Tallboy (bomb)

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Royal Air Force Bomber Command, 1942-1945. CH15363.jpg
RAF ground crew handling the Tallboy that was later dropped on the La Coupole V-weapon site at Wizernes, France, 1944
TypeEarthquake bomb
Place of originUnited Kingdom
Service history
In service8 June 1944 – 25 April 1945
Used byNo. 9 Squadron RAF, No. 617 Squadron RAF
WarsWorld War II
Production history
DesignerBarnes Wallis
No. built854[1]
Mass12,000 lb (5,400 kg)
Length21 ft (6.4 m)
Diameter38 in (97 cm)

FillingTorpex D1
Filling weight5,200 lb (2,400 kg)
No. 58 fuze, built from No. 30 Pistol (impact detonation); or No. 47 time delay fuze. Fuzes were inserted into tetryl boosters located in the rear of the casing.

Tallboy, or Bomb, Medium Capacity, 12,000 lb[a], was an earthquake bomb developed by the British aeronautical engineer Barnes Wallis and used by the RAF during the Second World War.

At 5 long tons (5.1 t), it could only be carried by the Avro Lancaster heavy bomber. It proved to be effective against massive and hardened structures against which conventional bombing had proved ineffective.


Wallis presented his ideas for a 10-ton bomb in his 1941 paper A Note on a Method of Attacking the Axis Powers, which showed that a very large bomb exploding deep underground next to a target would transmit the shock into the foundations of the target, particularly since shock waves are transmitted through the ground more strongly than through air.

Wallis designed the "Victory Bomber" of 50 tons, which would fly at 320 mph (510 km/h) at 45,000 ft (14,000 m) to carry the heavy bomb over 4,000 mi (6,400 km), but the Air Ministry opposed a single-bomb aircraft, and the idea was not pursued after 1942.

The design and production of Tallboy was done without a contract on the initiative of the Ministry, following Wallis' 1942 paper Spherical Bomb—Surface Torpedo and the design of the "bouncing bomb" for the Dam Busters of Operation Chastise. As such, the RAF used bombs that they had not bought and which were still the property of Vickers the manufacturer. This situation was normalised once their capabilities were recognised.

Accomplishments of the Tallboy included the 24 June 1944 Operation Crossbow attack on La Coupole—along with Grand Slams—which undermined the foundations of the V-2 assembly bunker; and a Tallboy attack on the Saumur tunnel on 8–9 June 1944, when bombs passed straight through the hill and exploded inside the tunnel 60 ft (18 m) below the surface.[2]

The last of the Kriegsmarine's Bismarck-class battleships, the Tirpitz, was sunk by an air attack using Tallboys in Operation Catechism.


Most large Allied, particularly British, World War II aircraft bombs (blockbuster bombs) had very thin skins to maximize the weight of explosive that a bomber could carry. This was an improvement on the early part of the war when the explosive content of British bomb designs was low.

To be able to penetrate the earth (or hardened targets) without breaking apart, the casing of the Tallboy had to be strong. Each was cast in one piece of high-tensile steel that would enable it to survive the impact before detonation. At the same time, to achieve the penetration required, Wallis designed the Tallboy to be very aerodynamic so that, when dropped from a great height, it would reach a much higher terminal velocity than traditional bomb designs.

In the final design, the No. 78 Mark I tail of the bomb was about half the overall length of the finished weapon; the bomb casing was some 10 ft (3.0 m) of the overall 21-foot (6.4 m) length. Initially, the bomb had a tendency to tumble, so the tail was modified: the fins were given a slight twist so that the bomb spun as it fell. The gyroscopic effect thus generated stopped the pitching and yawing, improving both aerodynamics and accuracy.

Tallboy was designed to be dropped from an optimal altitude of 18,000 ft (5,500 m) at a forward speed of 170 mph (270 km/h), hitting at 750 mph (1,210 km/h).[3] It made a crater 80 ft (24 m) deep and 100 ft (30 m) across and could go through 16 ft (4.9 m) of concrete.[1]

The weight of the Tallboy (approximately 12,000 lb (5,400 kg)) and the high altitude required of the bombing aircraft meant that the Avro Lancasters used had to be specially adapted. Armour plating and even defensive armament were removed to reduce weight, and the bomb-bay doors had to be adapted.

At the same time, 617 "Dambusters" Squadron were trained in the use of a special bombsight, the Stabilizing Automatic Bomb Sight (SABS). For accuracy, multiple corrections had to be made for temperature, wind speed, and other factors. It was only effective if the target could be identified, and several missions were cancelled or unsuccessful because of difficulty in accurately identifying and marking the targets.

For use on underground targets, the bomb was fitted with three separate inertia No. 58 Mark I Tail Pistols (firing mechanisms). These triggered detonation after a pre-set delay, which gave the bomb sufficient time to penetrate the target before exploding. Depending on mission requirements, the time delay could be set to 30 seconds or 30 minutes after impact.

To guarantee detonation, three Type 47 long delay fuzes were fitted inside the rear of the bomb. This dramatically improved reliability of the weapon; even if two of the fuzes failed to function, the third would trigger detonation. Despite this elaborate system, at least one Tallboy failed to explode during the second attack on the Sorpe dam and was found during repairs in late 1958 when the reservoir was emptied.

The bomb was aimed at the target during an operation and proved capable of penetrating deep into hardened reinforced concrete when it hit. This, however, was not the primary intention of Barnes Wallis's design. The bomb was designed to make impact close to the target, penetrate the soil or rock beneath or around the target, and then detonate, transferring all of its energy into the structure, or creating a camouflet (cavern or crater) into which the target would fall.

This 'earthquake' effect caused more damage than even a direct hit that penetrated the armour of a target, since even a burst inside a bunker would only damage the immediate surroundings, with the blast dissipating rapidly through the air. An earthquake impact shook the whole target, and caused major structural damage to all parts of it, making repair uneconomic. The attack reports below should be considered with this in mind.

An alternative technique was to arrange detonation depth so that the crater broke the surface—useful for attacking railway marshalling yards and similar targets. The Tallboy produced an 80 ft crater with depths up to 100 ft, unlike conventional bombs which would produce many shallow craters across a target—each one of which could later be filled in rapidly with earth-moving equipment. Such a huge hole was time-consuming to fill; multiple trucks and bulldozers could not be fitted around the periphery of the hole to speed the process.


The construction of each Tallboy was labour intensive because each was largely hand-made, requiring much manual labour during each separate manufacturing stage. The materials used were costly, with very precise engineering requirements with regard to casting and machining. For example, to increase penetrative power, a large and specially hardened steel plug had to be precisely machined and mated to a recess in the nose of the bomb. The ogive had to be machined into a perfectly symmetrical shape to ensure optimum aerodynamic performance. This was no easy task when manipulating a bomb casing with the size and weight of a Tallboy.

The Torpex filling was poured by hand into the base of the upturned casing after melting it in "kettles". The final stage of explosive filling required that a one-inch layer of pure TNT be poured over the Torpex filling, followed by sealing the base with a 4-inch (100 mm) layer of woodmeal-wax composite with three cylindrical recesses fitted with the explosive boosters and into which three chemical time-fuses were inserted when the bomb was finally armed.

Tallboys were not considered expendable, and if not used on a raid were to be brought back to base rather than safely jettisoned into the sea. The value of the weapon offset the additional risk to the aircrew.[4]

Given their high unit cost, Tallboys were used exclusively against high-value strategic targets that could not be destroyed by other means. When it was found that the Lancaster could be modified to carry a bomb larger than the Tallboy, Wallis produced the even larger Grand Slam bomb.

Tallboy operations[edit]

Six Tallboy bombs in a bomb dump at Bardney, Lincolnshire prior to being loaded on No. 9 Squadron RAF aircraft in October or November 1944

June – August 1944[edit]

  • Saumur rail tunnel – The sole operational north-south route on the Loire. Nineteen Tallboy-equipped and six conventionally equipped Lancasters of 617 Squadron attacked on the night of 8–9 June 1944. 617 Squadron were guided on to the target by 83 Squadron Pathfinder Force. This was the first use of the Tallboy bomb and the line was destroyed—one Tallboy bored through the hillside and exploded in the tunnel about 60 ft (18 m) below, completely blocking it. No aircraft were lost during the raid.[2]

Operation Crossbow[edit]

Operation Crossbow was the code name for measures to counter the German V-1 flying bomb ("buzz bomb" or "doodlebug") and V-2 rocket weapons. Tallboys were used by the British to destroy several missile sites.

19 June 1944 – Watten
The nearest Tallboy dropped by 617 Squadron landed 50 yd (46 m) from the target, a heavily fortified V-2 launch site under construction[5] The bunker was rendered useless.
24 June 1944 – Wizernes
The target was a V-2 assembly and launch site linked with the Watten site. Several Tallboy hits undermined the foundations but did not penetrate the dome.[5] The bunker was abandoned.
25 June 1944 – Siracourt V-1 bunker
Lancasters of 617 Squadron scored three direct hits with Tallboys without loss.[5]
4 July 1944 – Saint-Leu-d'Esserent
617 Squadron used seventeen Lancasters with Tallboys, supported by one Mosquito and one Mustang, in an attempt to collapse the limestone roof of the caves used as storage depots. Aircraft from No 5 Group followed up with 1,000 lb (450 kg) bombs.[6][7]
External image
Bomb damage at Mimoyecques V-Weapon Site
6 July 1944 – Mimoyecques
Damage to the Fortress of Mimoyecques from Allied air attacks, including attacks with Tallboy bombs.
Attack on V-weapon targets.[6][8] Damage was unknown at the time, and efforts continued. In September, allied ground forces found galleries blocked with earth and debris where Tallboys had hit one of the shafts. The V-weapon was revealed to be the V-3 cannon.[9]
17 July 1944 – Wizernes
Sixteen Lancasters, led by a Mosquito and a Mustang, bombed Wizernes – three Lancasters managed to drop Tallboys (one caused the dome to shift out of alignment, two others blocked the entrance).[10]
27 July 1944 – Watten
One Tallboy hit the target but did not penetrate the structure.[11]
31 July 1944 – Rilly La Montagne
Both ends of the railway tunnel were collapsed by Tallboys dropped by 617 Squadron.[6] William Reid's Lancaster at 3,700 m (12,000 ft) was hit by a 'friendly' Tallboy dropped from 5,500 m (18,000 ft).[12]

Sorties against German dockyards[edit]

Shipping in the English Channel and the Atlantic Ocean were threatened by U-boats and E-boats stationed in France. U-boat docks were protected against conventional aerial bombardment by thick concrete roofs.

14 June 1944 – Le Havre
Part of the first massive RAF daylight raid since the end of May 1943, two waves attacked E-boat facilities at Le Havre: No 1 Group first, No 3 Group second. Just before the first wave, 22 Lancasters of 617 Squadron and 3 Mosquito marker aircraft attacked, several hits were scored on the pens, one bomb penetrated the roof.[5]
15 June 1944 – Boulogne harbour
297 aircraft: 155 Lancasters, 130 Halifaxes, 12 Mosquitos, of Nos 1, 4, 5, 6 and 8 Groups attacked Boulogne harbour. One Halifax was lost. A French report described the great destruction as the worst raid on Boulogne.[5] During the raid 22 Lancasters of No. 617 squadron bombed the E-boat pens with Tallboys. Due to cloud cover ten planes returned to base with their bombs. However the raid was considered a success as the E-boats retired to IJmuiden on the Dutch coast where they were better protected but less able to interfere with Allied naval traffic supporting the Normandy invasion.[13]
5 August 1944 – Brest
15 Lancasters of 617 Squadron attacked the U-boat pens at Brest and scored six direct hits with Tallboys penetrating the concrete roofs. One Lancaster was shot down by flak. Subsequent attempts to reinforce other sites with even thicker concrete diverted resources from other projects.[14]
6 August 1944 – Keroman
Flight Lieutenant Thomas Clifford Iveson dropped one Tallboy, bomb failed to penetrate base.[15]
7 August 1944 – Lorient
The planned Tallboy mission against the U-boat pens was cancelled, Instead Keroman Submarine Base was the primary target.[15]
8 August 1944 – La Pallice
Flight Lieutenant Thomas Clifford Iveson dropped one Tallboy.[15]
28 August 1944 – IJmuiden
Flight Lieutenant Thomas Clifford Iveson dropped one Tallboy.[15]

September – November 1944[edit]

23/24 September 1944 – Dortmund-Ems Canal near Ladbergen, north of Münster
During the night attack 617 Squadron scored six direct hits with Tallboys.[16]
7 October 1944 – Kembs Dam north of Basle
The dam waters could have been kept in reserve to flood the area of a US advance. The Dambusters destroyed the lock gates with Tallboys dropped at low level, releasing the stored water.[17]
15 October 1944 – Sorpe dam
This target of the original Dambusters raid survived a second attack by 9 Squadron (617 Squadron did not participate in this raid). The Tallboy bombs were seen to hit the dam but did not breach it.[17]

Bombing sorties against Tirpitz[edit]

The German battleship Tirpitz was a threat against convoys sailing to and from the Soviet Union.

15 September 1944 – (Operation Paravane)
One Tallboy hit near the bow of the Tirpitz, passing through the foredeck and hull, and exploded in the water on the starboard side of her bow. The blast wrecked the bow, and left the battleship's forward compartments flooded with 2,000 tons of water. The explosions of several other Tallboys in the water near Tirpitz also buckled some of her hull plates and bulkheads. Five men were killed and fifteen wounded.[18] Tirpitz was rendered unseaworthy and the damage was assessed as needing nine months' worth of work to repair, but this was considered unfeasible so the battleship was relegated to a floating artillery battery.[19][16]
29 October 1944 – (Operation Obviate)
Due to cloud coming in just before the attack, 32 bombs were dropped "blind".[20] No direct hits were scored but one near miss bent a propeller shaft.[17]
12 November 1944 – (Operation Catechism)
In the final operation the Tirpitz was sunk when three Tallboys hit it,[21] and several others fell close by.[22] Several bombs landed within the anti-torpedo net barrier and caused significant cratering of the seabed, removing much of the sandbank that had been constructed to prevent the ship from capsizing. One bomb penetrated the ship's deck between turrets Anton and Bruno but failed to explode. A second hit amidships between the aircraft catapult and the funnel, completely destroying the entire section of belt armour abreast of the bomb hit and blowing a very large hole in the ship's side and bottom, causing significant flooding and a port list to 60 degrees. A third bomb struck the ship on the port side of turret Caesar, eventually leading to a magazine explosion that caused the ship to capsize.[23][24][25][22]

December 1944 – April 1945[edit]

The 11 foot thick concrete roof of submarine bunker "Fink II" in Hamburg, after having been penetrated by a Tallboy in early April 1945

Bombing of U-boat pens, December 1944 – April 1945

15 December 1944 – IJmuiden on the Dutch coast,
617 Squadron attacked U-boat pens with Tallboys. A smoke-screen hindered the bombing, and the results went unseen.[15][26]
12 January 1945 – Bergen
"32 Lancasters and one Mosquito of Nos 9 and 617 Squadrons attacked U-boat pens and shipping in Bergen harbour. Three Lancasters of 617 Squadron and one from 9 Squadron were lost; the Germans told the local people that 11 bombers had been shot down. A local report said that three Tallboys penetrated the 3½-metre-thick roof of the pens and caused severe damage to workshops, offices and stores inside".[15][27]
3 February 1945 – IJmuiden & Poortershaven
36 Lancasters of No 5 Group attacked U-boat pens at IJmuiden (9 Squadron) and Poortershaven (617 Squadron) with Tallboys. Hits were claimed on both targets without loss.[28]
9 April 1945 – Hamburg
617 Squadron attacked with Tallboys and Grand Slams. Some of the bombs hit their target and no aircraft were lost.[29]
18 April 1945 – Heligoland
969 aircraft: 617 Lancasters, 332 Halifaxes and 20 Mosquitos of all groups bombed the naval base, airfield and town "almost into crater-pitted moonscapes". Three Halifaxes were lost; the islands were evacuated the following night.
19 April 1945 – Heligoland
36 Lancasters used Tallboy bombs against coastal positions.[29]
8 December and 11 December 1944
The Urft Dam, (30 miles (48 km) south west of Cologne) was attacked to prevent it being used to flood the area as American troops advanced. The lip of the dam was damaged, but the Germans prevented further damage by lowering the water level.[30][31]
21 December 1944 – Politz

617 Squadron.[15][32]

14 March 1945 – Bielefeld and Arnsberg viaducts

The viaducts were attacked by 617 and 9 squadrons with Tallboys and the first Grand Slams. The Arnsberg viaduct withstood the attack but 100 m (330 ft) of the Bielefeld viaduct collapsed through the 'earthquake effect' of the Grand Slams and Tallboys.[33]

15 March 1945 – Arnsberg viaduct
The Arnsberg viaduct was attacked again by 9 Squadron. It did not collapse.[33]
16 April 1945 – pocket battleship Lützow

The Lützow was attacked by 617 Squadron. Despite intense flak, 15 aircraft managed to bomb the target with Tallboys or with 1,000-pound (450 kg) bombs. One near miss with a Tallboy tore a large hole in the bottom of the Lützow and she settled to the bottom in shallow water. One Lancaster was shot down, the Squadron's last loss of the war.[29] The bomb remained sunk near Świnoujście in the middle of main shipping Piast Canal for 74 years, unearthed during the preparatory works for deepening of the Świnoujście-Szczecin fairway in September 2019[34].

25 April 1945 – Berghof

Hitler's vacation home, the Berghof, near Berchtesgaden was attacked with a mixed force that included six Lancasters of 617 Squadron dropping their last Tallboys. The bombing appeared to be accurate and effective.[29]

Post war[edit]

The last of the V bombers – the Handley Page Victor – was designed to be able to carry a bomb load that could include a load of two Tallboys internally, or one Grand Slam plus assorted smaller weapons.

United States use[edit]

The T-10 was an American-made version of the 12,000 lb (5,443 kg) Tallboy modified to use standard American components. Development was started in late 1944 and plans were made to drop them on the island strongholds of the Pacific to aid in softening their defences before amphibious assaults. None were used operationally since the capitulation of Japan following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki negated their need. In the late 1950s the T-10 was re-designated the M-121. During the Korean War a number of T-10s were converted to the radio-guided Tarzon bomb and were dropped by Boeing B-29 Superfortresses to destroy railroad bridges and reservoir dams.[35]

After the Korean War ended and the B-29 and B-36 bombers were retired, the United States Air Force no longer had an aircraft that could drop the M-121, and the bombs were put in storage. Production of the T-10 ended in 1955. The B-36 was the last operational aircraft that could drop a fully assembled Tallboy type bomb in the conventional way.[b] During the Vietnam War, some M-121s, minus their rear streamlined shrouds and tail fin assemblies, were shipped to Vietnam for Commando Vault missions where the warheads were incorporated into the BLU-82 weapons dropped by C-130s using radar control. The warheads were mounted on a platform and pulled by parachutes from the rear loading ramp of C-130s. After clearing the aircraft the large extraction chutes and pallets were cut away and small triangular chutes stabilized the large warhead until impact. A three-foot nose probe detonated the bomb at the correct stand-off distance. One of the last of the World War II Tallboy designs was dropped during a Commando Vault mission to clear a landing zone for helicopters on a ridge during the 1969 Battle of Hamburger Hill in Vietnam. Dropping from 3,000 metres (10,000 ft), the bomb hit exactly where it was needed. The Commando Vault missions were more accurate in bomb delivery on target than the more modern B-52s.[36][c]

Work still progressed on the 43,000 lb (20,000 kg) T-12 Cloudmaker, which could be carried by the Convair B-36A.[37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Medium capacity" refers to the ratio of bomb case to explosive filling; in the case of the Tallboy, this was less than 50 percent explosive by weight, in contrast to "high capacity" bombs like the Blockbuster bombs, which contained up to three-quarters of their weight in explosive.
  2. ^ The B-52 bomb bay lacked the length required to load a Tallboy.
  3. ^ The use of any type or make of the Tallboy ended with the Vietnam War. None were dropped during the Gulf War in 1991 as none were in storage for the USAF. The large bombs dropped by C-130s during the Gulf War in 1991 were of the 6,800 kilograms (15,000 lb) type BLU-82.
  1. ^ a b Bombs Weapons Rockets Aircraft Ordnance Archived 30 August 2005 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ a b RAF staff 2005a, Saumur Tunnel
  3. ^ Ellis 1998, p. 297.
  4. ^ Harris 2005, p. 237.
  5. ^ a b c d e RAF staff 2005, June 1944
  6. ^ a b c RAF staff 2005, July 1944
  7. ^ Collier 1976, pp. 68, 84.
  8. ^ Brickhill 1951, p. [page needed].
  9. ^ Zaloga, Johnson & Taylor 2008, pp. 14–16.
  10. ^ Dambusters.biz staff 2013.
  11. ^ "World War II German hardened A4/V2 rocket launch sites". Retrieved 17 February 2008.
  12. ^ "Flight Lieutenant William Reid VC". News. Telegraph Media Group Limited 2008. 29 November 2001. Archived from the original on 17 February 2008. Retrieved 17 February 2008.
  13. ^ Jones 2002, pp. 254.
  14. ^ RAF staff 2005, August 1944
  15. ^ a b c d e f g Keable 2008.
  16. ^ a b RAF staff 2005, September 1944
  17. ^ a b c RAF staff 2005, October 1944
  18. ^ Bishop 2012, p. 339.
  19. ^ Sweetman 2000, p. 121.
  20. ^ Brickhill, Paul (1954). The Dam Busters. Pan Books. p. 225
  21. ^ RAF staff 2005a, Tirpitz.
  22. ^ a b Ziemke 1960, p. 311.
  23. ^ Garzke & Dulin, p. 272.
  24. ^ Garzke & Dulin, p. 273.
  25. ^ RAF staff 2005, October 1944
  26. ^ RAF staff 2005, December 1944
  27. ^ RAF staff 2005, January 1945
  28. ^ RAF staff 2005, February 1945
  29. ^ a b c d RAF staff 2005, April and May 1945
  30. ^ Jones 2002, pp. 507, 524.
  31. ^ Murray 2005.
  32. ^ Jones 2002, pp. 507–508, 532.
  33. ^ a b RAF staff 2005, March 1945
  34. ^ Jedna z największych bomb II wojny światowej odnaleziona w Świnoujściu (One of the largest bombs of World War II found in Świnoujście, Onet, 20 September 2019,
  35. ^ Gunston 1979, p. 119.
  36. ^ McGowan 1988, pp. 64–68.
  37. ^ Magnesium Overcast, Dennis R. Jenkins, Specialty Press 2001–2002, ISBN 978-1-58007-129-1, photograph P.144


External links[edit]