DANGER! AW Bombs at large #3

The concluding part 3 of news articles relating to the discovery of Albright and Wilson’s toxic useless bottles, made for an anti tank war that never came to Britain.

“The filling comprised 125cc WP, 21cc Water and 110 cc Benzine.”

As well as the obvious hazard of “Self igniting” white phosphorus and its subsequent breakdown products when these bottles were broken, it is also worth considering that benzene itself is a very carcinogenic substance, which makes it all the more dangerous when anyone came into direct contact with them. The quantity of benzene in each bottle was around 100CC according to this MOD published document , and there were 24 bottles in each box. When considering that over a documented  7 million  of these were made, this relates to over 700,000,000cc of benzene or 700,000 litres or 153, 978.5 UK gallons.    By contrast a typical Olympic sized swimming pool holds 555,000 gallons of water.  The Home Guard of course didn’t care where they left them- thanks for that Captain Mainwaring.

An article from The Aberdeen Press and Journal, 23rd April 1968 , recalls how a bulldozer uncovered some AW grenades which ignited during road works in Scotland. The bomb disposal squad were called to blow them up, though the number uncovered is not specified.

The fact that they were found near to the roadside is perhaps not surprising given that these devices were supposed to be used and thrown from roadblocks or from pill boxes.  Street to street fighting was envisaged, but the German invasion never materialised. The dangerous grenades however were foolishly handled by “The Home Guard.”

Another piece from The Newcastle Journal of 26th May 1969 tells how the bomb disposal unit were once again called into action to deal with 24 grenades (a full box). This cache was found in the sand dunes on land owned by The Ford Motor Company.

The same title again reported another S.I.P treasure trove on  21st January 1970. It appears that in an earlier incident a young boy had been playing on waste ground in Farnborough, Hampshire and had been burned. Once more they were taken away and destroyed by bomb disposal, though interestingly not at the scene. Perhaps the sheer number involved made this too dangerous?

In the same year on August 19th, The Birmingham Daily Post reported on how a new hotel being built in Redditch had to be sealed off due to an incident where AW bombs had exploded, again when they were unearthed. Nine bottles were found, some of which were obviously cracked and unstable when igniting.

The bomb disposal spokesman interestingly knows that the ground where the p4 scattered would be unsafe. He states that the ground would be raked to make sure that the phosphorus burned, though stupidly that the remnants would be buried under the road bank. I have no idea why this would have been thought a good idea.

The idea of an “antidote” of copper sulphate and soap is quite quaint. In reality the thermal burns caused by white phosphorus , as well as any fumes would require hospitalisation and many months to extract all of the damage that it would cause, as well as monitoring for many years as to the effects it may also have on the body and in particular the teeth.


Another story from The Aberdeen Press and Journal, 18 April 1987, details how a builder uncovered some bottles in his garden which he thought were pop. The article is wrong in that it states the bottles were from World War 1. 

The bomb squad again blew them up, bizarrely on a beach area. How this would be “raked over” is quite unclear, and one has to believe that it wouldn’t be.

The same paper reported another find in Angus just 12 days later! The 14 AW bombs were once again taken to a beach and blown up.

A major dump of phosphorus grenades (some 500) were found in reading in 1989.

The Reading Evening Post of 18th December reported on how the grenades had been buried by The Home Guard 6 feet underground at an army barracks. They were disturbed by a builder, and would have put present soldiers lives at risk had they detonated. This would have produced a great deal of phosphorus pentoxide on detonation , though it does not state where they were destroyed in the 12 hour operation.

A short piece from The Newcastle Journal of 19th July 1994 recounts more “grenade peril” in County Durham.  This time the discovery was on farmland , again a danger to any animals and anything entering the food chain when the white phosphorus spontaneously combusted. 

The different approaches taken by the bomb disposal squads in these articles are perhaps a part of the problem in how these mass produced weapons relics were destroyed. I have looked at this HERE, though it is clear that of the over 7 million made, AW bombs are still out there waiting to be discovered, and are no less dangerous but probably more so today than they were when coming off the Albright and Wilson production line. 

It’s just a question of how many of them went into a clay pit in Tividale after the war under the cover of “a waste disposal site”. 



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