The Great Halifax Explosion: A World War I Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism
By John U. Bacon, Narrated by Johnny Heller
Audiobook, 10 hours and 38 minutes
Published by Harper Audio, November 2017
Prior to the detonation of the first atomic bomb, the largest man-made explosion ever recorded happened in Halifax, Nova Scotia on December 6th, 1917. It occurred when two ships, the French freighter SS Mont-Blanc, and the Norwegian relief ship SS Imo, collided in the harbor. The collision occurred in daylight and good visibility (as is surprisingly often the case in ship collisions) and at low speed. It caused little damage to either vessel, but started a small fire on Mont-Blanc. The problem was her cargo – picric acid, TNT, and barrels of benzol on her deck, were all highly explosive.
When the fire reached the hold of the Mont-Blanc her cargo detonated with the force of almost three kilotons of TNT. The ship disintegrated, part of her anchor was thrown three miles away, her deck gun four. Every building within 1.6 miles of the ship was destroyed by the pressure wave or the ensuing wall of water, the bottom of the harbor was briefly exposed. An estimated 1,600 people were killed instantly with more subsequently dying of their injuries. Many of the survivors were watching the ship burn from their homes and were injured as the blast shattered the windows in front of them.
This is a very well-researched book. The author not only describes the events leading up to the explosion and the rescue efforts in great detail, he gives a great deal of information on the history of Halifax and the relationship between Canada and the United States. He describes the daily lives of several protagonists before and after the explosion, and follows one Haligonian, Joseph Barss, who fought in the trenches of France and was recovering from wounds in Halifax at the time of the explosion.
Despite the magnitude of the blast, it is not well known today. It is a tragedy of the recent past, and an inspiring story of surrounding communities from Canada and the United States rallying to the aid of their neighbors. Highly recommended.