July 18, 1944 – Port Chicago – An earth-rocking explosion of two ammunition ships at the U. S. naval ammunition depot at Port Chicago, California, in upper San Francisco Bay, killed at least 350 persons and injured more than 300 others, it was estimated today.
The navy announced that 250 enlisted men and nine officers were missing and presumed dead. Four Coast Guardsmen were reported missing, four civilians dead, and a crew member declared 70 men were aboard one of the blasted ships. At 8 a.m., Navy officials began checking a roster of personnel to determine how many men were missing. The navy said it now was believed there were two separate explosions 10 seconds apart.
Whether the first occurred aboard a pier or on a ship was not known. A 10-12 car ammunition train loaded with aerial bombs was within 60 feet of one pier which was demolished by the blast, but not one of the bombs exploded.
Approximately 100 naval personnel had been taken to military hospitals, and more than 200 civilians, many of them women and children, were known to have been injured. ‘The casualties will be heavy,’ 12th Naval District headquarters said as it continued its preliminary investigation of one of the worst disasters in U. S. wartime history. Red Cross officials said the Martinez chapter was preparing to feed from 1,000 to 1,500 people at Port Chicago, and reported from 150 to 200 homes appeared uninhabitable. Not a single building in the town escaped damage, and most were described as “complete losses.”
Not a sign remained of the two ammunition ships, which had been anchored alongside the loading wharf at Port Chicago. The cause of the blast remained unknown, with no report from possible survivors yet made public. An Associated Oil Company barge was anchored between the two ships, and was reported destroyed, along with several other small ships anchored nearby. Coast Guardsmen, who reached the scene within ten minutes, picked up four seriously injured men. They said strong winds and tides swept other possible survivors and debris up-channel.
Two small Coast Guard boats, a crash boat and a fire barge, were also destroyed in the explosion, the navy announced. No accurate estimate of the number of dead and injured will be available until musters are held later today, the navy said, reporting the situation ‘is now under control.’ A crew member of one of the ammunition ships, the Quinault Victory, declared 70 members of her 200-man crew were aboard when ‘a shining white flash’ soared more than 1,000 feet into the sky, heralding the terrific explosion which rocked towns within a 50-mile radius of Port Chicago at 10:20 p.m. last night.
Two hundred Negro sailors were reported loading ammunition on the wharf, which the Navy described as receiving most of the damage along with nearby naval wartime installations. Small craft have been warned away from the port area, 35 miles northeast of San Francisco, since live ammunition was reported floating on oil-slicked waters, the Navy said. The town of Port Chicago was ‘badly wrecked’ and isolated. The blast blew out doors and windows in residences five miles away, awakened people 50 miles distant and the glare was seen at Santa Cruz, on the seacoast 100 miles to the south. There was no extensive fire in the area, despite the ammunition blast, escaping gas and broken power lines. ‘There was a flash that went 100 feet into the air,’ one eyewitness said. ‘Then pieces metal rained down like hail.’
A 150-pound piece of metal, 18 feet long, was blown through the air for a mile. The first blinding flash mushroomed into the sky, turning night into day, and then fell apart into myriads of red incandescent streaks, cascading downward like giant tracer bullets, eye-witnesses recounted. Within a few moments the roar of the blast shot out across the San Francisco Bay area, causing rumors of an earthquake as windows shattered and plaster fell from ceilings and walls 30 miles away. Since the outbreak of the present war, it has gained significance as a munitions center for the west coast.
Before the war reestablished its one-time importance, it was a little village of one main street, a pool hall, a general store and a third class post office. Port Chicago is on the main line of the Santa Fe, Southern Pacific and Sacramento Northern railroads. Rail service, as well as all other of communication, was at least temporarily disrupted. (United Press)
Luckenbach Freighter First to Dock at L.B. Wharf
July 28, 1931 – Long Beach – The first intercoastal freighter to dock at the Proctor and Gamble wharf, Long Beach, the Paul Luckenbach, tied up this morning to discharge 300 tons of machinery and general cargo.
The freighter docked at Terminal Island yesterday to discharge 2,000 tons of east coast general cargo. In addition to her hold cargo for this port, the Paul Luckenbach had as deck load the 81-foot auxiliary sloop, Papolita, said to be the largest yacht ever brought here from the east coast as steamer deck cargo.
Built in Germany, she has been placed under American register and is consigned to John J. Mitchell and Charles Deer Wyman at the Wilmington Boat Works. Features of the sloop include a 110-foot mast and 60-foot boom Her beam is 14.16 feet and total overall length 81.6 feet, tonnage 4,500.
Arriving at the Luckenbach terminal last night was the Lillian Luckenbach from the north to load 060 tons for the east coast. The Edgar F. Luckenbach will arrive, Monday morning, from the north Atlantic to discharge 2000 tons here. (San Pedro News Pilot)