Articles

This little-known disaster was the first to be called the 'Second Pearl Harbor'

Often dubbed the "Second Pearl Harbor," the West Loch disaster in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, saw six large landing ships explode, burn, and sink on May 21, 1944, after their cargoes of ammunition and fuel caught fire. The LSTs were moored in a large formation of 34 ships preparing to take part in the invasion of Saipan in the Marianas Islands. LSTs were designed to deliver 10 fully combat-ready tanks onto beaches during amphibious landings and could carry hundreds of tons of supplies.


The LST-742 loads supplies in Korea in October 1950. The ship design was created in World War II to allow the ships to rapidly deploy tanks and other supplies on landing beaches. (Photo: National Archives)

At Pearl Harbor, the ships were carrying mostly fuel and ammunition, including mortar rounds from a failed test to employ LSTs and their smaller cousins, landing craft tanks, as mortar platforms to support beach assaults.

Soldiers were unloading mortar shells from LCT-963 and onto trucks on LST-353 on May 21 when a fireball suddenly erupted from LST-353.

Navy ships continue to burn on May 22, 1944, following the West Loch disaster the previous day at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The center plume of smoke is coming from LST-480 whose wreckage is still present at West Loch. (Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps)

The Navy was never able to identify a definite cause, but an accident with a cigarette or a mortar round going off and igniting the gasoline fumes have been advanced as probable causes.

Regardless of how the first fire started, its progress through LST-353 was fierce, and the rising heat triggered a second, larger explosion that filled nearby ships with hot shrapnel and spread flaming debris through the docking area.

The other ships, also filled with fuel, ammunition, and other supplies, began trying to get clear while rescue vehicles rushed in to try to save sailors, Marines, and soldiers and put out the flames.

The flames consumed LST-353 and five other ships. The Army unit that was removing the mortar ammunition from LCT-963, the all-Black 29th Chemical Decontamination Company, lost 58 of its men. In total, 163 service members were killed and 396 wounded by the fires and explosions that raged for most of the day.

The LST-39 burns on May 21, 1944, during the West Loch disaster at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. (Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps)

The military also lost three LCTs, 17 tracked vehicles, and eight artillery pieces.

The Navy rallied after the incident, finding new ships and men to take over the mission. The LST fleet for the invasion of Saipan launched only one day late and made it to the Marianas quickly enough to invade on schedule on June 15, 1944.

A media blackout kept most of America from hearing about the incident until it was declassified in 1960. Even today, it remains relatively unknown.

One ship, LST-480, still rests on the beach at West Loch. The Navy and Army has worked in recent years to remember those lost and call attention to the sacrifices of those killed and wounded.

GEAR & TECH
Matthew Cox

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This Microsoft training fast tracks veterans into sweet tech careers

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Injuries sustained during mine-resistant vehicle training had led to surgeries and functional recovery and it became clear Brown would no longer be able to operate at the level she expected of herself as a Marine.

Like many of the 200,000 service members exiting the military each year, Brown knew her military training could make her a valuable asset as an employee, but she was unsure of how her skills might specifically translate to employment in the civilian world.

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GEAR & TECH
Bennie J. Davis III

Everything you need to know about Air Force hypersonic weapons

On Oct. 14, 1947, then-Capt. Chuck Yeager flew the Bell X-1 rocket plane at Mach 1 and broke the sound barrier. Since then, the Air Force has continually stretched and pushed the limits of speed – finding new ways to make its aircraft fly faster and farther.

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The story of the slave who survived the Alamo

The attack on the Alamo in 1836 was not a 13-day siege and slaughter as often portrayed in film and television. Don't get me wrong – the defenders of the mission-turned-fortress were killed en masse as Mexican troops stormed the structure. It's just that not everyone inside the Alamo died that day.

Maybe standing in the open wearing the brightest clothes isn't the best idea.

That's how we came to know of Joe — just Joe, any other names he had are lost to history now. Joe was the slave of William B. Travis, the commander of the Alamo during Mexican dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna's siege of the Texian fort. But no one knows exactly how Joe got there. No matter how he ended up there, he was one of many slaves and free blacks who fought or died at the Alamo.

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Joe was a stalwart defender alongside Travis and other Texians. When the din of the fighting died down and the Mexicans firmly controlled the fort, Joe was shot and bayoneted, only to be saved by a Mexican field officer. Because Joe could speak Spanish, he was able to be interrogated afterward.

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History

This was Israel's plan to go to war with Iran in 2011

For Israel, a simple threat was all the provocation necessary to prepare for war — even if that meant a first strike. After all, Israel did it to great success in the 1967 Six-Day War with Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon.

Times were a lot more tense at this point for Iranian-Israeli relations (if you can picture that). The President of Iran, at the time, was the fiercely anti-Israel Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who infamously associated with the idea of Israel "being wiped off the map" and later described the Holocaust as a "myth."

Israel doesn't take kindly to this kind of talk.

Also, Ahmadinejad has the world's most punchable face.

According to old Israeli spymaster Tamir Pardo, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Israel Defence Forces to be ready to launch an attack on Iran with as little as 15 days' notice. Pardo knew there were only two reasons to give such an order: to actually attack or to make someone take notice that your forces are mobilizing.

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