SALVAGE OPERATIONS ON THE SS RICHARD MONTGOMERY, 23 Aug 1944 to 4 Sep 1944.
Salvage ships, Empire Nutfield, and SS Flathouse,
Wednesday 23rd August
No. 3 Hold 1,020 fin assembly parts
No. 5 Hold 12 x 250-lb. bombs.
Thursday 24th August,
No.1 hold 20 x 500-lb. bombs.
20 x 250-lb. bombs.
No.3. hold 1,000 Fin Assembly parts.
No.5. hold 307 x 250-lb. bombs.
Friday 25th August.
No.1. hold 254 x 250-lb. bombs.
78 x 500lb. bombs.
No.3. hold 505 cases fuses.
No.5. hold 409 x 250-lb. bombs.
Saturday 26th August.
No.1. hold 96 x 500-lb. bombs.
25 x 250-lb. bombs.
No.3 hold 301 cases fuses.
No.5. hold 124 x 250-lb. bombs.
Sunday 27th August.
No.1 hold 268 x 250-lb. bombs. 35 x 500-lb bombs.
No.2 hold 65 cases fuses.
No.3 hold 425 cases fuses.
No.5 hold 295 x 250-lb. bombs.
Monday 28th August.
No.1. hold 219 x 500-lb. bombs.
No.2 hold 737 cases Cluster Fragmentation Bombs.
No.5 hold 282 x 500-lb. bombs.
Tuesday the 29th August.
No.1. hold 335 x 250-lb. bombs. 38 x 500-lb. bombs.
No.2 hold 519 cases Fragmentation bombs.
No.4 hold 778 cases fragmentation bombs. 99 cases of bomb assemblies. 273 Fin Assembly parts.
No.5 hold. 300 x 500-lb. bombs.
Wednesday 30th August.
No.1. hold 435 x 250-lb. bombs.
No.2 hold 803 cases Fragmentation Bombs and small arms ammunition.
No.4 hold 23 Bomb Assembly cases. 143 cases Wire Assembly parts. 196 Fin Assembly parts. 1 demolition Bomb. 10 cases Fragmentation Bombs.
Thursday 31st August.
No. 1. Hold 386 x 250-lb. bombs.
No. 2 hold 669 cases Fragmentation bombs.
No. 4 hold 1,005 cases Fragmentation Bombs.
No. 5 hold 450 x 250-lb. bombs. 80 Fin Assembly parts.
Friday 1st September.
No.1. hold 190 x 500-lb. bombs.
No.2 hold 805 cases Fragmentation Bombs and small arms components.
No. 4 hold 150 cases Fragmentation Bombs. 504 x 100-lb. Demolition Bombs.
No.5 hold 415 x 250-lb. bombs. 116 x 500-lb. bombs.
Saturday 2nd September.
No.1. hold 65 x 500-lb. bombs.
No.2 hold 201 cases Fragmentation Bombs.
No.4 hold 420 Fin Assembly Parts.
No. 5 hold 63 x 500-lb. bombs.
Sunday 3rd September.
No. 5 hold 195 x 1000 bombs.
No.4 hold 34 x 1000 bombs.
Monday 4th September.
No.4 hold 26 x 1000-lb. bombs.
No.5 hold 92 x 500-lb. bombs.
Total Munitions removed:
1296 cases of fuses. (approx.) 129,600 lbs, 57.85 tons.
631 x 1000lb bombs, 631,000 lbs, 281.69 tons.
1594 x 500 lb bombs, 797,000 lbs, 355.80 tons.
3735 X 250 lb bombs, 933,750 lbs, 416.85 tons.
505 x 100 lb bombs, 50,500 lbs, 22.54 tons.
5677 x Cases fragmentation bombs, (approx.) 567,700 lbs, 253.43 tons.
2834 cases of miscellaneous nonexplosive parts such as Fin Assembly Parts, at (approx.) 126.51 tons.
Total 1514 tons of munitions and miscellaneous nonexplosive parts were removed from the Richard Montgomery.
Richard Montgomery was loaded with 6862 tons of munitions.
Their remains a MASSIVE 5348 tons of munitions
General Richard Montgomery after who the ship is named.
During the American War for Independence the American army attacked Quebec in Canada which was defended by the British. The battle was the first major defeat of the war for the Americans and casualties were high. General Richard Montgomery was killed and Benedict Arnold (later to defect to the British side) was wounded.
Liberty ships were also made by the Americans to transport war supplies around the World for the United States Army.
The Richard Montgomery was built in Florida at the St. Johns River Shipbuilding Company and was launched on the 15 June 1943 and sunk on the 20 August 1944.
Liberty Ships, including the Richard Montgomery, were built to the same basic design which is as follows:
Length: 441 feet, 6 inches. Beam: 57 feet. Draft: 27 feet, 9 inches
Displacement: 14,245 tons (fully loaded) Gross: (weight) 7,176 tons. (7,176 tons is sometimes mistakenly given as the weight of the cargo and not the weight of the ship.)
Cargo Capacity: 9,140 tons, nominal (over 10,000 tons, with external deck cargo)
Propulsion: Two oil-fired boilers. One triple expansion 2,500 HP steam engine
Speed: 11.5 knots.
Range: 17,000 Nautical Miles.
Armament: One 3-inch bow gun, one 5-inch stern gun and six to eight 20 mm guns
Typical Crew Size: Up to 44 Merchant Mariners and 12 to 25 Naval Armed Guard.
Prior to arrival in the Thames Estuary the Richard Montgomery and made several trips across the Atlantic and around the Mediterranean transporting war materials for the American Forces. Which included supplying American forces in North Africa and Italy.
Her earlier crossings of the Atlantic had not been uneventful as the Commodores Report for one of those crossings shows.
CONVOY HX 252. Departed New York on 14th August 1943 arrived Liverpool on the 28th August 1943.
At 00:50 Noise like two guns being fired was heard on port quarter, followed by large glow in fog and what sounded like depth charges.
At 01:00 Escort reported track of torpedo sighted.
At 01:15 S/O signalled by R/T to Commodore "Same course please".
At 01:35 S/O signalled by R/T that two rear escorts were in contact and hunting to kill. Asked if any ships hit.
At 01:55 Number 45, Cairnesk, reported that number 34, Santos, was abandoning ship. Having received W/T message to that effect.
At 13:50 S/O E. reported number 42, J. Pinckney Henderson, sunk (listed in station 41 of A 1 form). Number 32, J. H. Senior hit, still afloat (note that these ships were not torpedoed, but had collided). No news of number 34, Santos.
At 20:28 Number 11, Richard Montgomery, reported torpedo track by W/T.
At 20:30 S/O E. made convoy attacked to escorts, and to Commodore "Go straight on". From 20:31 to 20:50 Several depth charges were heard.
SS Santos sank with the loss of two of her 39 crew. There were only three survivors from SS J. Pinckney Henderson and six from SS J. H. Senior.
Convoy HX 301. Her last journey.
The Richard Montgomery left New York on the on July 25 1944 and arrived Liverpool on August 8 as part of Convoy HX 301 which consisted of a massive 130 ships. Her cargo is listed as “General” 6,862 tons of Explosives and Ammunition.
Convoy FS 43
On arriving in British waters she continued on her journey around the top of Scotland and down the east coast of England as part of convoy FS 43 (FS 1543) depart Methil (Scotland) on 13 August 1944. Arrived Southend (Thames Estuary) on 15 August 1944.
In the same convoy (FS 43,) there were 13 American Liberty Ships carrying similar cargoes to the Richard Montgomery. For example, SS Alexander Ramsey was loaded with six thousand tons of demolition bombs many with the detonators already attached.
Ships marked in red are American Liberty Ships.
USING THE KIELCE AS AN EXCUSE TO DO NOTHING.
It is nonsensical to use the example of the Kielce, which blew up during salvage operations, as an excuse to do nothing about the Montgomery.
The Kielce blew up when salvage operators detonated an explosive charge on the hull of the ship. This was the third explosive charge they had used to blast their way into the ship. Why anyone would use an explosive on a ship containing bombs is beyond belief!!!
According to Lloyd’s Register the report is also wrong in a number of other ways. It is wrong on the year the Kielce was built and on its tonnage.
The SS Edgar Wakeman (the Kielce) was built in 1943 by Pennsylvania Ship Yard Inc. at Beaumont, Texas, USA.
Gross tonnage: 1752 tons. Length: 250 feet. Breadth: 41.3 feet.
The SS Edgar Wakeman was transferred to the Polish government in exile under the lend lease act and changed its name to Kielce. At the end of the war it remained an America war transport administration charter and was directed to carried supplies to American troops stationed in Germany. On the 4 April 1946 the Kielce collided with the SS Lombardy, a French ship. The crew abandoned ship and were rescued by the American Salvor. The Kielce was taken in tow by the tugs Lady Brassey and Antic but sunk.
The Report from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency also states that “a small explosion at any distance from the wreck (the Richard Montgomery) will not set off the bulk of the cargo." Yet in their own example of the Kielce, a small explosion DID set off the bulk of the cargo.
Newspaper reports of that time state that “Upon detonating the mine, a 100 tons of explosives under the bulkhead also detonated.”
100 tons of explosive is not the same as 5,348 tons of bombs (or 1500 tonnes of TNT according to the Report.)
To use the comparison with the Kielce explosion is only an excuse to do nothing and is completely irrelevant. It could equally be compared with the Mont-Blanc explosion in Canada which would be just as irrelevant.
On the 6 December 1917, in Halifax, Canada the SS Mont-Blanc, with a cargo of explosives collided with another vessel at the very low speed of one knot, the ship caught fire and exploded killing 2,000 people and injuring 9,000 others. All buildings in a wide radius including the entire community of Richmond were obliterated. The pressure wave broke every window in Halifax, snapped trees, bent iron railings and demolished buildings. 12,000 buildings in total were destroyed or badly damaged. Wreckages from the Mont-Blanc fell for miles around and a tsunami wiped out a community of native Indians living at Tuft's Cove.
GENERALISATIONS ARE NOT FACTS!
The report contains too many generalisations which are nothing more than guesses. Such as:
1 “A large part of the cargo was successfully recovered.” (Where are the records or evidence that “a large part of the cargo was recovered?”)
2. The two stern holds were probably emptied.
3. The fuses will probably all have been flooded for many years.
4. Based on the information available, as to the probable condition of the munitions.
5. The main charge might now be wet or non-explosive.
6. It is believed that.
7. There is a good prospect that all the ordnance will get wet in this process and will become neutralised
The risk of a major explosion is believed to be remote and is probably becoming even less likely with the passage of time. It may eventually pass altogether, but this is not likely to be for some considerable time.
9. The cargo from the after part of the wreck, situated nearest the Medway Channel, is believed to have been salvaged in 1944.
WHERE ARE THE FACTS???
“PROBOBLY” IS A GUESS, not a fact.
“I BELIEVE” IS A FAIRY STORY, not a truth.
The whole report should start “Once upon a Time”.
The Committee on Hazardous Wrecks state:
The Committee writes, “The explosion of the munitions aboard the wreck of the KEILCE in 1967, reinforced the decision of the Committee on Hazardous Wrecks to recommend a policy of non-interference”.
This is simply an excuse for the Committee to do nothing. The Kielce DID NOT blow up because the cargo was moved or interfered with! It blew up when salvage divers attached an explosive charge to the hull and detonated it. It was this explosion which set off the larger detonation.
The Committee writes, “The Committee's consistently firm advice was that no attempt should be made to disturb the site. In the Committee's opinion, any such action would increase the likelihood of the very explosion that must be avoided if at all possible.”
Non-invasive containment of the Richmond Montgomery would not disturb the site. A cofferdam similar in shape to a donut could be built around the Montgomery. An “atoll” type island with a hole in the middle in which the Montgomery would continue to rest undisturbed on the sea bed would stop any risk from collision and should it explode it would direct the shock wave upwards, partly containing the explosion and preventing a tsunami.
RECORDS OF SALVAGING PART OF THE CARGO OF THE RICHARD MONTGOMERY IN 1944.
The SS Richard Montgomery irretrievably grounded on 20 August 1944. Incorrectly positioned by the Southend Harbour Master in a crowded anchorage the Richard Montgomery dragged its anchor and run aground despite other close by ships sounding their horns in warning.
Three days later on Wednesday 23rd August 1944, two salvage ships the “Empire Nutfield” (built 1919, gross tonnage 1561 tons) and SS “Flathouse” (built 1931, gross tonnage 1546 tons) arrived with three gangs of stevedores and began to rig the derricks to unload her deadly cargo. The Richard Montgomery in her sorry condition was unable to supply power for the derricks and the Steam Tug “Atlantic Cock” supplied steam for the winches.
One tower of the Nore Sea Fort which collapsed into the sea after the collision with the SS Baalbek.
Also in 1963 the ship MV Ribersborg collided with the Shivering Sands Sea Fort destroying one of its towers.
The Report on the Wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery say “There are no records of near misses since the wreck occurred in 1944.” This is certainly wrong as the newspaper clipping below testifies.
The Route of the Tanker Mare Altum on a probable collision course with the sunken munitions ship SS Richard Montgomery. From the files of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency who’s Report wrongly states “there are no records of near misses since the wreck occurred in 1944”.
The Mare Altum was a tanker carrying a cargo of Toluene. The Government Health Protection Agency state that Toluene is “Flammable”, that “Toluene vapour is explosive when exposed to heat or flame” and it is “Toxic following inhalation or ingestion”
In the course of time, it seems conceivable that a vessel will collide with the Richard Montgomery.
MONITORING THE WRECK.
Monitoring the wreck by radar to stop collision and incursion is ineffective. Often it is the case that an incursion or violation of the exclusion zone around the Richard Montgomery occurs before it can be prevented.
In the case of the Mare Altum it only just stopped a collision. In almost all other cases intrusion on the wreck happens first and is seen second. It is a case of shutting the gate after the horse has bolted. Hardly a viable way of protecting the wreck.
The Police Review of 25th August 1978 states that “the security of the wreck is suspect. It is supposed to be under 24-hour visual and radar surveillance, nevertheless some enterprising gentry have managed to loot it of all copper fittings.” This included the copper degaussing coil fitted around the perimeter of the hull.
18th February 1972. The pilot on board the ship (the Balla Brovig) reported a vessel inside the prohibited area alongside the superstructure of the wreck at 9.30 and left the wreck at 11.10.
The Balla Brovig was over the wreck of the Richard Montgomery for one hour and forty minutes and not seen by the radar or visually by the monitoring station!
26th August 1973 A small blue cabin cruiser was tied up to the masts of the Richard Montgomery and doesn’t appear to have been seen by radar or visually until it had been moored over the wreck for some time.
11 September 1978. The Report (MTY (T) 29) “Thames Television at Six” states that “Already there has been one minor collision with the wreck.”
1st March 1981. It was reported by the Ferry Olau-Finn that a vessel was inside the Richard Montgomery buoyed area. (Apparently it was not seen on radar until reported?) The vessel, the Lion was seen after the event by radar and visual observation to be inside the exclusion zone. Again this vessel was not seen or stopped before it entered the exclusion zone.
23rd march 1982. An unidentified vessel passed through the prohibited area around the Richard Montgomery. Again it was not stopped before it entered!!!
6 October 1978. Letter of 6 October 1978 (Name withheld by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency) claimed he sailed over the wreck in a pleasure boat and could have touched the wreck’s mast with his hand”. Yet again not seen or stopped from entering the exclusion zone.
The Website “Southend Timeline”, http://www.southendtimeline.com/thetickingtimebomb.htm, claims there was an even closer near miss when on the 22nd May 1980 the British vessel M V Fletching hit the No7 Medway Buoy and came to within 50 feet of a collision with the Richard Montgomery!
Southend & District Chamber of Trade & Industry Report 1972.
The author of the report was at the wreck for two hours, this being done openly without any attempt of concealment. States, we do not consider the wreck to be secure.
Numerous “tourist” and fishing boats have been inside the prohibited area around the Richard Montgomery and none have been stopped before entering.
Although the security of the wreck of the Richard Montgomery relies on Radar and visual monitoring it would appear that at most time any vessel can sail right up to the Richard Montgomery without let or hindrance and it is only after the event that the offenders are stopped. This is too late, isn’t it!
SS Richard Montgomery
It should be remembered that the Richard Montgomery, like other Liberty ships played a vital role during World War Two. The Richard Montgomery was not a British Ship; it was an American Ship. It wasn’t bringing munitions for the British Army, it was transporting them to Normandy, shortly after D-Day, for the American Army.
Liberty ships were built cheaply and quickly to last the duration of the war. They were assembled in production line fashion, to meet a need in a time of dire emergency. They were built to replace the millions of tons of shipping which had been sunk by German U-boats in the Atlantic and to give more capacity to build up armaments and munitions approaching D-day (the Invasion of German controlled Europe by Great Britain and the Commonwealth and the United States of America.)
Liberty Ships had one failing, which at first went unrecognized. The steel used to build them was of a low grade and cold weather such as that found in the North Atlantic made the steel brittle and prone to cracking. On a ship built of steel plates riveted together, this wasn’t a problem as the crack would only travel as far as the edge of the plate. On welded ships there was nothing to stop the crack which got longer and longer. These crack would often start at weak points such as the corners of Hold openings. (Now you know why airline windows aren’t square but have rounded corners.)
The SS Richard Montgomery was named after General Richard Montgomery who was killed on the 31st December 1775 at the siege of Quebec.
Born in Ireland and serving in the British Army, he was stationed in North America during the Pontiac Wars against the uprising of the Indian tribes. He later return to America to take up farming. During the American War of Independence, he joined the American Continental Army to fight against the British.
THE EXAMPLE OF THE POLISH SHIP KIELCE. (From the Report on the Wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery)
THE KIELCE EXPLOSION
It is complete nonsense and defies all common sense to use of the blowing up of the Polish ship Kielce, while the munitions were being removed as an example of not to do anything about the Richard Montgomery. Apart from the fact that they are both ships that sank with explosives on board, they have nothing else in common. Both ships are completely different! Both situations are completely different!
The Richard Montgomery is four times bigger than the Kielce. (The Montgomery 7,176 tons, the Kielce 1,752 tons.)
Therefore, the cargo on board the Richard Montgomery is four times bigger than the cargo on the Kielce.
The Richard Montgomery rests in shallow water (15metres), the Kielce rested in deep water (90 feet).
The Richard Montgomery is close to a populated area, the Kielce was far away from a populated area.
It is wrong that in the Report it states that the Kielce “had a full cargo of bombs and ammunition” as in the same sentence it goes on to say “although no cargo manifest has ever been traced.”
Therefore the truth is, we don't known how many bombs were on the Kielce.
Eye witnesses report that the Kielce was loading ammunition, bombs and equipment. THIS IS NOT A FULL CARGO OF BOMBS.
The Kielce did have munitions on board but it is improbable that it carried “a full cargo of bombs and ammunition" in 1946 when the war had ended the previous year.
The SS Baalbek' collided with the Nore Sea Fort, a structure of six towers, each sitting on four legs with large metal boxes on top and clearly visible. Only the masts of the Richard protrude from the sea!
Home Page Wildfire III. Ship Database. Dunkirk. Battle of the Scheldt. Sweeping the Scheldt. D-day. The Relief of Holland. The Enemy. Ships sunk.
Trawler/Drifter Minesweepers. MMS, Motor Mine Sweepers. BYMS, British Yard Mine Sweepers.
HMS WILDFIRE III, Shore Base, Queenborough. HMS WILDFIRE Shore Base, Sheerness.
Fortress Sheppey. Montgomery. Channel Dash. Amy Johnson. Thames Boom. A Bad day in December.
In this BBC photograph of the Richard Montgomery sinking. It is not difficult to see why the two holds at the stern, Cargo Holds 4 and 5, were off-loaded while the munitions in holds 1, 2, and 3 at the front of the ship were abandoned.
The controversy of what to do about with Richard Montgomery goes on and on.
The “Ostrich” brigade say “do nothing as chances are it won’t blow up.” And in all probably it won’t blow up. But should we take that chance? What do you think?
When the experts state “the likelihood of a major explosion is remote” they are still saying there is a chance it will explode (all be it remote)
The Report by the Southend & District Chamber of Trade & Industry 1972 takes a differing view when it concluded that, “By comparison with absolute safety, the chances of explosion are not remote.”
If the Richard Montgomery had sunk in the River Thames outside the houses of parliament, do you think it would still be there today?
Why is it that if a single WW2 shell or bomb is found anywhere, the area is immediately cordoned off and the bomb removed or exploded? No-one says “just leave it there, it might not explode.” But this is exactly what they say about the Richard Montgomery.
Often with officialdom it is easy to do nothing, but difficult and expensive to do something, therefore they do nothing.
Here is the report on the Richard Montgomery, you should judge for yourself its content.
REPORT ON THE WRECK OF THE SS RICHARD MONTGOMERY
Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Spring Place, 105 Commercial Road, Southampton, SO15 1EG.
You may feel uneasy about the content of this report.
The Information we are given about the Richard Montgomery is WRONG!
The claim in the report by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency that there have been no near misses by shipping passing the Richard Montgomery is WRONG.
The amount of bombs they claim are remaining the Richard Montgomery is WRONG.
The claim that it would be dangerous to do something about the Richard Montgomery because of what happened with the Polish ship the Kielce, is WRONG.
You can find the 2015 Report here. Despite their “policy of openness” it tells you nothing. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/489222/Dstl_Report_2015.pdf
The Report was produced for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, (an executive agency of the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions) by Sonar Research and Development Ltd of Beverley under contract to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions and was supervised by the Chief Salvage Officer to the Ministry of Defence (Navy).
The survey can hardly be considered as independent and completely impartial as it is paid for by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and would lean towards the outcomes they desire.
The report is written for the people who paid for it and it seems to be telling them what they want to hear which is “Do nothing” (Because to do something will cost millions of pounds)
Chillingly, the Report on the Wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery states;
CONDITION OF EXPLOSIVES. (From the Report on the Wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery)
8. TNT does not react with water and is extremely stable, particularly if stored at a steady, low temperature. As it has been contained in metal bomb cases there has probably been little change in its chemical or explosive properties as a result of the long period of immersion.
PART 3. CONSIDERATIONS FOR THE FUTURE. Collision. (From the Report on the Wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery)
“There are no records of near misses since the wreck occurred in 1944.”
In this single sentence the risk of collision is “brushed” aside. The Report makes no mention that in March 1953 the Norwegian pulp carrier the 'Baalbek' ran into the Nore Maunsell Fort which was only two miles away from the Richard Montgomery. One tower collapsed killing four civilian crew. The Baalbek docked with part of the tower still lodged in its superstructure. The remaining towers were considered a hazard to shipping and dismantled in 1959–60.
Nore Sea Fort with which the freighter SS Baalbek collided.
The steam Tug Atlantic Cock Supplied steam for the winches of the Richard Montgomery during salvage operations.
The working conditions for the stevedores were alarming. The deck was at an angle which gradually got steeper. The ship was taking in water, fast. While down in the holds, where water was only just below the level of the cargo the ship groaned and creaked. At any moment she might slip below the water into the deeper channel.” The Luftwaffe, although busy elsewhere, could return at any times as it had done often in the past.
The bombs on the Richard Montgomery had to be unloaded from holds full of water with pumps working flat out to keep the level below that of the cargo. Alarmingly part of the cargo was boxes of detonator and chillingly some of the bombs already had their fuses in place and had to be handled with extreme care.
Not much was unloaded on the first day, but this increased when a flexible steam pipe and other equipment was acquired from Sheerness Dockyard.
As the tide rose, the sea water got deeper in the forward holds and the stevedore were forced to move to the stern holds.
The wakes of vessels passing by was a problem and steam pipes from the “Atlantic Cock” were torn from the Richard Montgomery and had to be reconnected to resume unloading.
On the 29th August to speed up unloading the stevedore were increased from three to four gangs.
With four submersible pumps pumping the water in Number 1 and 2 holds was still rising rapidly. Despite the pumping the sea was gaining at about three feet a day.
In the afternoon and urgent signal was sent to the Destroyer (D11) to slow down when passing the Richard Montgomery as her bow wave would cause severe disruption. Research showed this destroyer to be HMS Impulsive. HMS Impulsive was not a Sheerness Destroyer and did not know about the precarious position of the Richard Montgomery. HMS Impulsive had only recently left the D-Day Invasion area for a refit at Immingham. But the signal went unheeded and the Impulsive proceeded at high speed. Its wake buffeted the salvage area badly. The cargo on board the Montgomery moved alarmingly, two of the ships alongside her broke their moorings. The SS Flathouse rolling violently and smashed into the side of the Montgomery repeatedly. It was an frightening experience for all involved.
On the 1st September with a south-west wind increasing and rough seas it was necessary, in addition to the pumps already in place, to include a Sheerness Dockyard Pumping Crew. A second tarpaulin was placed over no. 2 Hold and it was battened down as with the tide rising the midships were awash. The generators were moved to the Flathouse as it became hazardous for them to be left aboard the Montgomery.
On the 3rd September the strong winds and high waves forced the Salvage Vessel Empire Nutfield to find a sheltered anchorage. The Flathouse, in the weather side of the Montgomery was unable to leave and find shelter. Heavy seas and waves breaking over the Montgomery washed the covers off no. 2 hold causing the fore-end to flood and sink. Despite the deteriorating state of the weather the Stevedore gangs were doubled. The sea broke over the foredeck of the Montgomery making pumping impossible.
The weather had won the battle for the Montgomery, although the struggle continued all through most of the 4th September. Strong and freshening winds and rough seas prevented pumping forward. Submersible pumps could no longer cope. With the weather worsening the hatches were batted down and the Montgomery was left to its fate.
Not far away, in the war torn channel ports, the biggest and best wreck lifting ships in the World were working. Six British salvage vessels, three American salvage vessels and twelve lifting “camels” cleared 81 wrecks from Cherbourg harbour in four months. It’s a pity someone didn’t direct them to the Richard Montgomery once the important work of clearing the Channel Ports had been completed.
The Salvage Ship Empire Nutfield was later to be scuttled on 3 September 1946 with a cargo of obsolete German chemical weapons at 48°03′N 08°09′W, over the Continental Shelf, 190 miles off Land’s End, Cornwall.
THE MUNITIONS ON BOARD THE RICHARD MONTGOMERY.
The report of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency makes an assumption without investigation or proof and brushes aside the danger of the fused bombs.
“Many of the bombs were transported with the fuses attached,” the reports states. “They could be transported fused because the design included a propeller mechanism at the front which only screwed the fuse into position as the bombs fell from an aircraft.”
If the air current, when a bomb is falling from an aircraft, can screw the detonator fully into position, could the effects of tide and sea currents do the same?
Again the risk of explosion from collision has been diminished and brushed aside! Wouldn’t it be a wise precaution to place a deactivated bomb with a “propeller mechanism at the front which only screwed the fuse into position as the bombs fell from an aircraft” into the Thames Estuary and see if the current does arm the bomb?
TOTAL NUMBER OF “BOMBS” ON THE RICHARD MONTGOMERY.
The Report on the Wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery misleadingly reduces the amount of munitions remaining on board. All to avoid the difficulty and expense of doing something, instead of doing nothing.
The “Report on the Wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery” states the munitions remaining in the wreck are equivalent to 1500 tonnes of TNT.
The Report states that the Richard Montgomery was loaded with 7000 tons of munitions and that an intensive effort were made after the grounding to unload the cargo and about half was removed. There was in fact 6,862 tons of munitions on the Richard Montgomery when it sank and not 7,000.
If half the cargo was removed, then 3500 tons of munitions remain according to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency estimate.
The Report also states that “The two stern holds were probably emptied.” (Not the "Probably")
There are five holds on the Richard Montgomery of approximately equal size, so if the two stern holds were emptied then three fifths of the munitions remain and not half. This is 4,200 tons of bombs.
SS RICHARD MONTGOMERY
American Liberty Ship
SS RICHARD MONTGOMERY also known as the Wreck or the Bomb Ship sits in the Thames Estuary one and a half miles from Sheerness and five miles from Southend with its masts visible at all states of the tide.
Bombs known to be aboard the SS Richard Montgomery when it ran aground, 6,862 tons. (This is lower than the usual 7,000 tons often quoted)
Bombs know to be taken off the SS Richard Montgomery in the salvage operation between the 23 August and 4 September 1944, 1,514 tons,
6,862 tons minus 1,514 tons = 5,348 tons.
tons of munitions remain on board the Richard Montgomery.
NOT 1400 tonnes of explosive material as stated in the REPORT ON THE WRECK OF THE SS RICHARD MONTGOMERY by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.
It is inexcusable that in the REPORT ON THE WRECK OF THE SS RICHARD MONTGOMERY by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency it states “there are no records of near misses since the wreck occurred in 1944.”
THIS IS WRONG as the records held by Maritime and Coastguard Agency themselves clearly show. On the 22nd May 1980 at exactly 06.43 hours a ship was six minutes away from collision with the Richard Montgomery.
But to start at the beginning.
The Richard Montgomery is a Liberty Ship and as such played an important part in World War Two by transporting large amounts of materials and war supplies to Britain and by so doing helping to win the war.
Today the wreck of the Richard Montgomery lies on the seabed, with its masts above the surface, one and a half miles from Sheerness, off the Isle of Sheppey, Kent, England. Her holds contain 5,348 tons of bombs!
On the 1st October 1944 the Destroyer HMS Meynell passed on the wrong side of a buoy off Sheerness, fouled a sunken ship and suffered major damage to her starboard shaft and propeller. Meynell was towed to London to have the propeller repaired. It is not recorded which wreck she collided with.
On the 12 January 1950 the tanker Divina collided with and sunk the submarine HMS Truculent off Sheerness with great loss of life.
The Report by Southend & District Chamber of Trade & Industry 1972 states, “There is an eye witness account of a small ship (71 tons) passing over the wreck between the masts.”
It is wrong to dismiss the risk of collision so lightly as in the report of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.
THERE HAVE BEEN AND WILL BE NEAR MISSES.
Anyone who has lived in Sheerness, on Sheppey or in Southend for any length of time will know that the statement from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency that “there are no records of near misses since the wreck occurred in 1944” is so wrong.
To clarify the situation about the “doubtful” statement concerning the near misses Freedom of Information requests were made. As the Maritime and Coastguard Agency claim to have a Policy of Openness regarding the wreck of the Richard Montgomery these requests were made in the spirit of openness and honesty. These are the results.
PORT OF SHEERNESS LIMITED. (who monitor the wreck). Did not reply to my e-mail but got their Lawyers to reply on their behalf.
PORT OF SHEERNESS LIMITED LAWYER. Wouldn’t answer my questions as they were not required to under the Freedom of Information Act.
PORT OF SHEERNESS LIMITED LAWYER. Ignored a second request for information which was not a Freedom of Information request”
MARITIME AND COASTGUARD AGENCY. No response to my e-mail.
RECEIVER OF WRECKS. No response to my e-mail.
A Freedom of Information request was sent by Recorded Delivery Letter. Both the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and the Receiver of Wrecks replied.
Maritime and Coastguard Agency write “I should highlight the fact that we do not hold records going back as far as 1944. The oldest files that we hold date from around the late 1960s.”
If no records existed for 25 years between 1944 and the late 1960's then their report is misleading when it states “there are no records of near misses since the wreck occurred in 1944”.
As long ago as 1978 the Police Review, in a report about the Richard Montgomery states (quote) “The Comforting words put out by official spokesmen are inaccurate.” And “there have been 24 near-misses by passing craft and one direct but fortunately non-lethal collision” (There is no supporting evidence for this claim.)
There is supporting evidence for perhaps the most alarming of the known “near misses”. On the 22nd May 1980 the Tanker Mare Altum, carrying a low flash point cargo, was only six minutes away from a collision with the wreck of the Richard Montgomery. The Medway Ports Authority, who were monitoring the wreck by radar, were initially unable to contact her Captain.
When the Mare Altum was eventually contacted it executed an emergency turn to starboard and by so doing avoided a collision with the Richard Montgomery.