The SS RICHARD MONTGOMERY was a US Liberty Ship of 7146 gross tons. She
was built in 1943 by the St Johns River Shipbuilding Company of
Jacksonville, Florida and was one of over 2700 of these mass-produced
vessels built to carry vital supplies for the war effort.
In August 1944 the ship was loaded with a cargo of some 7000 tons of
munitions and joined convoy HX-301 bound for the UK and then on to
Cherbourg. On arrival in the Thames Estuary, the vessel was directed to
anchor in the Great Nore anchorage off Sheerness. The ship was to await
the formation of a convoy to continue the journey across the Channel.
However, on the 20th August 1944, she dragged her anchor in
the shallow water and grounded on a sandbank running east from the Isle
of Grain approximately 250m north of the Medway Approach Channel.
The vessel grounded amidships on the crest of the sandbank and intensive
efforts began to unload her in order to lighten the vessel so that she
could be refloated and also to save the cargo of munitions that were
vital for the Allies post-D-Day advancement. Unfortunately, by the next
day, a crack appeared in the hull and the forward end began to flood.
The salvage effort continued until the 25th September, by
which time approximately half the cargo had been successfully removed.
The salvage effort had to be abandoned when the vessel finally flooded
The wreck of the SS RICHARD MONTGOMERY remains on the sandbank where she
sank. The wreck lies across the tide close to the Medway Approach
Channel and her masts are clearly visible above the water at all states
of the tide. There are still approximately 1,400 tons of explosives
contained within the forward holds.
The wreck is designated under section 2 of the Protection of Wrecks Act
1973, which means that there is a no-entry exclusion zone around the
wreck. The wreck is clearly marked on the relevant Admiralty Charts. The
exclusion zone is defined by the following co-ordinates:
51° 28 04 N 00° 47 12 E
51° 27 57 N 00° 47 22 E
51° 27 50 N 00° 47 11 E
51° 27 58 N 00° 47 01 E
Medway Ports is contracted by the Maritime & Coastguard Agency to mark
and guard the wreck. This includes the provision and maintenance of
warning notices on the wreck, which are fastened to the masts.
Medway Ports is also contracted to provide and maintain a circle of
buoys around the wreck to ensure that shipping avoids the area. In
addition, the wreck is under 24-hour radar surveillance by Medway Ports.
Medway Ports, whose operations room is within sight of the wreck,
provide a first line of response to any incursions within the area.
Multibeam sonar images of the wreck acquired by the Archaeological
Diving Unit, St Andrews University 2002
The wreck of the SS RICHARD MONTGOMERY has been subject to regular
surveys since its grounding, with a variety of methods being used to
monitor the site. Until 1984, surveys were carried out by Ministry of
Defence (MoD) salvage divers. More recently, surveys have been
undertaken on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency by
contractors working under MoD supervision. Due to the extremely poor
visibility on site, after the 1993 survey it was decided that full
advantage should be made of advances in sonar technology in preference
to the use of divers. A series of sonar surveys were undertaken by Sonar
Research and Development, to form a baseline model of the changes to the
wreck and the seabed. This survey policy was followed until 2000 and
provided some excellent images and information on the condition of the
wreck and its environment.
Divers were again employed on site during the 2003 survey in order to
undertake ultrasonic hull thickness analysis, and to provide an
up-to-date assessment of the level of seabed support of the wreck and of
the main crack at No 2 hold.
More recently, high-resolution multibeam sonar surveys of the wreck have
been undertaken by ADUS St Andrews University.
2003 Survey in
Whilst the risk of a major explosion is believed to be remote, it is
considered prudent to monitor the condition of the wreck. As stated
above, surveys are carried out by the Maritime & Coastguard Agency on a
regular basis to ensure that any changes to the wreck, or its immediate
environment, are discovered quickly. Although it is clear from the
results of these surveys that the hull is subject to prevailing
environmental conditions and is showing some evidence of deterioration,
over the past ten years there has been little change and the wreck is
considered to be in a stable condition. Some remedial work to trim the
rigging etc from the masts (above the water line) was undertaken in
October 1999 with the aim of reducing stress levels on the masts and
Further work to look into the future management of the wreck of the
Richard Montgomery is currently being undertaken.