On the afternoon of Thursday, November 26th, 1914, Winston Churchill made the following statement to the House of Commons :
A roaring and rumbling sound was heard and a huge sheet of flame and debris shot upwards. The ship lifted out of the water and fell back. There was a thick cloud of grey smoke and further explosions. When the smoke eventually cleared, the Bulwark had sunk without trace.
At about 11.14 on the morning of 27th May 1915, Sheerness witnessed the destruction of the minelayer HMS Princess Irene which was on No.28 buoy about 3 miles WSW from the town centre. The ship had been built in Scotland in the previous year to the order of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company but was requisitioned and converted for Naval use before she could sail to the Pacific.
The Princess Irene had a complement of 225 officers and men, three of whom were ashore that morning as the mines were being primed on the ship's two mine decks. Also on board were a party of 80 or so Petty Officers from Chatham in addition to 76 Sheerness Dockyard workers who were completing tasks prior to the ship's planned departure to lay her mines on 29th May. Without warning, the ship was blown to pieces and her remains, and the remains of those on board, were scattered over a wide area of the surrounding river and countryside. One of the Chatham Dockyard workers, David Wills, amazingly survived the explosion but few bodies were found. Those that were located were buried in Woodlands Cemetery in Gillingham. A memorial to those lost in both this and the Bulwark disaster is situated opposite Sheerness Railway Station. The cause of the disaster was thought to have been due to a faulty primer (pistol) although evidence at the Official Enquiry showed that the work of priming the lethal mines was being carried out a) in a hurry and b) by untrained personnel.
The lower decks and keel of the Princess Irene remain more or less intact and have caused a degree of navigational problems to the large ships now using the eastern end of nearby Thamesport. At present there are no plans to raise her remains.
With thanks to John Hendy 8th March 2001.
On 12 January 1950, Truculent was returning to Sheerness, having completed trials after a refit at Chatham. In addition to her normal complement, she was carrying an additional 18 dockyard workers. She was travelling through the Thames Estuary at night. At 19:00, a ship showing three lights appeared ahead in the channel. It was decided that the ship must be stationary, and because Truculent could not pass to the starboard side without running aground, the order was given to turn to port. At once, the situation became clear; the Swedish oil tanker Divina, on passage from Purfleet and bound for Ipswich, came out of the darkness. The extra light indicated that she was carrying explosive material. The two vessels collided, the Divina's bow striking Trucluent by the starboard bow hydroplane, and remained locked together for a few seconds before the submarine sank.
Fifty-seven of her crew were swept away in the current after a premature escape attempt, 15 survivors were picked up by a boat from the Divina and five by the Dutch ship Almdijk. Most of the crew survived the initial collision and managed to escape, but then perished in the freezing cold mid-winter conditions on the mud islands that litter the Thames Estuary. Sixty-four men died as a result of the collision. Truculent was salvaged on 14 March 1950 and beached at Cheney Spit. The wreck was moved inshore the following day where 10 bodies were recovered. She was refloated on 23 March and towed into Sheerness Dockyard. An inquiry attributed 75% of the blame to Truculent and 25% to Divina.
Truculent was then sold to be broken up for scrap on 8 May 1950.
After taking on board 6127 tons of bombs and ammunition at Hog Island, Philadelphia, USA she sailed across the Atlantic to join a convoy to Cherbourg. Whilst waiting for the convoy to form she was berthed off the North edge of the Sheerness Middle Sand, off the coast of the Isle of Sheppey, Kent, England. When Richard Montgomery arrived off Southend, she came under the authority of the Thames naval control at HMS Leigh located at the end of Southend Pier. The Harbourmaster, responsible for all shipping movements in the estuary, ordered the ship to a berth off the north edge of Sheerness middle sands, an area designated as the Great Nore Anchorage.
On 20 August 1944, she dragged anchor and ran aground on a sandbank around 250 metres from the Medway Approach Channel, in a depth of 24 feet (7.3 m) of water. The general dry cargo liberty ship had an average draught of 28 ft (8.5 m), but Richard Montgomery was trimmed to a draught of 31 ft (9.4 m). As the tide went down, the ship broke her back on sand banks near the Isle of Sheppey about 1.5 miles (2.5 km) from Sheerness and 5 miles (8 km) from Southend.
Residents of Sheerness have lived with a multi-kiloton bomb sitting a couple of miles from their homes. As the hulk and her contents have rotted, so there is considerable interest to know the effect of sea water coming into contact with 70 year old explosive.
I have dived on a few Liberty ships around the south coast and always tried to get info about the ships before diving them. I came across an article about the Richard Montgomery in a divers guide to shipwrecks in the Thames area. I read that the Montgomery drew 33 feet and was moored outside the Medway while waiting for the tide to turn. The problem was, at low tide the water depth was 30 feet and the ship bottomed out breaking it's back. A problem with Liberty ships in general was that they broke up very easily once damaged.
Also I read that the shells were stored in the holds while the detonators were stacked on the deck above. Before all the ordnance was cleared from the holds after it sank, the decks collapsed dropping the detonators onto the shells, making it too dangerous to clear the rest.
I hope this is of use to you.