SS Mont-Blanc

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Career (France) Civil and naval ensign of France
Name: SS Mont-Blanc
Namesake: Mont Blanc, famous French mountain
Owner: Compagnie Générale Transatlantique (French Line)
Port of registry: Saint-Nazaire, France
Builder: Sir Raylton Dixon & Co., Middlesbrough, Great Britain
Launched: 1899
Identification: Signal Code Letters
K H T N
ICS Kilo.svgICS Hotel.svgICS Tango.svgICS November.svg
Fate: destroyed by explosion of ammunition cargo on 6 December 1917
General characteristics
Type: General Cargo
Tonnage: 3121 gross tons
Length: 320 ft (98 m)
Beam: 44.8 ft (13.7 m)
Depth: 15.3 ft (4.7 m)
Installed power: Steam, coal fired
Propulsion: Triple expansion steam engine, single screw 247 ihp (184 kW)
Armament: Two defensive cannons

The SS Mont-Blanc was a freighter built in Middlesbrough, England in 1899 and purchased by the French company, Société Générale de Transport Maritime (SGTM).[1] On Thursday morning, 6 December 1917, she entered Halifax Harbour in Nova Scotia, Canada laden with a full cargo of highly volatile explosives. As she made her way through the Narrows towards Bedford Basin, she was involved in a collision with the Norwegian ship, SS Imo. A fire aboard the French ship ignited her cargo of wet and dry picric acid, TNT, and guncotton. The resultant Halifax Explosion levelled the Richmond District and killed approximately 2,000 people.

Origins[edit]

A classic three-island style, general cargo steamship, Mont-Blanc was a tramp steamer, carrying diverse types of cargos around the world. The ship changed owners several times and was registered at first in Rouen, then Marseille and finally Saint-Nazaire, France. In World War I, Mont-Blanc was purchased from Gaston Petit on 28 December 1915 by the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique.[2] CGT (The French Line), was the French state-owned corporation put in charge of much of France's wartime shipping.

Final Voyage to Halifax[edit]

She was chartered to carry a complete cargo of miscellaneous types of military explosives from New York to France in November 1917. Mont-Blanc was not an especially old vessel but was a relatively slow, common, three island type tramp steamer, typical of many wartime freighters.[3] She left New York December 1 to join a convoy in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Entering Halifax Harbour on the morning of December 6, she was struck by the outbound SS Imo in the Halifax Narrows. A fire caused by the collision detonated her cargo twenty minutes later.(See the Halifax Explosion article for details of the collision and effects of the explosion.)

Aftermath[edit]

Mont-Blanc's crew abandoned ship before the explosion and all survived, except for one sailor who died from loss of blood after being hit by debris from the blast,[4] 20 year old gunner, Yves Quequiner.[5] Mont-Blanc's captain, Aime Le Medec, and pilot, Francis Mackey, were blamed for the collision by a Judicial Inquiry and subsequently charged with manslaughter and criminal negligence at a preliminary hearing (4 February - 6 March 1918). However the charges against the captain and pilot at the preliminary hearing were dropped after Judge Benjamin Russell, a Nova Scotia Supreme Court justice, determined there was no substantial evidence to support these charges and issued writs of habeas corpus (15 March 1918). An attempt by Nova Scotia's Attorney General, Orlando T. Daniels, to have Russell's decision overturned failed (2 April 1918). Two other bids on 9 April and 2 October also failed. It should be noted that the Royal Canadian Navy's chief examining officer of the port, Acting Commander F. Evan Wyatt was also arrested on the same charges but on a separate warrant. After the preliminary hearing, he faced a grand jury that found a true bill against him. The only person bound over for trial, Wyatt was acquitted by a jury of all charges in less than a day (17 April 1918).

In the civil litigation, the case was first heard by Justice Arthur Drysdale, the judge at the original inquiry formed to determine the cause of the collision. Not surprisingly, his decision put the entire blame on Mont-Blanc. A subsequent appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada by Imo's owners (19 May 1919) and combined appeal and cross-appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (22 March 1920) determined that Mont-Blanc and Imo were equally to blame for navigational errors which led to the collision.[6]

Remains of Ship[edit]

Mont-Blanc was completely blown to pieces, and the remains of her hull were launched nearly 1,000 feet into the air.[7] The blast ripped through her hull and cargo at more than 1,000 metres per second. 5,000°C and thousands of atmospheres accompanied the moment of detonation at the centre of the explosion.[8] Steel fragments from her hull and fittings landed all over Halifax and Dartmouth, some traveling over four kilometres. Today several large fragments, such as one of Mont-Blanc's cannons, which landed 3.5 miles north of the blast site, and her anchor shank, which landed 2 miles south, are mounted where they landed as monuments to the explosion.[9][7] Others are on display at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax which has a large collection of Mont-Blanc fragments; many recovered from the homes of survivors.

Mont Blanc Anchor Site 1

The wrecked remnants of one of Mont-Blanc's lifeboats was found washed ashore at the foot of Morris Street on December 26, 1917. Name boards from the boat were salvaged and collected by Harry Piers of the Nova Scotia Museum and are today part of the collection of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.[10]

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ [1] "The History of Mont Blanc" from the French Lines website.
  2. ^ [2] "The History of Mont Blanc"
  3. ^ The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic "Ships of the Halifax Explosion" web page indicates that Mont-Blanc was not even close to the oldest ship assembled in the harbour.
  4. ^ Janet Kitz, December 1917: Revisiting the Halifax Explosion, Halifax: Nimbus (2006) p. 84; Due to the sheer number of explosion victims, the coroner consistently recorded the primary/immediate cause of death as "shock due to injuries in the explosion" regardless of the specific nature of the injuries. In his testimony at the inquiry, Captain Le Médec mentioned he had been informed that his crewman had died on 7 December after "having lost all his blood." Source: Appeals Book: Imo vs Mont Blanc, testimony of Aimé Le Médec, page 39, lines 17-29.
  5. ^ SS Mont Blanc crew manifest of 9 November 1917, p. 2 Retrieved from the Ellis Island Database.
  6. ^ Zemel, Joel, Scapegoat, the extraordinary legal proceedings following the 1917 Halifax Explosion, SVP Productions (2012) pp. 265-277; "Halifax Explosion Infosheet", Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, Halifax
  7. ^ a b The Halifax Explosion
  8. ^ Ground Zero: A Reassessment of the 1917 explosion in Halifax Alan Ruffman and Colin D. Howell editors, Nimbus Publishing (1994), p. 277.
  9. ^ Halifax Regional Municipality "Mont-Blanc Mounument"
  10. ^ "Name-boards of one of the Lifeboats of the French munition Steamship", Mont Blanc of Rouen", Harry Piers Museum Maker, Nova Scotia Archives

References[edit]

  • Lloyd's Register, 1916–1917
  • Shattered City: The Halifax Explosion and the Road to Recovery, Janet Kitz, (Halifax: Nimbus, 1989).
  • Ground Zero: A Reassessment of the 1917 explosion in Halifax Alan Ruffman and Colin D. Howell editors, Nimbus Publishing (1994)
  • Scapegoat, the extraordinary legal proceedings following the 1917 Halifax Explosion Joel Zemel, SVP Productions (2012)

External links[edit]