The Great Bombay Dock Explosion of 1944


On that day, 14th April in 1944, a fire started in the cargo hold of the ship ‘Fort Stikine’, docked in the Victoria Docks in Mumbai, which was carrying a cargo of cotton bales, gunpowder, timber, ammunition and gold bars from London.


The fire resulted in an explosion so big and loud that it could be felt till Dadar, more than 8 miles away. A piece of propeller from the ship landed in St. Xavier’s High School, Dhobi Talao some three kilometres from the docks!


The docks and the surrounding areas were completely destroyed. Over 120 brave men from the Bombay Fire Brigade and hundreds of dock workers lost their lives. The locals thought that the Japanese had attacked (like Pearl Harbour), which was not true. All the gold bars (which had landed all over the place) were subsequently collected and returned over the next 30 years to the British Government.


Many families lost all of their belongings and were left with just the clothes on their back. The government took full responsibility for the disaster and paid monetary compensation to citizens who made a claim for loss or damage to property.


It took three days to bring the fire under control, and later 8,000 men toiled for seven months to remove around 500,000 tons of debris and bring the docks back into action. The official death toll was 740, including 476 military personnel, with around 1,800 people injured. Twenty-seven other vessels were sunk or damaged in both Victoria Dock and the neighbouring Prince’s Dock.


The officers and men did not die in the emotional heat of battle but laid down their lives for the cause of the safety, welfare and prosperity of the citizens and the community at large.


In recognition, the citizens of Mumbai erected a Memorial Column at the Fire Brigade Headquarters at Byculla and the Government of India declared 14th April as “Fire Services Day” to be observed nation-wide every year. Thus, the city and the nation took justified pride in the Bombay Fire Brigade, which set a memorable example for other Fire Services to follow.



This article contains an excerpt from the book on Community Resiliency Indicator (CRI) published by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM).


To know more about Community Resiliency Indicator (CRI), click here.