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vaughn
25 Jun 06,, 00:09
Some 62 + years ago during the invasion of Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands on 31 January 1944, our ship witnessed a humongous explosion on Namur island, Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands, which momentary caused daylight to become dark when smoke shielded the sun from reaching the area.
Recently, I found the answer as to what caused that explosion. Here is a copy of the story copied from my July Deck Log Newsletter.
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Kwajalein’s Roi-Namur 1944 Explosion

During a recent local library visit, I checked out a book named “Strong Men Armed” by Robert Leckie. While reading it, I begin a chapter which detailed a humongous explosion a group of marines caused during the Kwajalein invasion 31 January 1944. Those aboard the ship during that action will recall we completed our first objective and were underway to the second when the ship grounded on a coral reef and we became observers of the invasion instead of participants. Our ship came to a metal screeching halt and later that day was able to save a number of marines from drowning when their Amtraks flipped over in the choppy heavy surf. I can’t recall the exact day when this big explosion occurred after we grounded and the book doesn’t give a date. The Black Gang and those below deck probably heard the loud explosion but wouldn’t have seen it unless they immediately rushed topside to see what had happened. The large column of black smoke billowed upwards and outward carrying debris from the explosion center. I believe Nick Grosso mentioned in one of his letters that some of the debris fell on our ship but I don’t remember that. Here is the account of that explosion as written in the book.

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“Shortly before one o’clock Major Charles Duchein was in a rear gunners seat of a Douglass dive bomber roaming the skies above the battlefield giving visual reports to Major General Schmidt’s staff, he peered down at Namur’s eastern shore seeing a marine assault team moving against what seemed to be a giant blockhouse. But the building was used as a warehouse and it was stuffed with torpedo warheads. Lt. Saul Stein led his men cautiously to the big blockhouse on Namur. One of his Marines slipped forward and placed a shaped charge against the side of the building. He ran back and ducked. The blast tore a hole in the side of the building. Out of the hole, out exits suddenly flung wide, came streams of Japanese soldiers. Lt. Stein’s Marines were too surprised to open fire. They were not bewildered. They had heard the Japanese were crazy. “Throw in some satchel charges,” Stein ordered. They were thrown in!
“Great God Almighty”, Major Duchein roared. He thought he had seen the island disappear and his plane had shot up into the air like a rocket. He peered into the dense clouds of smoke billowing in all directions below him, and he yelled again to headquarters;
“The whole damned island’s blown up!”
“Are you hurt?” Headquarters inquired.
“Wait a minute,” Duchein replied, still trying to see land beneath the smoke.
“Stand by a minute.”
“Is your plane damaged? Where are you?”
Duchein could hear debris rattling off the bombers fuselage, but he breathed with relief for he had seen land beneath the smoke, and he answered the question.
“I’m about a thousand feet higher than I was but the island is still there.” It was but the warehouse that had held tons and tons of torpedo warheads had vanished completely. Its fragmented remains were still falling on those Marines who crouch in shell holes and craters wondering what had caused that unbelievable rocking roar. They crouched in inky darkness while whole heads of palm trees, chunks of concrete, bomb and torpedo casings fell from the skies. It seemed an endless rain, and then the smoke drifted away and where there had been a warehouse there was now a great crater filled with water.
Lt. Stein and most of his men were dead, though one man who had been blown 150 feet out into the lagoon was found unhurt. There were 40 Marines killed by the explosion and another 60 wounded. A half hour later there were more casualties when the Japanese blew up two other blockhouses.”

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Men, we now know what caused that humongous explosion the start of February 1944, 62 years ago. I’ve always thought it was an ammo or gasoline dump that was hit by shells or bombs. Now you men aboard her during that invasion know what caused that big bang!

Gun Grape
25 Jun 06,, 02:11
Great story Hamp.

Keep em coming shipmate :)

vaughn
25 Jun 06,, 20:39
I emailed the above story to Basil Duncan, a 4th marine friend who I knew was at Kwajalein and here's his reply.
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Oh I remember exactly where I was on the day of the big explosion on Namur. I was standing on the tip of the next island from Namur and watched as a group of Marines moved toward the blockhouse. One marine threw a satchel charge in the entry and it appeared the whole world was going to explode. The concussion from the blast came across the small waterway between the islands in what seemed to be nano seconds, picked me up in the air and blew me backward about 12 to15 feet into a pile of rocks. The concussion was severe enough that I could feel nothing and had no idea if I was injured or not. I don't remember how many were injured by falling debris but it seem to last a long time. Other than being bruised somewhat with falling chunks of cement and being tossed into a pile of rocks I was OK. At the time I was with about 10 or 12 marines watching the action on Namur
And I think one or two of them were injured but not severely.
That was a few years ago.
The Marine Corp's 4th Division printed a complete history of the divisions battles in WW!! and gave each marine who had served with the 4th a copy. This explosion is detailed quite well in that history.
Talk to you later,
Basil