SS Richard Montgomery Shipwreck In The Thames Estuary

For years, the East Coast of the UK has been the main area that I have sailed in. It makes for some fantastic, challenging sailing. Dodging sand banks, managing strong tidal flows, and navigating the shipping. It’s a fun place to sail, and not without it’s fantastic sites, one of the most famous of which is the SS Richard Montgomery Ship Wreck, which lies in the Thames Estuary.

Below you will find lots of facts and figures, and general info about the SS Richard Montgomery shipwreck which has been laying in the Thames Estuary, on Nore Sands for over 80 years.

What is the SS Montgomery Ship Wreck?

The wreck of the Montgomery is a famous ship wreck in the UK. The SS Richard Montgomery was an American Liberty Ship, which carried cargo and was built during World War 2. She was launched in June 1943, with a LOA of 135 metres. She ran aground in the Thames Estuary in August 1944, and has laid in that same place ever since.

Where is the SS Montgomery Ship Wreck?

The wreck lies across the tide on the Nore sandbank, close to the River Medway approach channel (near buoy #7), on the east coast of the UK, in the Thames Estuary.

Lat: 51 28.013’ N. Long: 0 47.119’ E

Location of SS Richard Montgomery – marked here by yellow buoys just south of Nore Sand
A close chart of the SS Richard Montgomery wreck location – it is marked by 4 special marks
How did the SS Montgomery Ship sink?

In August 1944, the SS Richard Montgomery left Philadelphia, USA laden with 6,127 tonnes of munitions, for use in WW2. She travelled from the Delaware River to the Thames Estuary, where she anchored while awaiting the formation of a convoy to travel to Cherbourg, France, which had come under allied control.

On arrival off Southend the harbourmaster, responsible for all shipping movements in the estuary ordered the Richard Montgomery to anchor off the north edge of Sheerness middle sands, and area known as the Great Nore Anchorage. Within hours the Montgomery dragged anchor, and ran aground, in a depth of 7.3m. Later, as the tide went out the ships back broke.

An enquiry that followed, ruled that the harbourmaster that had instructed the Montgomery’s captain to anchor on Nore sands, had placed the ship in jeopardy, and the captain of the Montgomery was returned to duty within a week. Incidentally, several ships that were moored nearby at the time, spotted that she was dragging anchor, and tried to raise the alarm by sounding their sirens, but to no avail.

Is the SS Montgomery Ship Wreck Dangerous?

Potentially, Yes. When the SS Montgomery went aground on the Nore sandbank in 1944, she was laden with a huge cargo of munitions, for use during WW2. Some munitions were initially offloaded, but it quickly became too dangerous and the task was abandoned. The ship broke in half and sunk a few weeks later. A significant quantity of explosive cargo still remains, making this shipwreck a potential explosion risk, should the load ever detonate.

The wreck site is surveyed regularly to keep a close eye on the sensitivity of the wreck and her cargo. Various recent surveys have concluded that the cargo onboard the Richard Montgomery is still deadly, and that it could detonate if there was a collision, an attack, or even if there is a shifting of the cargo due to a strong tide. The most significant risk currently though, comes from the state of the ship itself. After decades of exposure to the elements and tides, the masts are in a terrible state, and are at risk of collapse. If they were to collapse, this could cause a detonation.

There is currently a tender process underway to get the masts removed, at a cost of c.£5m. It is hoped that the masts will be removed in the summer of 2022.

The SS Richard Montgomery exclusion zone
How many bombs are on the SS Montgomery Wreck?

There are currently approx. 1,400 tonnes of high TNT explosives onboard. This is made up as follows…

  • 286 x 910kg high explosive bombs
  • 4,439 x 450kg bombs of mixed variety
  • 1,925 x 230kg bombs
  • 2,815 fragmentation bombs/bomb clusters
  • Various explosive booster charges
  • Phosphorus bombs
  • Smoke bombs
  • Various pyrotechnic signals
What will happen if the Richard Montgomery explodes?

Surveys show the at wreck is a risk, but it is unlikely that she will explode in the near future. Various predictions have been made about what the impact will be if the ship wreck of the Richard Montgomery was to explode. These predictions vary, but one prominent report suggests that if the Montgomery explodes, it would throw a 300 metre-wide column of water and debris nearly 3,000 metres into the air. It would also generate a wave 5 metres high (almost 16 ft). Almost all windows on the Isle of Sheppey (population of 40,000) would be shattered by the blast. Coastal settlements nearby could be flooded, including coastal towns like Whitstable and Southend.

Can you see the SS Richard Montgomery wreck?

Yes, you can see the wreck. It is is now sitting at a depth of approx. 15m, and is leaning to Starboard. At all states of tide her 3 timber masts are visible above the water, although naturally the best time to view the wreck is at low water, where the masts are most exposed.

Due to the significant quantity of unexploded munitions that lie within the wreck, the SS Richard Montgomery is closely monitored by the MCA. It is also clearly marked on charts, and has an exclusion zone around her. This is marked by the presence of 4 huge yellow buoys (or special marks) which are lit at night. Between the buoys lie chains, which will physically stop most smaller vessels from straying too close! The exclusion zone is monitored visually and by radar.

Sailors taking in the sight of the SS Montgomery wreck
The SS Richard Montgomery ship wreck, Thames Estuary
The 3 masts of the SS Richard Montgomery wreck

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