely to be attended by fatal results. This work tested a unit's morale to its limit. It was tedious, dangerous and, except when a mine was recovered or someone was killed, it was boring in the extreme. Between 1943 and 1948 a total of 1,986 minefields consisting of 338,500 mines were cleared. This left eleven small areas, the last of which was cleared in 1972…”
Lt Noel Cashford MBE RNVR, a dear old friend, was a veteran wartime Bomb & Mine Disposal Officer and prolific author of books about EOD. As described in this article on the BBC News website eight years ago, Noel was instrumental in the erection of the memorial at Mundesley-on-Sea in Norfolk honouring the 26 Royal Engineers bomb disposal personnel who lost their lives while clearing World War II landmines from Norfolk's cliffs and beaches between 1944 and 1953. Sadly, Noel died earlier this year and his Telegraph obituary can be read here.
 
#15
Thousands of anti-tank and anti-personnel mines were hurriedly laid on beaches at the beginning of the Second World War when the threat of German invasion was very real. Their positions were not always documented properly and lots of records were lost or destroyed. Many casualties occurred among the Sappers tasked to clear them after the war. Oddly enough, volunteer German ex-POWs and stateless eastern Europeans (Displaced Persons – DPs) were employed on this daunting task and several of the Poles ended up as manual workers at the Defence EOD School at Chattenden.

This excerpt from Chapter 6 of ‘Designed to Kill – Bomb Disposal from World War I to the Falklands’ by Major Arthur Hogben RE (Patrick Stephens Ltd, Wellingborough (1987) describes the scale of the problem and some of the difficulties involved:



Lt Noel Cashford MBE RNVR, a dear old friend, was a veteran wartime Bomb & Mine Disposal Officer and prolific author of books about EOD. As described in this article on the BBC News website eight years ago, Noel was instrumental in the erection of the memorial at Mundesley-on-Sea in Norfolk honouring the 26 Royal Engineers bomb disposal personnel who lost their lives while clearing World War II landmines from Norfolk's cliffs and beaches between 1944 and 1953. Sadly, Noel died earlier this year and his Telegraph obituary can be read here.
Thank you.
 

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