Explosion of the RFA Bedenham
The former RFA Bedenham, c. 1950
|Operator||Naval Armament Department|
|Builder||Ailsa Shipbuilding, Troon|
|Launched||26 September 1938|
|Out of service||1951|
|Fate||Exploded at Gun Wharf, Gibraltar|
|Class and type||Naval armament carrier|
|Length||230 ft (70 m)|
|Beam||37.5 ft (11.4 m)|
|Propulsion||Steam triple expansion|
|Speed||10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph) loaded|
RFA Bedenham was a naval armament carrier of the British Royal Fleet Auxiliary that exploded while docked in Gibraltar on 27 April 1951, killing 13 people and causing a great deal of damage to the town.[a]
Cause of the explosion
The Bedenham arrived in Gibraltar on 24 April 1951, tying up at Gun Wharf. On the morning of 27 April, depth charges were being unloaded into a lighter when one of them ignited. Several men were organised to fight the fire from the quayside, but to no avail. Eventually all the other firefighters withdrew except George Campbell Henderson, a sub-officer with the dockyard fire service, who doggedly held a firehose into the fire. An explosion in the lighter caused a fire which spread to the Bedenham, triggering a violent explosion in which the bow was blown out of the water and onto Gun Wharf, while the rest of the ship sank.
Thirteen people were killed in the explosion, including Henderson, who was posthumously awarded the George Cross for his bravery in attempting to extinguish the fire. The King's Police and Fire Services Medal (for Gallantry) was posthumously awarded to Albert Alexander Indoe, Chief Fire Officer HM Dockyard, Gibraltar. Two dock workers, among them Jose Moss, and two traders on nearby Ragged Staff Road were killed by flying debris. One firefighter was injured. Dock overseer Salvador Bula was injured by the explosion but managed to get others who were injured to safety. Hundreds were injured and had to be taken to the Royal Naval Hospital Gibraltar, then known as the British Military Hospital Gibraltar.
The crew of the Bedenham had already abandoned the ship by the time of the explosion, with the exception of the Captain and the Naval Armament Supply Officer, both of whom were blown into the water but subsequently rescued.
Effect of the explosion
In addition to the human casualties, many of Gibraltar's buildings suffered substantial damage in the explosion, including the Cathedral of St. Mary the Crowned, the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, and the Convent (the official residence of the governor of Gibraltar). It was locally recognized that the damage to the town would have been much worse but for the City of Gibraltar's fortress defensive walls, built between the 16th and 19th centuries, which deflected part of the explosion's blast. Another effect of the explosion was to delay the programme of housing necessary for the Gibraltarians who had been repatriated following their evacuation during World War II.
The British Admiralty accepted full responsibility for the damage, and approximately £250,000 in Gibraltar pounds was paid out in indemnity. The remains of the Bedenham were towed from Gibraltar to the Tyne by the tug Saucy on 31 May 1952, whereupon they were scrapped.
- This event should not be confused with the explosion at the Bedenham Pier in Portsmouth Harbour, which occurred on 14 July 1950.
- Puddefoot, Geoff (2009). The fourth force : the untold story of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary since 1945. Barnsley: Seaforth. p. 5. ISBN 978-1848320468.
- "EXPLOSION, PORTSMOUTH HARBOUR (Hansard, 19 July 1950)". hansard.millbanksystems.com.
- Turner, John Frayn (2010). Awards of the George Cross 1940-2009. Barnsley: Pen & Sword. p. see gib. ISBN 978-1848842007.
- RFA Bedenham, at the RFA Historical site, retrieved 5 April 2015
- Benady, Tito (1992) The Royal Navy at Gibraltar, pp. 221–222. ISBN 0-907771-49-1
- Hebblethwaite, Marion (2006) One Step Further: Those Whose Gallantry Was Rewarded with the George Cross, ISBN 0-9546917-6-8
- Jackson, William (1987) Rock of the Gibraltarians: A History of Gibraltar, p. 297. ISBN 0-8386-3237-8
- Sigwart, [by] E.E. (1969). Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service: its ancestry and affiliations, 1600-1968. London: Adlard Coles. pp. 143–144. ISBN 0-229-98581-5.
- Hissey, Terry. (2011) G.C. on The Rock: The Story of George Henderson; published by the Civil Defence Association; ISBN 978-0-9550153-3-5