Thursday Last night Heinie rained in gas, H.E. and Shrapnell fast and furious for about an hour & half about 50 yds below us[;] earlier in the evening as we were getting out amm[unition] Heinie shelled our path & we we[re] forced to run thru’ his fire one shell lighted near us which caused a shower of brick and corruption to decend [sic] upon us several dropped too near to be comfortable
Three thousand miles away today, spectators are drawn to the piers and streets overlooking Halifax Harbour, Nova Scotia, to watch smoke rising from a ship in the Narrows. The Norwegian relief ship Imo, leaving for New York to pick up supplies for Belgian relief, has struck an inbound ship, the Mont Blanc. A fire breaks out aboard her, and the crew quickly abandon her to drift against the piers of the city. They know, as does almost no one in the busy city of Halifax, crowded with troops and sailors, that the Mont Blanc is carrying 2,300 tons of wet and dry picric acid, 200 tons of TNT, 10 tons of gun cotton and 35 tons of benzol. When the munitions explode just before 9:05 a.m., it is the largest man-made explosion in history. There will be nothing like it again until the atomic bomb is dropped.
Halifax is flattened. Nearly two thousand people are killed, and thousands are injured by flying glass and a rain of brick and debris. A piece of the shaft of the Mont Blanc‘s anchor – weighing 1140 pounds (517 kg) – was thrown through the air 2.35 miles (almost 4 km).
And tomorrow it will snow.
The image of Halifax comes from Library and Archives Canada; the map can be found by searching TripAdvisor for Mont Blanc Anchor Site.
Halifax’s Maritime Museum of the Atlantic provides a good overview of the events of the explosion.