Ticking Underwater Time Bomb

In 1946 a Polish ship, the Kielce, sank off the coast of Folkestone while transporting a relatively insubstantial amount of incendiary ordnance. Intent on preventing detonation of this cargo, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency began work on an operation to neutralise the threat. For whatever reason, during the preliminary stage of these efforts in 1967, the Kielce did indeed explode.

The explosion measured 4.5 on the Richter scale and left a crater 20 feet deep in the seafloor. Although panic and chaos initially swept through Folkestone itself, the incident mercifully caused no harm or loss of life to the population. The Kielce was, after all, at least 5 kilometres off the coast, and at a depth of 15 fathoms.

2 years before the Kielce foundered in the English Channel, an American Liberty ship called the Richard Montgomery ran aground in the Thames Estuary. She now lies just 8 fathoms down, with her 3 masts just visible above the waves. Contained in her flooded holds are munitions equivalent to almost 1,500 tonnes of TNT.

Every independent survey of the wreck has concluded that even the slightest shifting of the tides could trigger a blast. Should just one of the fuses attached to the 2,600 fused-fragmentation devices aboard become wet, it could cause a copper azide reaction. In 1970, the BBC estimated that the resultant explosion would create a 1,000 feet-wide column of water & debris reaching nearly 10,000 feet into the air, a tidal wave 16 feet high, the shattering of every window in the nearby coastal town of Sheerness, and damage to countless buildings.

The SS Richard Montgomery lies just over 2 kilometres from the shoreline.

Solidarity, brothers & sisters…⚓

About Seba Roux

Gooner, Socialist, Historian, Slacker. That's pretty much all you need to know.
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