A horrific scene took place in Canada’s Halifax Harbor on December 6th, 1917 as a French freighter and a Belgian steamer were hauling a load of ammunition when they suddenly exploded in the harbor; the devastation included approximately 8,000 injured individuals, portion of the town were leveled and roughly 1,600 people were killed. The vessels were transporting 8 million tons of TNT that was supposed to be used during World War I.
Halifax was the starting point where the ships would meet as the convoys would begin the treacherous crossing of the Atlantic as the ships would be constantly threatened by the stealthy and dangerous German U-boat submarines. The assigned leader of the convoy was the HMS High Flyer while the freighter originating from France, known as the Mont Blanc, went to New York to fully load up the ship with TNT and later arrived on a foggy morning into the harbor. The unfavorable weather conditions were the cause for the freighter to collide with the Belgian steam boat Imo that was also transporting ammunition. The result was a fire starting and both ships were evacuated immediately.
Also at the pier was the British ship Pictou which they were transporting ammunition as well. Once the crew was made aware of the collision, they quickly abandoned the ship and let the ship loose. The only ship that made any attempt to stop the devastation was the High Flyer; 23 members of the crew were ordered to rush toward the ships that collided and attempt to sink them. Tragically, they arrived not in time as when finally reached the vessels, a huge explosion occurred.
The scene resembled an action movie as the explosion hurled debris that were on fire throughout Halifax as well as causing a huge wave to be created that sent the ships residing at the pier straight up from out of the harbor. The result of the explosion was described by a Canadian officer in the Army that was posted at Halifax and said, “All that could be seen for a great circumference were burning buildings, great mounds of iron and brick in the streets and dead bodies.” The explosion was felt as far as 125 miles away from ground zero and everything was completely destroyed within a 2.5-mile radius. Fortunately, a Navy ammunition plant close to the shores was struck by a wave of water that most likely protected it from the fire.
Sadly, a majority of locations close to the explosion were not as fortunate such as a railway station saw scores of individuals crushed inside as a result of it collapsing from the blast. A sugar plant located close to the water had roughly 100 individuals perish and schools that were nearby contained 500 students; roughly 10 of those students survived. Since so much of the city was totally destroyed, the overall toll of death was estimated to be 1,200 to 4,000 people. While the death toll could have been much higher, luck would have it that the flames were later extinguished thanks to a snowstorm occurring later that day. The wake of the devastation also left homeless 25,000 individuals.