Mount Hood I (AE-11)
A volcanic peak in the Cascade Range of Oregon.
(AE-11: displacement 13,910 tons; length 459'2"; beam 63'; draft 28'3"; speed 16 knots; complement 318; armament 1 5-inch, 4 3-inch, 4 40 millimeter, 8 20 millimeter; class Mount Hood; type C2-S-AJ1)
The freighter Marco Polo was laid down on 28 September 1943 at Wilmington, N.C., by the North Carolina Shipbuilding Co., under a Maritime Commission contract (M. C. Hull 1356); renamed Mount Hood (AE-11) on 10 November 1943; launched on 28 November 1943; sponsored by Mrs. A. J. Reynolds; acquired by the Navy on a loan-charter basis on 28 January 1944; converted to an ammunition ship by the Norfolk Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co., Norfolk, Va., and the Norfolk [Va.] Navy Yard; and commissioned on 1 July 1944, Cmdr. Harold A. Turner in command.
Following an abbreviated fitting out and shakedown period in the Chesapeake Bay area, Mount Hood reported for duty to Commander, Service Force, Atlantic Fleet, on 5 August 1944. Assigned to carry her vital cargos to the Pacific, she put into Norfolk, where her holds were loaded. On 21 August, as a unit of Task Group (TG) 29.6, she departed for the Panama Canal, transited the isthmian waterway on the 27th, and continued on, independently, toward what would be her ultimate destination, Manus, in the Admiralty Islands. Proceeding via Finschafen, New Guinea, she reached Seeadler Harbor, on 22 September, and, as a unit under Commander Southwest Pacific Area, commenced dispensing ammunition and explosives to ships preparing for the Philippine offensive.
At 0830 on 10 November 1944, a party consisting of Lt. Lester A. Wallace, USNR, the communications officer, and 17 men left the ship and headed for shore. At 0855, while walking on the beach, they saw a flash from the harbor, followed by two quick explosions. Scrambling into their boat, they headed back to the ship, only to turn around again shortly thereafter as "There was nothing but debris all around..."
Mount Hood, anchored in about 19 fathoms of water, had exploded with an estimated 3,800 tons of ordnance materiel on board. The initial explosion caused flame and smoke to shoot up from amidships to more than masthead height. Within seconds, the bulk of her cargo was set off with a more intense explosion. Mushrooming smoke rose to 7,000 feet, obscuring the ship and the surrounding area for a radius of approximately 500 yards. The force of the explosion blasted a trough in the harbor floor longer than the length of a football field and 50 feet wide and 30 to 40 feet deep; some fragments landed more than 2,000 yards from where Mount Hood lay. Investigators found no fragment of the ship on the ocean floor larger than 16 by 10 feet.
The concussion and metal fragments caused casualties and varying degrees of damage to ships and small craft within 2,000 yards. The cataclysmic blast damaged nearby escort carriers Petrof Bay (CVE-80) and Saginaw Bay (CVE-82); destroyer Young (DD-580); destroyer escorts Kyne (DE-744), Lyman (DE-302), Walter C. Wann (DE-412), and Oberrender (DE-344); high speed transport Talbot (APD-7); destroyer tender Piedmont (AD-17); miscellaneous auxiliary Argonne (AG-31); cargo ship Aries (AK-51); attack cargo ship Alhena (AKA-9); oiler Cacapon (AO-52); internal combustion engine repair ships Cebu (ARG-6) and Mindanao (ARG-3) (the latter suffering 23 dead and 174 injured); salvage ship Preserver (ARS-8); fleet tug Potawatomi (ATF-109); motor minesweepers YMS-1, YMS-39, YMS-49, YMS-52, YMS-71, YMS-81, YMS-140, YMS-238, YMS-243, YMS-286, YMS-293, YMS-319, YMS-335, YMS-340, YMS-341, and YMS-342; unclassified auxiliary Abarenda (IX-131), covered lighter YF-681, and fuel oil barge YO-77. In addition to the aforementioned ships, nine medium landing craft (LCM) and a pontoon barge moored alongside Mount Hood were also destroyed; 13 small boats or landing craft were sunk or damaged beyond repair, 33 were damaged but repairable. Casualties amounted to 45 known dead, 327 missing and 371 injured, including the crew of Mount Hood, of whom only those ashore survived. The damage to other vessels required more than 100,000 manhours to repair, an estimated 48,000 concerning Mindanao alone.
The board convened to examine evidence relating to the disaster proved unable to ascertain the exact cause.
Mount Hood (AE-11) was stricken from the Naval Register on 11 December 1944.
13 December 2005