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Now that was one hell of a bang – SS John Burke detonating in 1944

One thing about the internet that still surprises me is the amazing array of things you can just stumble across with a few random clicks.

The following video is one of those surprises (for me at least) and shows the last few seconds of the US Navy supply ship SS John Burke which was on it’s way to re-supply the US frontlines near Japan when it was hit by a Japanese fighter aircraft and detonated in spectacular fashion :



A little background on the story from :

Serving in the vital but often unsung role of a transport ship, the Burke and her crew of 40 men transported the materials of war between the United States and the rear-areas of the Pacific Front, often calling at Pearl Harbor, Australia, Guadalcanal, Hollandia and Manaus during the War. Like many of her sisterships, the Burke was ordered to join the US Naval Armada making for the Island of Leyte in the Philippines, where the United States was planning an Invasion in October 1944. Spending much of October, November and early December making regular supply runs between rear-area bases and the frontlines at Leyte, the Burke spent several days loading munitions at Guam before returning to Leyte Gulf and joining the convoy codenamed “Uncle Plus 13”.

Standing out of Leyte on the night of December 27 as part of the 100-ship convoy, the Burke’s cargo, like that of the rest of the convoy, was bound for the new American front lines on the Island of Mindoro. Japanese Forces were alerted to the presence of the large supply convoy shortly before daybreak on December 28th and quickly realized that if it could be stopped, US forces on Mindoro would be essentially cut off and vulnerable. Taking advantage of foul weather around Leyte which prevented the usual morning US Combat Air Patrol flight from getting up and providing cover to the convoy, a flight of six Japanese fighter/bombers was sent up from Cebu Island and made for the convoy shortly after dawn. Operating in clear skies, Japanese aircrews sighted the large American force as it slowly steamed through calm seas South of Cebu and Bohol Islands, and were surprised to find it still without air cover.

The 28-man US Navy Armed Guard crew aboard the John Burke had joined the other ships in the convoy at their General Quarters stations shortly after the dawn weather report indicated there would be no air cover and awaited the inevitable arrival of Japanese aircraft. Shortly before 1000hrs the first attackers appeared on radar, sending the convoy into evasive maneuvering as the six Japanese planes made their attack at the formation.

Despite the massed anti-aircraft fire being sent up by the well-armed force of American Ships, the Japanese aircraft were able to evade most of the fire and one set its sights on the lumbering John Burke. Her gunners sighted the plane as it began its dive onto the ship and poured fire into its direction, scoring several hits on the plane’s fuselage as it came through the cloud deck. The Japanese pilot, however, had no intention of pulling out of his steep descent and despite damage to his aircraft managed to crash it directly into the Burke’s forward cargo bay.

A brief flash of fire followed the plane’s impact into the Burke’s hull, visible to most ships around the vessel and for a several seconds only smoke could be seen from her hull as the air battle continued to rage around the convoy. Suddenly, a pillar of fire shot out of the Burke’s cargo hold, followed by the ship being wreathed in a circle of white smoke. A powerful shockwave rocked the entire convoy, causing several ships to report having been torpedoed; however within seconds all eyes were quickly drawn to the Burke’s position where an enormous fireball from the force of her entire cargo of munitions detonating disintegrated the ship. Within a matter of seconds the John Burke was no longer visible beneath an enormous mushroom cloud of smoke, fire and explosions. Several ships around the Burke were heavily damaged by the force of the blast and dozens more were showered in shrapnel and fragments of the ship.

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