HALIFAX SHIPYARD LIMITED
Nova Scotia, Canada
My first International trip to a location which
brings many happy memories a return visit being a priority during my remaining years.
Prepared structural, outfit and HVAC
drawings on semi-submersible drilling rigs and drillship being built to Earl &
Wrights designs for the South East Drilling Co. during my two year visit.
Their Web Site: Click Here
The site of the largest man
made explosion before the Atom bomb.
A monstrous explosion,
resulting from the collision of two ships, the Mont Blanc and the Into (the former
carrying 5,000 tons of high explosives), in the narrows leading
from Halifax Harbor to Bedford Basin, wiped out the suburb of Richmond on December 6,
1917, killing 1,600 persons, injuring 8,000 and destroying 3,000 dwellings; 2,000
more persons were listed missing, and total damages were estimated to be more than $30
million .The column of black smoke rose and flattened out like an umbrella
at 12,000 ft over the funeral pyre of the town that died. The anchor of the Mont Blanc is
still to be found many miles away in someone's front garden near the Arndale Rotary.
Read what the papers had to
(Recent Swissair Jet Crash)
HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA, CANADA
Though an enormous mishap, the
explosion and fire that destroyed half of Halifax! Nova Scotia, on December 6, 1917, could
indirectly be attributed to World War I, which was then raging in Europe, for it was the
tools of war that worked the horrible proportions of this disaster. The Savannah News even
went so far as to suggest that the Allies look for the Kaisers hand" in
fixing the blame for the calamity.
The immediate fault, however, lay
with the skipper and pilot of the 5.043-ton Belgian relief ship Imo, a Norwegian
vessel built in Belfast in 1889 for the White Star Line.
After changing hands and namesRunic,
Tampicanover the years, she became the property of Norways South Pacific
Bound for Europe and proceeding at
half speed through the narrows between Halifax and Bedford Basin at 8:40 am., the Imos
captain and pilot spied an approaching ship, the 3,121-ton Mont Blanc, which
was laden with 5,000 tons of deadly explosives allocated for war use in Europe coming in
from New York..
Built in 1899 and owned by the
French Line (Cie Generale Transatlantique), the Mont Blanc carried 580 tons of TNT
in her two after holds, picric acid in the forward hold and a deck jammed with tanks of
benzine. The French ship was a sailing bomb.
The two ships edged toward each
other in the narrows. Both vessels began to signal each other with whistles. The weather
was clear and bright, although several claims that there was a light mist were later made.
The pilot on the Mont Blanc, Frank Mackie, who watched the Imo veer
inexplicably toward his ship on a collision course, later stated that the ramming
"was due to a confusion of whistles sounded by the Imo."
Confusion ran to irresponsibility,
as the captain of the Imo, realising a collision imminent, reversed his engines,
causing his ship to heave over to port with her bow aimed at the Mont Blanc. Lemodec,
captain of the French ship, saw that the collision was inevitable and gave orders for his
ship to be manoeuvred in such a way that the Imo would strike his vessel at a place
where there would be less danger of exploding her cargo.
The Imo came on with a
crunch, her bow slicing one-third of the way through the Mont Blancs, deck.
The twenty-five barrels of benzine were ripped open and spilled into the torn compartment
containing the acid and dozens of bales of gun cotton. The blazing fire was instantaneous.
Captain Lemodec and his crew fought
the towering fire for several minutes, retreating step by step, their fruitless efforts
watched intensely by hundreds who had gathered at the nearby shoreline
Suddenly the French skipper waved
his men into lifeboats, and the scrambling seamen made for shore, rowing like wild men,
knowing the explosion could come at any moment.
When they reached the shore the Mont
Blanc crew jumped fitfully from their boats and ran, yelling all the way, into a
nearby woods to hide.
The slightly damaged Iino made
for the opposite Dartmouth shore. Seventeen minutes after the collision came one of the
most violent explosions ever recorded. The Mont Blanc disappeared completely when
the fire reached the TNT in her holds.
The suburb of Richmond, densely
populated with old wooden structures, was literally blown off the map; the explosion was
heard sixty miles away at Truro. Houses, office buildings, people and animals were sent
skyward at the instant of the great concussion. The Imo was lifted from the water
and hurled bodily ashore at Dartmouth.
Freight cars were blown through the
air for distances of two miles. Two-thirds of every crew on every ship in the harbour were
More than 500 schoolchildren were
in their classrooms at the time the explosion occurred, and only l0in both Richmond and
Dartmouth survived as their schools caved in on them like falling cards. In the Dartmouth
School 200 youngsters perished. Every child and matron in the Protestant Orphan Home was
At the edge of the Richmond
district towered the old and resplendent Queens Hotel. In its lobby sat 1. M. Soy,
an official of the Maple Leaf Lumber Company was thrown off his chair by the terrific
blast and heard hysterical cries from those who had been expecting Trans-Atlantic German
air raids for months. "The Zeppelins! Its the Zeppelins!"
A telegrapher, four miles from the
disaster, was killed at his desk by a piece of flying metal. Only one telegraph line was
left standing over which Halifax could send out its pleas for help. The one remaining
operator stayed at his key for only twenty minutes and then let the wire go dead when a
bleeding child ran to him to tell him that his wife was dying.
More than 1,600 persons were dead
under debris or blown bodily into the next district. Either bravery or shock drove Nova
Scotians to uncommonly heroic acts. A railroad telegrapher burned to death in his shack
rather than leave it and allow an incoming train to continue unwarned.
A dock worker dragged dozens of
injured men out of burning piles of debris. When told that one of his eyes was hanging on
his cheek, he refused to go to the hospital and returned to save more lives. One smartly
dressed chauffeur drove scores of injured to the hospital several times, refusing to take
time to have his broken ribs taped.
Many Halifax buildings of
historical import were obliterated. The brown freestone and granite Dominion Building with
its priceless museum of Indian artefacts was gone. Other buildings destroyed included the
Government House built in 1800, the Halifax Club, the Waverly and Halifax hotels, a
half-dozen churches, and the Presbyterian ladies College.
Fires raged moments after the
explosion through Dartmouth and Richmond, rising on either side of the narrows, their
sharp hills serving as a trough up through which the flames leapt in perfect drafts.
There was no fire department left
to combat the fires, and they simply burned themselves out after sending pillars of black
smoke rising several thousand feet into the sky which could be seen from forty miles away.
As thousands of injured limped out
of Richmond and Dartmouth (more than 8,000 were injured one way or another by the blast),
every restaurant in Halifax opened kitchens, giving free food to all survivors and
rescuers. Drug stores gave away all their medical supplies; employers told their employees
to quit work and aid the stricken.
Overnight Halifax was known as
"The City of Comrades." (Within days, however, the public empathy switched to
acrimonious greed; truckers extorted life savings from the homeless for moving their
singed, meagre belongings; a grocer was stoned for charging a starving child ten times the
normal amount for a loaf of bread; landlords hiked their rents to fabulous sums and forced
their tenants to pay or move into the snow-swept streets.)
Aid was on its way to Halifax even
before its fires were out and its appalling list of dead completed. Consigned to the .Red
Cross, Maines Governor Carl F. Milliken sent the following day by rail 2,000
blankets, 1,000 cots, 400,000 square feet of beaver board (for temporary housing), 200,000
pieces of window glass, 10,000 rolls of tarred paper.
A train from Massachusetts, 450
miles from wrecked Halifax, was on its way on the night of the disaster carrying 1,100
pairs of pyjamas, 350 hospital shirts, and carloads of medical supplies. This was followed
by a Red Cross Special containing twenty-five doctors, including two obstetricians,
sixty-eight nurses and eight orderlies.
On Saturday another Red Cross train
left Providence, Rhode Island, with sixty-two surgeons, sixty nurses, ten orthopaedic
surgeons and two hospital social workers. The United States Navy offered the Red Cross
50,000 blankets. New York City sent carloads of clothing-shoes, stockings, boots and
overcoatsfor women and children.
It was one of the greatest
outpourings of human compassion ever to sweep the continent, and these enormous supplies
were soon delivered as Halifax began the tedious work of rebuilding.
The ship Imo was rebuilt.
Her name, for obvious reasons, was changed once again, to the Guvernoren. She was
wrecked after running aground off the Falkland Islands four years later, a hulk dying in
obscurity under an alias few would connect with the great Halifax explosion.
This Web Site is
Created and Maintained by Tele-Design
Please report any Problems or Enquires