Thursday, July 17, 2014

Port Chicago Disaster

"This Day in History"

July 14, 1944

The Port Chicago Disaster was the largest homeland disaster during World War II.

World War II was in full swing by 1944, and the United States needed to develop an additional munitions facility to help supply the war effort. Port Chicago, north of San Francisco, was created and by the summer of 1944 the port could load two ships at once around the clock – including dangerous cargo. 

Diagram of the Port Chicago loading pier.
These operations were handled mainly by African-American units, many whom were not trained in handling dangerous cargo.

Photograph courtesy of the National Park Service.

On July 17, 1944, the SS Quinault Victory and SS E.A. Bryan were being loaded with 4,600 tons of explosives, including depth charges. In addition, 400 tons of explosives lay nearby on rail cars. Around 10:18 pm, massive explosions destroyed everything in the vicinity, and took the lives of 320 workers who were at or near the pier at the time. The blasts were so extensive, that they were felt as far as away as Nevada and the damage extended up north to San Francisco. Smoke and fire destroyed everything within a two mile radius of Port Chicago.

Remains of the pier.  Photograph courtesy of

Of the 320 workers, two-thirds of them were African-American, which contributed to 15% of all African-Americans killed during World War II.  The remaining men were transferred to Mare Island to serve the rest of their enlistment. The Port Chicago disaster stands as a testament to the implementation of safer procedures when handling and loading dangerous cargo, including proper training for individuals handling ammunitions. Though the Port Chicago legacy is tainted with disaster, we can use the example to help further not only regulations and training today, but technology and even civil rights issues.

Photograph courtesy of

USS Razorback was an active war vessel during World War II, capable of holding 24 torpedoes, a Bofors 40 mm and Oerlikon 20 mm cannon and two five-inch 25 caliber deck guns.  Fortunately for the submarine, the crew was well trained in munitions and dangerous cargo. No internal explosions marred the record, but Razorback did carry material that would make civilians question stepping onto the deck.  USS Razorback stands today as an example of daily submarine life and World War II technology and is located at the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum in North Little Rock, Arkansas.

Author: Nicolette Lloyd

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