On this day in Yorkshire 1953: Aniseed balls used to set off limpet bombs

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All the aniseed balls in Bedford were bought up just before the war because they were that time the only things that could set off underwater limpet bombs.

Colonel R.S.Macrae, of Beacon Way, Banstead (Surrey), yesterday explained to the Royal Commission on Awards to inventors, at Somerset House. London, the important part played by the sweets in the development of the bomb.

Colonel Macrae said later: “We required to find some substance that would dissolve at a regular speed in either fresh water or sea water. “Chemists produced a lot of pellets with all kinds of chemicals which turned out to be unsatisfactory. We tried to think what would do the job we wanted, and by accident struck on aniseed balls. They proved to be very hard but something which would dissolve.”

When they dissolved they released a striker which fired the charge which exploded the bomb. Aniseed balls were used for a long time, and for many months were used in the form of pellets in the limpet.

It was found that pellets of other compositions were not sufficiently spherical, but aniseed balls were “a precision Job.” “We could rely on one being exactly the same size as the next, largely due to the dipping process by which they are made,” he added.

The Commission were hearing claims for awards by Colonel Macrae and Major C. V. Clarke, of Putney Lane, Bedford, joint inventors the limpet bomb and the Clam Magnetic time bomb.

Major-General Sir Colin Gubbins who served on Special Operations Executive during the war said: “We had very great success with limpets all over the world.”

Ships, many over 10,000 tons, had been sunk. Limpets had also had a great nuisance value, calling for permanent guards and the searching of ships.

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