Blockbuster bomb

A blockbuster bomb or cookie was any of several of the largest conventional bombs used in World War II by the Royal Air Force (RAF). The term blockbuster was originally a name coined by the press and referred to a bomb which had enough explosive power to destroy an entire street or large building through the effects of blast in conjunction with incendiary bombs.


The bombs then called Blockbusters were the RAF's HC (high capacity) bombs. These bombs had especially thin casings that allowed them to contain approximately three-quarters of their weight in explosive, with a 1,800 kg (4,000 lb) bomb containing over 1,400 kg (3,000 lb) of Amatol. Most general-purpose bombs, termed medium capacity (MC) by the RAF, contained 50% explosive by weight, the rest being made up of the fragmentation casing. Larger Blockbusters were made later in the war, from the original 1,800 kg (4,000 lb) version, up to 5,400 kg (12,000 lb).

The Mark I 1,800 kg (4,000 lb) bomb was a welded, cylindrical shell of 7.9 mm (0.31 in) thick steel. The body of the bomb was 76 cm (30 in) in diameter and 2.24 m (88 in) long. The nose of the bomb was conical and a 69 cm (27 in) long lightweight, empty cylindrical tail with a closed end was fitted, for a total overall length of 2.92 m (115 in). A T-section steel beam was welded to the inner surface of the bomb to strengthen it.[1] Subsequent Mark II and Mark III HC bombs differed in detail; the conical nose was replaced with a domed nose and the number of fuzes was increased from one to three to guarantee detonation. The Mark IV bomb did not have the T-section beam and the Mark V and Mark VI bombs were versions manufactured in the United States.[2]

The larger 3,600 kg (8,000 lb) bomb was constructed from two 1,800 kg sections, of a larger 970 mm (38 in) diameter, that fitted together with bolts.[3] A 5,400 kg (12,000 lb) version was created by adding a third 1,800 kg section.[4][5]

The 1,800 kg (4,000 lb) high-capacity design was little more than a cylinder full of explosives: it was unaerodynamic and did not have fins. The same weight American AN-M56 general-purpose bomb was aerodynamically designed as other US bombs were, with a sheet metal tailfin assembly and shaped nose and aft sections.[6] When fitted with a conical "nose piece" and a drum tail, the 1,800 kg (2 short tons) British "Blockbuster" bomb fell straight down. These bombs were designed for their blast effect, to cause damage to buildings, specifically to blow roof tiles off, so that the small 1.8 kg (4 lb) incendiary bombs could reach the building interiors. In contrast to the American AN-M56 ordnance, the cylindrical "HC"-class British-design high capacity bombs were used only by the RAF, which was the only air force with bombers with bomb bays large enough to hold them.

In 1947 Alfred Cecil Brooks of Stourbridge was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire, for creating the Blockbuster, although his citation was worded "outstanding services to the King of a nature that cannot be revealed".[7] The local newspaper referred to him as "Blockbuster Brooks".

Operational use

The first type of aircraft to carry bombs operationally was the Wellington, but they later became part of the standard bomb load of the RAF's heavy night bombers, as well as that of the Mosquitoes of the Light Night Strike Force, whose aircraft would sometimes visit Berlin twice in one night carrying bombs, flown by two different crews. The 3,600 kg (8,000 lb) and the 5,400 kg (12,000 lb) could be carried only by the Avro Lancaster which needed to be slightly modified with bulged bomb-bay doors.

The first use of the 3,600 kg (8,000 lb) was by 15 Squadron Lancasters against Berlin on 2 December 1943. Bad weather and other factors meant their effectiveness was not noted.[8]

The 1,800 kg (4,000 lb) "cookie" was regarded as a particularly dangerous load to carry. Due to the airflow over the detonating pistols fitted in the nose, it would often explode even if dropped, i.e., jettisoned, in a supposedly "safe" unarmed state. The Safety height above ground for dropping the "cookie" was 1,800 m (6,000 ft); any lower and the dropping aircraft risked being damaged by the explosion's atmospheric shock wave:

We were flying at 6,000 feet which was the minimum height to drop the 4,000 pounder. We dropped it in the middle of town [Koblenz], which gave the aircraft a hell of a belt, lifted it up and blew an escape hatch from out of the top.

Jack Murray, pilot of "G for George", reporting on G for George's mission on 17th April 1943.[9]

Post-war unexploded ordnance

An unusual dry period led to low river levels in the Rhine in December 2011, exposing a 1,800 kg (4,000 lb) blockbuster in the riverbed near Koblenz. A radius of 2 km around the bomb site (containing about 45,000 people) was evacuated while the bomb was defused.[10] Another unexploded blockbuster was found in Dortmund in November 2013, requiring the evacuation of more than 20,000 people from the area.[11] Other bombs were found and defused in Vicenza on 29 April 2001 and 25 April 2014. In 2001, defusing operations required the evacuation of 70,000 within a radius of 3 km,[12] while in 2014 defusing operations required the evacuation of 30,000 within a radius of 2.5 km.[13]

On 19 December 2016, a British bomb identified as a 4,000 lb HC "blockbuster"[14] was discovered in Augsburg, Germany. It was defused on Christmas Day, requiring evacuation of more than 54,000 people within a radius of 1.5 km.[15]

On 29 August 2017, another British HC 4000 bomb was discovered during construction work near the Goethe University in Frankfurt, requiring the evacuation of approximately 65,000 people within a radius of 1.5 km. This was the largest evacuation in Germany since the Second World War.[16][17][18]

On 8 April 2018, an HC 4000 bomb was discovered during gardening jobs in Paderborn, near the local university, leading to the evacuation of 26,400 people while the bomb was defused.[19][20][21]


4000 lb HC bomb

  • Mark I: first production design
  • Mark II: three nose pistols
  • Mark III: no side pistol pockets
  • Mark IV: no stiffening beam
  • Mark V: U.S. production
  • Mark VI: U.S. production

Filling was Amatol, RDX/TNT, Minol, or Torpex. In 1943, 25,000 of these were used; this rose to 38,000 in 1944. In 1945 up to the end of the war a further 25,000 were used.

8,000 lb HC

  • Mk I
  • Mk II

Filling was Amatex or Torpex. Bombs were produced from 1942 to 1945.

12,000 lb HC

  • Mk I
  • Mk II

Filling was Amatex or Torpex. 170 were used in the last two years of the war.

Other uses

Air mines

During The Blitz the Germans used naval mines dropped with parachutes as improvised blockbusters. Their fuse was triggered by the shock of landing, with the bomb exploding after a 17-second delay. As the bomb was not in a crater, the force of the blast would disperse laterally, causing extensive damage.[22][23] The large raid on Coventry on 14–15 November 1940 included the use of 50 parachute naval mines, which caused extensive blast damage. The British called these devices air-mines,[24] a calque of the German term Luftmine. These types were used also during air raids on Malta, especially on its harbour areas.

See also


  1. Ordnance Pamphlet 1665 (1946) pp.36–37
  2. Ordnance Pamphlet 1665 (1946) pp.39
  3. Boyd, David. "8,000lb High Capacity Bomb". WWII Equipment. Archived from the original on 21 April 2012. Retrieved 4 December 2011.
  4. Boyd, David. "12,000lb High Capacity Bomb". WWII Equipment. Archived from the original on 21 April 2012. Retrieved 4 December 2011.
  5. Air Publication AP1661B Vol I
  6. "Photo of standard American AN-M56 {{convert|4000|lb|abbr=on|disp=flip}} general purpose aerial bomb". Archived from the original on 22 August 2016. Retrieved 4 May 2016.
  7. "Another Invention By Block-Buster Designer". The Advertiser. 8 January 1944. Archived from the original on 13 November 2016. Retrieved 12 November 2016.
  8. Maynard, John Bennett and the Pathfinders 1956 Arms and Armour Press. p148
  9. Quoted in "G-for-George" by Michael Nelmes and Ian Jenkins. Banner Books, Maryborough QLD, 2002. ISBN 1-875593-21-7
  10. "Work to defuse WWII bomb in Rhine near Koblenz begins". BBC News. 4 December 2011. Archived from the original on 3 December 2011. Retrieved 4 December 2011.
  11. "4,000-pound, World War II bomb forces mass evacuation in Germany". CBS news. Associated Press. 3 November 2013. Archived from the original on 4 September 2017. Retrieved 3 September 2017.
  12. "Vicenza, settantamila evacuati per disinnescare la maxi bomba". La Repubblica (in Italian). Vicenza. 5 April 2001. Archived from the original on 15 May 2019. Retrieved 15 May 2019.
  13. "Vicenza si prepara al Bomba Day. Evacuazione per 30 mila". OggiTreviso (in Italian). Vicenza. 22 April 2014. Archived from the original on 26 April 2014. Retrieved 22 April 2014.
  14. "German city evacuated after discovery of unexploded RAF bomb". The Guardian. Associated Press. Archived from the original on 26 December 2016. Retrieved 26 December 2016.
  15. "Liveticker zur Fliegerbombe in Augsburg". Augsburger Allgemeine (in German). 21 December 2016. Archived from the original on 23 December 2016. Retrieved 3 September 2017.
  16. "WW2 'blockbuster' bomb to force evacuation of 70,000 in Frankfurt". The Guardian. Agence France-Presse. 31 August 2017. Archived from the original on 31 August 2017. Retrieved 31 August 2017.
  17. Hannelore Crolly (2 September 2017) [1 September 2017]. "Evakuierung in Frankfurt: Das macht die 'Blockbuster'-Bombe so gefährlich". Die Welt (in German). Archived from the original on 6 February 2019. Retrieved 1 September 2017.
  18. "Bombenalarm in Frankfurt: Ganz Frankfurt dankt den Helden des Tages". Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (in German). 3 September 2017. Archived from the original on 4 September 2017. Retrieved 3 September 2017.
  19. "Wohnen auf dem Pulverfass". Westfalen-Blatt (in German). 3 April 2018. Archived from the original on 12 April 2018. Retrieved 12 April 2018.
  20. "Bombenentschärfung am 8. April 2018 in Paderborn" (in German). Retrieved 12 April 2018.
  21. "So verlief die Bombenentschärfung in Paderborn". Neue Westfälische (in German). 9 April 2018. Archived from the original on 11 April 2018. Retrieved 12 April 2018.
  22. "The Luftwaffe over the Bristol area - Luftwaffe weapons". Archived from the original on 19 May 2006. Retrieved 20 May 2006.
  23. Montague Trout comment in a Collaborative Article: The Blitz by Mark E Archived 3 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  24. Taylor, Fredrick; Dresden Tuesday 13 February 1945, Pub Bloomsbury (first publication 2004, paperback 2005). ISBN 0-7475-7084-1. Page 120.
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