Selected documents relating to the loss of USS Mount Hood

c/o Fleet Post Office
San Francisco, California
    14 December 1944

From: Commander Naval Base, Manus, Admiralty Islands.
To: Commander in Chief, United States Fleet.
Subject: War Diary, Correction of.
Reference: (a) CNB ltr. serial 01238 of 13 December 1944, subject - War Diary, Submission of.

  1. The following corrections should be made in paragraph six (6) of Reference (a):

    Personnel missing from U.S.S. Mount Hood is 295 and not 331.

    Total number of personnel missing is 327 and not 363.

By direction.

cc: CNO

  1. Disaster of 10 November 1944. The U.S.S. Mount Hood (AE-11), was anchored in Seeadler Harbor in about 19 fathoms of water, with an estimated 3,800 tons of explosives on board.

    At 0855, 10 November 1944, an explosion, evidenced by flame and smoke, shot up from amidships to more than masthead height. Within a few seconds at the most, the bulk of the ammunition aboard the U.S.S. Mount Hood was set off with a terrific explosion. Smoke mushroomed 7,000 feet into the air and obscured the ship and the surrounding vicinity for a radius of approximately 500 yards on all sides. When the smoke had lifted form the surface of the water a few minutes later, only small pieces of debris were to be seen. The ship and all personnel on board had disappeared, blown to bits.

    The force of the explosion blasted a trough in the ocean floor more than 100 yards long, 50 feet wide, and from 30 to 40 feet deep directly below the position of the U.S.S. Mount Hood. No fragments could be found on the ocean floor larger than pieces of metal 16 feet by 10 feet.

    Pieces of metal and projectiles were hurled in all directions. Some fragments landed more than 2,000 yards from the anchorage of the U.S.S. Mount Hood. The concussion and flying missiles caused casualties and damage to ships and small craft within this radius. A statement of the losses follows.

    Ship Extent of Damage
    man hours
    required to
    effect repairs)
    Known Dead Missing Injured
    Mount Hood (AE-11) Destroyed 1 295 1
    Mindanao (ARG-3) 48,000 23   174
    Oberrender (De-344) 6,200 1 1 17
    Alhena (AKA-9) 3,500 3   56
    YMS-293 13,200 2   13
    YMS-238 10,000 1 1 13
    YMS-49 8,700 1   12
    YMS-340 1,837 1   10
    YMS-286 *Serious     12
    YMS-243 1,424     12
    Cebu (ARG-6) 841 5   6
    YMS-39 42      
    YMS-71 16     1
    YMS-81 150     3
    YMS-140 *Minor     4
    YMS-319 81      
    YMS-335 60      
    Potawatomi (ATF-109) 45      
    Piedmont (AD-17) 1,400 1   3
    Walter C. Mann (DE-412) 2      
    YMS-1 35     1
    Argonne (AG-31) 150 2 2 12
    Cacapon (AO-52) 325      
    Abarenda (IX-131) 225      
    YF-681 3,520      
    YMS-52 254     3
    YO-77 23 1    
    Aries (AK-51) 30      
    Preserver (ARS-8) 107      
    Young (DD-580) *Superficial 1    
    Self-propelled water barge 1,000      
    Kyne (DD-744) *Superficial 1    
    Talbot (APD-7) *Extensive minor      
    Saginaw Bay (CVE-82) *Insignificant      
    Lyman (DE-302) *Slight      
    7 LCMs Boat Pool 15 Destroyed   19  
    Pontoon Barge Destroyed      
    LCM attached to USS Sierra  Destroyed   4  
    LSM attached to USS Briareus  Destroyed   3  
    13 small boats or craft Sunk or damaged beyond repair      
    33 small boats or craft *Damaged      
    Section Base, Navy 3205     1 2
    YMS-39       2
    Petrof Bay (CVE-80)       5
    YMS-342 *Minor      
    TOTAL 107,367 45 327 371
      * No estimate furnished.

  FEBRUARY 13, 1945


On a bright and sunshiny morning early in November, 1944, a young Naval Reserve Lieutenant and 13 enlisted men climbed over the side of the USS Mount Hood, an ammunition ship anchored int he harbor of an island base in the Pacific, and boarded a boat to go ashore.

They had been ashore only a few minutes when a sailor shouted, "Look!" and pointed to the Mount Hood. They turned and saw an enormous flash of flame where the ship had been. Two explosions followed and the Lieutenant, Lester A. Wallace, 29, 1314 North Troy Street, Arlington, Virginia, and his group of enlisted men were knocked to the ground.

They were stunned by the concussion, though 4,500 yards form the ship, but struggled to their feet and boarded their boat again to return to the Mount Hood. All they found was debris scattered over a wide area. They, and four other enlisted men on a similar errand, were the only survivors of the crew of 296 men and 22 officers.

Lieutenant Wallace, a Naval Reserve officer and a native of Atlanta, Georgia, recently was ordered back to this country. The only surviving officer of the Mount Hood, he told a few details of the explosion.

"I was the communications officer aboard the Mount Hood," he recalled. "I had to pick up some communications manuals and other publications at the base. Some enlisted men had dental appointments on the base, mail clerks had to pick up mail, so we all went in one boat.

"We went ashore about 0830 (8:30 A.M.) and were walking up the beach when a sailor, with a startled look in his eye, screamed: 'LOOK!', and pointed to seaward. There was a flash, followed by two quick explosions. We were knocked down, but scrambled to our feet and got back in the boat.

"We headed toward the Mount Hood. There was nothing but debris all around, so we returned and reported to the Commanding Officer of the base what we had seen, and helped him as much as we could in trying to find out what happened. I guess no one ever will know what really happened. She just blew. We had never had na explosion of any kind on the Mount Hood before that."

Lieutenant Wallace, an employee of the Bureau of Internal revenue in Washington, D.C. in civil life, was called to active duty in the Naval Reserve in April, 1942. He was assigned to the Bureau of Naval Personnel until February, 1943 when he was sent to communications school at Harvard university. He later was under instruction in the Navy's school at Fort Schuyler, New York, and at Subchaser Training Center, Miami, Florida.

When the Mount Hood was converted form a merchant ship, Lieutenant Wallace was ordered aboard her as communications officer. He served in the Mount Hood about a year before she exploded, carrying ammunition from supply ships to warships of the U.S. Navy.

His parents are Mr. and Mrs. W.H. Wallace, 358 Loomis Avenue, Southeast, Atlanta, Georgia, He and his wife are now living in Arlington, Virginia. Lieutenant Wallace attended George Washington university, Washington, D.C., and graduated form the Washington College of Law.

C45-72--Explosion of Ammunition Ship in Pacific Theater of Operations, Analysis of

CONFIDENTIAL. Op-05-G11B/ems, Serial 0170905-G, (SC)L11-01, 15 August 1945


1. The record of proceedings in the board of investigation which convened to inquire into the explosion occurring on board an ammunition vessel in the pacific theater of operations was recently reviewed by the Chief of Naval Operations, together with the preliminary reports and abstracts of this explosion prepared by the Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance and the Army-Navy Explosives Safety Board. In view of the fact that the evidence introduced during the investigation strongly points to the conclusion that the explosion was caused by a force or agency within the ship itself, it is deemed appropriate to give a brief résumé of this explosion and to point out some of the unsafe practices which existed and to indicate the damage which resulted from the explosion.


Brief Description:
An ammunition ship, moored in the harbor, was acting as an ammunition depot, both receiving and delivering ammunition to other ships and lighters simultaneously. Ship's crew and other personnel were working on all five holds of the ship. An explosion on board destroyed the ship and other shipping nearby and heavily damaged vessels moored at considerable distances from it.

Type of Ammunition:
There were approximately 3,800 tons of ammunition aboard. This included bombs, projectiles, fixed ammunition, rocket bodies and motors, smokeless powders, aerial depth bombs, and nose fuzes. Torpex loaded depth bombs were apparently coming on board.

Cause of the Accident:
Since the possibility of enemy action appears to have been remote, the most probable cause of the accident was rough handling of the ammunition while loading or unloading. The propagation of the explosion was undoubtedly increased by inadequate separation and segregation of incompatible items in stowage. Evidence indicates the possibility of the detonation of TPX loaded depth bombs while it was being loaded into the number three or number four hold. Detonation could have been caused by striking the hatch with the bombs on the way down or dropping them into the hold carelessly.

The following unsafe conditions and practices were revealed by the investigation:

  1. That ammunition was being roughly handled in all parts of the ship.

  2. That boosters, fuzes, and detonators were stowed together in one hold in a manner contrary to regulations governing transportation of military explosives (USCG NavCG 108).

  3. That broken rockets form which some of the powder was spilled had been stowed in two of the holds.

  4. That safety regulations for handling ammunition were not posted in conspicuous places about the ship and there was a general lack of instruction to the crew in safety measures.

  5. That pyrotechnics and napalm gel incendiaries were stowed in an open temporary wood and tar-paper hut on deck under hazardous conditions near the hatch to number four hold.

  6. That there was evidence that fuzes, detonators, and other ammunition were accepted on board which were definitely defective and should have been destroyed or disposed of by dumping in deep water.

  7. That the fire hose was not laid out. There was evidence that fire drills were infrequently held.

  8. That there was a lack of enforcing the prohibitions of smoking =in boats alongside the ammunition vessel.

Fatalities and Injuries:
This explosion caused the death of several hundred people including all those on board the ammunition ship and the vessels moored along the side. in addition, there were many injured,mostly by missiles, on other ships in the vicinity of the explosion.

Extent of Damage and Distances:
There were 8 LCM's and 1 pontoon lighter moored alongside, all of which disappeared, together with 13 smaller vessels within a radius of 500 feet, nothing being left within that radius. Ten ships within a radius of 2,500 feet were badly damaged, mostly by missiles. Twenty-six other ships at distances up to 6,500 feet also suffered missile damage, as did 33 smaller vessels within that radius. People on shore at distances up to 21/2 miles were thrown to the ground by the blast.

Description of Explosion:
Witnesses saw a small first explosion, about the size of that from a single bomb, which was followed a few seconds later by the main explosion. The flame and smoke from this extended about 1,500 feet in radius and the smoke rose to 7,000 feet.


2. The importance of creating and maintaining a safety consciousness on the part of officers and men engaged in the handling of ammunition and explosives cannot be too strongly stressed. there is a safe way to handle every type of ammunition which has been issued to the naval service providing that it has not become defective through improper stowage and mistreatment. Adequate instructions have been promulgated to that end by the Bureau of Ordnance. it is the responsibility of all cognizant personnel to guard against a relaxation of prescribed safety standards due to carelessness on the part of personnel engaged in ammunition handling. This must especially be guarded against in the case of personnel who have been habitually engaged in this work. Constant attention must also be given to the continued training of personnel in correct handling procedures so that they will recognize unsafe acts and refrain from committing the. Accidents of the type described are rare but they can be prevented in most cases by the exercise of a reasonable amount of care and judgment.

--OpNav. F.J. Horne.

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation