The YF415 was a US Navy freight lighter built by the
American Ship Building Company in their Buffalo yard. Commissioned in
October of 1943, it was 130 ft. long with a 30 ft. beam. Designed for
hauling freight in harbors and coastal waters, it had twin 300 BHP diesel
engines, a large winch with freight boom, towing bitt and space for 10
crew. Chief Boatswain’s Mate Louis Tremblay took command of the vessel in
Buffalo and brought her to the Boston Navy Yard for service.
On May 10, 1944 the YF415 received orders from the
Captain of the Yards office, Boston, to proceed to the Naval Ammunition
Depot in Hingham to pick up a quantity of obsolete munitions for disposal,
which at that time called for dumping overboard in deep water. At 8:30 am
on the morning of May 11, the 415 left Hingham harbor with approximately 150
– 200 tons of munitions primarily consisting of pyrotechnics (Mark II signal
rockets), black powder and 5 inch projectiles. In addition to the 9 crew
members on the boat, a contingent of 21 officers and men from the Naval
Barracks in Hingham was on board to help with the disposal. All of the
ordnance was carried on the deck – in the large weather deck (compartment),
and on bow and stern. At approximately 12:25pm, after having unloaded about
two thirds of the munitions, some of the pyrotechnics ignited in the weather
deck just beneath the bridge and touched off a maelstrom of explosions and
intense fire. Men scrambled for their lives, and most leaped overboard
without time to grab life jackets or launch the lifeboat. The fire and
explosions continued for 20 – 30 minutes before finally sinking the ship.
The USS Zircon, under the command of Lt. Bird, witnessed the initial
explosions and proceeded towards the YF – 415 immediately. However, burning
debris from the explosions kept the rescue boats from getting close enough
to pick up survivors for almost 35 minutes. The fire itself and cold waters
claimed 17 men, including six of the nine crewmen. Thick fog in the area
hampered the rescue operation and also severely limited the estimate of the
position of the sinking, and the exact position of the wreck was never
The wreck of the YF – 415 was located in
late October 2002
by me (Bob Foster), working with Captains Heather Knowles and Dave Caldwell of
Northern Atlantic Dive Expeditions, in 240 FSW about 16 miles ENE of
Boston. It was actually marked long before (as are most wrecks) by
fishermen in the area who set their nets nearby. Due to the water
temperatures at the time, the wreck was not dived until July of 2003.
Joined by Jack Ahern and Donna Chaston, we surveyed and finally
positively identified the wreck based on a US Navy stamp found on a compass
fragment along with general ship dimensions and features. Damage found on
the ship also closely matched the descriptions later found in statements provided
in naval documents from a large de-classified file in the National Archives.
Today the YF – 415 sits upright with the bow buried
firmly in the muddy bottom and the stern and props fully exposed. The
bridge and other structures mounted on top of the weather deck have been
torn away over the years by nets, leaving the weather deck the only
remaining covered structure on the deck. The roof of this large room, which
spans the entire width of the ship, has been burned through in several
areas. A large pile of debris rests at the forward end of the
compartment. The ship’s funnel lies beside the wreck along the starboard side.
Penetration is possible into all interior areas including the engine room,
forward cargo area, and crew’s quarters / galley in the bow, which is
accessible through a snorkel-like hatchway protruding from the mud.
Entering the galley/crew quarters means actually going below the mud bottom.
All these areas are filled to a large extent with a thick layer of mud and silt
- at least two to three feet in most areas, making penetration a bit
is usually good on this wreck, and it is easy to navigate. However the
depth, cold temperatures and limited ambient light make this a very advanced
Statement of Warrant CG Lee T. Ridenour, DVS, 144316
Chief Gunner Ridenour was in charge of the
I was sitting in the galley eating. We left Hingham
at 0830 with some flat-nosed projectiles, 3 inch common, and 3 inch AA, and
miscellaneous pyrotechnics and black powder. Total tonnage about 200 tons.
Flat nosed projectiles were 5, 3, and 4 inch. At 1130 we arrived at the
dumping ground and proceeded to throw overboard, first the black powder and
then the projectiles. By about 1245 the load was approximately two-thirds
off and three officers remained on the topside supervising the unloading,
while 3 others went below to chow. On the topside were Lt. Doering, Lt.
Knox, and CBM Tremblay. Gunner Hormak and Ensign Bowen and myself had just
finished eating when the first explosion occurred which drove small pellets
from the pyrotechnics through the galley door. This occurred about 1
o’clock. It was impossible to get out of the forward compartment for a few
minutes and at the first lull, we all left the compartment and ran for the
fire hose which is right outside of the compartment but the explosions and
flames from the pyrotechnics was so great that it was impossible to face
it. I told everybody to get up forward and hang over the side. At the time
we did this the whole forward deck appeared to be a mass of flame and
explosions. I saw Tremblay on the bridge and he was trying to get some men
off the stern. Three of us stayed hanging over the bow until about five
minutes before the ship went down as I would now allow anyone to drop into
the water because of the danger of the missiles. I would say that we stayed
there about one hour.
My idea of what caused the explosion is that the
matches that are in with the rockets, six in each rocket, must have ignited
some how. The pyrotechnics which went off first were stored in the
compartment underneath the bridge, but doors on both ends were opened
because we had been removing projectiles from the same compartment first.
There were some projectiles and pyrotechnics on the well-deck forward, but
they didn’t go off first. I heard no heavy explosions from the compartment
under the bridge, which leads me to believe all the projectiles had been
removed from there, and that the fire started among the pyrotechnics, on
which some men were working at the time. I believe that all of the
projectiles on the stern had been disposed of as I heard no explosions on
the stern during the entire affair.
Congressional Record - May 11, 2004
A page from the very large file found in
the National Archives on the sinking. As a result of the
investigation, never again would ordinance be disposed of from a
The Boston Globe story on the sinking from
May 12, 1944
The ship again makes the Boston Globe on
November 9, 2003.