Quotulatiousness

December 8, 2017

Halifax Explosion – Peace in the East? | THE GREAT WAR Week 176

Filed under: Cancon, Europe, History, Military, Russia — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

The Great War
Published on 7 Dec 2017

This week in the Great War, we see some action in Italy and none at all in Russia – the peace negotiations are well underway. The Allied Supreme War Council meets for the first time as the Battle of Cambrai comes to a close. Two ships collide in Nova Scotia resulting in a deadly explosion.

December 5, 2017

The Halifax explosion of 6 December, 1917

Filed under: Cancon, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

It’s been called one of the largest man-made non-nuclear explosions and it destroyed large parts of the City of Halifax, when the SS Mont Blanc ran aground and exploded following a collision in the Narrows between Halifax and Dartmouth with the chartered Belgian Relief ship SS Imo. Nearly two thousand people were killed and thousands more injured in the blast.

A view of the Halifax waterfront shortly after the explosion on the morning of 6 December, 1917
Image via Wikimedia.

The Mont Blanc was built in 1899 in Middlesbrough, England, and at the time of the explosion was owned by Cie Generale Transatlantique with a St. Nazaire registration. As far as I’m aware there is only one photo of the ship and it shows the stern of the vessel when she was sailing under a Marseilles registration:

SS Mont Blanc in 1900 in Halifax.
Photo via the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic

Mont Blanc had left New York harbour with a full load of flammable and explosive cargo (including TNT, picric acid, benzol aviation fuel additive, and guncotton) intended for the battlefront in western Europe on the first, and just missed being allowed inside the anti-submarine netting protecting the entrance to the harbour on the evening of the fifth, being forced to wait outside until morning. As soon as the harbour guard allowed passage, the Mont Blanc followed another freighter (believed to be the SS Clara, but identified only as “the green American tramp steamer” in the inquiry) through the barrier and approached the narrows.

As the Mont Blanc made her way up toward the Bedford Basin, the Imo started in the opposite direction headed toward the harbour mouth. The Clara was sailing up the Halifax side of the channel, contrary to harbour rules, so the Imo had to swing over toward the Dartmouth side to avoid the Clara, and then further to the wrong side of the Narrows to avoid the Stella Maris, a tug moving barges around the harbour. In the low visibility, Imo‘s captain and pilot were unaware that another ship was following the Clara so closely and on the correct side of the channel.

According to the accepted “rules of the road”, in this situation the first ship to signal has the right of way and the other ship is expected to defer to the movement of the first ship. Mont Blanc‘s pilot had the ship’s whistle blown once, to indicate their priority, but the Imo replied with two whistles indicating that they did not intend to allow Mont Blanc‘s right of way. At first sighting, the two ships were already within a mile of one another and within the narrowest point of the harbour, which restricted the ability of the Mont Blanc to manouvre. The captain ordered the engines stopped and to steer closer to the Dartmouth side of the channel (with his delicate and explosive cargo, he didn’t want to run the risk of going aground).

Imo was carrying no cargo on this portion of her journey, which meant the propellers were partially out of the water, making the ship much less handy to steer. As the two ships approached, with the ships on approximately parallel courses, the Imo‘s captain ordered the engines to reverse, which caused Imo to swing to starboard (right) and impact the starboard side of the Mont Blanc at 8:45am. The collision did not do fatal structural damage to either ship, but it broke open some of the benzol containers on the deck and the spilled liquid ran down the side of the Mont Blanc, producing a flammable vapour.

The immediate impact of the explosion covered 325 acres, and windows were broken more than 50 miles away.
Image from http://www.halifaxexplosion.org/explosion2.html

As the Imo‘s engines began to pull the ship back, friction between the two hulls ignited the benzol fumes, which then spread the fire up the hull and onto the foredeck, preventing any effective fire-fighting on the part of the Mont Blanc‘s crew. With no hope of preventing an explosion, the crew abandoned ship and rowed away from the stricken Mont Blanc, which carried on across the channel and eventually ran aground on the Halifax side near Pier 6 at the foot of Richmond Street. At 9:04am, the main cargo exploded, ripping the ship apart and sending chunks of the hull out over the buildings at the waterfront, some landing up to 3.5 miles away from the site of the blast.

This photo was taken two days after the explosion, looking across the Narrows toward the wreck of the SS Imo, aground on the Dartmouth shore.
Image via Wikimedia.

The Wikipedia entry tells of the moment of the explosion:

The ship was completely blown apart and a powerful blast wave radiated away from the explosion at more than 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) per second. Temperatures of 5,000 °C (9,030 °F) and pressures of thousands of atmospheres accompanied the moment of detonation at the centre of the explosion. White-hot shards of iron fell down upon Halifax and Dartmouth. Mont Blanc‘s forward 90 mm gun, its barrel melted away, landed approximately 5.6 kilometres (3.5 mi) north of the explosion site near Albro Lake in Dartmouth, while the shank of her anchor, weighing half a ton, landed 3.2 kilometres (2.0 mi) south at Armdale.

A cloud of white smoke rose to over 3,600 metres (11,800 ft). The shock wave from the blast travelled through the earth at nearly 23 times the speed of sound and was felt as far away as Cape Breton (207 kilometres or 129 miles) and Prince Edward Island (180 kilometres or 110 miles). An area of over 160 hectares (400 acres) was completely destroyed by the explosion, while the harbour floor was momentarily exposed by the volume of water that vaporized. A tsunami was formed by water surging in to fill the void; it rose as high as 18 metres (60 ft) above the high-water mark on the Halifax side of the harbour. Imo was carried onto the shore at Dartmouth by the tsunami. The blast killed all but one on the whaler, everyone on the pinnace and 21 of the 26 men on Stella Maris; she ended up on the Dartmouth shore, severely damaged. The captain’s son, First Mate Walter Brannen, who had been thrown into the hold by the blast, survived, as did four others. All but one of the Mont Blanc crew members survived.

Over 1,600 people were killed instantly and 9,000 were injured, more than 300 of whom later died. Every building within a 2.6-kilometre (1.6 mi) radius, over 12,000 in total, was destroyed or badly damaged. Hundreds of people who had been watching the fire from their homes were blinded when the blast wave shattered the windows in front of them. Stoves and lamps overturned by the force of the blast sparked fires throughout Halifax, particularly in the North End, where entire city blocks were caught up in the inferno, trapping residents inside their houses. Firefighter Billy Wells, who was thrown away from the explosion and had his clothes torn from his body, described the devastation survivors faced: “The sight was awful, with people hanging out of windows dead. Some with their heads missing, and some thrown onto the overhead telegraph wires.” He was the only member of the eight-man crew of the fire engine “Patricia” to survive.

Intercolonial Railway dispatcher Vince Coleman is credited with saving some three hundred passengers of an inbound Saint John train, by going back to the telegraph office and ordering the train to stop outside the likely blast zone: “Hold up the train. Ammunition ship afire in harbor making for Pier 6 and will explode. Guess this will be my last message. Good-bye boys.” The train was only slightly damaged and there were no fatalities onboard. Coleman died at his post when the ship exploded.

The earliest rescue efforts were mounted by the crews of British, Canadian, and American naval ships in port, and two US Navy ships that arrived later in the day. Many wounded were brought aboard the ships and treated there: the explosion having taken down all the electric power lines in the area, these were the best-lighted-and-heated places to take the injured until emergency power lines could be set up onshore.

Later in the day, a small fire near the magazine of Wellington Barracks caused a panic about a second explosion which hampered early rescue attempts adjacent to the blast area. Rescue trains were dispatched from many communities in the Maritimes and New England, including a major relief effort from Boston. A severe winter storm struck Halifax the next day, causing further delays in locating and assisting wounded and injured Haligonians. Sixteen inches of snow blocked several railway lines, and caused greater distress among the survivors, and knocking out the telegraph lines that in many cases had only just been re-connected after the blast.

For further reading on the explosion, the rescue efforts, and the aftermath, I can recommend Laura M. Mac Donald’s Curse of the Narrows, which recounts a great many individual stories of the people of Halifax and Dartmouth who lived through the disaster.

Update, 6 December: Rick Tessner sent me a link to this video which does a good job of explaining what happened to cause the explosion.

Sixty Symbols
Published on Dec 4, 2017

Sixty Symbols regular Dr Meghan Gray on an infamous event that occurred in her home town – the Halifax Explosion of December 6, 1917.

MORE DETAILS
Maritime Museum of the Atlantic: https://maritimemuseum.novascotia.ca/…
Nova Scotia archives stuff: https://novascotia.ca/news/smr/2009-1…
CBC: http://newsinteractives.cbc.ca/halifa…

While not a typical video for us, Dr Gray is a Sixty Symbols stalwart and really wanted to share the story of this explosion which is an event of great interest to her home town of Halifax — and an event with a pretty significant science component.

April 23, 2015

HMCS Iroquois to pay off on May 1st

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

The Royal Canadian Navy is shrinking again:

Maritime Forces Atlantic is encouraging all serving and retired members who have sailed aboard Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Iroquois to RSVP to the paying off ceremony on May 1st in Halifax, Maritime Forces Atlantic states in a news release.

More from the Maritime Forces Atlantic news release.

Her Majesty’s Canadian Ships are a unique workplace in the Canadian Armed Forces. Crew members develop a connection to their ship as it can become their home for weeks and months at a time. HMCS Iroquois’ achievements over more than four decades symbolise the excellent workmanship and special comradery of her crews and is why we honour the Ship, her crew, and HMCS Iroquois’ valued service to Canadians.

HMCS Iroquois (DDG 280) at Port of Hamburg, near Övelgönne (via Wikipedia)

HMCS Iroquois (DDG 280) at Port of Hamburg, near Övelgönne (via Wikipedia)

March 7, 2015

22 Minutes: Halifax Tourism Ad

Filed under: Cancon, Humour — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 3 Mar 2015

The capital of Nova Scotia attempts to attract tourism by embracing winter’s reality.

June 9, 2013

The new heckler’s veto – the called-in bomb threat

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Sports — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:39

A charity event in Halifax had to be cancelled due to a phoned-in bomb threat:

A bomb threat that forced one of the Canadian Cancer Society’s biggest fundraisers to cancel on Friday night is still being felt by other groups organizing their annual walks and runs this weekend.

Halifax Regional Police said someone called 911 from a payphone at the corner of Spring Garden Road and South Park Street and made threats that alluded to the Boston Marathon bombing.

Nearby, nearly 700 people were gathered at the Oval in the Halifax Common for the Relay for Life.

Police met with the organizers and the fundraiser was called off, ruining a year’s worth of work by dozens of volunteers.

“I would say don’t ever do this again because you are hurting people in their time of need,” said Barbra Stead-Coyle, CEO of the Cancer Society.

“Last night my heart broke for the volunteers who put their whole heart and soul into making last night’s events.”

January 15, 2013

HMCS Athabaskan finally makes port

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:04

As reported more than a week ago, HMCS Athabaskan has been having issues getting back home to Halifax. She had been refitting at Seaway Marine and Industrial Inc. in Welland, Ontario, but the work had been extended longer than planned due to issues discovered while the work was underway. Instead of being back in service by the end of the year, the ship had to be towed back to Halifax with the work incomplete.

On the way, the tow line broke and HMCS Athabaskan drifted for several hours off Scatarie Island. At some point, the ship took additional damage (the darkened areas around the hull number below):

HMCS Athabaskan under tow in Halifax
(Screencap image detail from Halifax Shipping News)

January 4, 2013

HMCS Athabaskan damaged while under tow

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

One of the Royal Canadian Navy’s destroyers was supposed to have finished a refitting back in November, but due to delays in the work had to be towed back to Halifax. On the way, further problems arose:

A navy destroyer moored in Cape Breton has been damaged and was set adrift while under tow after problems arose with repair work carried out at an Ontario dockyard, the military said Thursday.

HMCS Athabaskan drifted for several hours off Scatarie Island on Friday after the tow line broke, said Capt. Doug Kierstead of the Royal Canadian Navy in Halifax.

Kierstead said there is damage to the hull behind the ship’s identifying numbers, though he declined to say what the damage was and how it came about.

“At this point all I can say is that we are aware that there is damage visible,” Kierstead said in an interview.

He said the vessel was supposed to have undergone a routine refit by the end of November last year and was expected to be capable of sailing after that work was completed at Seaway Marine and Industrial Inc. in Welland, Ont.

HMCS Athabaskan 282
Photo from Wikimedia

April 11, 2012

HMCS Windsor scheduled to return to the water today

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:07

One of the Royal Canadian Navy’s four submarines, HMCS Windsor, is supposed to be getting wet again later today:

Good news, of a sort: One of Canada’s four Victoria-class submarines is set to achieve a major milestone Wednesday. It’s going to be in the water. Huzzah!

After years of extensive refit work, HMCS Windsor is set to be lowered — lowered “extremely slowly,” but lowered — into the Atlantic Ocean. Assuming it does not instantly sink, explode or simply dissolve like a giant, oddly shaped sugar cube, the Windsor will then begin a long series of tests at sea. It is hoped that the sub will be fully operational by early 2013. Fingers crossed. Canada should have submarines. They are a useful part of a modern navy’s arsenal, and Canada has an enormous coastline. Although the subs have had an uneven history, to say the very least, they finally seem to be getting to a state where they’ll be useful to us. There had been speculation before last month’s federal budget that they’d be scrapped, but at this late point, that would be wasteful. It’s cost a lot to get these incredibly complicated machines as operational as they are (again, fingers crossed).

[. . .]

Purchased second-hand from the British for the rock-bottom price of $750-million in 1998, they’ve fallen well short of expectations. They only entered Canadian service in 2003, and have proven glitchy and outright dangerous — HMCS Chicoutimi caught fire during its maiden voyage in 2004. Lt. Chris Saunders was killed fighting the blaze, and the sub has been out of service undergoing repairs ever since. It, too, is hoped to be back in service next year. All told, the subs have been at sea, collectively, only 900 days since 2003, and have cost billions of dollars to bring up to spec — money the cash-strapped navy didn’t really have. Costly, under-performing, sucking up needed resources … sound familiar?

October 20, 2011

Timer now started for how quickly Quebec forces Harper to override shipbuilding contract awards

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Military, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:08

The National Post editorial board has lots of nice things to say about the federal government’s attempt to take politics out of the huge shipbuilding contract process:

On Wednesday, the Tory government released its Solomonic decision regarding which shipyards will build $33-billion in new military and non-military vessels over the next two decades. The evaluation of bids for the largest government procurement contract since the Second World War was handled by senior bureaucrats, rather than cabinet ministers. Even the announcement of the winning contractors was made by Francois Guimont, the top civil servant from Public Works and Government Services, rather than his minister or the minister of National Defence, as would have been the case with past contracts of this magnitude.

Of course, that’s not to say there will be no political backlash from the decision. Irving Shipbuilding of Halifax will be given $25-billion to build new joint support ships, Canadian Surface Combatants — a sort of destroyer-frigate hybrid — and offshore patrol vessels capable of sailing off all three of Canada’s coasts — east, west and Arctic. Seaspan Marine of Vancouver will build science vessels for the Coast Guard and for the Fisheries department, plus icebreakers worth a total of $8-billion. That means Davie Shipyard in Levis, Que. was left without a major shipbuilding contract (though Davie is still eligible to bid on a further $2-billion contract to provide smaller government boats, such as Fisheries patrol vessels). It must have been tempting for the Tories to intervene in the contract-award process and toss Quebec a bigger bone. Their recent decision to expand the grasp of the official languages commissioner to several airlines, and their willingness to give new seats to Quebec in the House of Commons (despite the fact Quebec was not underrepresented there), just because Ontario, B.C. and Alberta were getting more, shows the Tories have become very concerned about their appeal to Quebec voters.

You can guarantee that many Quebec politicians will benefit for having yet another stick to beat the federal government with — this would be true in all scenarios except the one where the Quebec shipyard got both contracts. It would be an even better deal for the taxpayers (and perhaps even the Royal Canadian Navy) if the contracts hadn’t been restricted to Canadian shipyards: it wouldn’t fly politically, but it would almost certainly have been better bang for the billions of bucks.

March 29, 2010

Nanny state to prevent the Queen from using stairs

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:40

I find this hard to believe:

A row over a staircase has led to the Queen withdrawing from an appearance at the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo during her forthcoming visit to Canada.

The tattoo would seem to be an ideal event to be graced by Her Majesty. It was a favourite of the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who opened the original one in 1979, and gained its royal title in honour of the Queen’s 80th birthday in 2006.

However, the Canadians reckon that Her Majesty is too old to manage the stairs.

Insulting and idiotic. Nicely played, organizers! You get to look like right twits, you’ve managed to offend the Queen, and you still appear as blithering bureaucratic meddlers to the rest of us.

He added: “If it is a condition [to use the stairs] for her to turn up then we can’t accept it. Do people still get their heads chopped off for defying the Queen?”

If. Only.

H/T to Taylor Empire Airways for the link.

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