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RAF Scampton Had a Live Grandslam Bomb as a Gate Guard

The myth of RAF Scampton housing a live Grandslam bomb outside its premises is a tale that intertwines historical facts with elements of urban legend, captivating the imagination of both locals and visitors.

This narrative, while fascinating, merits a detailed exploration to distinguish between myth and reality.


Origin of the Myth

The story originates from RAF Scampton, a Royal Air Force station in Lincolnshire, England, known for its storied past and connection to significant World War II operations.

The Grandslam bomb, developed by Barnes Wallis, was one of the largest conventional bombs used during the war.

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Its association with the legendary 617 Squadron, or “The Dambusters,” who were based at Scampton, provides the historical backdrop against which the myth emerged.

According to local lore, a live Grandslam bomb is on display outside the base, serving as a stark reminder of the station’s wartime legacy.

The Grandslam Bomb: A Brief Overview

The Grandslam, weighing 22,000 pounds (approximately 10,000 kilograms), was designed to penetrate concrete fortifications and underground facilities deemed impervious to conventional bombing.

It took the title of the largest conventional bomb of its time, showcasing the relentless pursuit of strategic advantage during the war.

Look at the size of thiss thing!
Look at the size of this thing!

This colossal ordinance, officially named the “Ten Ton Bomb” but more commonly referred to as Grandslam, emerged from the same creative mind that developed the earlier “Bouncing Bomb” used in the famous Dambusters raid.

Wallis designed the Grandslam with a specific purpose: to penetrate and destroy reinforced concrete structures and underground facilities previously deemed invulnerable to aerial bombardment. Its sheer size and weight, however, were not the only remarkable aspects.

The bomb featured a revolutionary thin steel casing, maximizing the payload of Torpex explosive material. This design choice allowed the bomb to achieve a high terminal velocity as it fell, enabling it to pierce deep into the earth and create a camouflet (an underground cavity), causing the destruction of the target through shockwaves rather than direct impact alone.

The Grandslam was so big that it wouldn't fit into a Lancaster's bomb bay.
The Grandslam was so big that it wouldn’t fit into a Lancaster’s bomb bay.

The Royal Air Force’s 617 Squadron, famously known as “The Dambusters,” received the honour of deploying the Grandslam in combat. Their first operational use of the bomb occurred in March 1945 against the Bielefeld Viaduct in Germany.

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The precision and effectiveness of the Grandslam in this and subsequent missions underscored its role as a game-changer on the battlefield.

It not only achieved direct hits on hard-to-destroy targets but also demonstrated the potential of strategic bombing to shift the course of the war.

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RAF Scampton

Established during the First World War, the station has played pivotal roles throughout its operational life, particularly during the Second World War.

RAF Scampton became synonymous with the 617 Squadron, also known as “The Dambusters,” due to their daring raids using the innovative bouncing bombs designed by Barnes Wallis.

These raids targeted German dams in the Ruhr Valley, aiming to cripple industrial production and are celebrated for their strategic brilliance and the audacity of the aircrews involved.

RAF Scampton from the air. Photo credit - Harvey Milligan CC BY-SA 4.0.
RAF Scampton from the air. Photo credit – Harvey Milligan CC BY-SA 4.0.

Throughout the Cold War era, RAF Scampton adapted to the changing demands of aerial warfare. The base served as a key site for the V-Force, Britain’s strategic bomber fleet, comprising Vickers Valiant, Avro Vulcan, and Handley Page Victor aircraft.

These bombers, capable of delivering nuclear payloads, were at the forefront of the UK’s deterrence strategy during a period marked by geopolitical tensions and the threat of nuclear conflict.

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In addition to its operational roles, RAF Scampton has been a centre for aviation excellence and innovation.

The base has hosted various units and schools dedicated to advancing the RAF’s technical and tactical capabilities.

Notably, it has been the home of the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows, known worldwide for their precision flying and spectacular aerial displays. The presence of the Red Arrows at Scampton underscores the base’s significance in promoting the RAF’s image and in fostering international goodwill.

Over the years, RAF Scampton has undergone numerous changes, reflecting shifts in military strategy, technology, and the geopolitical landscape.

Despite these transformations, the base has maintained its heritage, commemorating its historical significance and the sacrifices of those who served there.

Memorials and exhibits within the station pay tribute to the legacy of the Dambusters and other units, ensuring that the spirit of innovation and courage that defined RAF Scampton continues to inspire future generations.

The Myth Unraveled

Investigations into the claim reveal a mix of fact and fiction. RAF Scampton indeed celebrates its rich history with various displays and memorabilia.

Among these is a Grandslam bomb, positioned as a historical exhibit. The crucial distinction, however, lies in the nature of the bomb displayed. Contrary to the myth, the bomb is not live.

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Safety protocols and the station’s commitment to public safety ensure that no live ordnance would be kept in such an accessible location. The exhibit serves an educational purpose, allowing visitors to appreciate the technological advancements of the era and the strategic capabilities of the RAF during World War II.