The Lochnagar Crater (Biggest, Loudest, Most impressive)

Mikefule

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I stumbled across a reference to this the other day, looked it up, and was astounded. I had never even heard of it, but when I mentioned it to a workmate who is a history buff, he told me he'd actually been to see it.

In 1916, Lochnagar crater was the biggest crater ever made by human activity, and the explosion that caused it is estimated to have been the loudest noise ever made by humans up to that date. (This was in the days before Motörhead.) The detonation, near to La Boiselle in northern France, was reportedly heard as far away as London, a distance of around 170 miles.

In the lead up to the Battle of the Somme, the two opposing armies were involved in a battle of wits, with mining activities and countermining. Extremely brave soldiers on both sides dug tunnels by hand, planning to load them with explosives to detonate under the enemy lines, or hoping to intercept and break into enemy mines. There was sometimes hand to hand fighting in the tunnels.

The Lochnagar Mine was named for the fact that the tunnel leading to it started in a trench known as Lochnagar Street: a name it had been given when the famous Black Watch regiment was stationed there. (Lochnagar itself is a mountain in the Grampians of Scotland.) The mine was so big because it was intended to destroy an important German strongpoint called Schwabenhöhe, or "Swabian Height".

Given that the mine was essentially an underground cavity filled with explosives, it is a pleasing detail that the senior officer directing the 174th and 183rd Tunnelling Companies was Lieutenant General Sir George Fowke. It certainly sounds close enough to Guy Fawkes to me!

The British forces dug a total of 19 mines along this section of the front, sometimes digging down into the chalk a distance of 100 ft (30 m). The tunnel leading to the twin chambers full of explosives was around 1,030 ft (310 m) long, excavated by hand at a rate of around 18 inches (46 cm) a day.

The miners had to work in silence, stopping to listen for enemy mining activities. After the mine was detonated, it was discovered that the Germans had dug to within 5 feet (less than 2 metres) of it.


Two mines were close together: the Lochnagar mine and another called "Y Sap". The Lochnagar mine alone held two explosive charges with a combined weight of 27,000 Kg: roughly 27 long tons. All of that explosive had to be carried along the tunnel by hand.

The plan was that there was sufficient explosive that it would form a crater with a rim or lip that could be used as the basis of a new defensive position.

On the day of the detonation, friendly aircraft were told to keep away from the area. However, 2nd Lieutenant Cecil Lewis was flying his plane around 2 miles away when Lochnagar and Y Sap mines were detonated. His aircraft was hit by flying mud from the explosion. Lewis reported:

<<We were over Thiepval and turned south to watch the mines. As we sailed down above all, came the final moment. Zero! At Boisselle the earth heaved and flashed, a tremendous and magnificent column rose up into the sky. There was an ear-splitting roar, drowning all the guns, flinging the machine sideways in the repercussing air. The earthly column rose, higher and higher to almost four thousand feet. There it hung, or seemed to hang, for a moment in the air, like a silhouette of some great cypress tree, then fell away in a widening cone of dust and debris. A moment later came the second mine. Again the roar, the upflung machine, the strange gaunt silhouette invading the sky. Then the dust cleared and we saw the two white eyes of the craters. The barrage had lifted to the second-line trenches, the infantry were over the top, the attack had begun.>>

The "two white eyes" were because the craters were in chalk.

Despite all the planning, effort, and sacrifice, the mine did not achieve its objective. An advance that was projected to achieve its objective in minutes turned into prolonged and bitter fighting with thousands of British soldiers dying on the the day.

In the years after WW1, the Lochnagar crater became overgrown, and, like all such features, was used for tipping rubbish, and for youths to ride around on scrambler bikes. (I once saw someone doing a rather half-hearted "wall of death" around the inside of the embankment on a quad bike at Arbor Low in Derbyshire.) However, in the 1970s, the crater was bought and made into a memorial.

For those who want to follow it up, there's much more about this in Wikipedia and also here.
64568f2a34c9359f864ae2be2f69167a.jpg
The crater as it is now.

Lochnagar_crater_wwi_aerial_photo.gif
Aerial photo of the crater, WW1. The trenches are visible.

mineexplosion.jpg
The mine being detonated.

Troops_passing_Lochnagar_Crater_Oct_1916_IWM_Q_1479.jpg
Troops passing the rim of the crater during the battle.

Minor edits for clarity.
 
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Coastaljames

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Yes, have known about it for a while.

Truly amazing and horrifying.

Do we think it's something of a folk tale that the explosion could be heard in London? I hear it said but never from particularly reliable sources.

Hard to think it wasn't heard in Kent tho.
 
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