SS Richard Montgomery Matter
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America, one of your ships is missing. We have it, but we don't want it!
The American Liberty ship, 1199 Richard Montgomery now lies at the bottom of the sea in the Thames estuary, near the oil refinery and Kingsnorth power station, close (much to close) to Swale. It can be clearly seen from Sheerness and the Isle of Sheppey.
The Richard Montgomery carries a deadly cargo. We, the people of Swale have become blasé with this hazardous situation, due to living in close proximity with it for many years. Our successive governments have chosen (although paying lip service to it) to ignore it. After all, this ship full of bombs is not on their doorstep, is it?
The Story of the Richard Montgomery begins early in the Second World War.
During the Battle of the Atlantic German U-Boats
were sinking allied merchant ships at an alarming rate. It was
necessary to replace these, and replace them fast, or the war may
In September 1941 the USA launched an emergency ship construction program that would involve building, in just three years, the equivalent of more than half of the pre-war merchant shipping of the world.
The "Liberty" Ship, a utility cargo ship, was built
in the USA. A number of alterations were made to the original
British design to accommodate the scarcity of certain materials and
the need to build as rapidly and cheaply as possible.
This urgent need for new cargo ships came at a time when the facilities for producing them were fully engaged in building War ships. The man given the job of building this fleet was Henry Kaiser a California industrialist who had never built ships before.
A basic flaw in the design of these ships caused a number of them to develop "ever increasing" cracks, to break in two and sink. Never the less, they played an important part in the war effort and bought badly needed supplies and munitions to this embattled Isle.
In 1944 the Richard Montgomery, a vessel some 440 feet long and weighing 7,176 tons, manned with a crew of 50, plus 30 gunners, sailed from Philadelphia with a cargo of 6000 (six thousand) tons of munitions for the US Air Force. This cargo included;
13,064 general purpose 250lb bombs
9,022 cases of fragmenting bombs
7,739 semi-armour piercing bombs
1,522 cases of fuses
1,429 cases of phosphorous bombs
1,427 cases of 100lb demolition bombs
817 cases of small arms ammunition
Having crossed the Atlantic Ocean with the probability of attack by u-boat, she arrived in the Thames estuary on route to her final destination of Cherbourg. During the night of 20th August 1944 she swung around at her moorings and run aground on the Sheerness middle sand. Her plates quickly began to crack and buckle and her remaining crew abandoned ship.
Shortly after, work began to remove the cargo. The Richard Montgomery's own booms and winches were used for this purpose. They can still be seen today, protruding from the wreck.
Salvage work continued for several days until a storm struck. The Richard Montgomery dragged anchor, broke her back and split in two AND THERE SHE REMAINS TODAY.
Estimates vary as to the exact amount of explosives left on board and scattered across the sea bed. No exact records were kept during the war time salvage operation. It is thought that around half her cargo still remains, perhaps from 1,200 tons to 3,000 tons of munitions containing TNT which does not deteriorate in sea water.
Is it likely to explode?
Is it still dangerous?
Is it likely to become less dangerous or more unstable as time passes?
Again opinions vary. The truth is, "we simply don't know".
Should it explode, some say, it will be the worlds biggest non-nuclear explosion. Sheerness would cease to exist, every building flattened by the explosion and the following tidal waves.
Naval Salvage experts say that it is safer to leave her cargo as it is, than to remove it. The Government supports this view.
As always, its easier to do nothing and "hope" it doesn't explode, than to do something.
AN-M1A1 CLUSTER FRAGMENTATION BOMBS
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)
Strange isn't it, that if a single shell from the second World war is found on our shores, the area is cordoned off and the Bomb Disposal Squad disarms and remove the danger. But, thousands of tons of the same bombs are simple left were they are!
Times Guardian, Thursday, June 24, 1999
Risk of wreck blast remote
THE risk of a major explosion aboard the Richard Montgomery, the sunken munitions ship which lies off the Sheppey coast, remains remote.
However, experts will continue to monitor the condition of the Second World War Liberty Ship which grounded and split in two off Sheerness in 1944.
A feasibility study is planned by Maritime and Coastguard Agency this year to assess the likely effects of interfering with the wreck and to consider its long-term future.
A report just published by the agency says the latest survey was carried out using sonar technology
It confirmed there had been no significant change in the ship’s structure below the surface and there were no grounds for increased concern.
However, a substantial quantity of the Montgomery’s ammunition cargo remains on board.
Minor work is planned to reduce stresses on the masts which protrude above the waves.
Maritime and Coastguard Agency statement, "THE risk of a major explosion remains remote."!!!
Surely this is exactly the same as saying...
There is a risk of a major explosion.
Yes, it would be a formidable job to salvage this deadly cargo. Divers would find it an impossible task. Only a few feet under the surface the light no longer penetrates the murky water, add to this the tangle of wires, the numbing cold, the munitions being fused together, and the huge amount to be removed, it does "seem" to be an impossible task. Consequently, they will continue to gamble with tens of thousands of our lives.
Why should the life of one single person from Swale be put at risk, let alone tens of thousands?
There is always another way to tackle any problem.
For this salvage operation to be successful, the sea is the main obstacle to overcome. After all, if the Richard Montgomery was on dry land it would be comparably easy to remove or defuse the bombs.
It is proposed that an engineering task be undertaken, before the munitions are removed. This would take the form of a donut shaped island being built around the ship. The size of this having a circumference greater that the spillage of the bombs and higher than the high water mark.
|This artificial island would be built
of the waste from a major engineering project, such as the Channel
Tunnel or an Underground railway extension, being bought down the
Or, suitable materials being dredged from elsewhere and deposited around the wreck. After all, they managed this when they turned the Lapple bank into a giant car park, didn't they.
Once in place, this material is concreted and waterproofed
The water is then pumped out.
Consecutive levels of munitions are removed as the falling water exposes them.
Once the salvage operation is completed the empty shell cases should be returned to the wreck.
The Richard Montgomery is then turned into a memorial to honour the merchant navy and the loss of live suffered by merchant seamen from Great Britain and our Allies. Their gallant struggle to feed our nation and to equip our armed forces in our time of greatest need should not be forgotten.
The unique memorial would become a World Class tourist attraction for both Swale and Southend.
Film /movie clip about ss richard montgomery shown at Swale Film Festival 2008
Letter received on 25 October 2010 from a concerned resident of the Isle of grain.
I have been reading some of your posts about the SS Richard Montgomery, and i must say that you are right. None of your questions were answered properly.Only by politician speak that dances around the issue. I live on the Isle of Grain so as you know one of the closes Villages to the wreck. The growing concern is that something will happen to the wreck one day and such little warning given that lives will be lost.
The Interest from Boris Jonson over the Airport in the Thames seams to over look the facts that (1) There is a time bomb off the coast waiting to go off. (2) The threat of Fog in the estuary is always a concern.(3) bird strike leading to a incident is a risk and (4) Grain Power station has the second tallest Chimney in the UK adds a hazard to aircraft. Plus the fact that there is a government white paper on the feasibility on a Nuclear power station the be erected after 2015 in place of the gas fired power station that is coming to the end of its working life.
All of these events have a bearing on the SS Richard Montgomery and the safety of people in the Thames estuary.
No one knows what will happen to the Montgomery, but ignoring it will not make it go away, nor will putting their heads in the sand like the politician do will make the issue disappear.
Carry on the good work. you make very interesting reading.
The history of Liberty ships
The Liberty ships were cargo ships built in the United States during World War II. They were cheap and
quick to build, and came to symbolize U.S. wartime industrial output. Based on vessels ordered by Britain to
replace ships torpedoed by German U-boats, they were purchased for the U.S. fleet and for lend-lease
provision to Britain. Sixteen American shipyards built 2,751 Liberties between 1941 and 1945, easily the
largest number of ships produced to a single design.
The production of these vessels mirrored, at much larger scale, the manufacture of the Hog Island ship and
similar standardized types during the First World War. The immense effort to build Liberty ships, the sheer
number of ships built, and the fact that some of the ships survived far longer than the original design life of
five years, make them the subject of much study.
In 1936, the American Merchant Marine Act was passed to subsidize the annual construction of 50
commercial merchant vessels to be used in wartime by the United States Navy as naval auxiliaries. The
number was doubled in 1939 and again in 1940 to 200 ships a year. Ship types included a tanker and three
types of merchant vessel, all to be powered by steam turbines. But limited industrial capacity, especially for
turbine construction, meant that relatively few of these ships were built.
In 1940, the British Government ordered 60 tramp steamships from American yards to replace war losses
and boost the merchant fleet. This Ocean class were simple but fairly large (for the time) with a single
coal-fired, 2,500 horsepower (1.9 MW) reciprocating engine of obsolete but reliable design. Britain specified
coal plants because it had plenty of coal mines but no indigenous oil fields. The predecessor designs,
including the Northeast Coast, Open Shelter Deck Steamer, were based on a simple ship originally produced
in Sunderland by J.L. Thompson & Sons in 1879, and widely manufactured until the SS Dorrington Court of
the 1930s. The order specified an 18 inch (457 mm) increase in draught to boost displacement by 800 tons to
10,100 tons. The accommodation, bridge and main engine of these vessels were located amidships, with a
long tunnel to connect the main engine shaft to its aft extension to the propeller. The first Ocean-class ship,
Ocean Vanguard was launched on 16 August 1941.
The design was modified by the United States Maritime Commission to conform to American construction
practices and to make it even quicker and cheaper to build. The U.S. version was designated EC2-S-C1 —
Emergency Cargo, 2 = large ship. The new design replaced much riveting, which accounted for one-third of
the labour costs, with welding. The order was given to a conglomerate of West Coast engineering and
construction companies known as the Six Companies, headed by Henry J. Kaiser, and also adopted as the
Merchant Marine Act design.
On 27 March 1941, the number of lend-lease ships was increased to 200 by the Defence Aid Supplemental
Appropriations Act, and increased again in April to 306, of which 117 would be Liberty ships.
The ships initially had a poor public image. To try to assuage public opinion, 27 September 1941 was
designated Liberty Fleet Day, and the first 14 "Emergency" vessels were launched that day. The first of these
was SS Patrick Henry, launched by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In remarks at the launch ceremony,
FDR cited Patrick Henry's 1775 speech that finished "Give me liberty or give me death". Roosevelt said that
this new class of ships would bring liberty to Europe, which gave rise to the name Liberty Ship.
Early on, each ship took about 230 days to build (Patrick Henry took 244 days), but the average eventually
dropped to 42 days. The record was set by Robert E. Peary, which was launched 4 days and 15 1/2 hours
after the keel was laid, although this publicity stunt was not repeated. The ships were made assembly-line
style, from prefabricated sections. In 1943, three new Liberty ships were being completed every day. They
were mainly named after famous Americans, starting with the signatories of the Declaration of Independence.
Any group which raised War bonds worth $2 million could propose a name. Most were named for deceased
people. The only living namesake was Francis J. O'Gara, the purser of the SS Jean Nicolet, who was thought
to have been killed in a submarine attack but in fact survived the war in a Japanese prisoner of war camp.
Other exceptions to the naming rule were the SS Stage Door Canteen, named for the USO club in New York,
and the SS U.S.O., named after the organisation itself .
SS Carlos Carrillo Another notable Liberty ship was SS Stephen Hopkins, which sank a German commerce
raider in a ship-to-ship gun battle in 1942 and became the first American ship to sink a German surface
SS Richard Montgomery is also notable, though in a less positive way; the wreck of the ship lies off the
coast of Kent with 1,500 tons of explosives still on board, enough to match a small nuclear weapon should
they ever go off.
Many Liberty ships suffered hull and deck cracks, and some were lost to such structural defects. During
WWII, there were nearly 1,500 serious brittle fractures. Nineteen ships broke in half without warning,
including the SS John P. Gaines, which sank on 24 November 1943 with the loss of 10 lives. The ships were
built in great haste, often by inexperienced people, in the era before embrittlement effects on steel were well
understood; they were frequently grossly overloaded; and some of the problems occurred during or after
severe storms at sea that would have placed any ship at risk. Still, the successor design, the Victory ship, was
built stronger and less stiff.
Several designs of mass-produced petroleum tankers were also produced, the most numerous being the T2
tanker series, with about 490 built between 1942 and the end of 1945.
The last Liberty ship constructed was the SS Albert M. Boe, launched on 26 September 1945 and delivered
on 30 October 1945. She was named after the chief engineer of a United States Army freighter who had
stayed below decks to shut down his engines after a 13 April 1945 explosion, an act that won him a
posthumous Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal
Many Liberty ships survived the war, and made up a large percentage of the post war cargo fleet. The term
"Liberty-size cargo" for 10,000 tons may still be heard in the shipping business. As of 2005, two Liberty
ships survive: the SS John W. Brown and the Jeremiah O'Brien. Both museum ships, they still put out to sea
Liberty ships were built at 17 shipyards, including:
St. Johns River Shipbuilding Company, Jacksonville, Florida (ss richard montgomery)
New England Shipbuilding Corporation in South Portland, Maine, a subsidiary of Bath Iron Works.
Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyard in Baltimore, Maryland.
North Carolina Shipbuilding Co., Wilmington, North Carolina.
Permanente Metals Corporation's Yards No. 1 and 2, both Kaiser facilities in Richmond, California.
J. A. Jones Construction Company, Panama City, Florida
J. A. Jones Construction Company, Brunswick, Georgia
Design EC2-S-C1 Liberty ship Stowage and Capacity Booklet.pdf (4.1Mb)
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