30/7/1916 The Black Tom explosion

The United States of America remains neutral, sitting out the war that is engulfing Europe and spreading its tentacles to the rest of the world. Yet American manufacturers are happy to profit from the war, with munitions producers selling to anyone who will buy their deadly wares. However, the British naval blockade of Germany means that only the Allies are able to buy American arms. This irks the Germans. It means that as well as fighting the Allied armies they are also fighting American industry. To try and interdict the flow of arms to the Allies, Germany sends secret agents to disrupt the American munitions trade.

Black Tom Island lies in New York Bay, near Liberty Island and close to Jersey City. It is a major centre of the arms trade, with vast amounts of explosive materials stored here waiting trans-shipment. Shortly after midnight today guards discover several small fires on the pier. Some of the guards flee in terror, while others attempts to fight the fires and call the Jersey City fire brigade. But the fires cannot be contained. Shortly after 2.00 a.m. they reach the explosives. Around a thousand tonnes of TNT detonate.

The blast registers at over 5.0 on the Richter Scale and is felt as far away as Maryland. Thousands of window panes shatter in lower Manhattan. Only seven people are killed, though several hundred are injured. Property damage is enormous, with the Statue of Liberty alone suffering some $100,000 worth.

Suspicions begin to arise that this huge explosion might be the result of sabotage. Could German agents be responsible, perhaps working in league with supporters of Irish and Indian independence?

image source:

Aftermath (Wikipedia)

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