Nickel Docks Explosion, Noumea, November 1, 1943
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On November 1, 1943, the USS Perida with the 93rd Seabees aboard awaited her turn to pull into the crowded harbor at Noumea, New Caledonia. Early in the afternoon, an enormous explosion of ammunition in the harbor set off a conflagration lasting for hours and killing hundreds and injuring more. The impact rocked the Perida; a photo and account in Pacific Duty record the incident and Bob Conner adds in his diary that Medical teams and supplies were dispatched to assist with the wounded.
Bobís V-mail for the day was heavily censored, but otherwise, the 93rd apparantly was unaware that the tragedy was classified until 1947 and that victims who survived had non-combat-related conditions listed on their medical records. At least some who sought disability or further treatment based on their injuries were denied benefits.The event appears throughout 93rd memoirs
When Dick Friederich posted his website for the USS Cassiopaia, describing the horror and with a newspaper account of the explosion, he received notes of gratitude from victims who had finally been able to verify the event.
Shortly after noon, an explosion occurred which is recounted by the Seabees below, and in greater detail and in several accounts in David Friederich's memoirs of the Cassiopeia.
The two excerpts below from the 93rd Seabees are significant. After Friederich launched his website for the "Cassie," he received several communiques from veterans and widows of victims of the explosion. Unbeknownst to the Seabees who included the account and a photo in their published "cruise book," (and to the Noumea newspaper which recounted the episode in French), the explosion was classified for military records until the late 1940s. The medical records of the many wounded men noted "natural causes" for their hospitalization. They were denied benefits, continuing medical care, and honors - and even the dignity of an admission that the explosion occurred - long after the declassification.
Friederich's website enabled veterans and their families to obtain assistance and back benefits. May his story continue to give aid, peace, and honor to the victims and their families.
(From Bob Conner's Diary)
11/1, Mon. Land sighted at about seven this morning. Huge mountains. Put into harbor before noon and dropped anchor around 11:30. Word went around for us to get packed but these were later changed. I expect we will be here for several days and then shove off for other parts. So near as we know, we are at Noumea, New Caledonia. Scuttlebutt is of course all over the place and quite thick. A special draft is leaving us here. While they were loading into a dorry, a terrific explosion took place on land that turned out to be a huge quantity of ammunition being unloaded from a ship. Minor explosions and flames put on quite a performance for several hours. Embers started several grass fires several miles away. So near as we can find out, 200 were killed. Our medical officers and stretchers were sent to the scene.
EXPLOSION IN NOUMEA HARBOR (From Pacific Duty, 1946)
Skirting the southern fringe of the Samoan Islands, land was next sighted on passing the Tonga Islands, when the Isle of Eau came into view in the distance. The International Date Line, at one hundred eighty degrees longitude, was crossed the night of 28 October. Everyone went to sleep Thursday night, awakening Saturday morning, 30 October. Early Monday morning, I November, New Caledonia's myriad of mountain peaks appeared on the horizon. At 11:30 anchor was dropped in the harbor of Noumea, capital of Free French New Caledonia. At 14:10 of that same day everyone was brought to his feet by a tremendous explosion at the western portion of the harbor where ammunition and explosives were being unloaded from ships. The original blast was followed by hundreds of smaller ones, lasting four hours. Bright red tongues of flame leaped over a large part of the docks, sending huge billowing clouds of smoke upward into the sky. Three endangered freighters pulled away to safety under their own power. A fourth was towed by a tug which braved the hail of flying debris and flames to effect the rescue. The toll in injured and killed was high.