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Coordinates: 36°08′07″N 5°21′18″W / 36.135183°N 5.355096°W / 36.135183; -5.355096

Career
Name: RFA Bedenham
Owner: British Ministry of Defence
Fate: Exploded at Gun Wharf, Gibraltar
General characteristics
Class and type: Naval armament carrier

The RFA Bedenham, a naval armament carrier, exploded while docked in Gibraltar on 27 April 1951, killing 13 people and causing a great deal of damage to the town.

Contents

Cause of the Explosion

The Royal Fleet Auxiliary Bedenham had arrived in Gibraltar on 24 April 1951, tying up at Gun Wharf. On the morning of the 27th, depth charges were being unloaded into a lighter when one of them ignited. Several men were organised to fight the fire from the quayside, but to no avail. There was an explosion in the lighter, and the fire spread to the Bedenham, causing a violent explosion in which the bow was blown out of the water and onto Gun Wharf, while the rest of the ship sank.

Casualties

13 people were killed in the explosion, including George Campbell Henderson, a sub-officer with the Gibraltar Fire Service, who was posthumously awarded the George Cross for his bravery in attempting to extinguish the fire. While most of those killed were members of the Gibraltar Fire Brigade or dock workers, two were traders on nearby Ragged Staff Road killed by flying debris. Dock overseer, Salvador Bula, was injured by the explosion but managed to get others who were injured to safety. Hundreds were injured and had to be taken to hospital.

The crew of the Bedenham had already abandoned the ship by the time of the explosion, with the exception of the captain and the Naval Armament Supply Officer, both of whom were blown into the water but subsequently rescued.

Effect of the Explosion

In addition to the human casualties, many of Gibraltar's buildings suffered substantial damage in the explosion, including the Cathedral of St. Mary the Crowned, the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, and the Convent (the official residence of the Governor of Gibraltar). One notable effect of the explosion was to delay the programme of housing necessary for the repatriation of Gibraltarians following their evacuation during Military history of Gibraltar during World War II.

The Admiralty accepted full responsibility for the damage, and approximately £250,000 was paid out in indemnity.

The Explosion of RFA Bedenham should not be confused with the explosion of the armament depot at Bedenham on 14 July 1950. The Bedenham depot serviced the Royal Naval base at Portsmouth.

References

  • Benady, Tito (1992) The Royal Navy at Gibraltar, pp. 221–222. ISBN 0-907771-49-1
  • Hebblethwaite, Marion (2006) One Step Further, ISBN 0-9548917-6-8
  • Jackson, William (1987) Rock of the Gibraltarians: A History of Gibraltar, p. 297. ISBN 0-8386-3237-8
  • BBC.co.uk: First hand recollection of the event
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