Skip to main content
Year
1944
Month Day
April 14

Explosion on cargo ship rocks Bombay, India

The cargo ship Fort Stikine explodes in a berth in the docks of Bombay, India (now known as Mumbai), killing 1,300 people and injuring another 3,000 on April 14, 1944. As it occurred during World War II, some initially claimed that the massive explosion was caused by Japanese sabotage; in fact, it was a tragic accident.

The Fort Stikine was a Canadian-built steamship weighing 8,000 tons. It left Birkenhead, England, on February 24 and stopped in Karachi, Pakistan, before docking at Bombay. The ship was carrying hundreds of cotton bales, gold bullion and, most notably, 300 tons of trinitrotoluene, better known as TNT or dynamite. Inexplicably, the cotton was stored one level below the dynamite, despite the well-known fact that cotton bales were prone to combustion.

In the middle of loading, smoke was seen coming from the cotton bales and firefighters were sent to investigate. However, emergency measures, such as flooding that part of the ship, were not taken. Instead, about 60 firefighters tried to put out the fire with hoses throughout the afternoon. Unfortunately, the TNT was not unloaded during the firefighting efforts.

Eventually, the firefighters were ordered off the ship but kept dousing the fire from the docks. Their efforts were in vain; the TNT was ignited, and at 4:07 p.m., the resulting explosion rocked the bay area. The force of the blast actually lifted a nearby 4,000-ton ship from the bay onto land. Windows a mile away were shattered. A 28-pound gold bar from the Fort Stikine, worth many thousands of dollars, was found a mile away. Everyone in close vicinity of the ship was killed.

Twelve other ships at the docks were destroyed and many more were seriously damaged. Fires broke out all over the port, causing further explosions. Military troops were brought in to fight the raging fires and some buildings were demolished to stop it from spreading. The main business center of Bombay was not safe for three days after the explosion.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Greg Norman blows six-shot Masters lead in epic collapse

On April 14, 1996, third-round leader Greg Norman loses a six-shot lead in the final round of the Masters golf tournament and finishes second—one of the worst collapses in sports history. Nick Faldo wins the green jacket, finishing five strokes ahead of Norman. "I played like a ...read more

Taft becomes first U.S. president to throw out first pitch at MLB game

On April 14, 1910, President William Howard Taft becomes the first president to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a Major League Baseball game. The historic toss on opening day is to star Walter Johnson, the Washington Senators' starting pitcher against the Philadelphia ...read more

American pilots engage in first dogfight over the western front

Six days after being assigned for the first time to the western front, two American pilots from the U.S. First Aero Squadron engage in America’s first aerial dogfight with enemy aircraft. In a battle fought almost directly over the Allied Squadron Aerodome at Toul, France, U.S. ...read more

U.S. bombs terrorist and military targets in Libya

On April 14, 1986, the United States launches air strikes against Libya in retaliation for the Libyan sponsorship of terrorism against American troops and citizens. The raid, which began shortly before 7 p.m. EST (2 a.m., April 15 in Libya), involved more than 100 U.S. Air Force ...read more

Soviets agree to withdraw from Afghanistan

Representatives of the USSR, Afghanistan, the United States and Pakistan sign an agreement calling for the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan. In exchange for an end to the disputed Soviet occupation, the United States agreed to end its arms support for the Afghan ...read more

Operation "Baby Lift” concludes after flying 2,600 South Vietnamese orphans to the U.S.

The American airlift of Vietnamese orphans to the United States ends after 2,600 children are transported to America. The operation began disastrously on April 4 when an Air Force cargo jet crashed shortly after take-off from Tan Son Nhut airbase in Saigon. More than 138 of the ...read more

Montreal Canadiens win fifth consecutive Stanley Cup

On April 14, 1960, the Montreal Canadiens defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs to win the Stanley Cup for a record fifth year in a row. The Canadiens reached the Stanley Cup Finals after sweeping the Chicago Blackhawks in four games, while the Maple Leafs defeated the Detroit Red ...read more

Loretta Lynn is born

Loretta Lynn, a singer who greatly expanded the opportunities for women in the male-dominated world of country-western music, is born in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky on April 14, 1932. Unlike some country-western stars that sang about a rural working class life but lived an urban ...read more

“Black Sunday" Dust Bowl storm strikes

In what came to be known as “Black Sunday,” one of the most devastating storms of the 1930s Dust Bowl era sweeps across the region on April 14, 1935. High winds kicked up clouds of millions of tons of dirt and dust so dense and dark that some eyewitnesses believed the world was ...read more

Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language is printed

Noah Webster, a Yale-educated lawyer with an avid interest in language and education, publishes his American Dictionary of the English Language. Webster’s dictionary was one of the first lexicons to include distinctly American words. The dictionary, which took him more than two ...read more

Katharine Hepburn and Barbra Streisand tie for Best Actress Oscar

On April 14, 1969, the 41st annual Academy Awards are broadcast live to a television audience in 37 nations. It was the first time the awards had been televised worldwide, as well as the first Oscar ceremony to be held in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Los Angeles Music ...read more

John Wilkes Booth shoots Abraham Lincoln

President Abraham Lincoln is shot in the head at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. on April 14, 1865. The assassin, actor John Wilkes Booth, shouted, “Sic semper tyrannis! (Ever thus to tyrants!) The South is avenged,” as he jumped onto the stage and fled on horseback. Lincoln ...read more

President Truman receives NSC-68 report, calling for “containing” Soviet expansion

President Harry S. Truman receives National Security Council Paper Number 68 (NSC-68). The report was a group effort, created with input from the Defense Department, the State Department, the CIA, and other interested agencies; NSC-68 formed the basis for America’s Cold War ...read more

First American abolition society founded in Philadelphia

The Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage, the first American society dedicated to the cause of abolition, is founded in Philadelphia on April 14, 1775. The society changes its name to the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery ...read more