Ammunition Explosions

Oral Answers to Questions — Royal Navy – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th June 1951.

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Surgeon Lieut.-Commander Bennett:

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty (1) what information he has about the origin of the ammunition that exploded at the Royal Naval Ordnance Depot, Bedenham, Gosport, on board the naval ammunition ship "Bedenham," at Gibraltar, and on board the ammunition ship "Indian Enterprise" in the Indian Ocean, respectively; and what progress has been made towards the joint and several solutions of these crimes of sabotage;

(2) what have been the findings of the inquiry into the ammunition explosion at the Bedenham Ordnance Depot in Portsmouth Harbour last summer.

Photo of Mrs Lucy Middleton Mrs Lucy Middleton , Plymouth, Sutton

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty whether he has now any further statement to make on the circumstances of the explosion which took place on board of ammunition ship "Bedenham" at Gibraltar.

Photo of Captain Robert Ryder Captain Robert Ryder , Merton and Morden

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty whether an inquiry into the causes of the explosion which occurred in the ammunition ship "Bedenham" on 27th April has now been held; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Mr David Gammans Mr David Gammans , Hornsey

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty if he is yet in a position to make a statement on the causes of the explosion in Gibraltar.

Photo of Mr Walter Edwards Mr Walter Edwards , Stepney

The explosions at Gosport and at Gibraltar originated in naval depth charges which were filled at the Royal Ordnance Factory, Glascoed. There were no naval depth charges on board the s.s. "Indian Enterprise" and the naval ammunition on board this vessel was supplied from various naval armament depots.

Statements were made concerning the Gosport explosion by the Prime Minister on 24th July, and subsequently made by me on 19th September, 18th October and 25th October; no further evidence has yet come to light concerning this explosion.

The conclusions which the Admiralty have reached following the naval Board of Inquiry which considered the explosion at Gibraltar on 27th April, are that a fire arose from a mild explosion in a depth charge whilst the depth charge was being man-handled into position: it is not certain whether the explosion occurred in the depth charge which was being handled at that moment or in one adjacent to it. The fire developed with extreme rapidity, leading to a general conflagration and major explosion. Whilst it has not yet been possible to determine the cause of the initial fire and explosion, there is no evidence to suggest that sabotage was the cause. Technical investigations into the explosive fillings are proceeding.

The assumption that the explosion in the S.S. "Indian Enterprise" was due to sabotage is not justified by the evidence at present available.

Surgeon Lieut.-Commander Bennett:

Is it or is it not the opinion of the Admiralty that the explosion in the shipyard at Bedenham and the explosion in the ammunition ship "Bedenham" were initiated on almost identical lines and that if it was sabotage in one case it was likely also to be sabotage in the other?

Photo of Mr Walter Edwards Mr Walter Edwards , Stepney

The opinion of the Admiralty has been explained in the statements which have been made from time to time.

Photo of Mrs Lucy Middleton Mrs Lucy Middleton , Plymouth, Sutton

Can my hon. Friend give an explicit assurance that the trouble connected with the ship did not arise while it was being loaded at Bullpoint, Plymouth?

Photo of Mr Walter Edwards Mr Walter Edwards , Stepney

From the evidence which we have before us at the moment there is no suggestion of sabotage at Bullpoint.

Photo of Captain Robert Ryder Captain Robert Ryder , Merton and Morden

Are we to understand that the explosions were caused by the same lot number of depth charges? Have the rest of the lot number been withdrawn from service?

Photo of Mr Walter Edwards Mr Walter Edwards , Stepney

I am afraid that I cannot give specific information with regard to the lot number, but that type of depth charge has now been taken out of service while the examination is proceeding.

Photo of Mr David Gammans Mr David Gammans , Hornsey

If the hon. Member denies that any of the occurrences were due to sabotage, can he explain why it is that we seem to have so many more of them than we had before the war?

Photo of Mr Walter Edwards Mr Walter Edwards , Stepney

The reason why this case is considered not to be due to sabotage is because of the evidence which the Board of Inquiry has considered and the conclusions which have been reached.