Ka-Fuckin’-Boom!

Notable explosions

By Cameron Hopkins

Nukes produce the biggest explosions, but don’t discount good ole gunpowder. Prior to Hiroshima, some very impressive non-nuclear blasts have occurred with both black and smokeless powders.

The Dutch found that out rather spectacularly in 1654 when the entire town was obliterated. Delft went up in a “giant thunderclap” when a hapless worker bumbling around in the town’s powder magazine made a spark. With over 100 tons of blackpowder inside, no more Delft.

Another “town destroyer” happened in 1917, but this time from the sea. A French ship coming into port, the Mont Blanc, was carrying powder and munitions when it rammed a Norwegian vessel, also carrying munitions, as they both came into dock in Halifax. The blast leveled the town, destroying 1,600 houses around the port, killed 2,000 and injured another 9,000. 

Bombs make impressive detonations too. One of the biggest occurred at an RAF bomber base in England in 1944 when the munitions magazine containing some 3,700 tons of bombs and 500 million rounds of .303 British cartridges exploded, blowing a crater a half-mile long and 100 yards deep. The cause? An airman was attempting to disarm a fuse…with a hammer.

I’m not making this up.

During our Revolutionary War, an American brigadier general, Zebulon Pike, was leading a force of 1,700 Continental Army soldiers against the British at York, present-day Toronto. Fearing the fort would fall into American hands, the British commander evacuated his men, but before leaving, he left a long fuse burning… into the fort’s powder magazine. Ka-boom! Pike was killed when a chunk of brick flung by the explosion hit him in the head.

And then there are the intentional powder blasts. The ancient siege-warfare practice of tunneling and blowing a hole in a fort’s wall with gunpowder was resurrected during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The British dug 19 tunnels under an area of the German lines called the Hawthorn Ridge Redoubt and filled the “mines” with 18 tons of high explosive. The ensuing blast tore a massive hole in the enemy line and could be felt in London. A year later, they did it again with the Messines Mine except this time 450 tons of dynamite was used, vaporizing some 10,000 Krauts in their trenches. It was considered the largest detonation ever with conventional explosives.

And then there are myriad instances from our redneck contingency back home, all hollering “Hold my beer and watch this!” just before something goes ka-fucking-boom! by way of a large charge of good ole-fashioned gun power.