Port Chicago, California
Ammunition Ship Explosion
300 DIE IN BAY ARMS SHIP BLAST
Port Chicago Razed By 2-Ship Explosion
Hundreds Injured in Disaster; Great Wall of
Flames Shoots Skyward; Flying Shells Rocket Far
Afield as Navy Warns Of Unexploded Missiles;
Identity of Vessels Is Disclosed
By JOHNNY NOBLE
More than 300 men were killed and hundreds of
men and women were injured last night in a
terrific explosion that destroyed two ammunition
ships loading near Port Chicago, and shook homes
and business buildings throughout the Bay area.
The Navy, taking count of the tragedy today,
found that at least two merchant ships were
sunk, two Coast Guard picket boats probably went
down, a fireboat was missing and an oil tanker
More than 10,000 tons of explosives were set
off by the blast. The force of the explosion,
which shook residents out of their beds and
broke windows 50 miles away, centered in the two
vessels loading shells at the dock between Avon
and Port Chicago, in Contra Costa County.
No cause for the blast was given officially,
and the Navy said there was nothing to indicate
sabotage. A sailor from one of the ships,
though, said it was possible that a heavy shell
or bomb had been dropped on the steel deck to
touch off what amounted to two arsenals.
The Navy warned that “casualties will be
heavy” as it investigated what probably will
prove to be one of the worst disasters in
American wartime history. At least 130 of the
victims were believed to be civilians.
Engineers Disarm 'Live' Shell
Several hours later local authorities called for
Army demolition experts to disarm a shell lying
in a Port Chicago street. The soldier engineers
were ordered out from Camp Stoneman, at
Pittsburg, to take care of the shell.
At the same time, farmers reported they were
finding unexploded shells scattered throughout
the countryside. They said they were fearful
there might be further explosions and loss of
life if the shells were not picked up
The first of the ships was identified as the
Quinault Victory, built in the Portland yards of
the Oregon Shipbuilding Corporation, and
delivered just a week ago. It was sponsored by
the workers in the mould loft of the yard as
part of the Fifth War Loan drive.
The other vessel was the E. A. Bryan of the
Oliver J. Olson Lines, built at Richmond and
launched last February 29.
The shock of the original double blast was so
terrific it woke up sleepers in Oakland, more
than 20 miles away hurled 200-pound chunks of
metal a mile and a half, and almost flattened
the town of Port Chicago, more than a mile from
Residents of Martinez, five miles from the
dock, were awakened at 10:19 p. m. by a great
sheet of white fire that flashed across the sky.
An instant later, the first of the two
explosions knocked them from their beds.
All spectators were dazed by the terror of
the explosions, but all agreed that there were
two blasts. The first apparently sank one ship
and the second accounted for the other.
Observers this morning found pieces of jagged
metal more than a mile from the scene, and one
farmer reported that he had picked up a
five-inch shell two miles away.
Rescue Vessels Are Sent to Bottom
Both merchant ships sand at their piers and the
subsequent explosions and fire sent the Coast
Guard rescue vessels to the bottom.
The scene of carnage along the wharf was so
bad today that Navy officers were reluctant to
permit civilian photographers on the scene.
However, observers got into the yards later
this morning and found one of the ships
completely sunk and the other showing only its
stern above water.
It looked, they said, like a hurricane had
hit the area, with only the stumps of piling
poking out of the bay and freight cars blown
asunder on land.
“It looks,” one of the men said, “as though
there never had been a pier there.”
Special guards stood by scattered shells with
red flags, a warning to passersby that they were
treading in dangerous territory.
At the same time, Dr. W. A. Powell, county
health officer, and State Sanitary Inspector
Thomas McMorrow warned residents of Port Chicago
by loudspeaker system that they must watch for
“Every store in the town was shot to hell,”
one reporter said, “and it didn't look to me as
if a man could live there.”
The San Francisco Disaster Relief
organization set up headquarters in the grammar
school as soon as word of the catastrophe was
One Merchant, Otto Lichtl, a druggist, said
he had suffered a $15,000 loss and had no idea
as to when he would be back in business.
60 Mare Island Doctors Answer Call
Within seconds after the blast, the Navy called
for every available service and civilian doctor
and nurse in the area. It repeated its pleas
until 1 a. m., when local radio stations were
notified they could stop their broadcasts.
By that time, though, the highways to
Martinez and Port Chicago were jammed, and the
medical men trying to reach the magazine depot
were unable to make their way through.
Sixty doctors from Mare Island alone answered
the call. They were joined by hundreds of others
in this area for the week-end.
Greyhound busses[sic] were ordered to run
special trips to the depot, but they were
stopped far short of their destination by the
traffic over the highways.
Full details of the casualties were not
revealed by the Navy until their nearest of kin
have been notified, but it was disclosed that
nine officers known to have been stationed at
the post are missing. They presumable have been
In addition to the depot's personnel, two men
were missing from Coast Guard picket boats, two
were injured, and two were missing from the
fireboat that answered the first alarm.
The Coast Guard issued immediate warnings to
all mariners in the Bay to look out for
ammunition that might be floating on the
surface. They pointed out that it constituted a
John Miller, former sheriff of Contra Costa
County, now civilian defense coordinator for the
area, estimated that at least 200 civilians were
injured when the ships blew up. They were
treated at hospitals throughout the county and
by private physicians.
However, the Navy and civilian authorities
agreed, there undoubtedly were hundreds of
others hurt who didn't seek medical attention
>> Go to
List of Dead,
List of Injured
Submitted & transcribed by Stu
Beitler Thank you,
The Port Chicago disaster was a deadly explosion
that took place on July 17, 1944 at the Port
Chicago Naval Magazine in Port Chicago,
California, in the United States. Ammunition
being loaded aboard cargo vessels bound for the
war in the Pacific exploded, killing 320 sailors
and civilians, and injuring more than 400
others. Most of the dead and injured were
African American recruits, and the continuing
unsafe conditions even after the disaster
resulted in a number of servicemen refusing to
work, known as the Port Chicago Mutiny, a month
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