WW2 USAAF base – Incredible Finds Including ‘Tallboy’ Relic!

With the filming of series 2 of WW2 Treasure Hunters taking up a LOT of my time, I haven’t been able to get out on my own for absolutely ages. However, an opportunity presented itself this weekend to visit an old permission of mine. This WW2 USAAF airbase was home to B17s and has always produced some great finds.

As with all of my sites, a great deal of research goes into them before I even attempt to get landowners permission, let alone dig them. It is the same with this site and, on this visit, I decided to concentrate firstly around one of the the bomb storage areas, then a couple of aircraft bays, then lastly the bomb fuze storage area. I had a couple of things in my mind I wanted to find. Firstly, a bomb kidney plate. Secondly, a decent bomb pistol or fuze. I chose my search areas carefully and kept my fingers crossed. I have only ever recovered two bomb kidney plates in 20+ years of searching, so this was a long shot. However, I had found bomb pistols on the site before (three to be precise), so I knew there was a chance of finding one or two.

There is an old saying in the detecting world…..’You have to walk over it to find it’. This is obvious, but very true, and many sites I’ve visited over the years I’ve declared ‘cleared’, only to return at some point in the future to find an area I had missed on every previous visit. This base wasn’t like that as it is a BIG base, and there were areas I have never searched before. However, I had searched the area around the two bomb fuze storage bays quite a bit, so wasn’t too hopeful of finding any fuzes/pistols. This was made even more likely when I arrived at the site to find the area behind these bays densely overgrown with brambles, nettles and various other obnoxious plant life.

Undetered, I dived into the thorn bushes and stingers and attempted to detect. I soon realised it was hopeless, (couldn’t swing my detector and, even when I could, it got entangled in the tough brambles almost immediately), so knew I was going to be limited to a relatively thin strip of land behind each bay, relatively clear of undergrowth, to detect in. I was sure I had already detected both of these areas extensively.

I soon found out, if I had, it wasn’t as extensive as I thought.

On to the finds………………

Everything recovered prior to any cleaning
No 28 or No 30 bomb tail pistols. The only difference between the two is the type of firing pin, so it is impossible to differentiate them until they are clean. However, considering I had ‘extensively’ searched the area, one heck of a haul!
Bomb kidney plates. These are attached to the ‘tail’ of an aerial bomb to show the size, fill date, type of fill etc and were designed to stay with the bomb. However, some fall off, as it was with these two. Normally they are still attached to the bomb when it is dropped so are blown into tiny pieces. This makes them a relatively unusual find.
Bomb nose cone
50cal cartridge cases
Bomb transport nuts. These protect the fuze well during transport.


Miscellaneous bits….
Cleaned stuff!
These six No 30 bomb pistols were found all in the same hole! They have the same date and manufacturer so I assume they were dumped after the war ended as they were no longer needed.
Markings showing fuze type, mark, manufacturer and date of manufacture. Bomb ‘pistols’ such as these are perfectly safe. They never ever contained any explosive material or percussion cap. They are just firing pins held in an elaborate tube. These were produced only a month before the war in Europe ended, so were probably discarded at the end of the war.
Same date and manufacturer, as all six were!
Three more No 30 bomb pistols, found individually
Fuze type, mark and date of manufacture.
Fuze type, mark and date of manufacture.
Fuze type, mark and date of manufacture.
28 & 30
Diagram of a No 28/30 tail pistol.
28 & 30 text
How the pistol works
Tail pistol 500Lb bomb Phan Rang 1967a
Rear of a few bombs, the closest one showing a fuze in the tail, very similar to the No 30s shown above. Also note the bomb kidney plate…….shaped like a kidney! (Doh!)
This item had me stumped for a short while, but then I realised it is the mounting ring from the back of an aerial bomb!
You can see the mounting ring above, clearly visible on the rear of these bombs.
More of the rings visible on this pic….
Another picture where again, you can clearly see the mounting ring.
Unknown aircraft part
Unknown aircraft part. The central piece is stamped.
50cal cartridge cases and a 50cal tracer bullet
Unknown item
This looks very similar to the ‘plunger’ from an RAF practice bomb.
Bomb transport nuts of various sizes and types.
The transport nuts are clearly visible in this period picture.

So I had found one item I was after, and had recovered NINE No 30 bomb tail pistols, six of which came from ONE hole!!!

I also had two kidney plates. What was revealed when they were cleaned?


Here’s the first…..



First kidney plate is from a 1000lb MC bomb. Curiously none of the information has been filled in. Normally these are stamped to heck and back with dates and initials of the men who ‘worked’ on them. Quite a common bomb so nothing overly spectacular.

Tail pistol 500Lb bomb Phan Rang 1967a
A period photo, as a reminder of where the kidney plate was attached. Remember……these aren’t meant to be removed but stayed attached to the bomb to be blown into tiny pieces when the bomb explodes. This makes them an unusual and uncommon find.


The second one turned out to be FAR more unusual!



The second kidney plate I found was, again, unmarked, so it is unclear whether it was not filled in, filled in with pen/pencil that has long since eroded away, or possibly a ‘spare’ plate kept to replace lost ones. The last option is very doubtful as, why would you need to replace a lost plate? How would you fill the details in?
Hang on one minute!!! 12000lb ??? MC 12000lb is a Tallboy! Only 854 Tallboys were ever produced, so this is an incredibly rare find! When you consider the vast majority would have been dropped with the kidney plate still attached, is this one of the few (only?) Tallboy kidney plates in existence????? One HECK of a FIND!

As this kidney plate was recovered from a USAAF base, home to a B17 bomb group, it couldn’t have come from the war years. The USAAF never used the Tallboy. So where has this kidney plate come from?

After a bit of research, and help from a good friend of mine, (thanks PB!), it was confirmed that the base where this was found was used as a storage depot by the RAF after the war ended. It is highly likely then that this is from one of the Tallboys stored at the base.

Even so, having a relic from such an incredible bit of ordnance gives me goosebumps! How many other people have such a piece, from one of the biggest bombs dropped in WW2. Indeed, one of the biggest non-nuclear bombs in history.


Not a bad dig.


Not a bad dig AT ALL!



  1. Steve I visit Thorpe Abbots,Horham and recently Parham (Framlingham).Just for interests sake I’might not a digger!!)was your dig at any of these sites?


  2. Blank bomb kidney plates.

    Post-war many airfields were used to store surplus bombs pending inspection and disposal. Some airfield (for example Nuthampstead) were manned by RAF Maintenance Units and surplus bomb stocks of specific types defined by AM were inspected and refurbished inclding repainting as required to go back into the RAFs current stock. Blank kidney plates were stocked to replace or damaged plates. The plate had a space for an AIS (Aircraft Inspection Branch) Inspectors stamp being unique to an individual inspector.

    I found a plate at Nuthampstead in 1965 during my RAF Bomb Disposal days. It had been damaged (Heavy scoring during handling) and had been removed. The rear of the plate had been crudely hand stamped with the legend ‘Chiefy is a cunt’


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