The Great Halifax Explosion by John U Bacon

I am a big military history buff, but I have to admit that I do not recall knowing much about the explosion in Halifax, Nova Scotia during World War I. John Bacon’s The Great Halifax Explosion fills in all of the details you may ever want to know about the incident.

Bacon writes about the history of Halifax and its relationship (and greater Canada as well) with the United States. He provides an excellent point of view from a Canadian. Prior to the explosion, Haligonians (and most Canadians) were not too keen on Americans since we always wanted to invade and absorb them into the U.S. This relationship, especially between Halifax and Boston, forever changed after the explosion and Boston’s efforts to assist Haligonians.

Bacon presents a fairly straight forward narrative of the events leading up to, during, and after the explosion. I am particularly struck by his description of the actions of the crew of the French freighter Mont-Blanc. He not only discusses the crew’s abandonment of the ship after the collision, but goes beyond the simple narrative. He asks you to not judge their actions – which partially led to the death of thousands – based on your current position, but to put tyourself in the shoes of the captain and the harbor pilot. Bacon asks if you would do something different in a split second, knowing that your decision could cost you your life.

He juxtaposes the crew’s actions with the actions of train dispatcher Vincent Coleman who sacrificed himself to save hundreds who were on an inbound train right before the explosion. Coleman also had to make a split second decision, but he chose to die to save others. It is a wonderful look at human behavior during a critical time.

Bacon’s writing style is easy to read and follow along with the story. Throughout the book , he points out various decisions and personalities and how those personalities and decisions influenced Halifax and its residents.

A great book on a very unfamiliar subject.

The Great Halifax Explosion Book Cover The Great Halifax Explosion
John U. Bacon
History
William Morrow
November 7, 2017
384

From New York Times bestselling author John U. Bacon, a gripping narrative history of the largest manmade detonation prior to Hiroshima:

in 1917 a ship laden with the most explosives ever packed on a vessel sailed out of Brooklyn’s harbor for the battlegrounds of World War I; when it stopped in Halifax, Nova Scotia, an extraordinary disaster awaited. . . .

On Monday, December 3, 1917, the French freighter SS Mont-Blanc set sail from Brooklyn carrying the largest cache of explosives ever loaded onto a ship, including 2,300 tons of picric acid, an unstable, poisonous chemical more powerful than TNT. The U.S. had just recently entered World War I, and the ordnance was bound for the battlefields of France, to help the Allies break the grueling stalemate that had protracted the fighting for nearly four demoralizing years. The explosives were so dangerous that Captain Aimé Le Medec took unprecedented safety measures, including banning the crew from smoking, lighting matches, or even touching a drop of liquor. Sailing north, the Mont-Blanc faced deadly danger, enduring a terrifying snowstorm off the coast of Maine and evading stealthy enemy U-boats hunting the waters of the Atlantic. But it was in Nova Scotia that an extraordinary disaster awaited. As the Mont-Blanc waited to dock in Halifax, it was struck by a Norwegian relief ship, the Imo, charging out of port. A small fire on the freighter’s deck caused by the impact ignited the explosives below, resulting in a horrific blast that, in one fifteenth of a second, leveled 325 acres of Halifax—killing more than 1,000 people and wounding 9,000 more. In this definitive account, Bacon combines research and eyewitness accounts to re-create the tragedy and its aftermath, including the international effort to rebuild the devastated port city. As he brings to light one of the most dramatic incidents of the twentieth century, Bacon explores the long shadow this first "weapon of mass destruction" would cast on the future of nuclear warfare— crucial insights and understanding relevant to us today.

About the author

Jeff Grim

Jeff Grim has been a reader all of his life. He has had a particular interest in military history, any war at any time. His fascination with military history has brought him to an interest in historical fiction where the history comes alive with fictitious heroes and villains. Recently, Jeff has become interested in historical mysteries set in various time periods.

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