The 1944 Bombay Docks Explosion was the result of a series of mistakes and miscalculations on the part of everyone involved. The Number 2 hold of the SS Fort Stikine contained 769 tons of raw cotton, stowed beneath timber and scrap iron. The compartment above this contained leaking drums of oil, 124 bars of gold, and 168 tons of Category A explosives. Altogether, three of the SS Fort Stikine’s five holds contained a combination of highly flammable raw cotton, sensitive explosives, and fuel. Together, these would prove to be a deadly mix.
The less sensitive B and C Category explosives were removed from the SS Fort Stikine’s hold on 12 April 1944, the day she docked in Bombay. The Category A explosives remained in the hold on 14 April, the day of the explosion.
When smoke was first spotted emerging from the SS Fort Stikine’s hold, shortly after 12:30 on 14 April, 1944, only two fire engines initially responded. No general alarm was given and, in fact, there existed no means of giving such an alarm. When the SS Fort Stikine exploded at 16:06, response teams found themselves working in a disorganized fashion, as there was no one in charge. Ultimately, only the heroism of British, Indian, and American military personnel and civilians mitigated the already deadly consequences of this disaster.