The Radbod Disaster in 1908 -
Dimensions of Explosion Hazards in Ruhr Mining Operations at the Time of the German Empire
The article looks into the explosion disaster at the Radbod mine in Hamm-Bockum-Hövel which occurred in the early hours of 12 November 1908 and was the worst mine disaster the Ruhr area had seen until then. Of course, every technical disaster is of a singular nature which is closely linked, above all, with the memory of all those who died. But this article considers the disaster against a broader background in an effort to examine what the situation was with respect to explosion hazards in industrialised coal mining operations.
A sound approach in terms of coal mining and steel history requires careful weighing of the sources in an effort to evaluate what happened objectively. This seems all the more important with respect to mining disasters on the eve of the First World War. Contemporary reports, expert opinions and witness statements often seem contradictory at first glance; in some cases they convey a sense of helpless grief or overrely on seemingly technicistic rhetoric or, not least, are permeated by political messages. A situation characterised by solidarity among miners, the influence of the wealthy class, compassion and also anger, as Klaus Tenfelde recently described the social and intellectual background of Germany's response to the explosion disaster in Courrières in northern France in 1906 where more than 1,000 mine workers died. The same applies to the explosion which occurred at the Radbod mine, Germany's Courrières as it was also referred to in parliamentary debates. We need to see the mass disasters in the context of Wilhelminian class society, together with its imperial claims to prestige and social standing and its actors drawing on collective beliefs. Only then will it be possible to steer away from the emotional level of accusations and despair about the fate of the victims.