Fort Stikine

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Introduction

Fort Stikine was a cargo ship that first came to my attention when I was constructing the Benjidog Tower Hill website. I noticed that the WW2 memorial to those with "No grave but the sea" contained several panels for ships that had met their fate due to the explosion of Fort Stikine. Recently I came across information that I had not seen before whilst working on re-publication of material from the MerchantNavyOfficers.com website that closed down a couple of years ago on the death of its owner and this inspired me to create this page.

The 'Fort' ships were a class of 198 cargo ships built in Canada during WW2 for use by the United Kingdom under the Lend-Lease scheme. They all had names prefixed with 'Fort' when built. The ships were in service between 1942 and 1985 with two still listed on shipping registers in 1992. They were built at eighteen different Canadian shipyards and there were three variations of the basic design. The North Sands type were of riveted construction and the Canadian and Victory types were of welded construction. I presume that Fort Stikine belonged to one of the latter two subclasses but have been unable to discover which. The vessel was named after a historic fort and fur trade post whose site is now occupied by Wrangell in Alaska. The Stikine river had been a route to the Klondike during the 'Gold Rush'.

The destruction and death caused by the explosion on Fort Stikine resulted mainly from bad practice in the mix and stowage of cargo. It is easy to say this in hindsight, but too many corners were cut in desperation during the war and blame should not be attributed to the Captain and crew who, when they raised objections, were told in no uncertain terms to "Shut up and get on with it" with the addition of the commonly used phrase "Don't you know there is a war on?"

To me the most inspiring aspect of this story is the courage of the crew and the local fire brigade in trying to bring under control the fire that led to the eventual destruction of several ships and a large area of the harbour. In colloquial terms, put in their shoes, "you wouldn't have seen my arse for dust" when the fire started knowing what the cargo consisted of. Many of these brave men died. As a mark of respect I have included below the names of the members of the Fire Service that lost their lives as well as merchant seamen.

Fort Stikine
Fort Stikine [9]

Basic Data

Item Value
Type Cargo Ship
Registered owners,managers and operators Ministry of War Transport, on bareboat charter from W.S.A. Port Line (Managers)
Builders Prince Rupert Drydock and shipyard
Yard Prince Rupert, British Colombia
Country Canada
Yard number 43
Registry N/K
Official number 168351
Call sign N/K
Classification society N/K
Gross tonnage 7,142
Net tonnage 4,261
Deadweight N/K
Length 424.2 Ft.
Overall Length 441.5 Ft.
Breadth 57.2 Ft.
Depth 35.0 Ft.
Draught N/K
Engine Type Triple-expansion Steam Engine
Engine Details Triple expansion steam engines with cylinders of bore 24 1/2", 37", 70" and stroke 48"
Engine builders Dominion Engineering Works Ltd.
Works Montreal
Country Canada
Power: N/K 505 MN
Boiler 3 single-ended boilers operating at 220psi
Propulsion Single screw
Speed 11 Knots
Cargo capacity N/K
Crew N/K

Additional Construction Information

The 1944 Lloyds Register entry for Fort Stikine contains the following additional information:

  • 2 decks with cruiser stern
  • Butts of shell and deck plating electric welded
  • Fitted with electronic direction finding and echo-sounding equipment

Career Highlights

Date Event
31 July 1942 Completed
14 April 1944 Destroyed in an explosion

Service in WW2

Fort Stikine took part in 41 convoys and many independent voyages during WW2 according to information shown in the table below which is provided courtesy of Convoyweb - see External. Ref. #4.

Departure Convoy/Independent Arrival
Independent New Westminster, Sep 4, 1942
New Westminster, Sep 7, 1942 Independent Vancouver, Sep 8, 1942
Independent Comox, Sep 10, 1942
Vancouver, Sep 10, 1942 Independent
Comox, Sep 12, 1942 Independent Victoria Bc, Sep 13, 1942
Victoria Bc, Sep 13, 1942 Independent Los Angeles, Sep 23, 1942
Los Angeles, Sep 28, 1942 Independent Balboa, Oct 10, 1942
Cristobal, Oct 17, 1942 ZG.8 (Cristobal - Guantanamo) Guantanamo, Oct 21, 1942
Guantanamo, Oct 23, 1942 GN.14 (Guantanamo - NYC) New York, Oct 30, 1942
New York, Nov 3, 1942 HX.214 (NYC - Liverpool) Liverpool, Nov 18, 1942
Liverpool, Dec 14, 1942 Independent Clyde, Dec 16, 1942
Clyde, Dec 24, 1942 KMS.6G (Clyde - Bone) Oran, Jan 7, 1943
Oran, Jan 21, 1943 MKS.6 (Philipeville - Liverpool) Clyde, Jan 31, 1943
Clyde, Feb 26, 1943 KMS.10G (Clyde - Bone) Oran, Mar 9, 1943
Oran, Mar 31, 1943 ET.16 (Bone - Gibraltar) Gibraltar, Apr 1, 1943
Gibraltar, Apr 14, 1943 RS.4 (Gibraltar - Freetown) Freetown, Apr 25, 1943
Freetown, May 11, 1943 SL.129 (Freetown - r/v WITH MKS 13)
SL.129MK (r/v SL 129/MKS 13 - Liverpool) Loch Ewe, Jun 1, 1943
WN.436 (Loch Ewe - Methil) Methil, Jun 4, 1943
Methil, Jun 4, 1943 FS.1133 (Methil - Southend) Middlesbrough, Jun 5, 1943
Middlesbrough, Jun 20, 1943 FN.1051 (Southend - Methil) Methil, Jun 21, 1943
Methil, Jun 22, 1943 EN.246 (Methil - Loch Ewe) Loch Ewe, Jun 24, 1943
ON.190 (Liverpool - NYC) Baltimore, Jul 10, 1943
Baltimore, Aug 3, 1943 Independent Hampton Roads, Aug 4, 1943
Hampton Roads, Aug 7, 1943 UGS.14 (Hampton Rds - Port Said) Alexandria, Sep 2, 1943
Alexandria, Sep 22, 1943 Independent Port Said, Sep 23, 1943
Suez, Sep 24, 1943 Independent Aden, Sep 30, 1943
Aden, Oct 10, 1943 AKD.3 (Aden - Durban) Beira, Oct 26, 1943
Beira, Nov 11, 1943 DKA.6 (Durban - Aden) Dar-es-salaam, Nov 17, 1943
Dar-es-salaam, Nov 20, 1943 Independent Mombasa, Nov 21, 1943
Mombasa, Nov 28, 1943 Independent
Aden, Dec 9, 1943 Independent Suez, Dec 15, 1943
Port Said, Dec 16, 1943 GUS.25 (Port Said - Hampton Rds) Gibraltar, Dec 28, 1943
Gibraltar, Jan 11, 1944 MKS.36G (Gibraltar - r/v WITH SL 145)
SL.145MK (r/v SL 145/MKS 36 - Liverpool) Liverpool, Jan 24, 1944
Liverpool, Feb 23, 1944 OS.69KM (Liverpool - Convoy Split)
KMS.43G (ex OS 69/KMS 43 - Gibraltar) Gibraltar, Mar 6, 1944
Gibraltar, Mar 6, 1944 KMS.43 (Gibraltar - Port Said) Port Said, Mar 16, 1944
Suez, Mar 17, 1944 Independent Aden, Mar 23, 1944
Aden, Mar 23, 1944 Independent Karachi, Mar 30, 1944
Karachi, Apr 9, 1944 PB.74 (Bandar Abbas - Bombay) Bombay, Apr 12, 1944

Loss

Fort Stikine was destroyed in at least two terrible explosions. There follows a newsreel video and a number of accounts of what happened from different sources.

Note: I have not checked these accounts for accuracy and republish them with only minor changes to standardise the presentation style.

Newsreel

The link below should enable you to see a short contemporary newsreel from Universal Pictures in the USA. Click on the little square box to the right of the controls to enlarge the view.

Account by Fred Waddington

This account was first published on the MerchantNavyOfficers.com website which is now defunct. As far as I can ascertain, it was written by the site owner Fred Waddington.

Background to the Explosion
Captain Brinley Thomas Oberst, a British Army Officer attached to the Indian Army Ordinance Corps., had returned home to his apartment at Colaba for lunch. As he was finishing his lunch the telephone rang informing him that there was a fire aboard a ship berthed in the Victoria Dock. Captain Oberst enquired as to the name of the vessel, the reply 'I don't know' did nothing to calm his nerves for lying in that dock were four ships loaded with explosives not least Fort Stikine whose cargo contained a great deal. It was just after 1400 hours when the Captain made his way down to the docks where his men were onboard Fort Stikine supervising the discharge of her highly dangerous cargo. On arriving at the docks Captain Oberst had his worst fears confirmed when he was informed that it was Fort Stikine that was on fire. Fort Stikine was lying at Number One berth and was one of fourteen ships being worked that day, next door in Prince's Dock were a further ten ships including one in dry dock. Both the docks were situated behind lock gates and a further two ships were tied up alongside the wall.
Dock plan
Plan of the docks showing the position of ships before the explosion [1]
On boarding the ship, Captain Oberst observed very little evidence of a fire; in fact there were just a few men stood around Number Two hatch playing a couple of hoses down into the hold - the hold was situated directly forward of the Bridge. Captain Oberst then encountered Mr Harris the ship's Second Officer who was helping the firemen drag the hoses across the deck. After Oberst introduced himself, both Officers made for Harris's cabin where the stowage plans were laid out. After a brief discussion which revolved around the positioning of the explosives in relationship to the seat of the fire, Oberst declared that unless the fire was quickly extinguished the whole of the dock was under threat.

Fort Stikine had been completed in the July of 1942 by the Prince Rupert Drydock & Shipyard at Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada. She weighed 7,142 tons gross and had been handed over to the United States Shipping Admin/Maritime Commission who in turn bareboat chartered her to the British Government. His Majesty's Government then appointed Port Line as managers. She was classed at Lloyds Register as + 100A1 which had long been accepted as an all round standard of excellence. Captain Naismith was in command; it was his first position as Captain and he had been with her since arriving on that fateful day in Bombay. Under his command she had made four complete round trips and had been loaded for her fifth trip, this time to Karachi and Bombay with the following cargo:

Deep in the holds were 1,395 tons of explosives including shells, torpedoes, mine signal rockets, magnesium flares and incendiary bombs, and these were for discharge at Bombay.
Above these lay twelve crated Spitfires and more explosives for discharge at Karachi and finally gliders were stacked on the upper decks.
More specifically in the tween decks of Number Two hold 238 tons of highly sensitive Category A explosives had been stacked on three sides, on the fourth side a steel container measured 5ft x 4ft x 4ft had been lashed. Within the container were thirty-one wooden crates, each crate contained four gold ingots measuring 15" x 3" x 1.5", each bar weighed two stone and was a part instalment to a bank in Bombay which was to be used to cancel out the adverse effect that the British War economy was having on the exchange rates in India. The estimated value of the gold varied from a low of £1,000,000 to a high of £2,000,000 depending on source of information. Either way it was a considerable amount in 1944. Mr. Harris the Second Officer had signed for the bullion in Birkenhead and as an extra precaution had arranged for the locked container lid to be welded closed, the lads having already disposed of this cargo in their minds on the voyage out to India.

Fort Stikine sailed from Birkenhead on the 24th of February and soon formed up into a twenty ship convoy. On her voyage north the convoy was joined by further vessels which had sailed from Belfast and Glasgow. Finally the convoy had grown to fifty ships excluding her escorts, this included two Merchant Aircraft Carriers, formerly tankers, Shell's Amastra seen below was a typical example of what were affectionately referred to as 'Woolworths'.
Amastra
Amastra [1]
Liverpool to Karachi

Note: According to Convoyweb (Arnold Hague's convoy database), Fort Stikine had sailed on 23 February 1944 from Liverpool in convoy OS 69KM then OS 69 arriving Gibraltar on 6 March 1944. She then joined convoy KMS 43 from Gibraltar, arriving at Port Said on 16 March 1944. From there she sailed independently through the Suez Canal to Aden (arriving 23 March 1944) and Karachi (arriving 30 March 1944). She joined convoy PB 74 which departed Karachi 9 April 1944 and arrived at Bombay 12 April 1944.

The first leg of the voyage to Gibraltar wasn't without incident. During adverse weather conditions, two airmen were killed attempting to land their Swordfish on the deck of a 'Woolworth'. A lesser incident occurred on Fort Stikine when a stowaway gave himself up. Captain Naismith couldn't land the miscreant and so he was sent to work down below under the charge of the Chief Engineer, Alexander Gow. Gow reflected at the time that young John O'Hare from Liverpool could have chosen a safer ship to stow away on loaded as she was to the gunnels with high explosives.

On arriving at the Straits of Gibraltar the convoy split into two, Fort Stikine's half headed into the Mediterranean, the remainder set course for West Africa. Fort Stikine was joined a few hours later by further vessels which had sailed from the States for the voyage out to India and Pakistan, again Fort Stikine was allocated an outside lane for obvious reasons. The convoy proceeded along the North African Coast and most of the ships hoisted a barrage balloon including Fort Stikine as a defence against air attack, this action must have slowed progress quite considerably. When off Algiers the convoy was attacked by four Focke-Wulf Condors, fortunately passing over Fort Stikine's line and opening fire on the second. For the next half hour of daylight and well into dusk the Germans maintained their attacks on the convoy and it was presumed by all in the convoy that it was shortage of fuel that forced the planes to return to their base when the attack was broken off.

The convoy proceeded into the Mediterranean without further mishap and again divided South of Sicily into two groups, the larger group turning north towards Italy, with Fort Stikine and eleven others maintaining their course for Port Said. After entering the Canal, Fort Stikine anchored at Port Taufiq to take on bunkers and fortunately her stowaway John O'Hare was handed over to the Authorities. Having completed her bunkers, Fort Stikine then sailed through the Canal, Red Sea and after calling at Aden for stores, made her way to her first port of call, Karachi.
Karachi to Bombay
Fort Stikine arrived in Karachi at 1500 hours on the 30th of March. After discharging the crated gliders and Spitfires, the ship's Officers then began the task of filling the vacated space with 8,700 bales of raw cotton, drums of lube oil, timber, scrap iron, sulphur, fish manure, rice and resin. To say that they were more than a little alarmed at what they were expected to carry would be putting it mildly. So much so that Captain Naismith complained to the Shippers, their response was in effect 'Didn't he know that there was a War on?' The last straw was on the 7th of April when 750 drums of turpentine turned up with the Shippers proposing that the highly inflammable concoctions be placed on top of the ship's coal bunkers, Captain Naismith turned them down flat. All the Deck Officers voiced their concerns over the stowage of cotton with lube oil in the same hold as explosives but couldn't find any reference books on the ship or ashore and so it was with a great deal of misgivings that the cargo was loaded.

In fact two years earlier a book had been published by the United States Government printing office written by Joseph Leming and it said the following:

On the carriage of cotton:

In storing cotton two factors require consideration: stowing so as to get the largest possible number of bales in the ship, but guarding against the danger of fire either from loading or during the voyage.

Adequate dunnage and mats should be used and all iron plates in the hold of the vessel should be well covered with burlap or mats.

Every vessel carrying cotton should be equipped with either steam or chemical fire extinguishers and they should be thoroughly inspected and overhauled before commencing to receive the cargo.

While loading or discharging cotton, the fire hoses should be ready for immediate use and water barrels and buckets should be at hand near the hatches. 'No Smoking' notices should be posted and the ship's Officers should rigidly enforce this order. All galley funnels should be covered with gauze or other suitable material to prevent sparks reaching the cargo.

Cotton bales which are, or have been, in contact with oil or grease are very liable to spontaneous combustion. For this reason cotton should never be loaded in holds which have recently been painted unless it is certain the paint has thoroughly dried or hardened. For this same reason cotton bales should not be stowed close to any oily or greasy goods.

Wet cotton bales are not liable to spontaneous combustion although this was for many years believed to be the case. Such bales will, however, deteriorate if stowed in a confined space and it is recommended that all wet or damp bales, as well as those with torn wrappers and missing bands, be refused.

During the voyage it is advisable to have all the ventilators covered with wire gauze to prevent carelessly thrown matches from entering the cargo holds and possibly starting a serious fire.

A further publication from the U.S. stated the necessity for keeping lubricating oil and raw cotton well separated if stowed in the same hold. It then added when carrying cotton and explosives they should never be carried in the same hold and should be stowed at opposite ends of the ship. Also for all Officers of Fort Stikine this information was not available, British Ministry of War Transport pamphlets which were accessible and dealt with explosives made no mention of cotton whatsoever. Prior to sailing, the Chief Officer Mr. Harris gathered his deck crew together and tested all the ship's fire fighting equipment and Captain Naismith declared he was to hold an extra fire drill once the ship had left Karachi. With five civilian watchmen, a crew member on the gangway and two Dems Gunners patrolling the deck, an Officer on watch and two Pakistan policemen on or near the ship it's fair to say that sabotage was not a factor in events which were to follow. The cotton was stowed in the lower hold, wood and then scrap iron were placed on top and then the lower hatch covers were put into place. Before the lube oil could be stowed it was discovered that one of the drums was definitely leaking with others suspect, so Harris laid tarpaulin and nailed it down himself over the lower hold covers. The American regulations stipulated that no more than 250 barrels of oil should be carried in the same hold as raw cotton and then separated by the length of the hold, Fort Stikine loaded a thousand barrels and it was stacked immediately above the cotton.

Considering that three holds - Numbers Two, Three and Four - contained mixtures of explosives and ammunition it was hardly surprising that Captain Naismith declared to Harris and Henderson "We are carrying just about everything that will either burn or blow up". "The least we can do is to have extra fire drills". Harris duly organised the drills and was pleased the way the men carried them out, each one no doubt mindful of what lay beneath his feet. Fort Stikine sailed from Karachi on the 9th of April and joined a convoy of tankers for the voyage to Bombay.

Fort Stikine arrived at Bombay in the early hours of the 12th of April and anchored in the Roads which lay between Bombay Island and the mainland. The pilot arrived a few minutes before 1000 hours; the ship then made her way towards Victoria Dock and arrived alongside at midday. No-one within the dock area was aware of her dangerous cargo because the flying of the 'Red Flag' had been discontinued for the duration as the ships flying the flag were quite well aware of being 'The Target Ship' in the event of an air raid. Under normal conditions ships carrying explosives were not allowed alongside and were discharged into lighters. Because of the war this prohibition had been lifted.

Explosives fall into three categories, A,B and C. The least dangerous 'C' could be loaded into warehouses and await transport, 'B' had to be loaded into waiting wagons for immediate carriage, and the highly sensitive 'A' could only be off-loaded into lighters moored alongside the ship and never on the quay. Fort Stikine was immediately granted 'A' certificate of grave urgency by Major R.C.R. Hawkes on behalf of the Embarkation Commandant and work commenced a short while later when all five hold hatches covers were lifted. No lighters arrived to unload the category 'A' explosives until the following afternoon despite the grave urgency certificate issued by Major Hawkes.
Discharging the Cargo
Work commenced on discharging other cargo including the drummed lube oil onto the jetty. The Foreman Stevedore Shapoorjee Desai noticed that after discharging the drums from both Number One and Two holds, quite a few of the drums were leaking and that the tarpaulins nailed down by Harris has a slick of oil covering them. It was at this juncture that an extra gang were employed to work Number One hold to facilitate the rapid discharge of the fish manure which by now was causing distress to all onboard. The gang worked all night and it was this action which created much discussion at the later commission of enquiry. Could for instance one of the labour force have climbed the ladder out of Number One hold into the forward Mast house, gone through the bulkhead door should it have been unlocked and descended into Number Two hold for a cigarette unseen? Sadly for all concerned conjecture and not a solution. The Second Officer, Harris was convinced the interconnecting door was locked, Edward, the Third Officer however said that the key had been given to the Foreman Stevedore to ease access to Number One hold and that the door had been open for most of the night. On the morning of the thirteenth, Sergeant McPhee of the Ordinance Corps, one of Captain Oberst's men discussed with Desai the Foreman Stevedore exactly where the separate categories of explosives were to be landed. The lighters for the category 'A' explosives arrived at midday. At the same time an officer from the M.O.W.T. met with Alex Gow, the Chief Engineer to discuss the necessary maintenance required in the Engine Room the most difficult of which was the intermediate slide valve on the main engine; the official sanctioned the repair work. Gow along with his engineers and shore side fitters commenced work immediately thus rendering the ship immovable except by tug.
Outbreak of Fire
At midday the stevedores broke for lunch and as it turned out so did the civilian watchmen, a matter unknown to Captain Naismith, his Officers or the two Dems Gunners who were patrolling the ship both forward and aft. At half past twelve smoke was seen to be emitting from the ventilators of Number Two hold by the Chief Officer of Fort Crevier which lay across the dock at Number Eleven berth. Two other men on Fort Crevier spotted the same smoke a short while later and a Dems Gunner on S.S. Iran also reported seeing it. Sub-Inspector Critchell of the Bombay Police in the dockside tower remembered seeing it at half past one but, as like many other witnesses, dismissed the idea that anything was seriously wrong on the premise that if it was those onboard would have had the situation in hand. It wasn't until another fifteen minutes had passed that the smoke was spotted by Mohamed Taqi a foreman whose gang had recommenced work in Number Two hold. As the smoke thickened the stevedores began to scramble out of the hold shouting warnings to those above of the imminent danger. At the same time members of Fort Stikine's crew spotted the smoke and raised the alarm.

On hearing the shouts of 'Fire' Alex Gow quickly entered the Engine Room and started the fire pump, Harris the Second Mate with the aid of the Deck Crew ran out a hose to Number Two hatchway and they were soon joined by other Crew Members with more hoses; and water was directed into the hold. A standard precaution in the docks was to have an emergency trailer pump with a full crew standing by when a ship was being discharged. Alerted that something was terribly wrong by the stampede to get off Fort Stikine, the Section Leader gave the order to get onboard with their hoses and remembering that the ship contained explosives ordered his Sub Leader to contact the Fire Brigade Control Room and give them a 'Number Two' message.

Unfortunately the Sub-Officer was unable to get through to the Control Room on the telephone and broke the glass on the fire alarm out of sheer desperation, all this effectively did was to alert the Fire Brigade to the existence of a fire, not that it involved explosives! Consequently only two engines were dispatched. Meanwhile onboard with five hoses playing into the hold those involved began to feel mildly optimistic. In an attempt to discover the seat of the fire Henderson the Mate accompanied by one of the Firemen descended into the hold to ascertain just exactly where it was. Due to the density of the smoke both men climbed back out of the hold and the five hoses continued to pour in water blindly. Within eight minutes the two engines arrived at Number One berth and six more hoses were added to the five already in situ On learning that explosives were onboard, the Officer in charge, Mobarak Singh notified the Control Room that it was a 'Number Two' situation and more help was required. Five minutes later Major Oberst arrived and as we know made the declaration that unless the fire was extinguished rapidly the whole of the dock area was under threat.

Within minutes a meeting was held on deck between Oberst, Naismith, Henderson, Harris, Gow and Commander J.H. Longmire of the Royal Indian Navy who was the Chief Salvage Officer in Bombay, and had arrived onboard to offer assistance. Oberst declared that Fort Stikine had the equivalent explosive power onboard equal to 150 Blockbusters and the only option open to the Captain was to scuttle his ship. However the depth of the water in which Fort Stikine was lying ruled out winching her over and the bilge lines were all fixed with non-return valves which negated flooding the hold. Gow stated that the Engine and Boiler Rooms could be flooded but he doubted whether this would be sufficient to sink her. As previously stated the depth of water in the dock also ruled out this possibility. Oberst had no power onboard Fort Stikine and could only advise, his powers came into force once the explosives had been landed, and he again reiterated his fears to the ship's Captain.

Meanwhile on receiving the 'Number Two' message the Fire Brigade Control Room dispatched a further eight engines, the switchboard also informed the Chief of Bombay Fire Brigade, Mr. Norman Coombs and both arrived at the scene within minutes of each other. By this time 32 hoses were playing into the hold and Coombs tried to assess where the seat of the fire was from the deck. Finding the task impossible he called for volunteers to go down into the hold, Mobarak Singh and Arthur Reynolds, a Fire Officer with the Bombay Port Trust, answered his call. Donning smoke helmets both men descended into the hold but were forced back, not by the smoke, but by the intense heat now being generated in the Tween Deck. Aware that detonators lay in Number One hold adjacent to the bulkhead with Number Two, Harris with Crew members that could be spared along with Ordinance men attempted to move them forward out of danger. By 14:45 hours the bulkhead dividing these two holds had become increasingly hot and the men in Number One could hear ammunition exploding in Number Two. On deck further discussion was taking place as to the viability of introducing steam into the hold and battening down the hatches. Gow's opinion was that it was impossible to close down the lower hatch because of the heat and that by battening the upper hatch only made the space to be smothered too great. Coombs ordered five more engines and also asked for Colonel J.R. Sadler the dock's General Manager to come down to the ship. At this juncture Coombs was unaware that Oberst the explosives expert was onboard. Some discussion took place as to Captain Naismith's inability to reach a decision as to the scuttling of his ship; none were aware that the depth of water beneath her keel would have allowed this anyway.

Colonel Sadler arrived onboard at 1450 Hrs and after surveying the hold informed the Captain that Fort Stikine should be floated out of the harbour. Yet another piece of inadequate advice for Captain Naismith to consider; he knew that his ships engine was disabled due to the repair work and the only way Fort Stikine could vacate the dock was with the assistance of tugs. An argument then ensued between Sadler and Coombs as to the merits of the formers solution, Sadler's parting shot was that she would most probably blow up long before she could be towed to deep water. Coombs however remained optimistic that his crew's efforts would prevail, after all they had saved sixty ships in the past at an average of one a month and fifteen of those had been carrying explosives.

Two water boats arrived on the scene shortly after 1500Hrs, the Doris was able to play three hoses, the Panwell a further six. None of the high profile men now onboard Fort Stikine felt that he could take overall command of the increasingly dangerous situation, of the two men authorised to do so ashore neither could be contacted, namely The Commodore, Royal Indian Navy, Bombay and the Naval Officer in Charge, Bombay. Therefore onboard the ship was three conflicting points of view as to how best to cope with the problem and who if any had the authority to make a decision. Captain Naismith wanted to save his ship, Sadler his docks and Coombs wanted Fort Stikine to stay where she was so his crew could concentrate on extinguishing the fire. Oberst however doubted that none of the men could comprehend what was about to happen when Fort Stikine blew up as she was sure to do in his opinion.

At just after 1500Hrs Coombs was passed the information that a hot spot had appeared on the port side just above deck level. He at last had his seat of the fire. His first decision was to cut a hole in the three eighths thick steel which constituted the ships hull using an oxy-acetylene set which would enable his crews to direct their hoses right at the heart of the fire. However due to the inadequacy of the first set on the docks and a delay in receiving a set sent for from the authorities his solution was not to be. Conditions onboard deteriorated rapidly, on the upper deck the plates had become so hot that Coombs ordered water to be played on them, his firemen were now standing in water that was beginning to boil! There was that much water in the hold some nine hundred tons, that the bales of cotton were by now floating around inside creating further havoc.

Palmer having given up on the defective oxy-acetylene ashore went back onboard Fort Stikine and took charge of the firemen on the port side, Coombs remained with his men on the starboard side. The floating bales by now had ignited the dunnage which had been used to pack round the cases of ammunition. At 1515Hrs the explosives caught fire and thick black smoke poured up through the hatches engulfing the firemen still playing their hoses. This was quickly followed by flames leaping above the hatch coaming, at the same time burning pieces of cotton spewed skywards drifting away from Fort Stikine threatening other ships tied up in the docks. Palmer and Coombs rallied their men once more and to a man they all returned to the hatch carrying their hoses. The following five minutes saw the flames rise and fall until at 1550Hrs a giant flame shot out of the hold, even passing the height of the ships mast. Coombs screamed the order for his men to "Get Clear". Palmer and his men jumped onto the jetty many sustaining broken limbs, Coombs and his party jumped into the water. Palmer with those able bodied started to tackle the fires breaking out at number one shed, Coombs tackled the blaze at number fourteen with those men which had successfully crossed the dock.
Explosions
At the same time that Coombs gave the order for his men to stand down, Captain Naismith issued the order to abandon ship. His men who had remained onboard throughout scrambled down the gangway followed by their Captain and Chief Officer. Naismith, not sure everyone was accounted for, returned onboard for one last look round to make sure. Having assured himself that all were ashore, he retraced his steps down the gangway and started to walk aft to join up with Henderson and Stevens. As he approached them at the vessel's stern Fort Stikine exploded throwing Stevens, many yards along the quay, Stevens came round totally naked and alone, of Naismith and Henderson no trace was ever found.
Explosion
Bombay docks after the first explosion [1]
The clock in the dockyard tower was stopped when the first explosion occurred, 1606Hrs and remained so for many months. Oberst was flung up in the air by the blast and landed on a pile of dunnage, as he surveyed the scene around him in the gloom he observed bodies lying all around, most with their skin burnt off. Of the firemen in the immediate vicinity forty were killed outright. Fort Stikine was blown in two and her boiler, still intact, was found a half mile away from number one berth. A huge tidal wave swept across the dock and ripped ships from their moorings, one ship finished astride a warehouse and Jalapadma finished up alongside what was left of Fort Stikine. At 1633Hrs as Coombs stared across the dock surveying the scene of destruction, the second explosion occurred throwing debris 2,000ft into the air. Jalapadma's poop deck along with her twelve pounder gun was blown clear over the warehouse to land some 200 yards distant. British India's Baroda which had been set on fire by the first explosion when parts of number four shed fell onboard was blown across the end of the adjacent berth when the second explosion occurred.
Baroda
Baroda [2]
This secondary explosion wrecked Baroda, the remaining crew onboard had abandoned ship when she caught fire leaving Chief Officer James, Chief Engineer Stewart, his Fourth Engineer and the Purser to fight the fire on their own. The second explosion had rendered the Chief Engineer unconscious and he fell beneath a stokehold ventilator. The three remaining Officers attempted to lower him into the water but because of obstructions and their own weakness were forced to abandon not only Mr Stewart but Baroda herself. A rescue party arrived on the scene and with the assistance of the Fourth Engineer made an attempt to re-board Baroda and rescue her Chief Engineer, sadly for Mr Stewart the heat and intensity of the flames drove them back and the attempt had to be abandoned. As well as Chief Engineer Stewart, Captain S.A. Kiely of Shirala also perished in the explosion.

Witness Account by Derek Ings

The account which follows is Mr Derek P. Ings personnel memories of that fateful day. Derek had joined H.M.T. Chantilly as Assistant Purser in October of 1943. His account first appeared in the B.I. News No 61 in October of 1969.

Chantilly had arrived in Bombay on the 3rd of March, had discharged her American Troops and in the days preceeding the explosion her crew had been informed that the ship was to be converted for use as Hospital Ship, No. 63.
Chantilly
Chantilly [3]
Chantilly had been requisitioned in 1941 and managed by B.I.S.N., then to Gray, Dawes & Co but still retained her B.I. Officers. She served in the Liner Division, first as a Personnel Ship before being converted for use as a Hospital Ship in Bombay. She was returned to her French owners at Wars end and was finally scrapped in Marseilles in 1952.
Derek Ings
Derek Ings [3]
After twenty five years the memory loses its edge but I recall that for me Friday, 14th April 1944, started out much as any other day at that time. I was Assistant Purser of Chantilly and at that time she was undergoing conversion from a troopship to become a hospital ship.

I remember going ashore during the afternoon for a haircut. On the return to the ship at about 4.15 p.m. I was walking along a road just inside Alexandra Dock from Green Gate when I became conscious that smoke and flames were shooting high into the sky in the distance immediately in front of me. Before I could fully realise what was happening the ground around was shaken by a tremendous explosion which made me step back a pace or two and raise my hands as though to protect myself.

My next recollection is of the surrounding confusion as the people in the dock area took to their heels in no uncertain manner. I made my way to Chantilly which was lying on the outer wall of Alexandra Dock. I expected that a nearby tanker had exploded but as I neared the berth I could see that the explosion had taken place further away than I had thought, and in fact it was in Victoria Dock.

All the while there were minor explosions but at approximately 4.45 p.m. there was another explosion as violent, if not more so, than the first. By this time I was back onboard and the whole ship shook as though hit by a torpedo. A number of windows, window frames and door locks were shattered and shrapnel from the explosion, about three quarters of a mile away, fell on and around the ship.

I had to return ashore shortly afterwards and, passing through the dock area, found abandoned vehicles and dhows at many points, some of the dhows in the stream with their cargoes of cotton ablaze.

My journey took me through Green Gate and along Ballard Road to St. George's Hospital where I intended visiting a shipmate. It was now an hour after the first explosion and all the shops, stalls and eating places had closed. Many of the windows of offices and shops had been blown out and glass and roof tiles were strewn everywhere. There were some people in the streets, mostly office or shop workers, but there was no sign of the sweeper class.

I reached the hospital at about 5.30 p.m. passing a dead gharry horse lying at the entrance. My friend had been put out of his bed to make room for the injured that were arriving by ambulance in a very dirty and bedraggled condition. Mattresses were being put down all over the ground floor to treat the casualties.

On my way back to the ship I could see the R.I.N. sailors being sent by lorry to fight the fire at Victoria Dock, the pall of smoke from which hung like a cloud over the whole of the city.

The police had now closed the Red Gate and I had to walk round to Green Gate to get back into the docks. On the way round, and only a few yards from Mackinnons' office, I came upon a piece of twisted steel plate about twelve inches by six inches which had been blown over a mile by the explosion to land harmlessly in the road.

There was now more movement in the docks and the Indian Army was busy pulling dhows away to clear the locks. I was able to cross to the other side by jumping from one dhow to another as they were moving.

As I neared the ship I saw some of the crew leaving hurriedly and found that another explosion ( of 1200 cylinders of H.P. gas ) was expected at any time and we were warned to keep off the decks.

The earlier explosions had flung incendiary bombs over a wide area and small fires were burning everywhere. There were now thirty burning dhows in the stream and, as they sank, their cargoes of cotton still smoldered on the surface. The ships on the harbour wall, including ourselves and Mantola, put down boats to rescue the dhow crews.

Darkness fell and the night sky reflected the blazing parts of the city. I watched from the monkey island and could hear the hiss of the cylinders as they ignited one by one.

I turned in at 11.00 p.m. to the sound of the occasional explosion of gas cylinders and with a burning dhow outside my port.

Next morning the fire was reported to be under control but the smoke still poured skywards. The only explosions to be heard were those caused by the demolition parties. During the morning I walked towards the scene of the explosion and, whilst still in Alexandra Dock, saw several large steel plates, all twisted and torn, too heavy for one person to lift.

By this time Alexandra Dock had been almost cleared of ships, only two were left and we were on four hour' notice. The Ismailia had been loading explosives just across from where we were lying and there had been a tanker lying ahead of us flying the danger flag.

The fire continued to burn for all of that day and for the following night; by this time dead bodies were to be seen floating in the water off the ship.

It was not until sometime afterwards that I was able to learn the full story leading to the catastrophe. At that period of war-time restrictions, the newspapers were unable to print the facts, but I see from "The Evening News of India" dated 15th of April that the explosion took a relative minor place compared with the news of the rout of the Germans in the Crimea.

The culprit was the Fort Stikine, where fire had broken out at 1.30 p.m. on the 14th of April; the ship having been loaded with cotton and other combustibles on top of explosives in the lower holds. The cotton had self-combusted and although the Bombay fire brigade had tried to put out the blaze their efforts were without avail and it was too late to take the ship out into the harbour before the first explosion took place.

In all 27 ships were destroyed in Victoria and Princess Docks, including the Baroda whose Chief Engineer Officer, Mr James Stewart, was lost with the ship, Captain S.A.Kiely who was in command of Shirala at the time also died in the explosion.
Chantilly
Chantilly as Hospital Ship No. 63 [3]
A further 25 firemen had been killed in the second explosion with 83 injured leaving the fire brigade all but decimated. Many people were killed outside the dock area by falling shrapnel and shells which exploded on impact, many buildings collapsed and others were set on fire.
Workers fleeing
Workers fleeing after the second explosion [3]
In amongst the debris falling from the sky were the 28lb ingots of gold, one of the first to be found was picked up by Burjorji Motiwala a retired Parsee Civil Engineer. The ingot had crashed through the buildings corrugated roof, penetrated the floor of the balcony above and come to rest on his balcony in the corner. The bar was stamped Z13256 and was worth 90,000 Rupee's, Mr Motiwala received a reward of 999 Rupee's which he donated to the relief fund.

Within the docks fire raged in most of the warehouses and on many of the ships. The firemen and volunteers, many of them servicemen, were hampered to a large extent by the amount of debris floating on the water which blocked the pump suction filters.
Map
Map showing position of ships after the explosions [3]
Debris
Debris floating in the docks in a solid mass after the explosions [3]
The chaos and lack of organisation which had occurred aboard Fort Stikine extended beyond and hampered the efforts of those who now found themselves fighting the fires within the immediate dock area. A typical example occurred when Army Officers marched into a brigade station and requisitioned the remaining pumps, handed them over to inexperienced soldiers and left 68 firemen with no means of fighting anything. The area of fire extended out from the epicentre by approximately 900 yards and included all of Victoria and Princess Docks, the Godown estate to the West, the Burmah Oil installation to the North and the Rice Market to the South. On the Western side it had gone beyond the Godowns and had set fire to many of the dwellings of the poorer natives who lived on the fringes of the city proper. It took four more days to extinguish the main fire and for a further two weeks smaller fires continued to smolder in the ruins.

231 people were killed attached to the various services which included the fire brigade and dock employees; another 476 were injured. Outside the docks over 500 civilians were killed and a further 2,408 were injured. Thirteen ships were lost, Fort Stikine, Baroda, Fort Crevier, Kinguan, El Hind, and Jalapadma, all British. Van der Heyden, General Van der Sweiten and the Tenoba all Dutch, Iran and Norse Trader were Panamanian, the Rod El Farag for Egypt and finally the Norwegian Graciosa. In all some 50,000 tons of shipping was destroyed with a further 50,000 tons severely damaged. Of the Fort Stikine's Officers and crew, Captain Naismith, Chief Officer Henderson and Alexander Jopp the Second Cook lost their lives, the remainder miraculously survived. Within seven months the Docks in Bombay was back in operation and it was estimated that up to 8,000 men had been involved in the clean up project including troops from Britain, West Africa and India itself.
Damage
Damage to railroad cars [3]
Damage
Damaged warehouse and railroad cars [3]
Damage
The remains of Fort Stikine [3]
Damage
Wreckage with fires still burning [4]
Damage
Distant view of a blown-up ship [4]
Damage
Another view said to show the remains of Fort Stikine [5]
On the 28th of October the authorities began to flood the basin at a rate of 3ft for each tide, this allowed the salvageable ships to re-float at a gradual rate and also allowed the repair crews to repair leaks as and when they were located. It took forty eight hours to complete the operation and four days later the docks were back in normal use. Three hundred acres around the docks had been cleared using bulldozers, grabs, cranes and bare hands. Three hundred and fifty Lorries a day made four round trips to Sewree carrying 3,500 tons of debris, the total amount transported exceeded 800,000 tons.

George Todd's Account

In 1973 a reporter from the British Colombia newspaper Cowichan Valley Citizen interviewed George Todd. The story was reported in the newspaper in 2014 in two installments. I have reproduced the text of the article in full below. It should be noted that the article includes the wrong date for the eventsl

Part 1

The world was at war. The Normandy landings were imminent as was, half a world away, the invasion of Japanese-occupied Singapore.

In Bombay (Mumbai) Harbour dozens of ships were undergoing refitting and loading and discharging of vital materials. One of the men in charge of the refitting program was 26-year-old George Todd, who recounted his wartime experiences for me in Victoria in 1973.

He vividly recalled that April 19th when he went to work as foreman shipwright for the P. & O. Company's Mazagaon Dock Ltd., in charge of the Prince and Victoria docks. "There would have been 40-50 Liberty ships out in the bay, carrying gas and explosives and troops, and that sort of thing, for the invasion of Singapore."

Among his personal responsibilities as senior civilian official for the shipyard were the ships Fort Stikine, Jalapadma, Baroda and El Hind. All went normally until he returned from lunch at 1:30. Going to his office near the Yellow Gate, he was informed that fire had broken out aboard Fort Stikine, berthed at a slip that separated the two docks.

"It was such a stupid thing, you know, when I look back at it..." Seated in his living room, he shook his head at the 30-year-old memory of the resulting disaster which, in a few terrifying seconds, levelled most of Bombay Harbour, claimed an estimated 800 lives and injured 3,000 people.

"Quite often, fires break out aboard ships. So I went and inquired about the fire aboard the Fort Stikine and was told it had been caused by internal combustion. She had a bad loading plan - barrels, oil, wood and cotton in the same hold sticks out in my memory - and the fire was on the port side of the after end of Number 2 hatch, 'tween decks. The plates got red hot just below the main deck - you could stand on the wharf and feel the heat. "But we were not alarmed at this time."

However, in the course of his duties, such as overseeing the final refitting of the pilgrim ship El Hind to a troopship, Mr. Todd kept checking to see what was happening. For the next five hours he heard rumours that the Stikine was also carrying explosives, a cargo of which, if correct, he should have been informed of earlier. Finally, at 3 o'clock, after the fire in the ship's hold had become serious, he was officially notified of the lethal nature of the ship's main cargo, although the reason for her being in Bombay was to discharge gold bullion - two million pounds' worth. But few in Bombay Harbour could have been aware of the extent of her manifest: Packed into her holds were 2,000 tons of shells, torpedoes, mines, signal rockets, magnesium flares and incendiary bombs!

By 3 o'clock that afternoon, the fire aboard the Fort Stikine was growing in intensity, Mr. Todd recalling, "You could see the shell, or hull, at the after end of Number 2 hold, starting to get completely red hot. The fire brigade and their gear had done absolutely no good and it had become necessary for someone to make a decision. I'd have scuttled the ship."

Frustrated in their efforts to cut through the hull to reach the heart of the blaze, firefighters had called for reinforcements from Mr. Todd's men, a squad of shipwrights arriving with acetylene burning equipment as the clock ticked toward the fateful moment of the first explosion.

"The last time I talked to Capt. Martensz, the acting deputy manager of the docks, was about 20 minutes to 4 - 20 minutes before the first explosion occurred. I had begun to evacuate all my men at 3:30 after talking to him and deciding the ship was likely to explode."

Continuing along the docks to where the S.S. El Hind was berthed, three slips away from the Fort Stikine, Mr. Todd was speaking to ship's chief engineer when all hell broke loose. "I just had time to say, 'It doesn't look to me like she's going to blow up,' when we saw 20-30 Indian firemen dive over the side and - Whoosh! - they were shot up suddenly, 300 feet in the air! The flame was spectacular - nine feet in diameter and bluish-yellow.

"We were like spectators - it was long enough for us to observe this flame quite clearly, when all of the harbour mud came up from the bottom and all of the firemen were killed. For a few minutes after the explosion, there wasn't a sound - then explosion and fire everywhere. And from then on life was pure misery."

At the moment of the first, smaller explosion, Mr. Todd was standing on the El Hind's shelter deck, the immediate concussion blowing him through a cabin door and singeing most of the skin on his chest and shoulder. Trapped in the artificial storm unleashed by the detonating Fort Stikine, the El Hind bucked and snapped at her mooring lines. Then, caught in a giant vortex, she began to slide toward the blazing Fort Stikine!

"We sort of all got together by the fiddley [entrance to the boiler room] and had a sort of conflab," said Mr. Todd. The shaken and battered seamen, soldiers and civilians were still debating their course of action when, some five minutes after the blast, the El Hind burst into flame, at which they decided to lower the lifeboats - many of which were also ablaze.

"The second explosion came as such a surprise...the dock bottom came up again and I landed on the main deck, about 30 feet below. There was debris falling, water, mud and all sorts of things peppered you from all over the place, and it was pitch black. [Later, doctors would remove 70 wood and steel splinters from his body.] "There was all this water around me and I was so shocked that it was not until I made a move that I realized that I was breathing. I was quite a good swimmer and decided to swim for it. That was one of the few times that I really prayed to God and thanked God I was alive."

Part 2

Almost buried alive by debris, Mr. Todd was convinced that the El Hind had capsized and that he was under water! He was about to begin swimming when he noticed "a pinhole of light - the sun - and realized that I was right side up. If I remember correctly, another couple of guys had tried putting a lifeboat fire out when the second explosion put the boat on top of them, splitting one man's side open. We all got on the boat deck, where quite a bunch of us released him and got him to the fiddley, I think - I forget exactly..."

Once again clustered about the entrance to the boiler room, the ragged survivors were convinced that the end had come. As most were injured, the fires aboard the El Hind increasing in intensity, "we couldn't see much chance of getting out. Some chaps were in a really bad state, one had a broken spine, the chap from the boat had stomach damage."

Just then, someone made a cheering discovery in one of the ship's cabins: cigarettes and some water. Refreshed by a smoke and drink, the survivors again debated their course of action although the situation, according to Mr. Todd, "looked pretty desperate - in fact, it seemed impossible. It was the cotton season and the docks were a blazing inferno of cotton bales. The Jalapadma had been blown out of the water. She was full of explosives which were popping off. "We were huddling under the deck, wondering what to do, when a landing craft bumped alongside."

The drifting craft came as the answer to their prayers, and they were quick to throw a rope ladder over the ship's side. Then the two dozen or so survivors, including the seriously injured, boarded the craft and, started its engine and navigated their way through the debris-choked harbour, miraculously fleeing through the Red Gate and towards the city.

The sight which greeted him as he stumbled through the dockyard gate remained indelibly impressed upon his memory, 30 years later. With a "hissing inferno" all about him, needled with more than 70 slivers of metal and wood, he'd staggered through the gate, to be met by thousands of troops lined up in formation, awaiting orders to fight the fire.

As it turned out, they had quite a wait as "it was quite a while before anyone could get in - some things continued to burn for three months"! As for Mr. Todd, he was hospitalized for two weeks, when he returned to work. His initial duty proved to be a gruesome one, identifying some of the dead. Making his way from the charred, ruptured remains of one ship after another, he attempted to identify human remains, most of which had been reduced to little more than lumps of ash and were identifiable only by their dog tags. Then, that hideous task completed, he was able to turn his attention to repairing the harbour by pumping out the dry docks and overhauling those ships worth salvaging.

"A complete DEMS gun mount from the Fort Stikine's stern was blown one and a-half mile away, there were anchors and things blown all over the place. Only a small amount of the Fort Stikine was left, the Jalapadma, the famous Scandia Company's biggest ship, which had been berthed 50 feet astern of the Fort Stikine, was blown on top of the dock. She was 500 feet long, about 12,000 tons and fully loaded. The army cut off her bow section and let it drop, then cut up the rest and hauled it away in trucks.

"The Baroda, which had been in the west berth to the Jalapadma, was towed out and sunk. As for the El Hind, we fixed her up as a merchant ship, eventually. About a dozen other ships in the harbour were destroyed and had to be towed out and sunk."

According to the records, the Allies lost 35,000 tons of precious shipping in Bombay Harbour. Not to mention the loss of 800 lives and 3,000 injured.

Describing the cotton bales from the Persian Gulf as being three times the size of a bale of peat moss, Mr. Todd recalled that they'd been stacked two bales high and covered the docks for acres. These had continued to burn for weeks. Fortunately, most of the warehouses were built of stone and, loaded with food stores, survived almost intact. But it was a full seven months before the harbour resumed full operation. "When we drained the harbour, we found quite a few things in the mud: dead oxen [used to move 60 per cent of all goods], and almost all the gold bullion [two million pounds' worth] which had been aboard the Fort Stikine."

Much of the residential district, immediately adjacent to the harbour, mostly comprised of stuccoed houses, had been destroyed also. Mr. Todd marvelled at the memory of burning "sulphur all over the place...About June 14, the monsoon started but the sulphur seemed to thrive on water - it took almost three months to completely put the fires out. We didn't have a heck of a lot to work with; it was unbelievable what was devastated."

For years after the devastating explosion of the Fort Stikine, Mr. Todd could feel slivers of wood working their way out of his knee, and bits of stone beneath the skin. It had been, to say the least, a memorable event of a career as shipwright which began at the Sir William Gray Shipyard in West Hartlepool. He'd gone on to become a ship's carpenter in Calcutta and serve in the Royal Navy Reserve, for a time sailing on an armed merchant cruiser between England and South Africa. Prior to the Fort Stikine disaster, he'd twice survived being bombed and strafed. In 1953 he and his family left Bombay for Canada. At the time of my interview, he was a charge-hand at Yarrows Shipyard.

A superstitious seaman had predicted that the two-year-old Prince Rupert-built Fort Stikine would be unlucky after he watched her during her trials. While proceeding to Vancouver, she'd been rammed by an American ship and had to return to Prince Rupert for repairs. Then, loaded with 2,000 tons of explosives, she was off to Bombay and disaster.

Commemorations

Fire Service Day

The Indian Government declared April 14th as Fire Service Day in commemoration of the Fort Stikine explosion and the large loss of life by the fire services and Fire Service Week has been observed there nation-wide every year.

Memorial
Wreaths laid during the annual ceremony at the memorial in 2014 [2]

Memorials

Fire Service Memorial

A memorial was erected to members of the Fire Service lost in Bombay outside the Fire Service HQ in Byculla.

Memorial
Memorial at Byculla [1]

The memorial carries the following inscription:

"Erected by Public Subscription in sacred memory of The Officers and Men of the Bombay Fire Services who lost their lives in the Bombay Dock explosions while on duty on 14th April 1944"

At the base of the plinth is a scene which depicts firemen working and rescuing people at the Docks.

Memorial
Panel on the memorial at Byculla [2]
Roll of Honour - Bombay Fire Service

The table below lists the members of the Bombay Fire Service that lost their lives fighting the fires resulting from the explosions.

Name Designation Name Designation
Harold Palmer Asstt. Officer Commanding Bhagchand Balamsingh Fireman
Robert Chargers G. Andrews Company Officer Laxman Dhondu Shinde Fireman
Arthur D. Reynolds Company Officer Sitaram Dhondu Lad Fireman
Rustom Phirozshah Palamcoat Station Officer Raoji Vasudeo Uraskar Fireman
Rajaram Meghashyam Chavan Auxiliary Officer Krishna Jagannath Desai Fireman
Samuel Thomson Auxiliary Officer Shrirang Anant Chavan Fireman
Mirza Muzaffer Baig Auxiliary Officer Chandru Gunaji Chavan Fireman
Ferdinand Roberts Auxiliary Officer Dinkar Vishram Shelar Fireman
Aron Joseph Days Auxiliary Officer Babaji Keshav Bhosle Fireman
Jodah Salomon Mendrekar Motor Mechanic Krishna Shankar Pednekar Fireman
Shekhar Bangera Section Leader Ankush Bhagwan Kadu Fireman
Yekar Mahabal Shetty Section Leader Ramchandra Yeshwant Tawde Fireman
Daniel Hamilton Thomas Section Leader Tukaram Vithoji Surve Fireman
Nana Sakharam Mulekar Section Leader Vithal Sakharam Shinde Fireman
Mahadeo Shripat Bhosle Section Leader Abaji Jagatrao Palande Fireman
Shivanand Gajanan Pansare Sub Leader Ramchandra Narayan Sawant Fireman
Annaji Balwant Tawre Sub Leader Shantaram Balaji Sawant Fireman
Dattaram Balwant Mahadik Sub Leader Maruti Balaji Chavan Fireman
Kedar Allabux Inamdar Sub Leader Bhagwan Balaji Tirvenkar Fireman
Atmaram Bhiwa Parab Sub Leader Ranu Kondiram Suryawanshi Fireman
Sakharam Tukaram Pawar Sub Leader Yeshwant Sadashiv Vichare Fireman
Madhusudan Sabaji Khot Sub Leader Dattatray Vishnu Girkar Fireman
Saskharam Pandurang Etkar Sub Leader Shankar Raoji Jadhav Fireman
Sakharam Ramji Shirke Tandel Khashaba Laxman Surve Fireman
Damji Mahipat Chavan Tandel Vishnu Raoji Kadam Fireman
Narayan Anant More Motor Driver Govind Dhonduji Surve Fireman
Mohammed Sidhik Alladata Motor Driver Yeshwant Mahadev Ghag Fireman
Yeshwant Gopal Malusare Motor Driver Annaji Vithu Satam Fireman
Keshav Purushottam Godbole Motor Driver Ramchandra Laxman Jadhav Fireman
Dhondu Ramchandra Kalingan Motor Driver Nandaji Narayan Shinde Fireman
Gora Rehmtullah Motor Driver Bhanudas Krishnaji Koyande Fireman
Pandurang Bapu Sawant Motor Driver Shankar Sitaram Palkar Fireman
Shrikrishna Vishnu Apte Motor Driver Sk.Abbas Sk.Esmail Fireman
Tower Hill Memorial - Fort Stikine

The Commonwealth War Grave Commission database includes details of four people killed on Fort Stikine. Of these only the body of Fireman/Trimmer Thomas Sweeney of Liverpool was recovered. No trace of the Chief Officer William Douglas Henderson, Cook Alexander Keith Jupp and Master Alexander James Naismith were ever found and they appear on the Tower Hill memorial.

Tower Hill Memorial
Tower Hill memorial panel for Fort Stikine [7]
Tower Hill Memorial - Baroda

The Commonwealth War Grave Commission database includes details of just one person lost on Baroda - Cheif Engineer Officer James Stewart. His body was not found and he is also commemorated on the Tower Hill Memorial

Tower Hill Memorial
Tower Hill memorial panel for Baroda [7]
Tower Hill Memorial - Baroda

The Commonwealth War Grave Commission database includes details of just one person lost on Baroda - Chief Engineer Officer James Stewart. His body was not found and he is also commemorated on the Tower Hill Memorial

Tower Hill Memorial
Tower Hill memorial panel for Baroda [7]
Tower Hill Memorial - Jalapadma

The Commonwealth War Grave Commission database includes details of four people lost on Jalapadma. The bodies of Fireman Muhammad Jamal and Butcher's Mate Manuel Pinto were recovered but there was no trace of Chief Engineer Officer Randolph Francis David Campbell or Master Frank Thomas Withers Lewis and the latter are commemorated on the Tower Hill Memorial

Tower Hill Memorial
Tower Hill memorial panel for Jalapadma [7]
Tower Hill Memorial - Kingyuan

The Commonwealth War Grave Commission database includes details of just one person lost on Kingyan - Third Officer Bruno Albert Reinhold Gunther. His body was not found and he is also commemorated on the Tower Hill Memorial

Tower Hill Memorial
Tower Hill memorial panel for Kingyuan [7]

Postscript

The Mumbai Mirror newspaper carried the following report on 2 February 2011:

HISTORIC GOLD WAS FOUND IN GARBAGE

Mumbai collector to eventually decide ownership of the gold retrieved from 3000 cubic metres of silt

It was sheer, blind luck that led labourers to recover two gold bars, lost at sea during one of Mumbai's most dramatic tragedies 67 years ago, from more than 3000 metric cubes of garbage. The gold was part of a the cargo on board the SS Fort Stikine, which exploded in the Mumbai docks on April 14, 1944, resulting in the loss of 700 lives as fires raged for three full days.

At around 8 pm on Monday, workers from dredger Sulawesi II of Jaisu Shipping — a company that's been working with Gammon India on the Offshore Container Terminal Project since April 2009 — were preparing to go for their next dig after having dropped their previous load of sand­silt into the port dumping ground. As per the normal routine, they were cleaning the hopper, a container in which silt is collected, when they noticed two shiny objects wedged inside its steel plates.

"They took them out, first thinking they were pieces of scrap metal. However when they cleaned them up, they were stunned to find that they were gold bars. "It could've easily been lost in the dump yard but had somehow managed to stay cling on to the machine," a port official told Mumbai Mirror.

The workers immediately informed the Master on board the dredger, who in turn told higher authorities in the company, and handed over the bars to them. "The officials were stunned to have struck gold in such an unexpected manner, but deemed it fit to inform the authorities. The port officials and the police were contacted, and the gold bars examined. When they realised that this was the same spot where the SS Fort Stikine had gone down, it was inferred that it was gold must be from the same lot," the official added.

The gold bars were on Tuesday deposited with the Yellow Gate police station, where they have been kept under the Treasure Trove Act. Police said the gold will now be sent to the Mumbai Collector, who will decide its ownership and the reward, if any, to the labourers who found it. A full­fledged dredging of the area was launched on Tuesday to find if there is any more gold hidden in the sea bed, but no more was found. The project manager of Jaisu Shipping, Vishal Jain, was not available for comment. "It has been confirmed that gold dates back to the time when SS Fort Stikine was destroyed in an explosion near Victoria dock," DCP (Port Zone), Quaisar Khalid, said. The twin explosions in 1944 had destroyed a total of 28 ships parked in the harbour at the time, and bars of gold had fallen on the roads, some found in places as far as St Xavier's College in Dhobitalao. The gold on board the Fort Stikine was valued back then at anything between one million and two million pounds. When such bars were found in the past ­­- the last somewhere in the 60s -­­ they were all returned to the UK government.
Gold
Gold found in dredger [6]
Gold
Front page of Mumbai Mirror 1 February 2011 [6]
Gold
Mumbai Police Officer holding the recovered gold [6]

Image Credits

  1. By courtesy of Wikipedia
  2. Source unknown
  3. By courtesy of Derek Ings
  4. By courtesy of Daily O website
  5. By courtesy of NewsOne website
  6. By courtesy of the Mumbai Mirror
  7. By courtesy of the Benjidog Tower Hill website
  8. By courtesy of Ferdy Roberts
  9. By courtesy of George Robinson