The SS Richard Montgomery is one of the world’s deadliest shipwrecks. This incredible image shows the wreck of this World War Two ship laden with more than 1000 tonnes of explosives sitting at the bottom of the sea just off the Kent coast - and could detonate at any moment, Mirror Online reports. This new image is the most high resolution scan available, using the latest in multi-beam sonar technology, giving new insight and captures in detail for the first time the SS Richard Montgomery, Daily Mail reports.
According to Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery is designated as a dangerous wreck under section 2 of the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973. The vessel grounded and sank in 1944 and, since that time, it has been subject to regular surveys using a variety of methods.
The sonar picture shows the SS Richard Montgomery in detail (Picture: Maritime Coastguard Agency)
The SS Richard Montgomery was a US Liberty Ship built in 1943 by the St John’s River Shipbuilding Company of Jacksonville, Florida and was one of over 2700 of these mass-produced vessels built to carry vital supplies for the war effort. In August 1944 the ship left the US was loaded with a cargo of some 7000 tons of munitions and joined convoy HX-301 bound for the UK and then on to Cherbourg (France). On arrival in the Thames Estuary, the vessel was directed to anchor in the Great Nore anchorage off Sheerness. The ship was to await the formation of a convoy to continue the journey across the Channel. However, on the 20 August 1944, she dragged her anchor in the shallow water and grounded on a sandbank, running east from the Isle of Grain approximately 250 metres north of the Medway Approach Channel.
Almost immediately, the vessel hogged and the hull plates forward of the bridge began to split. An operation began to discharge the cargo. However, the ship broke its back, the forward section became completely flooded and, eventually, in September 1944, the salvage operation was abandoned.
The wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery remains on the sandbank where she sank. The wreck lies across the tide close to the Medway Approach Channel and her masts are clearly visible above the water at all states of the tide. There are still approximately 1,400 tons of explosives contained within the forward holds, in detail :
- 286 × 2,000 lb (910 kg) high explosive "Blockbuster" bombs
- 4,439 × 1,000 lb (450 kg) bombs of various types
- 1,925 × 500 lb (230 kg) bombs
- 2,815 fragmentation bombs and bomb clusters
- Various explosive booster charges
- Various smoke bombs, including white phosphorus bombs
- Various pyrotechnic signals
According to Above Top Secret, in a report in 1970, it was determined that if the wreck of Richard Montgomery exploded, it would throw a 1,000-foot-wide (300 m) column of water and debris nearly 10,000 feet (3,000 m) into the air and generate a wave 16 feet (5 m) high. Almost every window in Sheerness (pop. circa 20,000) would be broken and buildings would be damaged by the blast. In 2004 New Scientist reported that an explosion would be one of the biggest non-nuclear blasts ever seen, and would certainly destroy the port of Sheerness – causing around £1billion of damage, Metro reports.
The wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery has been subject to regular surveys since its grounding, with a variety of methods being used to monitor the site. The Maritime and Coastline Agency, which released the sonar image, now spends up to £40,000 a year monitoring the ship around the clock. According to Dover Express, the MCA said: "With advances in technology, data quality has improved and, as a result, we see greater definition and detail, which allows us to get a better picture of the wreck and its current state."
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency nevertheless believe that the risk of a major explosion is remote.