Time Bomb in the Thames -- Removing the Masts from the SS Richard Montgomery

Now, the Ministry of Defence is offering to pay £5 million ‘danger money’ to any company prepared to hack off the rusting masts of the ship that the BBC has referred to as the “ticking time bomb of the Thames.” The concerns are that the rusting masts could waste away and fall onto the munitions, potentially causing a detonation.

I first saw the wreck in the early sixties while based in Chatham in the Navy. It was always a point of discussion when running up to Tilbury in a container ship.

It still is a topic of conversation today.

The pilots in the area have always told me that the government looked into removing the wreckage and munitions and the risks from the chance of explosion were too great to risk. They estimated a shockwave big enough to reach London and cause significant damage if the whole lot popped off at once.

The condition of the masts poking above the water have always fascinated me. They are really in remarkably good condition for their age (at least above the waterline).

It will be interesting to see what they do with this.

I am not an explosives expert but I do play one on TV.

The chances of that all cooking off at once are slim and none with old slim walking out the door. I say blow it up like they did with that whale that washed up on the beach in Oregon years ago.


And we all know how well that worked.


Thanks for the support!

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Use ROV’s with long umbilicals and cutting appendages. 1000m safe radius.

If there is enough explosives in there to create a 3km water column, I don’t think a 1 km radius would be “safe” :slight_smile: [personally, I’d take that 3km water column bit with a large bag of salt, but I still wouldn’t want to be anywhere near when they try doing anything to that hulk].

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Ripple Rock was 1,270 metric tons of explosive. Width of Seymour Narrows less than a kilometre (@ Maud I.).

The gulls must have loved the smorgasbord, hence the requirement for hard hats on the beach. We generally use a digger and roll the carcass into the trench and cover it.

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I see - though I suspect those were placed charges intended to destroy & remove that hazardous rock, so a lot of the force would have been expended toward the rock. Do you know if they mined into the rock (like they did for the Hell Gate rock)?
I do understand them worrying about setting of just one or two bombs in that hulk - which would then distribute all the rest of them throughout the area and creating a massive problem. We had a similar accident in AZ some years ago when a truck carrying AF 20mm shells ran off the road, burned and the subsequent explosions distributed live shells all over a 1/2 mile square area (including both sides of the freeway in question).

Ripple rock was drilled under from Maud island after other attempts failed.
In SF Bay, Blossom rock was removed, eventually, by sailcloth wrapped barrels of gunpowder. It took a lot of tries. Must have been entertaining to witness from the city.

This was considered a large explosion at the time (50 tons – 1905 removal of Pull And Be Damned Point on the Piscataqua River in Maine/New Hampshire).


Rocks blown up in SF Bay include Blossom (mentioned above) in 1870 and both Shag and Arch (1900).

Descriptions of the Shag event from newspapers include this one from the San Francisco Call..

An engraving shows boats on the water during the demolition, but a photo taken apparently from the SF City Front shows the bay empty.

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Reminds me of the Nordvard:


She sank pretty much right in the center of Moss after taking an aerial bomb to the casing, with some 2000 tons of sea mines and torpedoes on board. Estimates of the potential explosive yield do vary, but there is some consensus that she would probably destroy most of the downtown area, and certainly wipe out the condos on the mainland shore.

Efforts to stabilize the wreck have been ongoing for years, with plans for a concrete sarcophagus scrapped due to cost and risk involved. They finally removed the oil about a decade ago, and according to the divers on the site, there are still plenty of bodies inside.

For anyone interested in the condition from 2013/2014.

I used to have a little leaflet the Medway pilots gave out describing the wreck and had an illustration with all the munitions splayed about around the wreck. This imaging gives a good idea though.

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Thank You for that, DamnYankee! Lots of information there, though I’ll note the BBC article above got it wrong - it’s not the masts themselves collapsing they’re worried about, it’s the underlying structure. Also, there is little evidence of munitions outside the wreck, though they do feel that there must be some, just covered with sediment.
Sounds like a really nasty place to work underwater, too.