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You are here -> HOME - RETROVILLE - 1944 - In the News - Port Chicago Explosion
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Welcome to Retroville! It's 1944!
On July 17, 1944, the United States saw its worst home front disaster during WWII. Two transport vessels loading ammunition at the naval base in Port Chicago, California, on the Sacramento River were suddenly the center of an enormous explosion. The blast wrecked the naval base, heavily damaged the small town of Port Chicago, killed 320 American naval personnel, and obliterated both vessels in an instant. The entire pier at which the ships had been docked was gone without a trace. More than 300 people were injured. Property damage was estimated in the millions of dollars. Windows were shattered in towns 20 miles away, and the explosion itself could be seen 35 miles away in San Francisco!
An atomic explosion from a test conducted near Bikini Atoll
Although the government cites July 16, 1945, as the first atomic detonation (at Alamagordo, New Mexico), many believe the events of July 17, 1944, at Port Chicago reveal an earlier atomic blast.

The EA Bryan, a 7,212-ton EC-2 Liberty ship was commanded by Capt. John LM Hendricks. It docked at Port Chicago on July 13, 1944, and at 8 a.m. on July 14, naval personnel began loading the ship with ammunition.

The Quinalt Victory was a brand new ship preparing for her maiden voyage. The ship was being rigged in preparation for loading ammunition.

By 10 p.m. on July 17, both ships were heavily laden with explosives and ammunition. The EA Bryan had taken on 4,600 tons of munitions including 1,780 tons of high explosives.

The docks were congested with men and machines. 98 men from Division Three were busy loading the EA Bryan. 102 men from Division Six were busy on the Quinalt Victory. There were also 9 Navy officers, 67 members of the crews from both vessels, and armed guard detail of 29 men, 5 crew members from a Coast Guard fire barge, a Marine sentry, and dozens of civilian personnel. The pier was jammed with equipment, a locomotive, and 16 railroad boxcars. There were also about 430 tons of bombs and other munitions on the pier waiting to be loaded.

Just before 10:20 p.m. on July 17, 1944, a massive explosion ripped through the pier. A column of fire and smoke shot up more than 12,000 feet into the night sky. Everyone on the pier and aboard the ships was killed in an instant.

The EA Bryan was blown to bits. No recognizable piece of it was recovered.

The Quinalt Victory was blown out of the water, completely turned about, and smashed back down leaving only fragments.

The 12-ton diesel locomotive that had been sitting on the pier vanished entirely. Not a single recognizable piece was ever recovered.

The entire pier was obliterated including all of the man and machines that had been there only moments before. The dead and injured, or parts thereof, were scattered throughout the harbor and on the land as far inland as 1/2 mile. It would be days before all of the bodies and parts were recovered and longer still before those which could be identified could be completed.

Despite a naval inquiry into the incident and a slap on the wrist to the commanding officers who had been making a competition of the loading, no official cause for the explosion was determined.

However, 400-600 pages of reports and other related materials about the disaster are held at Los Alamos Laboratories. In those documents, the government claims that the explosion was spontaneous ignition of the munitions.

Further investigation by credible sources has revealed that, indeed, the Port Chicago disaster may have been the first atomic bomb detonation.  The following supporting evidence is offered:

  • Despite the government's denial that they had enough Uranium 235 on hand on July 17, 1944, their own documents prove that they had sufficient quantities available months before the event.
  • The force of the blast exceeded that of 1,780 of high explosives listed on the ships' manifests considering the disintegration of a ship, the blast crater, the tidal wave (30-feet high downstream), and the complete annihilation of a 12-ton locomotive.
  • Eyewitnesses reported a blinding incandescent light now known to occur during atomic explosions. Conventional explosives burn at 5,000 degrees Celcius (maximum) and do not produce white flashes unless magnesium is present.  Magnesium was not on either bill of lading.
  • A Wilson condensation cloud was produced. These clouds, like those seen at Bikini Atoll, are only produced during atomic explosions in a vapor-laden atmosphere (like on a river).
  • An atomic fireball was produced during the explosion.  This fireball accounted for the obliteration of most near objects, the pier, and many of the dead and seriously injured on shore.
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