Explosion of the Fort Stikine Part 2

About the explosion of the Fort Stikine in Bombay harbor in 1944, the history of the disaster of the English cargo ship that left over 1,000 people dead.


The Disaster: Explosive cargo aboard the Fort Stikine made it a 400'-long unmarked bomb surrounded by ships unaware of their danger. Seamen on neighboring vessels, the Belray and Japalanda, watched the activity with more boredom than interest. Firemen had pumped water into number 2 hold for about an hour when the color of the smoke suddenly changed to a yellowish-brown, the color that signifies explosives. With no further warning the ship became a thousand Roman candles followed by an explosion that rocked Bombay, left broken bodies strewn on ship decks, and killed 66 firemen and seriously wounded 83 others. In minutes there was a 2nd explosion that threw flaming metal and debris 3,000' in the air to rain death over a one-mi. circle. Fires broke out on docks, in business buildings, and in homes. The force of the 2nd explosion created a tidal wave that lifted the 5,000-ton Japalanda 60' in the air to drop it on dock-side sheds. In hours both hospitals and mortuaries struggled to care for the injured and dead.

Aftermath: Twenty-seven ships were sunk or burned out. Docks and buildings were destroyed. The entrance to Victoria Dock and the gateway itself was fouled with the hulks of shattered ships. It required 6 months and the efforts of 10,000 men and equipment to clear the harbor of more than a million tons of debris. The toll of life was determined only by the headcount of treated victims and the dead. The unknown number of those blown to bits or cremated could have raised the official count by 1,000 or more.

The specific cause of the fire in number 2 hold was never determined. There were suspicions, but no proof of sabotage. The only facts are that the explosion and fires on that April day in Bombay harbor add up to one of the worst but least-known disasters of W. W. II.

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