USS Mount Hood and crew lost in massive explosion

USS Mount Hood (AE-11) off the Norfolk Navy Yard, Virginia, on July 16, 1944. She is painted in camouflage Measure 32, Design 18F.

USS Mount Hood (AE-11) off the Norfolk Navy Yard, Virginia, on July 16, 1944. She is painted in camouflage Measure 32, Design 18F.

Exactly a year after being named after a volcano in the Cascade Mountains in Oregon, the USS Mount Hood was lying at berth off Manus island in the Admiralty Islands north of New Guinea. With around 4000 tons of different types of ammunition aboard, USS Mount Hood had travelled from Norfolk, Virginia via the Panama Canal to the Pacific, bringing munitions for ships that would be supporting the Philippines campaign.

She was busy this morning, men were in the process of moving ammunition in all five of her holds, but there was time to run 18 men into shore at 0830. Just 20 minutes later the remaining 249 men on the ship would be disappear in a cloud of smoke.

The explosion of the USS Mount Hood (AE-11) in Seeadler Harbor, Manus, Admiralty Islands on November 10, 1944. The smoke trails are left by fragments ejected by the explosion. The explosion was not due to enemy action; its cause has never been determined. The USS Mindanao (ARG-3), which lay about 300 m away, was heavily damaged by this explosion and 180 of her crewmen were killed or injured. The Mount Hood had been a new ship, commissioned on July 1, 1944.

The explosion of the USS Mount Hood (AE-11) in Seeadler Harbor, Manus, Admiralty Islands on November 10, 1944. The smoke trails are left by fragments ejected by the explosion. The explosion was not due to enemy action; its cause has never been determined. The USS Mindanao (ARG-3), which lay about 300 m away, was heavily damaged by this explosion and 180 of her crewmen were killed or injured. The Mount Hood had been a new ship, commissioned on July 1, 1944.

At 0850, local time, on 10 November 1944, USS Argonne lay moored to a buoy in Berth 14, Seeadler Harbor. The USS Mount Hood (AE-11) (Ammunition Ship-11) was 1,100 yards away. USS Argonne’s captain, Commander T. H. Escott:

At the time of the explosion, I was standing outside my cabin… in conversation with the executive officer. By the time we had recovered our stance from the force of the explosion, and faced outboard, the area in the vicinity of Berth 380 (where USS Mount Hood had lay moored) was completely shrouded in a pall of dense black smoke. It was not possible to see anything worth reporting. A second or so thereafter, fragments of steel and shrapnel began falling on and around this ship.

Some 221 pieces of debris, ranging in size from one to 150 pounds, were recovered on board, totalling 1,300 pounds. Several other pieces caromed off USS Argonne’s port side into the water alongside, and others landed on YF-681 (Freight Lighter-681) and YO-77 (Oil Barge -77), the latter alongside delivering fuel oil at the time.

USS Mindanao (ARG-3) (Internal Combustion Engine Repair Ship-3), suffered heavily, moored in a berth between the disintegrating ammunition ship and USS Argonne. Riddled with shrapnel, USS Mindanao suffered 23 killed and 174 wounded in the explosion. USS Argonne suffered casualties, too, as well as the destruction of a 12-inch searchlight, five transmitting antennas broken away, and steam, fresh-water, and salt-water lines ruptured… as well as extensive damage from concussion.

USS Mount Hood (AE-11), smoke cloud expanding, just after she exploded in Seeadler Harbor, Manus, Admiralty Islands, 10 November 1944. Photographed by a photographer of the 57th Construction Battalion, who had set up his camera to take pictures of the Battalion's camp.

USS Mount Hood (AE-11), smoke cloud expanding, just after she exploded in Seeadler Harbor, Manus, Admiralty Islands, 10 November 1944. Photographed by a photographer of the 57th Construction Battalion, who had set up his camera to take pictures of the Battalion’s camp.

D.D. Haverley was among a party of 30 Torpedomen waiting to go ashore from the USS Rainier to be assigned to other ships:

I was coming up the ladder from below decks when a tremendous blast threw me against the bulkhead and partially down the ladder… my first thought was that we had been hit by a torpedo. Got topside in a matter of 2 or 3 seconds, just in time to see the initial smoke and flame of the Hood’s explosion. I was mesmerized by what I saw next… the column of smoke rose straight up, and “mushroomed” at the top… a complete preview of how the A-bomb looked a year later. Within one or two minutes a terrific wave rocked the ship.

As I watched the mushroom cloud, I became instantly aware of large and small objects falling from the sky, landing in the water, some very close to us. I can not speak for the thoughts of the skipper of our ship, but suspect that he felt that the harbor was under attack, wanted to get the hell out of there, and wanted to dump us 30 Torpedo men ASAP… we were ferried to shore at once.

About the time we got to shore, the first small craft with casualties started to come in… do not recall if it was raining, but do recall that there was “red mud” everywhere. The utter chaos was a scene from hell.

Initially I thought that because the 30 of us were “ammo savvy”, that was the reason we were immediately pressed into service… the reality was, that here were 30 strong backs that were badly needed.

As the various types of small craft arrived at the beach for the next few hours, it was our job to carry the individual metal “litters” up from the beach, to a growing line of ambulances. Each litter held a body, or parts of a body…as we got near the first ambulance, a corpsman checked each litter, quickly determining the ones that held a “live” body… those were taken to the next waiting ambulance. The corpsman would say “he’s dead, over there” or “in the ambulance”.

Those that were dead or contained only body parts, were laid out three abreast, and soon piles were made with three litters laid crosswise, and three high.

After a few hours in the tropic heat, someone initially decreed that a bulldozer should dig a deep and long trench for burial purposes, basically one big “mass grave”, and the bull dozing began. It was at this point a Chaplain (I do not know his name or denomination) stepped in, and with God-given fury , he stopped the concept of a mass grave and demanded INDIVIDUAL graves for each and every body.

He prevailed, and, there were a number of Japanese prisoners of war on the island who were forced to dig the individual graves. All I could think when I heard that, was “GREAT ! HOW APPROPRIATE !”

Explosion of USS Mount Hood (AE-11) in Seeadler Harbor, Manus, Admiralty Islands, 10 November 1944. Small craft gathered around USS Mindanao (ARG-3) during salvage and rescue efforts shortly after Mount Hood blew up about 350 yards away from Mindanao's port side. Mindanao, and seven motor minesweepers (YMS) moored to her starboard side, were damaged by the blast, as were the USS Alhena (AKA-9) (in the photo's top left center) and USS Oberrender (DE-344), (top right). Note the extensive oil slick, with tracks through it made by small craft.

Explosion of USS Mount Hood (AE-11) in Seeadler Harbor, Manus, Admiralty Islands, 10 November 1944. Small craft gathered around USS Mindanao (ARG-3) during salvage and rescue efforts shortly after Mount Hood blew up about 350 yards away from Mindanao’s port side. Mindanao, and seven motor minesweepers (YMS) moored to her starboard side, were damaged by the blast, as were the USS Alhena (AKA-9) (in the photo’s top left center) and USS Oberrender (DE-344), (top right). Note the extensive oil slick, with tracks through it made by small craft.

This was the subsequent account of CDR Chester Gile, USNR,Ret., published in the US Naval Institute Proceedings, Feb., 1963:

Conversations must have been choked off in mid-word, gestures interrupted in mid-air, thoughts ended at mid-point. One moment she was a ship teeming with life, humming with activity. Seconds later, she was a vast black billowing bier which momentarily marked the spot where 350 US Navymen perished without a trace.

Mount Hood was anchored in approximately 35 feet of water. The force of the explosion blasted a trench in the harbor bottom, reported by divers as 1000 feet long, 200 feet wide and 85 feet maximum depth. In the trench was found the largest piece of the ship’s hull- a piece less than 100 feet in it’s longest dimension. Destruction was complete. Nothing was found after the explosion except fragments of metal which struck other ships. There were no bits of human remains, no supplies of any kind, nothing that had been made of wood or paper, with the single exception of a few tattered pieces of a signal notebook, floating on the water several hundred yards away.

The flying fragments from Mount Hood smashed into some 30 other ships and harbor craft bringing the total casualties to nearly 1000 killed or wounded. Some of the harbor craft simply vanished with all hands…

For some unknown reason, Mt. Hood had been anchored in the midst of the ships of the Seventh Fleet Service Force. Casualties to other vessels would have been minimized if the ammunition ship had been spotted at an isolated location a few miles down harbor, off the ammunition supply depot at Lugos, the customary anchorage for ships of this type. Somebody was at fault for designating an anchorage for Mount Hood so near to the other ships.

For more from these and many other accounts see USS Mount Rainier. Includes a transcript of the subsequent official investigation, which simply attributed the accident to “rough handling” of ammunition, without being able to be any more specific.

This account is from David Greenroos a 16 year old Navy man on the USS Mindanao:

Our last anchorage was Seeadler Harbour in the Admiralty Islands, not too far from New Guinea. This was one of the world,s largest natural harbors. I once counted 400 large ships, cruisers, battleships, freighters, troopships, etc. that were anchored briefly in the harbor, preparing for the invasion of Japan. The harbor was relatively empty when the Mt. Hood blew up. If it had blown up while the harbor was crowded, the death toll could have been ten or twenty thousand or more.

Many times, my buddies and I would look over at the Mt. Hood, and we could discern that it flew the ammunition ship flag with the E on it. In fact, we called it the E-11. We often remarked to each other that that ship was illegally parked, according to navy regulations, because an ammunition ship is supposed to be anchored thousands of yards away from other ships. We often felt very uneasy because it was there week after week.

On the morning of the explosion, I had started to work early with a new helper who had been assigned to me. His name was Italo Skortachini, an Italian kid, from New York, I think. There were six minesweepers tied alongside our ship for routine maintenance and repairs, and I was on the outermost of these minesweepers, and Italo was holding a heavy piece of metal for me to weld on a damaged railing of this minesweeper. When the blast happened, I was temporarily knocked unconscious for a second or two. I know that it was very brief because debris hadn,t started falling from the sky yet.

The blast was so strong that it blew off most of my clothes except my underwear, including my shoes. The first thing that I saw was half of Italo’s body on one side of the deck and the other half on the other side. It could have been the sheet of metal that he was holding for me that cut him in half. When I got to my feet, the captain of the minesweeper came out of his cabin and was looking toward my ship, and a flying piece of steel came through the air and impaled him like a spear to the cabin wall, It was in the center of his chest., and he gasped a little bit and then seemed to die.

Debris began to fall from the sky at this time. A large artillery shell fell on the deck, right at my feet, just as a crew member of the minesweeper came up from below. All of the minesweepers were made of wood, so as not to attract magnetic mines as the ship went about its work clearing minefields. The shell did not penetrate the heavy wooden deck of the minesweeper, and just lay there at our feet. I looked at him, and he looked at me. He asked, “Should we run?” I said, “Nobody can run that fast if it blows up. Let’s throw it overboard.” And that’s exactly what we did, expecting to be blown to bits at any second. Meanwhile, he said that there were dead men below, the ship had split open, and we were starting to sink. There were dead and dying and drowning people all around us at this point.

Read the full account at http://ussrainier.com/greenroos.html.

Salvage and rescue work underway on USS Mindanao (ARG-3) shortly after the USS Mount Hood (AE-11) blew up about 350 yards (320 m) away. Note the heavy damage to Mindanao '​s hull and superstructure, including large holes from fragment impacts.

Salvage and rescue work underway on USS Mindanao (ARG-3) shortly after the USS Mount Hood (AE-11) blew up about 350 yards (320 m) away. Note the heavy damage to Mindanao ’​s hull and superstructure, including large holes from fragment impacts.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Jody March 21, 2017 at 9:52 pm

My father, USN Pharmacist’s Mate Vaughn G. Horner, was one of the corpsmen that took care of the wounded at the Navy Base hospital # 15 on Manus.

James Baron March 19, 2017 at 11:54 pm

My Dad (Adolph Baron) served on Manus Island during WW2. He was a Boatswain’s Mate from Easthampton, Mass.

Earle L. Greig March 14, 2017 at 6:20 pm

I was a member of the 44th. Seabee outfit. We had been building this pier as well as a second one for months. We knew lots of members of the 57th Seabee outfit mentioned above. WE had been building this pier and an adjoining one for months. We were standing on the beach getting ready to go out to the end of the pier when the explosion happened. Metal fragments started dropping almost immediately and we dove under a flat bed truck for protection. We saw what others saw and it was painful. Survivors were covered with black oil. They were transported to a new hospital that I also helped construct.

Edward Leaf December 2, 2016 at 1:35 pm

My grandfather, Walter S. Leaf, perished on the USS Mount Hood. I know very little about him other than he gave his life so that others could live.

Robin Holmes Richardson November 26, 2016 at 7:10 am

My father was there also, on shore. He was just telling me about this today.

Chris November 11, 2016 at 2:57 pm

My grandfather, Archie Trader, was assigned on the USS Mount Hood (AE-11), and one of the few survivors. He and about a dozen others from the Hood’s crew had made their way to shore for mail call and other various duties. Just as they arrived to shore, the explosion happened. My grandfather went on to live a long and happy life, and always said he was “living on borrowed time” and gave thanks to God nearly every day of his life. I cannot imagine what it was like to be a young man–half-way around the world, in the middle of a war–and everyone you’d come to know, to live with, and work next to, suddenly being killed in such a catastrophic event. God bless all those who were on the Hood and the surrounding ships.

Ron Haynes October 17, 2016 at 7:56 pm

My dad was there when this happen

Mark Swinney July 26, 2016 at 2:45 am

I’ve recently read a memoir written by a Mr David Greenroos on the website http://ussrainier.com/greenroos.html

He was a welder on the USS Mindanoa and was present during the explosion, the tale is VERY GRAPHIC and describes his experience during and after the explosion, it’s eleven pages long and he has a very detailed memory of what he went through.

He states that the reason for the explosion is known and was hidden away from being published, he states that he was told to never write or talk about it, but he felt that after all this time the truth needed to be told.

He states that the explosion was caused by a torpedo hit by a Japanese submarine, he actuay saw an unexploded Japanese torpedo that had missed the Mt Hood laying on a beach nearby and that it had Japanese lettering on it.

He states that he talked to other survivors that had seen the submarine that day.

I would tend to believe him as he has no reason to lie about his experience, go to the website and read what he has to say, the explosions cause is known and he lists his thoughts on why it was kept from the American people.

Tommy July 13, 2016 at 12:19 am

My uncle Oliver Austin “Buck” Grover just a young kid on his first deployment in the Navy died with the rest on the USS Mount Hood. The family got the knock at the door on Thanksgiving Day.

Brittany May 30, 2016 at 4:51 pm

My grandmother’s brother, Galen Ingram, lost his life on the Mount Hood… I never did know anything else about him, my grandma died before I could ask anymore questions.

j wolff September 28, 2015 at 4:28 am

My mother was just 18 yrs old when her husband was blown to bits on the USS Mt. Hood. She is 90 now , suffering from alzheimers disease . She has forgotten most of her life at this point,but She has never forgotten Troy Crow, her young handsome husband who perished along with so many others onboard the ship on Nov. 10 1944.

Rita Price May 2, 2015 at 1:23 pm

My grandpa, William ‘Bill’ Grow, was a pipe fitter on the USS ARIES. He just passed 4\20\15. He told me of being on deck when the explosion happened. He said they were actually anchored next to the USS Mount Hood and the wind had just changed causing them to go behind the Mount Hood moments before the explosion. My Grandpa also said he would get paid a dollar a day to show films (movies) in the ship.

Bob DiChiara 1/10/15 January 10, 2015 at 7:40 pm

I am the last survivor of the Ammunition ship Red Oak Victory AK235. WE got out there and heard rumors about the Mt. Hood. Arriving in Ulithi they berthed us with around 4,000 tons of explosives in the next berth alongside the aircraft carrier Randolph(3,500 men.) one afternoon we received a request for ammo on an emergency level. A landing craft pulled up alongside us on our starboard side which faced the Randolph at dusk.By time we were ready it was dark and all the ships(over 800) in the harbor were blacked out except us. We had a floodlights over the hold and on the landing craft. Around 10 P.M.
2 men and I were on the landing craft guiding a net full of ammo coming down and I am facing the Randolph when a huge ball of flame explodes on the aft deck of the carrier followed by another huge ball of flame the 2 trailing edges of the kamikaze’s flames going over the bow! HAD ONE OF THOSE JAPANESE PLANES HIT US IN THE MIDDLE OF A NUMBER OF FIGHTING (NOT SUPPLY) SHIPS, I have no idea what the death toll would have been. The next day they moved us so far away, as a signalman I had no one to talk to.

David M. November 12, 2014 at 7:28 pm

My great-uncle was a signalman aboard the USS Aries nearby. I regret I never learned about the Hood explosion until after he had passed, so I never got the first-hand story from him.

Nevertheless, this incident is one of the few places I can find a reference to my uncle’s ship anywhere online. And it is illustrative of the fact that for every glamorous Carrier or Battleship, there were dozens of unsung cargo and repair vessels doing the work that made the navy run.

DM

Hugh November 10, 2014 at 11:55 pm

Saw an LST loaded with ammo which had exploded in DaNang harbor. The upper deck was peeled back like a sardine tin, but not even close to this explosion

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