San Clemente Island, CA (off shore) Battleship MISSISSIPPI Disaster, June 1924
FORTY-EIGHT KILLED IN EXPLOSION OF U.S. WARSHIP.
EXACT CAUSE OF TERRIFIC BLAST NOT YET KNOWN.
TRAGEDY OCCURS WHILE BATTLESHIP MISSISSIPPI IS AT TARGET PRACTICE ON DRILL GROUNDS.
SCORE MORE ARE INJURED.
THOSE DEAD ALL FROM U.S.S. NEW MEXICO DOING OBSERVATION DUTY.
San Pedro, Cal., June 12. -- (Associated Press) --
Two premature explosions killed three officers and forty-five men of the battleship Mississippi today and injured a score of others and the menace of death still hounded the crippled dreadnaught tonight as she left her dead and injured behind and headed out to sea to protect harbor life and shipping from the peril of a third blast.
The first explosion occurred at 1 p.m., while the Mississippi was engaged in target practice off San Clemente Island, forty-five miles from here, spreading death among the eighty-eight men in No. 2 turret. Officers said the premature blast might have been due to a sailor giving the signal for the electric flash igniting the charge in one of the turret's fourteen-inch rifles before the breech was properly closed or it may have resulted from a "flareback" caused when a fresh charge was being loaded into the breech.
As the stricken ship reached the goal of its race for surgical assistance -- the hospital ship Relief, just inside the breakwater here -- a second blast rocked the vessel. The charge in the damaged turret's second fourteen-inch rifle exploded, hurling the steel projectile out to sea, and narrowly missing the prow of the passenger liner Yale, which was leaving the harbor for San Diego.
The men were all from the battleship New Mexico doing observation duty in accordance with the interchange of officers and men between the various ships of the fleet when practice was being held.
Had the turret, which was revolving at the time the explosion on the battleship Mississippi occurred, remained in the position in which it was at the time of the explosion, the bang fire from the left gun would have gone into the center of the city of San Pedro, witnesses aboard the ship said.
When the gunner's hand, guilding the controls was wrenched away by the explosion, the guns kept revolvig and stopped as they pointed directly aft. Thus, fortune probably saved the lives of many citizens and the destruction of much property in San Pedro.
Lieut. Jack Kennedy, the athletic officer of the Pacific Fleet, was among the first to help remove the injured and dead. He was at first reported killed.
Ensign J. J. Leveasseur, officer on the New Mexico, dived forty feet from the shell deck down the shaft of the endless powder chain bucket, thus saving his life when the flames of smokeless powder spread in its death path.
Lieut. ZELLARS, 25 years old, one of the three officers killed in the turret fire in No. 2 turret of the battleship leaves a wife at his home in Long Beach. He is not believed to have any children. His home city is said to be Atlanta, Ga.
Ensign H. D. Smith from the U.S.S. New Mexico was the first man to enter the turret No. 2, following the burning of the smokeless powder about snuffed out the lives of two score men.
Upon entering the turret, Ensign Smith took with him an air hose which immediately caused the flames again to shoot forth. After flooding the turret the second time with water, Ensign Smith was able to enter. All the men were dead at that time, their faces swelled and puffed almost beyond recognition by the intense heat. Identification marks on the clothing however, were still discernible.
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