06
Dec
08

On This Day, 12-6-2008: Mont Blanc

December 6, 1917

Munitions ship explodes in Halifax

At 9:05 a.m., in the harbor of Halifax in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, the most devastating manmade explosion in the pre-atomic age occurs when the Mont Blanc, a French munitions ship, explodes 20 minutes after colliding with another vessel.

As World War I raged in Europe, the port city of Halifax bustled with ships carrying troops, relief supplies and munitions across the Atlantic Ocean. On the morning of December 6, the Norwegian vessel Imo left its mooring in Halifax harbor for New York City. At the same time, the French freighter Mont Blanc, its cargo hold packed with highly explosive munitions–2,300 tons of picric acid, 200 tons of TNT, 35 tons of high-octane gasoline, and 10 tons of gun cotton–was forging through the harbor’s narrows to join a military convoy that would escort it across the Atlantic.

At approximately 8:45 a.m., the two ships collided, setting the picric acid ablaze. The Mont Blanc was propelled toward the shore by its collision with the Imo, and the crew rapidly abandoned the ship, attempting without success to alert the harbor of the peril. Spectators gathered along the waterfront to witness the spectacle of the blazing ship, and minutes later it brushed by a harbor pier, setting it ablaze. The Halifax fire department responded quickly and was positioning its engine next to the nearest hydrant when the Mont Blanc exploded at 9:05 a.m. in a blinding white flash.

The massive explosion killed more than 1,600 people, injured another 9,000–including blinding 200–and destroyed almost the entire north end of the city of Halifax, including more than 1,600 homes. The resulting shock wave shattered windows 50 miles away and the sound of the explosion could be heard for hundreds of miles.

“Munitions ship explodes in Halifax.” 2008. The History Channel website. 6 Dec 2008, 07:19 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=6.

On This Day

1865 – The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified. The amendment abolished slavery in the U.S.

1884 – The construction of the Washington Monument was completed by Army engineers. The project took 34 years.

1907 – In Monongah, WV, 361 people were killed in America’s worst mine disaster.

1917 – Finland proclaimed independence from Russia.

1921 – The Catholic Irish Free State was created as a self-governing dominion of Britain when an Anglo-Irish treaty was signed.

1926 – In Italy, Benito Mussolini introduced a tax on bachelors.

1947 – Everglades National Park in Florida was dedicated by U.S. President Truman.

1957 – AFL-CIO members voted to expel the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The Teamsters were readmitted in 1987.

1998 – In Venezuela, former Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chavez was elected president. He had staged a bloody coup attempt against the government six years earlier.

December 6, 1941

Roosevelt to Japanese emperor: “Prevent further death and destruction”

On this day, President Roosevelt-convinced on the basis of intelligence reports that the Japanese fleet is headed for Thailand, not the United States-telegrams Emperor Hirohito with the request that “for the sake of humanity,” the emperor intervene “to prevent further death and destruction in the world.”

The Royal Australian Air Force had sighted Japanese escorts, cruisers, and destroyers on patrol near the Malayan coast, south of Cape Cambodia. An Aussie pilot managed to radio that it looked as if the Japanese warships were headed for Thailand-just before he was shot down by the Japanese. Back in England, Prime Minister Churchill called a meeting of his chiefs of staff to discuss the crisis. While reports were coming in describing Thailand as the Japanese destination, they began to question whether it could have been a diversion. British intelligence had intercepted the Japanese code “Raffles,” a warning to the Japanese fleet to be on alert-but for what?

Britain was already preparing Operation Matador, the launching of their 11th Indian Division into Thailand to meet the presumed Japanese invasion force. But at the last minute, Air Marshall Brooke-Popham received word not to cross the Thai border for fear that it would provoke a Japanese attack if, in fact, the warship movement was merely a bluff.

Meanwhile, 600 miles northwest of Hawaii, Admiral Yamamoto, commander of the Japanese fleet, announced to his men: “The rise or fall of the empire depends upon this battle. Everyone will do his duty with utmost efforts.” Thailand was, in fact, a bluff. Pearl Harbor in Oahu, Hawaii was confirmed for Yamamoto as the Japanese target, after the Japanese consul in Hawaii had reported to Tokyo that a significant portion of the U.S. Pacific fleet would be anchored in the harbor-sitting ducks. The following morning, Sunday, December 7, was a good day to begin a raid.

“The son of man has just sent his final message to the son of God,” FDR joked to Eleanor after sending off his telegram to Hirohito, who in the Shinto tradition of Japan was deemed a god. As he enjoyed his stamp collection and chatted with Harry Hopkins, his personal adviser, news reached him of Japan’s formal rejection of America’s 10-point proposals for peace and an end to economic sanctions and the oil embargo placed on the Axis power. “This means war,” the president declared. Hopkins recommended an American first strike. “No, we can’t do that,” Roosevelt countered. “We are a democracy and a peaceful people.”

“Roosevelt to Japanese emperor: “Prevent further death and destruction”.” 2008. The History Channel website. 6 Dec 2008, 07:18 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=6635.

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