click on a photo for a larger view
Photos courtesy of the National Archives, J. D. Reed, Fireman First Class from the Navsource Web Site
and Pat Perrella, USS Slater DE 766 Volunteer Curator from photos donated to the museum collection by John M. Mitchell, ET1, USS BRISTER DER-327. The photos are on exhibit in the C-203L
compartment near Locker #50.
USS Solar DE 221
Solar was commissioned at Philadelphia Navy Yard on 15 February 1944, Lt. Comdr. Hadlai A. Hull, USNR, in command.
From April to December 1944, she escorted one convoy to Casablanca and three convoys to the Mediterranean and back to the U.S.
From December to February she served as a training ship for destroyer and destroyer escort crews. On 2 February 1945, she resumed Atlantic convoy duty.
In the spring of 1945, Solar was slated to be converted to a radar picket ship, but this work was never undertaken and was later
canceled. With the declaration of V-J Day in mid-August, her orders were changed again. She departed Boston on 7 September for two weeks of refresher training at Guantanamo
Bay, Cuba. At the completion of this training, she headed for Casco Bay, but enroute there, she was diverted to Miami, FL, where she became the training group flagship. In
late October, she visited Baltimore for the Navy Day celebration. On 19 December, Solar was assigned to the Commander, Operational Development Force, for anti-aircraft and fighter
director practice. The beginning of 1946 brought an assignment as a sonar test ship.
On 30 April 1946, Solar was berthed at Leonardo Pier I of the Naval Ammunition Depot at Earle, N.J., to discharge ammunition.
The operation went smoothly until, shortly after 1130, three explosions blasted the ship near her number 2 upper handling room. Her number 2 gun was demolished and the bridge, main
battery director and mast were all blown aft and to starboard. Both sides of the ship were torn open and her deck was a mass of flames. The order to abandon ship came after
the second explosion and was carried out expeditiously. Nevertheless, the tragedy claimed the lives of 7(1) sailors and injured 30 others.
Gone But Never Forgotten
30 April 1946
John Lawrence Berrigan S 2/C
Charles Edward Kline GM 1/C
Elisha Nelson, Jr. S 2/C
Eugene Paul Norman CBM
William Scott Reardon F 1/C
Victor Francis Sousa GM 3/C
Ernest W. Worrell Lt.(jg)
DISASTER 'WARSHIP BLOWS UP AT MUNITIONS PIER IN PORT, KILLING
60 on Escort Vessel Injured - Blasts Shake New Jersey Towns
near Big depot
BOMBS ASHORE SET OFF
Sailor Is Only Slightly as Depth Charge Explodes as He Is
By MEYER BERGER Special to The New York Times
LEONARDO, N. J.,
April 30, 1946 – One officer and four sailors (later
corrected to 6 people) of the Destroyer Escort Solar’s
complement of 14 officers and 136 enlisted men vanished
utterly before noon today in an ammunition explosion that
tore away one-third of the 306-foot ship's forward structure.
About 60 of the ship’s crew were injured (later listed as 125
men), but only thirty-five were hospitalized, and of them
only a handful remained tonight for further treatment. The
Navy withheld the names of the 5 (6) missing men and the
names of the injured because not all their families had been
The explosion happened as the Solar’s crew was unloading her
ammunition supply in preparation for an overhaul. Normally
she carries about 15 tons of assorted ammunition, including
depth bombs and smaller charges, torpedoes (none on board)
and shells for her cannon. Only one-third of this amount was
still aboard when the blast occurred.
TONS OF EXPLOSIVES NEAR BY
Near by, when the detonation shook the New Jersey coast in
and around the Raritan Bay district, were a number of other
vessels preparing to unload ammunition. It was unofficially
estimated here that these vessels held, all told, about
25,000 tons of explosives. Tugs dragged these craft out of
the dangers zone.
Burning fragments from the Solar, hurled at tremendous force
against freight cars on the pier, started other explosions.
One car in a freight string, filled chiefly with depth
charges, blew up and all but vanished in dust and smoke,
scattering its parts in all directions. Three strings of cars
were hauled shoreward by their locomotive crews, at great
No one seemed certain tonight what had caused the explosion,
but what seemed like a possible explanation came from Jack
Horne, fireman second class, of Charlotte, N.C. He thought a
piece of ammunition carried by Joe Stuchinski, seaman, of
Baltimore might have done it. “Ski,” the fireman said, “was
carrying a ‘hedgehog’ from the forward magazine. While he was
holding it, it just went off. He must have bumped it against
something, because those things go off when anything touches
Seaman Stuchinski oddly was not seriously injured. He was
deafened, a few minor scratches showed on his chest when he
got to the first-aid station and his dungarees were split.
“It went off. The thing just went off,” he said.
The “hedgehog” Stuchinski carried was an anti-submarine depth
charge. Metal-cased, weighing about sixty pounds, it is
generally cylindrical, about thirty inches long and between
four and five inches in diameter.
BOW LIKE ELEPHANT'S TRUNK
The Solar lay at the northern or bay end, of the easternmost
of the three great piers that jut out from the Navy’s Earle
Ammunition Depot, when she blew up. She was approximately one
and a half miles from the beach end of the depot. The blast
curled her bow in much the same shape as an elephant’s
The concussion was felt twenty to thirty miles around. The
detonation rushed across Raritan Bay to shake homes in
Tottenville, Richmond Valley, Pleasant Plains, Princess Bay,
Great Kills, Oakwood and New Dorp, all on Staten Island, and
shattered panes in some of these communities. Ground tremors
were felt to the west and the southwest. There were some
freakish effects. Residents in Middletown Township, including
Rumson, Fair Haven, Red Bank, and Little Silver, for example,
seemed certain the explosion was local. Several frightened
housewives called the police to say, “The boiler just blew up
in my cellar.”
Dogs raced away from the beach in hysterical rush, ears
twitching, and tails between their legs. Cars stopped on
Highways 35 and 36 on the New Jersey shore route and
motorists got out to inquire about “the earthquake.” The
damage, however, was confined pretty much to the Solar and to
structures on the pier.
Lieutenant Commander G.R. LaRoque of Kankakee, Ill., Bronze
Star holder who saw thirteen engagements in the Pacific, was
outside his cabin on the Solar’s port side, watching his crew
at the unloading at 11:35 A.M., when the first blast
occurred. It sounded like a three-inch shell exploding in the
starboard forward magazine.
One third of the crew was at mess on the second deck. They
and most of the other men aboard swarmed to the fire
stations. Within less than a minute a second minor explosion
in the forward magazine shook the craft. Commander LaRoque
gave the order, “Abandon ship!”
Several of the crew nearest the magazine had already suffered
burns. Many were blinded by fuel oil sprayed into their faces
by the blast. All who could see, though, manned the ship’s
hose and directed streams toward the burning bow. On shore
the disaster sirens screamed and disaster units roared toward
At 11:38 A.M. the third, and by far the greatest, blast
deafened the DE’s crew, tore away her bridge and all her
forward structure, and a giant cloud, black at the bottom and
dull gray where it mushroomed at the top, twisted and snaked
toward the clear, sunlit sky. This blast seemed to blow out
the flame that shot through the smoke of the earlier
explosions. It tore the ship from her hawsers and shot her
back, southward, almost 300 yards, toward the beach end.
Civilians and Navy personnel on the concrete pier cowered
under a rain of nuts, bolts, steel and iron fragments,
slivered glass and great gun shields from the Solar that
screamed past them. Powdered metal dust covered their heads
Fifty to sixty men of the crew had leaped from the Solar’s
decks to the pier when the skipper called “Abandon ship!” but
few of the men still aboard realized that the DE had been
blown back 300 yards from her original position when they,
too, recovered from the shock and leaped to the concrete.
Some were bleeding. Several were scorched and oil-smeared.
Commander LaRoque’s hand and face were burned, apparently by
a searing flame from the final the final explosion, but he
could not recall exactly how he came by his injuries. Much
the same was true of many of the others in the Solar’s crew.
They had only vague notions of what burned or cut them.
Just south of the Solar when she blew up were the LST 28 and
Y Freighter 446, both loaded with assorted ammunition. Navy
and Coast Guard tugs, backed by water-spewing fireboats, slid
through the rising smoke to tow them bay ward, out of the
rain of hot metal and screaming shell fragments.
Roughly one mile north of the Solar’s original position, at
the Army Pier, which juts like a great concrete finger almost
three miles into Raritan Bay, were the Liberty Ships Lamar,
Washington Alston, Behrman and Grace, each with an
unofficially 5,000 tons of ammunition aboard. Tugs pulled
them bayward, too.
Small craft, chiefly fifty-footers, swarmed around the
burning Solar, meanwhile, picking injured sailors from the
bay. The water’s surface was thick with oil and on it floated
sea bags, shoes, parts of wooden chests, books, magazines and
odds and ends blown from the Solar’s decks and from her
Curiously, not all the ammunition on the Solar exploded. Of
the ammunition still aboard her when the blast destroyed her,
the greater consisted of ‘hedgehogs,” 20 millimeter ack ack
and 3-inch shells. Her torpedoes and her 650-pound depth
charges, fortunately, already had been unloaded.
As the great thick cloud from the explosion slowly lifted
from the bay, as rescuers picked up the injured hurled into
the water, the Solar’s officers and men went aboard again to
fight small fires. The fireboats stood by, helping, and land
fire crews poured tons of water, too, on the Solar and on
near-by burning structures.
These included a Navy barge, which stood, empty, on the
western end of the pier, opposite the Solar’s original
position, a trestle about 200 yards west of the Solar, and
two Navy vans, or ammunition trailers. Parts of the pier were
torn away, too, and burning oil sent waves of heat until the
fire fighters quenched them.
The Solar’s paymaster went aboard after the explosion fires
were out and poked in the debris for the ship’s safe.
Tomorrow was to have been payday for the crew and he was to
have distributed, roughly, $ 6,000 to the men. He found the
safe at last, buried in debris, and badly dented, but the $
6,000 payroll and an additional $ 24,000 in cash were intact.
Naval officers at the depot expressed astonishment and
gratitude for the swift response of rescue units and medical
and Red Cross aid. The Monmouth County Red Cross assembled
its membership in record time and got all its rolling stock
and other equipment to the station in ample time to be of
Ambulances and more doctors, nurses and medical attendants
than were needed swarmed into the depot from Fort Hancock,
Raritan Arsenal and Monmouth County hospitals. Within twenty
minutes after the blast they all but clogged the main
highways leading to Leonardo
Commander N.F.X. Banyard, senior medical officer at the Naval
Ammunition Depot, said tonight that the injured were
dispersed as follows; Eight in Fort Hancock Army Hospital,
two of these critical; one critically injured, in Monmouth
Memorial Hospital in Long Branch; one critically injured,
Fort Monmouth Station Hospital; twenty five injured one
critically, Naval Dispensary, Earle, N.J.
Station spokesmen announced tonight that two investigations
were under way. One is being conducted by a depot
investigating body, the other by a Naval Board of Inquiry.
The spokesman reported that the Navy board, which began its
investigation today, consists of Rear Admiral Paul F. Foster,
Navy inspector general, senior board member; Capt. J. A.
Rood, general inspector, Third Naval District member: Capt.
C. E. Coney, assistant Navy inspector general; Capt. C. R.
Will, general inspector, Bureau of Ordnance, and James H.
Sheridan of the office of the Navy inspector general,
Worrell, H. Lt.(jg)
Kline GM 1/c
Sousa GM 3/c
REARDON F 1/c
Berrigan F 1/c
Nelson S 1/c
McCollum CWT wound on head.
Reilly bad body burns and head burns.
Young F 1/c lacerations on the head.
Towne Cook Toes blown off, head injuries, amputated hand and
Miller. L S 1/c Toes blown off, big hole in the back, several
Watson WT 3/c Foot blown off, later leg was amputated because
of gas gangrene.
Winne S 2/c Severe burns.
Mansfield. M Cox. Severe burns, hit numerous times by steel
Lillis Terrible burns on face and hands.
Foster CPhm Burns and wounds on head.
Parson CEM Burns on face and arms.
Sly Broken leg in two places.
Hamblin Ens Bad burns on face and arms.
Brooksmith Lt (jg) Burns and lacerations on face and arms.
Nord Ens Almost scalped and burns.
SKIPPER ACCLAIMS HEROISM OF CREW
Men Went Into the Teeth of Fire on the Solar to Fight it,
Says Comdr. La Rocque
Special to The New York Times
LEONARDO, N.J.., April 30 Grim, blackened , hollowed eyed
crewmen, who had seen and cheated death aboard the ill-fated
U.S.S. Solar, straggled back to the headquarters of the naval
ammunition depot here today and told in tired voices of how
tragedy and comedy enveloped.
Lieut.Comdr. G.R. La Rocque of Kankakee, Ill, the Solar’s 27
year old skipper, who was burned on the face and hands, spoke
quietly of the heroism of his enlisted men as he stood
looking out to the sea in the tattered and smudged remnants
of his smart tans.
“ Those sailors were wonderful,” skipper said. “God, they
were brave men. Believe me, I saw a lot of brave sailors. I
couldn’t begin to put into words what those men did. It was
wonderful. On the starboard side and on the port side, they
went into the teeth of the fire to fight it.”
Commander La Rocque said there were a series of explosions;
the first one of good size; the second, somewhat smaller, and
the third blowing up the whole bow. The last explosion, the
skipper said, lifted one of the Solar’s guns and deposited it
on top of another some distance away. The Skipper said the
first blast enabled all in the forward mess hall, including
his petty officers, to clear out in time.
Saved by Circumstance
Chief Soundman Edward Daniels, 26, of Mt. Orab, Ohio,
credited a quirk of circumstance with saving his life as well
as those of all other chief petty officers. Daniels said the
chiefs were eating in the general mess hall instead of the
chief’s petty officers mess today because A.R. Bone of
Richmond, Virginia, the chief’s mess cook, had injured his
hand earlier in the day. The petty officer’s mess is directly
over the hold that was demolished.
“ I started for the burning magazine when I heard the first
blast,” Daniels said. When the second blast went off, I saw
flames coming out of the magazine. I saw one body blown over
the side, but he didn’t sink and his feet were sticking out
of the water. I started to abandon ship when the third blast
blew me halfway across the ship. I grabbed for a lifeline and
lowered myself to the dock.”
Machinist’s Mate, 3/c, Frank Iezzi, 25, of Philadelphia,
joined three other shipmates,
Richard Pegler, A.E. Wolkonowski and Melvin Joschko, given
warm praise to the Chief Boatswain’s Mate, whom they only
knew as Norman, for his devotion to duty. The last time they
saw Norman, they confessed, he was at his station fighting
the mushrooming flames. Similar praise was given to Lieut.
(jg) H.Worrell, the chief engineering officer who was serving
as officer of the day.
Among The First Survivors
Nineteen-year old Joschko, a machinist’s mate, was one of the
first survivors to leave the ship. When he hit the dock and
was taken in hand by first aid men, the first man he saw was
Walter Seavers, a pharmacist’s mate, 3/c, and boyhood school
chum from La Porte, Ind., whom he had not seen in four or
Some insight into the series of events leading up to the
first explosion was given by the members of a five-man
ammunition team, which was passing up hedgehogs, or
anti-submarine missiles, from below the decks to topside.
Maynard Spurlock, 20, of Louisville, Ky., was in the hold
passing the hedgehogs with Michael Mansfield to Paul
Polemeni, 21, of 380 Sackett Street, Brooklyn: Leonard
“Cheesecake” Miller of Washington, and Joseph Stuchinski, 23,
of Baltimore, Md.
“I was passing this equipment,” Stuchinski said, “when it
suddenly exploded. I saw a guy blown to pieces and I don’t
remember how I got out, but I got out.”
The bulk of the crew of the Solar are ready to be discharged
from the service in about a month. A crewman carrying a sheaf
records told some of his companions they were payroll
records. The men grinned gleefully. Tomorrow they get paid.
"Dog Last to Quit Ship; Mascot Wet But Unhurt" Special to The
New York Times
April 30 - Lobo, a brown-and-white mongrel of uncertain
ancestry, who has been the mascot of the Solar’s crew for the
last five months, left the damaged vessel after all the
personnel had been removed somewhat damp – but in style.
Lobo returned to the naval ammunition depot headquarters in
an ambulance that had come all the way from Oakhurst, N.J.,
to aid at the disaster. He was attended by a first-aid squad,
although he was uninjured. When he arrived a rousing cheer
went up from the crewmen who had grown to love Lobo and to
regard the part Spitz and part spaniel as a member of the
Lobo joined the Solar in Norfolk, Virginia. He represented an
investment of $4.
"RED CROSS-SPEEDY IN DISASTER RELIEF"
Wartime Plans Put To Use For The First Time
To Rush Aid To Explosion Victims
Plans outlined in wartime, but never put in use, enabled the
Disaster relief Committee of the Monmouth Chapter of the
American Red Cross to speed two Red Cross nurses and a field
director yesterday to the scene of the explosion of the
U.S.S. Solar within 15 minutes after the last of the three
blasts had rocked the area.
The emergency brought into action 300 trained Red Cross
workers of all kinds, many of whom worked all day and through
the night both at the Naval Ammunition Depot and the chapter
headquarters in Shrewsbury, N.J. Throughout the day cars,
trucks, station wagons, ambulances and the chapter’s mobile
kitchen shuttled back and forth between Shrewsbury and the
depot carrying blood plasma, relief supplies, food, disaster
equipment and personnel.
Plasma, Morphine Urgent
The first and most urgent call from the base was for blood
plasma and morphine syrettes. A telephone message to North
Atlantic Area Headquarters in New York located ninety-six
units of the former in Trenton, where they had been stored at
Crescent temple by the New Jersey State Board of Health. The
Red Cross chapter at Trenton at once sent the units on to
Twelve more units were picked up by a member of the Monmouth
Motor Corps at the Monmouth Memorial Hospital in Long Branch.
The hospital also supplied all its available morphine
syrettes and all the 4 x 4 sterilized bandages it could
spare. All were delivered speedily to the depot hospital at
On hour after the explosion two truckloads of food were sent
over the eight-mile route to the depot. By late afternoon
officials of the disaster committee estimated that they had
dispatched twenty gallons of coffee, twenty gallons of milk,
600 sandwiches and a large number of cakes. More calls for
food were expected.
News articles courtest of:
(1) There are many books and other resources that note 165 men were killed aboard USS Solar. Below is information noting the correct number of men lost aboard DE 221.
28 September 2002
I must point out some errors in the information provided for the USS SOLAR (DE 221).
On April 30, 1996, the Garden State Chapter-NJ sponsored a memorial service at Naval Weapons Station Earle, Leonardo, NJ, honoring those lost in the terrible tragedy which took place exactly 50-years
earlier to the day. I had the honor of MC/ing the event and over 225 attendees were present with much preparation and research having gone into the event. This included checking old news clips and
conversations with the 16 crew members who were present and the SOLAR's skipper, Eugene R. LaRocque, who was a LCDR at the time but retired as RADM. It is true that some news reports at the time
stated that 165 fatalties had occurred but the fact is that one officer and six enlisted men perished in a series of three explosions which destroyed the ship. Another thirty men were injured some
very seriously. The cause was probably a dropped hedge-hog device during ammunition unloading which dropped down 2-3 decks through a hatchway into an ammunition storage area where it detonated.
In his remarks in 1996, Admiral LaRocque, went to great lengths to explain that at the court martial, which followed the incident, it was acknowledged that the
Bureau of Ordinance had provided completely inadequate directions on the proper handling of the hedge-hogs which were somewhat difficult to grip. The result was that no charges were found against the
officers and men of the ship.
I have seen the 165 figure many times and I try to correct it whenever I can as I believe such information to be almost sacred with a high need to be accurate.
The correct information is: USS Solar DE 221 destroyed in a series of explosions at NAD Earle, NJ during ammo unloading - 7 men lost - April 30, 1946
Note: at the time Earle was a Naval Ammunition Depot or NAD.
USS ROCHE (DE 197)
Update: As webmaster I received the following information via email.
13 June 2004
Shortly prior to event date I had been transfered from the NAD as an Ammo Handler to YF 854 crew as a seaman. On
the morning of 4/30/46, I observed the Solar come in and berth ahead of us, bow to stern, with an LST in between. I also saw the arrival of a crew of Ammo Handlers (approx
12), some of whom I recognized as my ex-team mates. I walked up to them and went aboard the Solar.
The team was arranging a roller conveyer from about the position of the #2 3" 50 to the pier where a box car was
positioned. I recall that I did not see any ships crew. About an hour prior to the first explosion, I returned to my ship. I did not return to Solar until after
the 3 explosions had occurred at which time a salvage crew had already removed the superstructure and placed at least some of it on the pier.
I specifically recall the signal flag locker and a tattered MIKE flag. Where the conveyer had been was a rather
large half moon crater all the way through about 5 ft plus of concrete pier. The box car was blown outward indicative of internal explosion and its overhead was blown about a half a
mile or so landing on the adjacent and parallel pier finger. I hopped a ride over and examined it.
I never again saw any of my ex-team mates and assumed they had been killed. The reports I have seen do not address the
"box car" but rather imply explosion on deck, rupturing cases resulting in burning torpex, another explosion due to cook off and then fire in the forward magazine causing it to
explode. They do suggest the possibility of a faulty fuse finding its way into one of the Hedgehogs being unloaded that day.
It is a rather late date, but if anyone there that day recalls the fate of the ammo handling crew unloading I would
appreciate them advising me.
Robert (Bob) J. Whitsitt then S/2c Whitsitt7@aol.com ....now living in Englewood, FL.
19 June 2004
I have been looking at the pictures of the Solar after the explosion as found on your web site. If you enlarge and examine picture 3rd from top in left column you will note how far
back the ship was driven. Also there appears to be what remains of a roller conveyor without its rollers. It has been dragged there. However, it is in good enough shape to indicate
that the boxcar explosion was contained and thus it sustained only blast force. The Solar was berthed up at the end where you can make out the box car and debris. In the bottom
picture on the right hand column you can note a piece of box car overhead peeled back. A large portion ended up on the other pier in the background. Enlarge and magnify and you can
see the hole in the pier at the boxcar and the pilings still remaining on both edges with the ones in the middle missing.