Idomeneus - The Mustard Gas Death Ship

Geoff Plunkett
10th November 2014, 09:09
Dear All

Some may be interested in the unknown story of the Idomeneus which arrived with a lethal cargo of mustard gas in January 1943 in Australia. Multi decorated Blue Funnel captain Walter Francis Dark was blamed for tragedy which gassed at least 140 and resulted in the death of stevedore Andrew Williams. He was to be humiliated in 3 court cases and died taking the stain to his grave. He was never to know the men were deliberately exposed to maintain military secrecy.

http://www.bigskypublishing.com.au/Books/Military/Death-by-Mustard-Gas/1067/productview.aspx

chadburn
10th November 2014, 19:55
Geoff, not too far from where I live is a place called Bowes Moor, during the WW2 the Moor was a Mustard Gas Storage Facility. The Mustard Gas was stored in Shells, Bombs and our version of the Jerry Can which were sat on wooden pallets. When the WW2 finished, Airmen from local Airfields were deployed to clear up the Moor, they were issued with a Tin Helmet, Gas Cape, Gas Mask,
Rubber Gloves and a pair of Wellingtons. There were numerous serious injuries, (not sure about any Deaths) when the Bottom of the Cans fell out as Gas Capes protect the wearer from Gas above the body not from ground level. Those in charge decided to burn the stuff using aviation fuel but they could not attain the correct temp to destroy it and the fumes killed the Wood downwind. They next loaded the cans that the bottoms did not fall out of on to Railway Wagons and sent it over to the West Coast of Scotland loaded it on to redundant Ships and sunk them in the North Atlantic. Due to the bottoms of the cans rotting out the Moor is still contaminated and is a No Go Area. The Army go up every year on the Moor in an attempt to clear it up. However, it is going to take a number of years if ever to complete the task.

Duncan112
10th November 2014, 20:49
They next loaded the cans that the bottoms did not fall out of on to Railway Wagons and sent it over to the West Coast of Scotland loaded it on to redundant Ships and sunk them in the North Atlantic.

Unfortunately the ships that were dumping the stuff (not sure about the scuttling of ships) were on piece work so instead of heading out from Stranraer to Beaufort's Dyke they dumped short with the result that a lot of stuff is now washing ashore on the SW coast of Scotland.

Bit of googling gives me this relating to the scuttled ships - 50 cases of "Unidentified material"!!! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Sandcastle

ben27
10th November 2014, 21:44
good day geoff plunkett.m,yesterday.19;09.re:idomeneus-the mustard gas death ship.thank you for a most interesting post.it is still contaminating the storage areas,do the locals know,it is quiet disgusting that this still causes a death threat after all these years.regards ben27

Satanic Mechanic
10th November 2014, 21:49
My uncle and his cousin (can't be bothered working out what that makes his relationship to me) were hospitalised as kids during the war after finding ' a shell with liquid leaking out of it' down Dumfries way, my mother says it was mustard gas. Let me get the full story on that actually - I'll be back home again in a couple days.

robingail
11th November 2014, 09:32
There is a theory that the HMAS Sydney had transferred at sea from HMS Durban
a quantity of mustard or phosgene gas canisters, probably stored in a forward magazine where a Kormoran torpedo hit.Source In The Shadow Of The Eagle
<Kevin Gomm>. My Naval training in mid fifties i recall there was mention of exercises on a Whitsunday island & so called banned gasses involved.
Kind Regards.
Robingail.

chadburn
11th November 2014, 10:08
There was certainly a supply of Mustard Gas Shells and Bombs in 'Ready use' storage throughout the WW2 hidden in various woods etc, I have no doubt that these were kept until well after the War ended after transfer into secure Bomb Stores on various Airfields throughout this Country. Bowes Moor was the largest open storage facility I believe in this Country but there were others scattered around. It is unlikely that the Moor will ever fully recover from the damage caused by the spillages, the MOD declared the Moor was clear and had to backtrack on that declaration when locals proved it was not by showing them Shell and Bomb casings which had worked their way up to the surface over the years.

Duncan112
11th November 2014, 11:11
There was certainly a supply of Mustard Gas Shells and Bombs in 'Ready use' storage throughout the WW2 hidden in various woods etc, I have no doubt that these were kept until well after the War ended after transfer into secure Bomb Stores on various Airfields throughout this Country. Bowes Moor was the largest open storage facility I believe in this Country but there were others scattered around. It is unlikely that the Moor will ever fully recover from the damage caused by the spillages, the MOD declared the Moor was clear and had to backtrack on that declaration when locals proved it was not by showing them Shell and Bomb casings which had worked their way up to the surface over the years.

One also wonders if there were caches of gas shells etc hidden in the UK, much as the Auxiliary Units stored weapons that still come to light from time to time, and these have been forgotten about or records lost. Also disused coal mines were convenient dumping grounds for all sorts of materiel. Sad though it is, at least we know there is a risk associated with Bowes Moor (On a similar tack, can you visit Gruinard Island yet - it is allegedly clean).

A.D.FROST
11th November 2014, 13:07
I was one ship(modern)which had electric heaters in the ER with Halon gas bottles.These were turned up,along with flame heaters to allow the chock-fast to set on the ME,this expanded the gas in the bottles until it busted its safety disc.Since it only came up on ECR panel as a pressure drop than a release alarm(GP Alarm),you had to enter the ER to cancel the alarm so as the day aboard I was gassed(When Halon is heated up by a flame it turns Mustard Gas.)

chadburn
11th November 2014, 15:46
One also wonders if there were caches of gas shells etc hidden in the UK, much as the Auxiliary Units stored weapons that still come to light from time to time, and these have been forgotten about or records lost. Also disused coal mines were convenient dumping grounds for all sorts of materiel. Sad though it is, at least we know there is a risk associated with Bowes Moor (On a similar tack, can you visit Gruinard Island yet - it is allegedly clean).

The problem is as you say that barring for the known locations there are other locations that have been forgotten about. When they started to develop RAF Thornaby into a housing estate they came across a previously forgotten Bomb Dump which was not marked on any MOD map and they had to shut the area down until it was cleared. There must be other former Military sites that have yet to be discovered and cleared.

WilliamH
11th November 2014, 15:54
I learned to drive on Thornaby airfield, I would have certainly no have if I had known I was driving over a bomb Dump.

John Cassels
11th November 2014, 18:54
There was certainly a supply of Mustard Gas Shells and Bombs in 'Ready use' storage throughout the WW2 hidden in various woods etc, I have no doubt that these were kept until well after the War ended after transfer into secure Bomb Stores on various Airfields throughout this Country. Bowes Moor was the largest open storage facility I believe in this Country but there were others scattered around. It is unlikely that the Moor will ever fully recover from the damage caused by the spillages, the MOD declared the Moor was clear and had to backtrack on that declaration when locals proved it was not by showing them Shell and Bomb casings which had worked their way up to the surface over the years.


Hope that's not anywhere near the A66 on the road from Scotch Corner !.

Farmer John
11th November 2014, 19:25
Hope that's not anywhere near the A66 on the road from Scotch Corner !.

Who knows? Quite possibly, the restricted area is very close to the road.

Geoff Plunkett
16th November 2014, 08:45
Non of the crew including Captain Dark knew they were carrying phosgene (No 4 hold) and mustard gas (No 1 hold) to Australia in convoy ON145. The dangers of not informing the crew was starkly demonstrated when U-518 torpedoed the Empire Sailor. Dark opened fire on the U boat with his port Oerlikon cannon and swung his ship to starboard. Phosgene bombs from Empire Sailor were thrown up from No 4 onto the deck. In all 20 men were killed by phosgene on the Empire Sailor;

http://uboat.net/allies/merchants/2454.html

As to burials, hundreds of phosgene bombs from the Idomeneus were buried at Marrangaroo Army Depot, near Lithgow. They were recovered in recent years;

http://mustardgas.org/Bases-Phantom-War-Reveals-Its-Secrets.pdf

chadburn
17th November 2014, 19:12
I learned to drive on Thornaby airfield, I would have certainly no have if I had known I was driving over a bomb Dump.

I will say that again William 'Buried Bomb Dump'(Jester)Do you remember the car/ motorbike racing at Thornaby, I rode the Dommie 88 in a few races there and an old friend Alan Ensoll use to race his 'D' Type along with Keith Schellenburg with his Bentley. Alan died a couple of years ago but Keith is still around. Great days racing around old Airfields.
In regards to the Mustard Gas Storage Depot John C.
When you drive past Bowes Castle going West on the A66, look to the right (if you can of course) and you will see some old War Department buildings ( Maycrete Huts) on the side of the Moor. These buildings were part of the Dump 'facilities' De-Contamination Centre etc, the Dump was/is on top of the Moor.
Do not put the local Spring Water in your Whisky(EEK)
Interesting article Geoff, more or less the same situation at Bowes. If the casings have leaked then it is in the ground, they do not appear to have any plans to remove any earth from the Moor to go where? Only to look for the buried munitions which they initially said were not there.

sandhopper
16th January 2015, 10:14
....(When Halon is heated up by a flame it turns Mustard Gas.)
Thank you for settling my very own 30+ year old mystery. I attended a fire course at a military establishment. The then chief fire officer went through the various equipment. He explained that those using a Halon in a fire would have to go to hospital for a 'routine' check up, remaining evasive as to why.