Halifax Nova Scotia, on Canada’s Atlantic coast, was a bustling harbour metropolis throughout the Nice Battle.
The harbour hosted ships from everywhere in the world, typically performing as a gathering level for convoys from the USA and Canada, and from as distant as Europe. Throughout wartime, the harbour protected itself from enemy spies, torpedoes, and different assaults, by elevating a torpedo web across the entrance at evening.
The French cargo ship, the SS Mont-Blanc, was enroute from New York to Bordeaux, France by way of Halifax, carrying cargo and supplies for use in weapons of struggle. This included almost 3,000 kilos of extremely flamable munitions, similar to picric acid, TNT, gun cotton, and benzol, a coal-tar product typically utilized in excessive octane gasoline.
The Mont-Blanc arrived in Halifax late on December fifth, absolutely loaded with explosives and gas. Previous to the struggle, she could be required to don a purple flag, indicating that there have been harmful supplies on board and could be restricted from getting into the harbour. Nonetheless, the concern of assaults by German submarines meant the lifting of many wartime restrictions, permitting the ship to enter the harbor and stay in port unflagged.
A Norwegian vessel, the SS Imo, captained by Haakon From, was additionally in Halifax present process inspections whereas transporting humanitarian provides to German-occupied Belgium. The Imo had been given departure clearance on December fifth, however was delayed as a result of late arrival of coal, remaining in port until the subsequent morning with the elevating of the torpedo nets in a single day.
Early on December sixth, the Mont-Blanc entered the strait, known as The Narrows, to affix a slow-moving convoy sure for France. On the similar time, Imo enters the Narrows on the alternative finish.
One other steam ship manoeuvres too near the Imo, and each pilots, utilizing horn indicators, comply with cross one another on the appropriate facet. Whereas this will likely appear logical, it goes towards the foundations of navigation and this resolution places Imo within the path of oncoming ships.
A tugboat was subsequent to come back throughout Imo, forcing her to remain within the mistaken lane to keep away from collision, sadly, this proved the mistaken resolution, as Imo was now on a direct collision course with the Mont-Blanc.
The Mont-Blanc signaled to the Imo to maneuver over, however she wouldn’t yield. Sometimes, the ship carrying harmful cargo would have the appropriate of manner, however since no warning flag was flown, Imo’s captain was unaware of its cargo.
On the final second, each ships minimize their engines, and Imo went theirs into reverse, however the ahead momentum couldn’t be halted and the ships collided. Though the Imo ripped a 3-metre-long gash within the facet of Mont-Blanc, the collision itself was comparatively minor, because the ships have been shifting at a sluggish pace of about 1 knot, or about 1.15 mph. Nonetheless, the sparks created by metal-on-metal friction, immediately ignited broken barrels of flammable bezol within the Mont-Blanc’s maintain.
Realizing the acute hazard of the state of affairs, Mont-Blanc’s captain ordered his crew to desert ship because it drifted in the direction of one in every of Halifax’s piers. Crewmen tried to alert folks on shore, however the spectators had no concept that they have been looking at a ticking bomb.
Lower than 20 minutes after the collision, the Mont-Blanc exploded in a blinding white blast, destroying most buildings in a half mile radius. The ensuing stress wave, touring at roughly 3,300 ft per second, bent iron rails, snapped timber, and grounded a number of ships (together with the Imo) attributable to a 60-foot tidal that adopted.
Temperatures close to the blast level reached about 9,000 levels (F), incinerating all the things within the neighborhood, and vaporizing folks the place they stood. Round 1,600 folks have been killed immediately, and one other 300 later died from their accidents. Over 9,000 folks have been injured, and 25,000 have been rendered homeless. The commonest harm was to the eyes, with many finally blinded from the white blast.
Secondary fires erupted throughout city from overturned stoves igniting, and emergency crews have been shortly overwhelmed. Assist would come from the encompassing areas, however the quickest got here from an unlikely place.
Boston, Massachusetts and Halifax traditionally had a strained relationship…Nova Scotia was the place hundreds of British loyalists from New England fled after the tip of the American revolution.
Nonetheless, Boston didn’t hesitate to ship important provides to Halifax. By 10:00pm on the evening of the explosion, a prepare was on its option to Canada carrying meals, water, medical provides, and medical professionals who would help within the coming days.
Halifax was so moved by Boston’s unwavering assist, that the next December they despatched a Christmas tree to Boston as a thanks. The yearly custom began in 1971 and continues to at the present time, in acknowledgement of Boston’s help throughout Halifax’s most tragic day.
The tree is Boston’s official tree and sits proudly in Boston Widespread all through the vacation season.
Written by Julie St Jean