After coming across reference to a Snodland Air Ammunition Park in relation to WW2 ammunition storage, I was intrigued. I am familiar with most of the sites in the area, but had never before come across a large site which would have been suitable for ammunition storage on such a large scale; this site would have held upwards of 1,000 tons of explosives! And certainly, if an extensive storage site had existed, there would almost certainly be traces of it left. I was determined to find them.
Lets start with the main references that started my curiosity:
Wikipedia: The main Air Ammunition Parks (AAP) were: Barnham, Suffolk (serving RAF Bomber Command), Brafferton, North Yorkshire (serving 4 Group North), Earsham (serving OTUs), Lords Bridge (serving 2 and 3 Groups), Mawcarse (serving Scotland), Norton Disney (serving 5 Group), Snodland (actually at Hailing, serving 11 Group F), Southern (serving 4 Group South), and Staple Halt (serving 11 Group F). All were completed in 1939-40; Staple Halt was closed in July, 1940 and its role was taken over by Snodland, which was itself replaced by a new park at Newdigate in May 1942 … The parks were renamed Forward Ammunition Depots in 1941.
Dangerous Stuff: The History of No. 42 Group RAF: This site detailed a chronology of our site.
- 14/6/40 Snodland Surveyed
- 9/7/40 36MU Snodland (at Lees Limeworks) opened under Detling
- 8/8/40 First dump completed at Snodland
- 9/5/42 36MU now is Newdigate with Snodland as MSU
- 1/6/42 Newdigate = MSU of Snodland (1.6.43 perhaps? ‑ almost certainly not)
- 1/7/42 Snodland is now a MSU of Newdigate
- 29/1/44 Snodland attacked – two bombs dropped setting fire to small quantity of pyro.
- 24/2/44 Snodland attacked again – small bomb dropped which broke windows.
- April 1946 Snodland closed.
National Archives Reference AIR 29/999: 36 Maintenance Unit, formed at Snodland (UK) July 1940; moved to Newdigate June 1942; 36 Maintenance Unit Sub-Site (MUSS) remained at Snodland; 36 MU moved to Charlwood April 1943 with 36 MUSS’s at Snodland and Newdigate; 36 MU moved to Redhill July 1945; disbanded January 1947.
Doing some further digging surrounding 36 Maintenance Unit, it appears that the title had been used previously (Sturtivant, Hamlin & Halley, 1997.):
- 36 MU was at that time based at RAF Sealand, near Chester. It was a Packing Depot.
- In May it was redesignated 47 MU, apparently as 36 was frequently confused with 30 MU (Service Repair Depot) also based at Sealand.
- 36 MU was then re-used July 1940 as an Air Ammunition Park at Snodland, Kent.
From here, and after some internet searching, I came across excerpts from a book published in 2003 detailing Second World War ammunition incidents. The book was very comprehensive in helping me to locate the site of this storage depot.
Narrow-Gauge tramway trucks abandoned in the quarry when the works closed in the early 1920s are riddled with bullet and cannon shell holes.
Disasters Underground (book) by Nick McCamley: Forward Ammunition Depots, 36 MU Snodland, 11 Group Fighter Command, Opened 9/7/40, replaced Staple Halt AAP which had opened 25/5/40. Subsequently reduced to AAP status.
“Following a survey in June 1940 South Hill and Houlder Quarries, high above Halling village and very prominent from the air, were somewhat inexplicably chosen by Maintenance Command as the site for No. 11 Groups ammunition depot. South Hill quarry lies at the very top of Chapel Hill in an area known locally as Mount Ephraim and has the appearance of a white volcano hollowed in the hilltop. Access for the ammunition lorries was via a remarkable spiral concrete roadway laid by the RAF. An even more bizarre feature of 36 MU Snodland is that an adjoining quarry, 100 feet below vertically but within grenade throwing distance laterally, was used throughout the war by the local Home Guard, and after February 1943 also by the regular home defence units and by the RAF as a practice firing ground. Ample evidence of this wartime use can still be found today. Narrow-Gauge tramway trucks abandoned in the quarry when the works closed in the early 1920s are riddled with bullet and cannon shell holes, and among the more recent undergrowth the floor of the quarry, which extends over several acres, are hundreds of discarded sticky bombs, the Home Guard weapon of last resort against invading German Panzers.
The shortcomings of the site must soon have become apparent, for in May 1942 a new storage depot, 64 MU , was formed at Newdigate to take over the central role of ammunition supply to No. 11 Group. In July Snodland was reduced to at the status of a Maintenance Sub Unit (MSU) under Newdigate and its importance therefore declined. Evidence that the RAFs apprehension regarding the vulnerability of the Snodland depot was well-founded came on 29 January 1944 when several bombs were dropped in the quarry, destroying some 400 tons of incendiaries. A second raid 4 weeks later did less serious damage. Clearance began in July 1945 and by February of the following year Snodland, its its parent station at Newdigate, was finally closed and most of the buildings removed or demolished.”
The following maps and aerial photographs highlight the area of 36 MU storage depot.