SS  Richard Montgomery Matter

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The doomsday  wreck

NewScientist   21st August  2004

Mick  Hamer   Page 38 (Extract)

 "The bombs themselves have watertight cases and most experts agree that the TNT they contain
 is probably in first-class condition. 
The fuses however, fall well short of this state, a fact that the government has known since 1967.
The fuses contain lead azide, a chemical designed to explode on impact and detonate the main
charge of TNT. Although the bombs are watertight, the fuses are not. This isn't a problem if
seawater gets in: it will wash out the lead azide. But there is a nightmare scenario- and it only has
to apply to one fused bomb.(*)
If water vapour, and not water, gets into the fuse it will react with the lead azide to form hydrazoic
acid. This in turn will attack the detonating cap, which is 95 per cent copper, to form copper
azide, which is highly sensitive and will explode at the slightest knock. It is so sensitive that it
cannot be used commercially. One fuse detonating one fragmentation bomb could easily set off
the rest of the cargo."

(*) The 2600 Fragmentation bombs (mostly if not all) have fuses in them.



These comprise a cluster of six 20lb TNT-filled fragmentation bombs type M41 assembled and packed on the cluster in the fuzed condition. They are the most hazardous items in the cargo of the "SS Richard Montgomery". Each cluster was packed in a metal-lined wooden box of exterior dimensions 134 X 27 X 32 (cm). The fuze employed is the type AN-M110A1

Cluster bomb fuze type AN-M110A1 diagram and workings (pdf)

Cluster bomb fuze type AN-M110A1 cutaway picture (jpg)



IN THE Thames estuary, 60 kilometres from central London, lies the 60-year-old wreck of the American liberty ship Richard Montgomery. It still carries 1400 tonnes of TNT, and according to a report commissioned by the UK government, an explosion is "increasingly probable with the passing of time". Which makes it odd that it has taken four years to publish the report, which will appear this week.

New Scientist revealed last year that the then secret report warned of the dangers posed by the wreck (21 August 2004, p 36). The ship is disintegrating and is likely to start collapsing in 10 to 20 years' time. "Experience from other similar wrecks indicates that the explosion of one munition is likely to result in a mass explosion," the report says. It would be the world's biggest non-nuclear explosion apart from volcanoes, and would cause £1 billion of damage and widespread injuries to the public.

“It would be the world's biggest non-nuclear explosion apart from volcanoes

”Removing the explosives would mean evacuating 40,000 people for six months. The report's favoured solution is to build an 1800-metre earthwork around the wreck to deaden the blast of the explosion.

(Extract) From issue 2483 of New Scientist magazine, 22 January 2005, page 4


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