Bomb fuzes and pistols

When I started recovering WW2 relics, I spent all my time on old RAF and USAAF bases. Aircraft were always my passion when I was younger, and that stayed with me for quite some time. Just to find a piece of Spitfire, Mustang or any WW2 aircraft was my dream. I now have pieces of Spitfire and Mustang, which have been joined by parts from P38 Lightning, Mosquito, Fairy Battle, Lancaster, B17 Flying Fortress and quite a few more!

Searching old airbases always brings up interesting finds, but I always find the bomb fuzes and pistols the most interesting. Some are incredibly complicated, others are nothing more than a firing pin held back by a spring, yet they performed a vital role; They made sure the bomb exploded at the right time, and not in the aircraft! Simple but effective safety devices, or ones to explode a bomb or flare at a set height above the ground.

Firstly, the difference. A bomb fuze has its own charge within the body of the fuze, which would set off the main charge in the bomb itself. Bomb pistols never had a charge, and were merely firing pins that struck a detonator when the bomb hit the ground. The pistols therefore needed a detonator placed where the firing pin could strike it. The commonest types were the ‘anvil detonators.

Diagram of anvil type detonators

These would be used with bomb pistols, the commonest of which to find is the No. 28 or No. 30. The only difference between the two was the shape of the firing pin, with the No. 30 having a needle point firing pin and the 28 a shorter ‘stubby’ type. No 28s came in brass and Bakelite and at one RAF base, I found a huge stash of them in a dump, obviously thrown away at the end of the war. The firing pin was usually made of steel and, over the years, had rusted badly and expanded in many of the pistols recovered, thereby cracking the Bakelite. However, there were plenty that hadn’t suffered such damage, and a few brass ones thrown in for good measure. Not only that, but the Bakelite transport caps had also been thrown away.

No 28 Bomb tail pistols, with caps. The item far right sits inside the pistol during transport, preventing the arm vane from unwinding.
Diagram from WW2 reference book

In the same dump, I found the dials from No. 849 nose fuzes, stainless steel and brass No 28 firing pins, and the arming fork from No 27 nose pistols.

No. 849 dials, No 28 firing pins, No 27 arming forks
Diagram of a No 849
No 27 Mk.II.
A complete No 27
Diagram of a No 27 nose pistol, showing the safety (arming) fork

I also recovered a number of parts from a No 860 bomb fuze. This was a barometric fuze, used with big aerial marker flares, and designed to set the flare off at a set height above the ground, lighting up and marking the target area. One of the ones recovered appeared to be a sectioned instructional piece.

Parts of a No 860 fuze along with a sectioned one
Diagram of a No 860
Picture of a No 860

And the fuzes kept coming! I started to find an awful lot of what I first thought were electrical sockets of some description. However, I soon realised they were actually parts of a bomb fuze, especially when I also started finding the brass caps and even the arming vanes. These items could be used in two types of bomb fuze, the No 42, or the No 848. Given the base I was at was a pathfinder base, they are highly likely to be from the No 848.

Base units from No 848 nose fuzes, brass caps, (to contain a delay fuze and link the base to the arming vane assembly), and the arming vanes themselves
A base unit dismantled, showing that where the fuze magazine should be is completely empty. None of the fuzes recovered contained any explosive material of any kind.
Picture showing the base unit when used as a No 42 or 848 fuze
Diagram of a No 848

Finding fuzes and pistols like these at old RAF bases is great, but it isn’t the only place. A friend of mine took me over to one of his sites, an old USAAF bombing range. This yielded a nice selection of expended US fuzes. All of these had been dropped during bombing practice, and contained no explosive material at all, but were merely lumps of metal. Important lumps of metal, but lumps none-the-less!

The range itself would usually have three look-out posts, manned, from where the range staff could plot the fall of the bombs and inform the pilot of their accuracy. It must have been quite a hair-raising job, being so close to exploding ordnance! This also meant that any bombs that didn’t explode could be quickly dealt with, to ensure nothing dangerous was left behind.

AN-M104 nose fuzes
Detonator plate from an AN-M104 fuze, in remarkable condition considering it had been in the ground for 70 years!
The AN-M104 was used on 23lb cluster bombs. They were shipped with the fuzes in place and the inevitable happened. A serious accident occurred and the AN-M104 was replaced rather promptly
Diagram of an AN-M104
AN-M103 bomb fuzes
Diagram of AN-M103 bomb fuzes
Outer container from a No 223 tail fuze
Diagram of a No 223 showing the outer container
Screenshot - 23_04_2012 , 19_44_29 fuze
Picture of No 223 tail fuze (sorry for quality!)

Certainly very nice additions to any collection, made all the better by having their history intact. Knowing exactly where they came from and so who was using them adds to their historic value.


  1. Hi Stephen

    I wrote to you a while back commenting on one of your articles i stumbled across at the time.
    I cant remember what i said in my last message to you however since then my collection of inert ordanance has grown again with a No 27 pistol fuze also recoveted from.the sixties from a old air field in Australia. My older friend a long time collector gave me a spare he had .
    I write asking you a question.
    In my travels in the remote country of Australia i found three old sky marker airial illumination bombs no fuzes.
    I took me some research to find out what they indeed were. I now know they take a No848 time fuze.
    I.understand you have some parts .
    Is there any chance maybe you can do some measurements and material used for me so i knock up a replica ?
    It would be greatly appreciated from a fellow enthusiast.


  2. I was in Perth (Forestfield) not 3 weeks ago! Send me a message via the ‘Contact’ page and I’ll sort out what you need…. 🙂


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