Kaboom: The World's Biggest Non-Nuclear Explosions


By: Nathan Chandler

6 Min Quiz

Image: Wiki Commons

About This Quiz

Nuclear bombs are so powerful that they're virtually unfathomable. But there have been plenty of other mind-boggling blasts on Earth. How much do you know about the biggest non-nuclear explosions?

Where did the Halifax explosion occur?

Note to self -- do not crash one ship into another ship loaded with high explosives. That's what happened in Canada in 1917 when a ship packed with World War I explosives crashed into another.


How many people died due to the Halifax explosion?

The Halifax explosion had the energy of about 2.9 kilotons of TNT. The ship exploded in harbor, killing nearly 2,000 people and injuring thousands more … meaning these munitions caused more harm to their handlers than in many of the war zones that they were meant to target.


The Port Chicago explosion happened during which war era?

In summer 1944, a crew of men in Port Chicago, California, was loading munitions onto a ship bound for the front lines of World War II. The crew handled the munitions rather haphazardly, perhaps triggering the explosion.


How many people were killed due to the Port Chicago disaster?

At least 320 people were killed and about 400 were injured due to the tremendous blast. Before the explosion, dozens of men had refused to load the ammunition because they were certain that the handling procedures were too dangerous. History proved that they were right.


What was the Minor Scale explosion?

In 1985, the U.S. decided to blow up 4.8 kilotons of conventional explosives as part of a bomb test. The enormous explosion was meant to mimic the effects of a small nuclear device.


What was the Minor Scale test meant to find out?

The military was testing a range of hardware. It especially wanted to know how much damage its ballistic missile launchers would incur during such a large explosion.


The 1769 Brescia explosion involved large amounts of gunpowder. How was the powder ignited?

Bresica is a town in what's now Italy, and there was warehouse filled with roughly 200,000 pounds of gunpowder. A random lightning strike triggered the explosion, which may have killed more than 2,500 citizens.


What was the Trinity explosion?

In 1945, the United States set off some huge conventional explosives for the sake of nuclear testing. The Trinity test was 100 tons of high explosives that generated a fireball visible at least 60 miles away from the test site.


Where did the Trinity bomb test take place?

The U.S. Army conducted the test at the White Sands testing range in New Mexico. It blasted the area with the force of 20 kilotons of TNT.


In what year did the Russian Tunguska Event occur?

In 1908, a huge meteor disintegrated several miles above Siberia. The resulting explosion may have released energy in the equivalent of 30 megatons of TNT.


The Tunguska Event happened in an area with few humans, but it flattened trees for how many miles?

The blast flattened tens of millions of trees covering more than 800 square miles. Researchers don't know if the explosion killed any people.


The 1896 Braamfontein explosion created a blast so loud that people heard the blast at what distance from ground zero?

The blast was heard at least 120 miles away. The explosion was caused by a train that rammed into blasting gelatine meant for gold mining operations.


How many homes were destroyed by the Braamfontein explosion?

The immense blast left a crater that was more than 25 feet deep and 200 feet long. It destroyed about 3,000 homes and killed more than 70 people.


In 2011, mishandled ammunition caused the Evangelos Florakis Naval Base explosion. What was the intended destination for that ammo?

The ammo shipment was moving via ship from Iran to Syria, where it would have been used in the years-long Syrian civil war. Instead, authorities in Cyprus seized the shipment and then let it sit in the sun ... and then it exploded.


What did the Evangelos Florakis Naval Base explosion damage?

In spite of its immensity, the explosion killed just 13 people. But it also damaged a power plant, resulting in power shortages for much of the island, causing temporary blackouts.


During World War I, how many mines did British engineers intentionally blow up on the first day of the Battle of the Somme?

British engineers tunneled towards German lines and planted huge charges, and then blew up all 19 mines at the same time. It is still considered one of the loudest sounds in human history, and it marked the beginning of one of the bloodiest battles of all-time.


In the previous question, how big was the largest explosive charge set off by the British engineers?

The biggest charge was 40,000 pounds. The craters left by the huge bombs were so big that they dwarfed the soldiers who climbed through them.


Which country developed the ill-fated N1 rocket, which crashed and exploded in 1969?

During the Cold War, the USSR created and tested its series of N1 rockets, and the second attempt crashed and blew up. The blast sent shrapnel flying at least six miles from the area.


What was unique about the N-1 rocket?

The N-1 rocket contained the most powerful first stage ever. But the program's hasty research and construction proved to be a fatal flaw that ended in one of the biggest blasts in history, a fireball that was spotted more than 20 miles away.


What were British engineers attempting to destroy during the 1947 Heligoland explosion?

The Nazis had built a large fort on one of the Heligoland Islands, located in the North Sea. The British decided to blow up the entire island to rid themselves of this World War II relic. The huge bomb permanently altered the landscape but did not entirely destroy the island.


What is the present status of Heligoland?

After the war, the Germans were allowed to take control of the island. They removed all of the wartime debris, completely landscaped the area and it's now a popular vacation destination.


Where did the 1956 Cali explosion take place?

As army trucks hauled more than 1,000 boxes of dynamite through downtown Cali, Colombia, the explosives detonated. Roughly 4,000 people died and about 12,000 people were injured.


Where did the RAF Fauld explosion happen?

The RAF Fauld explosion happened in Staffordshire, England in 1944. It is still the most powerful non-nuclear explosion to ever occur in England. The explosion probably happened to due careless bomb handling.


The RAF Fauld explosion created a huge crater and also damaged what other structure?

The explosion destroyed countless bombs and million of rounds of rifle ammunition that would have been useful in fighting the Nazis. The resulting explosion damaged a reservoir, unleashing a substantial flood that added to the misery of everyone who lived around the site.


What explosion caused the so-called "Year Without a Summer"?

In 1815, Mount Tambora in Indonesia began erupting with immense violence, and the explosion was heard hundreds of miles away. The resulting debris clogged the skies all around the Earth, causing temperatures to drop during the Year Without a Summer.


Where was the FOAB (Father of All Bombs) developed?

The Russians developed the FOAB, a high-explosive bomb designed as an alternative to nukes. They tested the bomb for the first time in 2007.


What's one of the biggest advantages of the Russian FOAB?

The FOAB has a yield on par with nearly 45 tons of TNT, but because it's non-nuclear it doesn't create deadly fallout, a relief for nearby survivors. Those within the blast zone are still out of luck.


The 1947 Texas City explosion originated in which area?

A French ship loaded with almost 8,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate caught fire … and you can guess what happened next. Roughly 2.7 kilotons of energy were released, starting fires and triggering explosions in onshore facilities.


When they saw the ship from the previous question burning in the harbor, how did locals react?

The ship's cargo created unusual colored smoke that drew hundreds of curious onlookers, who assumed that they weren't in danger. They were wrong. Nearly 600 people perished.


What was one result of the Texas City Explosion?

The accident launched the first-ever class action suit against the U.S. government, claiming that many mistakes were made in the handling of the ship and its contents. In the end, the courts awarded roughly $17 million to the plaintiffs.


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