Daily Event for April 30, 2012

After serving as an escort for at least eleven trans-Atlantic convoys in 1944-45 USS Solar DE-221 was scheduled to be converted into a radar picket ship and sent to the Pacific to fight the Japanese. The conversion was not carried out and Solar was relegated to training duty on the U.S. east coast. Ranging as far south as Cuba and as far north as Casco Bay, Maine, Solar never made it to the Pacific and remained in the Atlantic Fleet.

On April 30, 1946 Solar was at the Naval Ammunition Depot in Earle, New Jersey off loading ammunition when an explosion ripped through the forward part of the ship. This was followed by two more explosions, the third destroyed the entire forward section of the ship.

Her commanding officer, Lt. Commander (later Rear Admiral) Gene R. La Rocque, while badly burned himself, ordered the ship abandoned and because the first two explosions were small in comparison, most of the crew were able to get off the ship before the devastating third explosion. Flying hot steel ignited fires on the pier and some nearby railcars, one of which was loaded with depth charges causing it to explode as well.

Seven men were killed in the incident, two of them while trying to put the fire out. The Chief Boatswain's Mate and a Lieutenant (j.g.) were reported by survivors as last being seen at their post fighting the fire, they were killed in the third explosion.

This tragic event could have been avoided, and the navy knew it. The first explosion is believed to have been caused by a hedgehog anti-submarine mortar. A little over two years before on Jan. 3, 1944 USS Turner DD-648 was anchored off Sandy Hook, New Jersey when she suffered a massive internal explosion, believed to have been caused by a hedgehog, one hundred and thirty-eight crewmen and one Italian PoW were killed. The Ordinance Dept. and the Navy had failed to provide the crew with the correct handling procedure for the hedgehog and this lack of information, and the delicate nature of the trigger mechanism of the hedgehog were not understood by the crews of both ships.

A report from a survivor claimed that he has passed a hedgehog to another man and it just exploded. Another crewman said "He must have bumped it against something, because those things go off when anything touches them." In the case of the USS Turner, it was a hedgehog that was improperly stowed that exploded, but what the cause of this detonation was will never be known. Solar was decommissioned and towed out to sea and scuttled on June 9, 1946.
© 2012 Michael W. Pocock

Roll of Honor
In memory of those who lost their lives in
USS Solar DE-221
"As long as we embrace them in our memory, their spirit will always be with us"

Berrigan, Jr., John L.
Seaman 2nd Class
Kline, Charles E.
Gunner's Mate 1st Class
Nelson, Jr., Elisha
Seaman 2nd Class (USNR)
Norman, Eugene P.
Chief Boatswain's Mate
Reardon, William S.
Fireman 1st Class (USNR)
Sousa, Victor F.
Gunner's Mate 3rd Class
Worrell, Ernest W.
Lieutenant (j.g.)

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