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Archive for November 10th, 2009

The mighty battle cruiser HMS Hood was felled in 1941 in spectacular (and catastrophic) fashion.  Engaged in a fight with the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen, her aft ammunition magazine was pierced by gunfire from the Bismarck.  The Hood exploded in a conflagration that split her in two, sank her in minutes with nearly all hands, and reverberated through the British Admiralty all the way to Number 10 Downing.

So one is only left to wonder why the U.S. Navy didn’t feel some misgivings when it commissioned the USS Mount Hood in July of 1944.  After all, “Mount Hood” sounds a lot like “Hood”.  What’s more, Mount Hood is a volcano that, while dormant now, is certainly capable of exploding.  Even more ominous, the ship bearing the volcano’s name was an ammunition ship…and she was loaded with ammunition.  By now, you should know this isn’t going to turn out well.

She was sent packing from Norfolk with 3,800 tons (that’s 7,600,000 pounds) of ammunition.  Her destination?…Seeadler Harbor on Manus Island.  Manus is located a couple hundred miles to the northeast of Papua New Guinea.  The U.S. Navy was stockpiling supplies and ammunition for its forces that were battling on and around the Philippines.

At 8:55am on the morning of November 10, 1944, the Mount Hood was rocked by an explosion.  Seconds later, another much larger explosion blew the ship to smithereens.  Now sometimes when we say “blown to smithereens”, we’re exaggerating to some degree.  We want to convey the force of the explosion, even though whatever it was that exploded wasn’t really reduced to fragments.  But in this case, “blown to smithereens” is appropriate.  “Obliterated” is also accurate.

Eighteen men (not part of the ship’s crew) had left the ship at 8:30am and witnessed the explosion from the beach.  Scrambling back to their transport boat, they headed to the ship and found little bits of debris.  In fact, the largest piece of the Mount Hood found (which had left the shipyards as a 460-foot-long chunk of steel weighing almost 14,000 tons) was a piece of metal 16-feet-by-10-feet.  It was lying in the bottom of the crater.  Yep, just like a real volcano, the Mount Hood eruption left its own mark in Seeadler Harbor.  The crater was 1000 feet long, 200 feet wide, and 30 to 40 feet deep.

A junior officer and five enlisted men (part of the crew) also left the ship just before the explosion.  Not only were they the only survivors, they were the only human remains recovered from the Mount Hood’s 350-man compliment.  Mindanao, a repair ship along-side, was heavily damaged and suffered more than 80 killed.  Every ship within a one-mile radius was either damaged or sunk, and a further 370 men were injured.

A investigation into the cause of the explosion turned up nothing because, well, there wasn’t enough left to study.

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