Major Arthur Hogben, explosives expert decorated after safely tackling a wartime ‘Hermann’ bomb found in 1970s London – obituary

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Hogben: to the next generation of the bomb disposal community he was simply ‘Uncle Arthur’
Hogben: to the next generation of the bomb disposal community he was simply ‘Uncle Arthur’

Major Arthur Hogben, who has died aged 92, was awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal in 1974 for neutralising a large Second World War bomb in east London.

In 1974 Hogben was serving with 33 Engineer Regiment (Explosive Ordnance Disposal, or EOD). On August 1, he led a team to a building site at Plaistow, where a bomb had been excavated. It was in a trench about 20 yards from a public road – a densely populated area, close to high-rise flats and a railway line.

He identified the device as a German 1,000 kg (known as a “Hermann” in reference to the very fat Luftwaffe chief), and with the help of the police and local authority the area was evacuated.

To minimise the disruption to public transport, work on the bomb did not start until midnight. The fuze was found to be covered with a cap which was so badly corroded that it was difficult to establish what type it was.

The problem was exacerbated by the fact that only three similar explosives had been encountered in the preceding 20 years, and the team had very little information to guide them.

Hogben at Rainham in Essex in December 1975 using a hand drill to gain access to the fuze of a 1,000kg Hermann bomb similar to the one involved in the 1974 episode which gained him his medal - Courtesy of family
Hogben at Rainham in Essex in December 1975 using a hand drill to gain access to the fuze of a 1,000kg Hermann bomb similar to the one involved in the 1974 episode which gained him his medal - Courtesy of family

What was known was that this type of bomb could contain a particularly dangerous clockwork fuze. There was a risk that the device might detonate while the corroded cap was removed, so Hogben decided to “steam out” the explosive while the fuze was still live.

This operation was still extremely perilous, because the explosive filling did not conform to the type typically found in similar bombs. There was a risk that the filling might prove to be sensitive to heat and the process of steaming out might set off an explosion.

Hogben began work at midnight and the dangerous task of removing about 600 lb of explosive took him some five hours. At six o’clock in the morning, the bomb casing was free of explosive. The fuze pocket was then detonated, breaking some of the windows of flats in the immediate vicinity.

The citation for the award of a QGM to Hogben stated that he had commanded the operation throughout and had personally completed the most dangerous part of the task. It also paid tribute to his skill and courage in reducing the risk to people’s lives and their property.

Arthur Stephen Hogben was born on March 13 1930 at Adisham, Kent. He was called up for National Service in 1950 and served in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers before being commissioned into the Corps of Royal Engineers in 1953.

For the following 20 years he served widely in the Far East, Germany and Britain in both operational and technical staff appointments relating to civil engineering. The latter part of his career was spent in bomb and mine disposal.

In 1974 he assumed command of 49 EOD Squadron RE, part of 33 Engineer Regiment (EOD). At the time the squadron was responsible for routine bomb disposal in Britain, battle area clearances and special operations overseas.

He subsequently commanded the Defence EOD School, the British Joint Services School responsible for teaching EOD to all three British Services and also to selected Nato and Foreign and Commonwealth students. He acquired a reputation throughout the explosive ordnance world for his knowledge and expertise as much as for his great warmth and humour. To the next generation of the bomb-disposal community, he became simply “Uncle Arthur”.

In 1981, he retired from the Army in the rank of major. He was appointed Custodian at the Nato EOD Technical Information Centre, Rochester, Kent, which was responsible for providing technical advice and information to all EOD operators within Nato.

Hogben was active in his local community from 1987 until retiring in 2000 as chairman of the Harrietsham Parish Council. From 1995 he acted as an EOD and mines consultant for films and television, notably for The English Patient and Danger UXB.

He published Designed to Kill (1987), an account of British bomb disposal from the First World War to the Falklands, and Bombs Gone: Development and Use of British Air-dropped Weapons from 1912 to Present Day, (1990), co-authored with Wing Commander John McBean.

Arthur Hogben married, in 1958, in Singapore, Eileen Driscoll, an officer in Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps. She died in 2006 and he is survived by their four daughters.

Arthur Hogben, born March 13 1930, died July 3 2022