Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Factual Detail Prior to Explosion

Finding of Facts, Opinion and Recommendations, continued...

6. FACTUAL DETAILS PRIOR TO EXPLOSION: That the pertinent details just prior to the explosion were as follows:


(1) The QUINAULT VICTORY was a new vessel of the Victory type, owned by the War Shipping Administration (U.S. Government) and operated by the United States Lines Company. The officers and crew were competent. No unusual difficulties had been experienced either with personnel or equipment from the time of her delivery by the builders on 11 July 1944 at Portland, Oregon, up to the time of the explosion.

(2) A loading permit had been requested and obtained in the routine manner.

(3) Just prior to the mooring at Port Chicago about 1800, 17 July 1944, a partial load of fuel was taken aboard at the Shell Oil Company's Martinez refinery, and the normal practice would involve sluicing of this oil to other tanks for the ensuing 24 hours. Some of the oil taken aboard was of a type that released light hydrocarbon gas on agitation, heating, or standing. This could have resulted in formation of an explosive mixture in the confined air space above the oil in the tanks.

(4) Prior to being sent to Martinez and Port Chicago, a pre-loading inspection was made by the Port Director's officers and the Captain of the Port's office, and no defects noted.

(5) Some difficulty was experienced in mooring at Port Chicago because of wind and tide. Just prior to the explosion the engine was turning over slowly.

(6) Just after arrival, the Port Chicago personnel had commenced rigging the ship for loading, and all hatches except No. 5 were about ready to load at the time of the explosion. This was the first time this vessel had been rigged for loading. Trouble was experienced with shackles and preventer guys as they were non-standard. Whips on some of the winches were on backwards and had to be corrected.

(7) Loading should have started by midnight. Dunnage and loaded cars were spotted on the pier for this purpose.

(8) On arrival at Port Chicago, both the loading officer and his assistants visited the ship, gave copies of pertinent magazine orders to the master, inspected some of the holds and saw the ship being properly rigged for loading. no. 5 hold was not being rigged as it was not to be loaded that night.


(1) The E. A. BRYAN was a new vessel of the Liberty type owned by the War Shipping Administration (U.S. Government) and operated by the Oliver J. Olson Company. There were no complaints against the officers or crew. The ship had been put in service in February 1944, had made one trans-Pacific trip, had undergone voyage repairs and had been inspected for readiness for loading by the operators, Port Director, and Captain of the Port prior to being sent to Port Chicago, and no defects noted.

(2) A full load of fuel oil was taken at Standard Oil Company's Richmond plant. This oil had passed Navy inspection and was gas free.

(3) A loading permit had been requested an obtained in the routine manner.

(4) The ship moored at Port Chicago about 0815, 13 July 1944, commenced loading at about 1000, and loaded continuously night and day until the explosion. On arrival, the usual boarding call was made and pertinent magazine orders delivered to the master.

(5) All aspects of loading were routine and normal up to the time of the explosion, with the exception of minor repairs to winches.

(6) At the time of the explosion, the following cargo was in or being loaded into the various holds:

    (In order from bottom of hold)
    Quantity Being
    ----- ------------------------------------------------- ----------------- --------------------
    1 5"/38 A.A.C. Projectiles 328 tons M-7 Incendiary Cluster
      5"/38 Cartridges 320 tons Wire sling
      M-7 Incendiary Cluster (About)  46 tons  
        694 tons  
    2 Mk 66 2000# bombs 522 tons Mk 47 Aerial depth charges
      Mk 65 1000# bombs 247 tons  
      Mk 64 500# bombs 334 tons Wire net
      Mk 47 350# depth bombs (About)  100 tons  
        1167 tons  
    3 Mk 65 1000# bombs 1049 tons Tail Vanes
      Tail Vanes (insert) (not included in total)     20 tons Wire net
        1049 tons
    4 Mk 64 500# bombs 475 tons M-4 Fragmentation clusters
      Mk 54 350# bombs 315 tons Wire sling
      M-4 100# fragmentation clusters (About)   50 tons  
        840 tons
    5 5"/38 A.A.C. Projectiles 166 tons Boxed 40mm
      3"/50 cartridges 260 tons Manila net with pie plate.
      40 mm (About)  430 tons  
        856 tons  
        4606 tons  

(7) The 4606 tons of cargo contained 1780 tons of high explosives and 199 tons of smokeless powder.


(1) The night was dark (no moon), clear and cool. Wind was force 1 to 2 from the southwest. Tide had been flooding for one hour.

(2) The E. A. BRYAN was moored starboard side to, headed west at the inboard berth.

(3) The QUINAULT VICTORY was moored starboard side to, headed east at the outboard berth.

(4) The fire barge was moored at the outer end of the pier.

(5) There were 16 cars on the pier spotted and loaded as shown on Page No. 1212, Exhibit No. 74:

Exhibit No. 74 

Exhibit No. 74 showing there were 16 cars on the pier spotted and loaded.
Exhibit No. 74 showing there were 16 cars on the pier spotted and loaded.

A locomotive was on the pier. It was off the pier a few minutes before the explosion.

(6) Explosive cars spotted for the QUINAULT VICTORY contained the following:

    Mk 33 1000# bombs 2 cars 106 tons
    Mk 65 1000# bombs 2 cars 88 tons
    5"/38 A.A.C. projectiles 1 car    59 tons
        253 tons

(7) Explosive cars spotted for the E. A. BRYAN contained the following:

    M-7 Incendiary clusters 2 cars, 30 tons each, 1 about empty 30 tons
    Mk 47 350# bombs 2 cars, 97 tons, half unloaded 51 tons
    M-4 100# Fragmentation clusters 2 cars, 93 tons, half unloaded 43 tons
    20 mm. 1 car 50 tons
    40 mm.      2 tons
        176 tons

Total on pier -- 429 tons.

(8) The 429 tons of cargo on the pier contained 146 tons of high explosives and 10.75 tons of smokeless powder.

(9) The pier was well lighted, and when the officer-in-charge, loading officer, and assistant loading officer were last on the pier, less than one-half hour before the explosion, operations were proceeding in a normal routine manner. The sergeant of the guard and the sentry patrol found the pier sentry alert and conditions normal about this time.

(10) An unusual noise described as a metallic sound and rending timbers, such as made by a falling boom, was heard coming from the direction of the pier immediately before the first flash.


(1) Ninety-eight enlisted men of the third division were engaged in loading the E. A. BRYAN, about half of the men in the ship and half on the dock.

(2) One hundred and two enlisted men of the sixth division were rigging the QUINAULT VICTORY for loading.

(3) With these divisions there were present two division officers, two assistant division officers, and two junior officers under instruction. In addition, in a watch status, there were the assistant loading officer and the dock and transportation officer, and on an inspection trip, the assistant planning officer.

(4) A part of the officers and crew of both vessels totaling 67, were on board.

(5) A part of the Armed Guard detail of both vessels, comprising one officer and 29 enlisted men, were on board.

(6) The Coast Guard crew of the fire barge, consisting of 5 enlisted men, were on or near the fire barge.

(7) A marine sentry was on post No. 5.

(8) A train crew of three civil service employees was working on the pier.


Published: Mon Feb 29 14:56:22 EST 2016