After months of work, I finally managed to get a new transfer of this epic footage. This version reveals significantly more detail than any other copy I know of. Enjoy!
The ammunition ship SS John Burke - destroyed in one of the largest manmade non-nuclear explosions in the history of the world.
SS John Burke (MC hull number 609) was an American Liberty Ship built during World War II, one of the 2,710 type 'EC2-S-C1' ships that carried all kinds and types of dry cargo during the war. The ship was named for John Burke, the 10th Governor of North Dakota. Burke was built at Kaiser Shipbuilding Company's Oregon Shipbuilding yard in Portland, Oregon. Burke's keel was laid November 20, 1942 and the hull was launched on December 13 that year. After fitting-out, Burke was delivered to the US Maritime Commission on December 23, just 33 days after construction began. The War Shipping Administration then placed Burke under management of the Northland Transportation Company.
On December 28, 1944, while transporting ammunition to Mindoro, Philippines, Burke was hit by a Japanese kamikaze aircraft, and disintegrated in a tremendous explosion. John Burke was one of three Liberty Ships and one of forty-seven ships sunk by kamikaze attack during World War II.
At about 08:15 hrs, the first kamikaze appeared on the American ship's radar, and orders were immediately given for the convoy to begin evasive maneuvering. Through holes in the clouds, the Japanese pilots sighted the large American force as it steamed through calm seas south of Cebu and Bohol Islands. Finding the convoy without air cover, a group of six Japanese planes began their attack. One of the pilots, flying an Aichi D3A "Val", chose John Burke as his target. Diving through heavy anti-aircraft fire, the Japanese pilot had no intention of pulling out of his steep dive. At 1020, despite the damage to his aircraft, he crashed between Burke's #2 and #3 cargo holds.
A brief flash of fire was visible to most of the ships in the convoy, and for several seconds, only smoke could be seen billowing from her hold. A few seconds later, a huge pillar of fire shot out of Burke's cargo hold, followed by an immense cloud of white smoke. Within seconds all eyes were drawn to Burke where an enormous fireball erupted as her entire cargo of munitions detonated, instantly destroying the ship and killing her crew of 40 merchant marine sailors and 28 or 29 armed guards. For several seconds, Burke was not visible under an enormous mushroom cloud of smoke, fire and explosions. Several ships nearby were damaged by the force of the blast and flying fragments. The shock wave rocked the entire convoy, and several ships reported that they had been torpedoed. A US Army "FS" type ship just aft of Burke was severely damaged by the blast, sinking before it could be identified. As the cloud of smoke cleared, nearby ships closed on Burke's former position to search for survivors. It was soon clear that Burke, and all 68 men aboard her, were gone.
The Combat Air Patrol arrived at 12:13 after the weather cleared, providing air cover for the next three hours.
The Japanese attack that morning was just the beginning of a two-day series of attacks on the convoy, costing several more ships and hundreds of lives. In spite of the near-constant attacks, the force reached its destination at 06:48 December 30 with much-needed material for the Mindoro invasion.
Today, SS John Burke's fragments lie 1,500 feet (457 m) below the surface, in the vicinity of 9°1'11"N 123°26'50"E, the location the ship was last seen, in the strait between Negros, Siquijor Islands and Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte, Mindanao, Philippines.
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