Any time ammunition, explosives, and bombs are being stored in a smaller space, and handled by multiple people, there is a possibility of disaster. The USS Mount Hood was the lead ship of her class of ammunition ships for the United States Navy in World War II. Her life was short lived. The North Carolina Shipbuilding Company began work on the ship on September 28, 1943, and the intended name of the ship was SS Marco Polo. It was first launched on November 28, 1943, and aquired by the Navy on January 28, 1944. It was commissioned the USS Mount Hood on July 1, 1944. The ship was named after Mount Hood, the volcano in the Cascade Range in Oregon.
Following a short fitting out and shakedown period in the Chesapeake Bay area, the USS Mount Hood reported for duty to ComServFor, Atlantic Fleet on August 5, 1944. She was assigned to carry cargo to the Pacific, and she pulled in to Norfolk, where her holds were loaded. The she was transfered to the Panama Canal as part of Task Group 29.6. She finally ended up Seeadler Harbor at Manus Island of the Admiralty Islands on September 22, 1944. There she was assigned to ComSoWesPac. The ship was to be dispensing ammunition and explosives to ships preparing for the Philippine offensive.
At 8:30am, on November 10, 1944, 17 of USS Mount Hood’s crew members, including Lieutenant Lester H Wallace left the ship to go ashore. At 8:55am, while walking on the beach the men saw a flash and heard two quick explosions. They immediately jumped back in their boat and headed for their ship, only to find that, like volcanoes tend to do, the USS Mount Hood had exploded. There was literally no ship to come back to, and other ships in the area were heavily damaged too. The USS Mount Hood had been anchored in 35 feet of water, and had exploded with an estimated 3,800 tons of ordnance material on board. Mushrooming smoke rose to 7,000 feet, completely obscuring the ship and the surrounding area for approximately 500 yards. It was easy to see where USS Mount Hood had been, because the explosion created a trench in the ocean floor 1,000 feet long, 200 feet wide, and 40 feet deep.The largest remaining piece of the hull was found in the trench and measured about 16 feet by 10 feet. No other remains were found except the fragments which struck the other ships in the area. No human remains were recovered of the 350 men aboard USS Mount Hood or the small boats loading alongside at the time of the explosion.
There were 271 men in surrounding ships that were injured, and 82 of nearby Mindanao’s crew were killed. In all, 22 small boats and landing craft were sunk, destroyed, or damaged beyond repair. The exact cause of USS Mount Hood’s explosion was never determined, but since the possibility of enemy action was remote, it was thought that rough handling of some of the explosives during the loading and unloading process was to blame for the disaster. With no survivors and so little of the ship left, I’m sure that the investigation was an impossible task. I do find it ironic that a ship named after a volcano, ended up exploding, and I find the loss of life to be a very sad thing indeed.