London Fire Brigade

Dudgeon’s Wharf disaster remembered

17 July 2015

Today is the 46th anniversary of the Dudgeon's Wharf disaster where five firefighters lost their lives when oil tanks exploded on the Isle of Dogs. It remains the greatest single loss of London firefighters since the war.

A fire had broken out in one of the huge oil storage tanks on the Thames waterfront on Thursday, 17 July 1969. Believing the fire had been put out by demolition workers, the firefighters went inside the 60ft tank to make sure.

However, it is thought that as they inspected a build up of vapour, a spark from cutting equipment caused a fatal explosion.

Richard Adams, a construction worker, and five firefighters – Michael Gamble and Alfred Smee from Millwall Fire Station, John Appleby and Terrance Breen from Brunswick Road Fire Station, and Paul Carvosso from Cannon Street Fire Station – lost their lives.

'Like the blitz all over again'

A neighbour, living close by in Manchester Road, told the East London Advertiser: "The explosion rocked our flats – it was just like the blitz all over again."

The man who raised the alarm was the plant office manager Alf Moon, who later gave a dramatic account of the tragic events to the paper.

"A fire broke out in tank number 97 in the morning during the demolition work and I called the Fire Brigade," he said. "But before I had even put the telephone down, the men signalled that they themselves had extinguished the fire.

"The Brigade arrived to make sure the tank was safe. That's when it exploded into a sheet of flames. It was just like a rocket taking off.

"The men, who had been on the top, were sailing through the air with their arms and legs outstretched and twisted metal flying around them."

Five firefighters were also injured in the blast.

Today the Brigade remembers their sacrifice and local firefighters will visit the scene of the former Millwall oil storage plant at Compass Point, off Manchester Road.