Old 05-18-2011, 02:37 PM   #1
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Default The Nova Scotia, Halifax Explosion in Dec 6th 1917

On December 6th 191, the Halifax Explosion was the world's largest man-made explosion before Hiroshima, occurred when Due to human error a Belgian relief vessel and a French munitions carrier collided in Halifax Harbour during World War I. Although the National Library and Archives Canada description estimates the distance from the explosion as 21 km/13 mi, the actual location and distance have never been firmly established. However, the height of the blast at its peak was measured at 3,600 metres (11,811 feet or 2.25 miles) on a sextant by Captain W. M. A. Campbell of the Canadian merchant ship, Acadian, approximately 28 km (18 mi) from the harbour approaches. This measurement is consistent with the time-frame of 15-20 seconds at a distance of 1 mile.

During World War I, in 1917 Halifax became a huge international port and naval facility. Halifax has one of the world's largest ice-free natural harbours and was well connected through direct railway connections to other North American cities. The harbour became a major shipment point for war supplies, troop ships to Europe from Canada and the United States, and hospital ships returning the wounded. All neutral ships bound for North America had to report to Halifax for inspection. After German submarine attacks began in 1916, Halifax's harbour assumed an even larger role as an assembly point for merchant ships awaiting naval escort in convoys. The Harbour was crowded with warships, troop transports and supply ships.

The two-way passage by vessels through the narrow, curved harbour passage (called "The Narrows" - connecting the Atlantic Ocean and outer harbour with the Bedford Basin) was not restricted as to direction of travel, provided that vessels followed established collision avoidance regulations. Shortly after the submarine nets were opened around 7:30 AM on December 6, Imo attempted to depart through the starboard channel. It met an oncoming ship, an American tramp steamer. According to nautical regulations, vessels pass on their port sides with both ships steering to starboard. The two vessels agreed to pass on their 'incorrect' (starboard) sides, with Imo steering to port (left). This was a convenience for the incoming ship, which was docking on the Halifax side of the harbour.

The two steamers passed harmlessly. By roughly 8:15 AM, Imo was in the port channel as Stella Maris, a tugboat towing two barges, evaded Imo by remaining on the Halifax side of the harbour, passing the Imo on her starboard side and keeping her in the port channel.

But as Imo departed through the port channel, a second incoming vessel, the French steamer Mont-Blanc was entering via the starboard channel. A series of whistle blows communicated from both vessels indicated their intent to remain on course—a collision course. Captain Le Medec eventually ordered Mont-Blanc hard to port, sending the ship into the center channel. At the same time, Imo reversed its engines to stop, but the backward action of the propellers altered her course, bringing her to the center channel as well. The last minute evasive maneuvers by both vessels had sent them back onto a collision course.

At roughly 8:40 AM, Imo's bow struck the SS Mont-Blanc, chartered by the French government to carry munitions to Europe, and became lodged in its starboard bow with the unloaded Norwegian ship Imo, chartered by the Commission for Relief in Belgium to carry relief supplies. Mont-Blanc caught fire ten minutes after the collision and exploded about twenty-five minutes later (at 9:04:35 AM). All buildings and structures covering nearly 2 square kilometres (500 acres) along the adjacent shore were obliterated, including those in the neighbouring communities of Richmond and Dartmouth. The explosion caused a tsunami in the harbour and a pressure wave of air that snapped trees, bent iron rails, demolished buildings, grounded vessels, and carried fragments of the Mont-Blanc for kilometres.

The munitions ship was carrying picric acid, gun cotton and TNT. Her top deck carried benzol which spilled and burned. For 20 minutes crowds gathered around Halifax Harbour to watch the billowing smoke filled with sparks and fire as the Mont Blanc drifted towards Pier 6. While crews from nearby ships raced to put out the blaze, the captain and crew of the Mont Blanc rowed in lifeboats for the Dartmouth shore. When the crew landed they tried to warn people to run.

The Mont Blanc rammed Pier 6, setting its wood pilings on fire. Hundreds of onlookers gathered on the shores of the harbour, watching as the flaming Mont-Blanc eventually drifted along Pier 6 on the Richmond side of the waterfront, spreading the fire onto land by igniting some munitions cargo stored on the pier. Fire Box 83 was quickly pulled and local shop owner Constant Upham began calling several other fire houses directly, while watching the scene from his store window. West Street (Station 2) housed the first motorized fire engine in Canada, a 1913 American LaFrance combination pumping engine. Members of the Halifax Fire Department aboard the Patricia, and horse-drawn apparatus from Brunswick, Göttingen, and Quinpool Road stations rushed to the pier.

The Mont Blanc exploded,At 9:04:35 AM, the cargo of Mont-Blanc exploded with more force than any man-made explosion before it, equivalent to roughly 3 kilotons of TNT (about 1.26 x 1013 joules). Compare to atomic bomb Little Boy dropped on Hiroshima, which had an estimated power of 15 kilotons TNT equivalent. The ship was instantly destroyed in the giant fireball that rose over 1.9 kilometres (1.2 mi) into the air, forming a large mushroom cloud. Shards of hot metal rained down across Halifax and Dartmouth. The force of the blast triggered a tsunami, which rose up as high as 18 metres (60 ft) above the harbour's high-water mark on the Halifax side. flattening everything within 800 metres (2600 feet), and causing damage for 1.6 km (1 mile). Fragments of Mont-Blanc rained down all over the city. A portion of Mont-Blanc's anchor shaft, weighing 517 kilograms (1,140 lb) was thrown 3,780 metres (2.3 mi) west of the blast on the far side of the Northwest Arm; it is now part of a monument at the corner of Spinnaker Dr. and Anchor Dr. A gun barrel landed in Dartmouth, over 5.5 kilometres (3.4 mi) east, near Albro Lake. Another piece of wreckage was driven into the wall of St. Paul's Church, where it remains today. A one ton boulder, apparently from the harbour bottom, landed with some force on the Picton.The explosion was said to have been heard as far away as Prince Edward Island.

Fires spread quickly after the explosion. Water around the ship vaporized, a huge wave flooded the streets of Halifax and Dartmouth and swept many people back into the harbour where they drowned. The next day, one of the worst blizzards ever recorded in Halifax began, and lasted for six days.

Casualties of the Halifax Explosion:

•more than 1900 people killed
•9000 injured
•1600 buildings destroyed
•12,000 houses damaged
•6000 homeless; 25,000 people with inadequate housing

Last edited by Spaniard : 05-18-2011 at 02:44 PM.
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Old 12-06-2017, 02:03 PM   #2
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Default The Halifax Explosion: Records at Library and Archives Canada

For those interested in researching the Halifax Explosion the LAC have just published a blog entry with information on how to do so, including links to searching digitised sources on the Heritage site:


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