Mount Hood Disaster

The Mount Hood was an ammunition ship assigned to the U.S. Pacific Fleet. On 11 November 1944, the ship was loading depth charges in Seeadler Harbor, Admiralty Islands, when something went terribly wrong. Witnesses reported seeing an explosion similar to that of a single bomb, followed moments later by the explosion of the entire ammunition load of the ship, some 3800 tons of ordnance. This release of explosive energy, equivalent a tactical nuclear weapon, produced one of the most spectacular conventional explosions ever witnessed.

Naval Historical Center #65604

The Mt. Hood was completely obliterated, leaving a crater 300' by 50' by 30' (90m by 15m by 9m) on the anchorage floor. The largest fragment of wreckage recovered was just 16' by 10' (5m by 4m) across. Another 22 landing craft and other small vessels within 500' (150m) of Mt. Hood were also lost with all hands. Ten ships within 2500' (760m) were badly damaged and another 26 ships within 6500' (2000 m) suffered less serious damage. Men in the open were knocked down by the force of the blast at distances up to 2.5 miles (4 km) away. Total casualties were 372 dead or missing and 371 injured.

A mail party from the Mt. Hood survived because they were a mile away when the ship went up. They provided most of the testimony for the subsequent inquiry. In one of the most painful individual ironies of the war, another crew member from Mt. Hood initially survived the explosion because he was visiting friends on a ship across the harbor. He rushed to the deck when he heard the explosion, only to be fatally struck by debris thrown three miles across the harbor.

The subsequent naval inquiry concluded that poor ammunition stowage and handling practices were responsible. However, there are persistent claims that either a lone Japanese aircraft or a midget submarine was responsible for the disaster. This is more than just a point of honor: The families of Navy men killed in action are entitled to certain benefits denied the families of men who are merely killed in the line of duty.

References (accessed 2012-2-11)

USS Mount Hood Explosion (accessed 2012-2-11)

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