After sundown on July 17, something happened at a small port town 40 miles northeast of San Francisco that has never been fully explained…
The 7,500-ton Liberty ship SS E.A. Bryan had been loading there for days; 98 black enlisted men were on board, continuing to stack ammunition into the hold. Also on board were 31 Merchant Marine crewmen and 13 armed guards.
At 10:19 PM, a mighty blast erupted in the port area when one of the ships blew up, followed five seconds later by the other. The night sky was alight in a gigantic fireball as structures close to the blast vanished in a blinding flash. The Bryan was virtually vaporized.
Hundreds of civilians in the area were injured, including six at the Benicia Arsenal, located to the west across Suisun Bay, where $150,000 in damage was done to arsenal buildings. Within the port, buildings were leveled, vehicles and railroad cars were tossed about like toys, and fires were burning everywhere.
As you can read inside this season’s WWII Quarterly magazine, the explosion and its physical, social and legal aftermath clearly illustrated the cost of racial discrimination during this time of war. When President Harry Truman called for the armed forces to be desegregated in 1948, the Navy could honestly say that Port Chicago had been an essential part of the process.
This issue of WWII Quarterly is full of riveting stories and features like this one. Others you’ll find inside include:
To this day, the cause of the sinking of the HMS Hood during the hunt for the Bismarck is still disputed.
“Cracking the Vierville Draw”
The Stonewallers of the U.S. 29th Infantry Division and the Rangers faced murderous fire on D-Day to capture Omaha Beach’s most vital exit.
“Commandos Crack Hitler’s Atlantic Wall”
No. 48 (Royal Marine) Commando, the last such unit to be formed in World War II, was one of the first to land at Juno Beach on D-Day.
After invading Poland, Hitler used his stunning “lighting war” tactics against the West to defeat France, Holland, Belgium, and other countries.
The pilots of the Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bomber changed the course of World War II in the Pacific.
“A PT Boat Skipper’s Life”
Lieutenant Hank Blake recalls PT-375’s adventures and the Japanese surrender at Borneo.
As always, please let us know what you think about these and other stories in WWII Quarterly by visiting our website. We’d love to hear what you thought about the Port Chicago story and what topics you’d like to see us cover in subsequent issues.