Sunday, December 18, 2011



The remains of the ammunition ship SS Richard Montgomery in Thames Estuary -
40 years after she sank

In 1944 a US Liberty ship sank off the Kent coast, where it still lies with cargo equivalent to 2,800 V-1 bombs. Should it be left alone? Or should it be encased in concrete? Experts agree on only one thing: a catastrophic explosion can't be ruled out.

The SS Richard Montgomery - A Ticking Time-Bomb in The Thames

The SS Richard Montgomery was an American Liberty ship, it sailed for only one year and a month after completion yet is still appearing on shipping news, radars and is kept under close scrutiny today. So what makes this cargo ship so special? The Montgomery, though built to serve and provide vital supplied, is now a danger to shipping after breaking its back and sinking in the Thames Estuary while fully laden with munitions and explosives.
American Liberty ships were cargo vessels built during World War II from an adaptation of a British design. They were built to replace vessels which had been torpedoed by the German U-boats. A total of 2,751 of the ships were built between 1941 and 1945 and the SS Richard Montgomery was one of 82 built in one yard and completed in 1943. Named after General Richard Montgomery - an Irish-American soldier who was killed during the Revolutionary War and was famous for leading the invasion of Canada - the SS Montgomery's fate did not lie in the hands of the U-boat commanders that would sink so many of its sister ships.

Sailing from Hog Island, Philadelphia, the SS Richard Montgomery begun its final voyage in August 1944, it was loaded with 6,124 tons of munitions. Aboard the vessel was 13,064 general purpose 250Ib bombs filled with TNT, 9,022 cases of fragmentation bombs, 7,739 semi-armour-piercing bombs, 1,522 cases of fuses, 1,429 cases of phosphorus bombs, 1,427 cases of 100Ib demolition bombs, 817 cases of small arms ammunition and 240 mustard gas bombs. Let's not forget this was during some of the fiercest fighting of the Second World War.

Stocked full of munitions, the SS Richard Montgomery travelled from the Delaware river to the Thames Estuary where it was anchored to await other ships which would form a convoy to Cherbourg. The Allies had taken Cherbourg during the Battle of Normandy a month earlier and supplies were badly needed. Travelling in convoys ensured a safer crossing for ships as U-boats were limited in the number of attacks they could inflict thus travelling in conveys ensured that the majority of ships would survive.

When the Montgomery arrived at Southend the harbour master ordered it to a berth off the northern edge of the Sheerness middle sands where it ran aground in its shallow depth and broke its back on August 20th 1944. Three days later the operation to remove the cargo began but by the next day the hull had cracked open and several cargo holds flooded at the bow end. Desperate to remove the munitions, the salvage operation continued into September when the ship was finally abandoned, breaking into two parts.

With its masts still visible at low tides, the wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery is still a danger to shipping and sits in a perilous position in a very busy shipping lane.
One major problem is that the ship sank while still laden with volatile explosives.
Accordingly the site remains a prohibited area and no vehicles can move over the site, there is an exclusion zone around it and the ship is monitored visually and by radar by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

Still aboard the SS Richard Montgomery, 3,173 tons of munition remain with 1,400 tons of TNT. These have been left aboard to avoid a situation that took place following an attempt to remove the contents from a ship in the English Channel in 1946. Preliminary work to neutralize the explosive ordinance aboard the wreck of the Keilce in 1967 caused an explosion with force equivalent to an earthquake measuring 4.5 on the Richter Scale and dug a 20-foot deep crater in the seabed. In 1970 it was determined that if the wreck of the Montgomery were to explode it would throw a 1000-foot wide column of water and debris 10,000 feet in the air and generate a wave 16 feet high.

Not only could the explosion bring chaos and destruction to the nearby Sheerness, it could destroy the shipping port and, it has been suggested, cause a Tsunami along the River Thames. Which happens to run through the city of London. While the last ultrasound showed that there were no grounds for increased cause for alarm, a new survey of the munitions on board has been called for and a report in 2001 from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency concluded that "doing nothing was not an option for much longer."

With that conclusion now 7 years old and concerns growing over this time-bomb, the question now is when and why will the SS Richard Montgomery start ticking? Patrick is an expert travel researcher and writer currently researching Bristol Airport Parking and Bristol Silver Parking

Article Source : - Tuesday, 08 September 2009

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