June 5th 1941 Explosion

Smederevo Explosion

Smederevo citizens, frightened and hurt by a harsh occupation, and on April 6, by the bombing of the city, too, withdrew to their homes and only came out on the streets when needed: to finish their jobs and to procure food. They did not know what kind of an accident was going to happen.

Fifth of June 1941 dawned. The day was Thursday, before Pentecost, which was a market day in the town and there were many farmers on the market from the Podunavski district and people from other districts: Pozarevacki, Kovinski, Jasenicki and Oraski district. There were a lot of refugees in Smederevo from Belgrade, Novi Sad and other places from Vojvodina. The Ban administration from Novi Sad with all its officers escaped partly to Belgrade and partly to Smederevo in front of the terror and slaughter of rampant Hungarians. There were sheltered all the members of the Novi Sad Banovina Theatre, too. Due to the unfortunate circumstances of that day, Smederevo Grammar school students were invited to bring forms for certificates, because the school year was ending, so almost all of them were in Smederevo - about 1,000 students. Many of them, especially students from the village were, at the time of explosion of munitions, at the train station and on the trains to return to their villages, so, unfortunately, they found terrible death and harrowing! The unfortunate circumstances were also that on this day all the teachers from the district were called to receive the pay, and that old Yugoslav money was exchanged for new occupation (Nedic's) money, so both teachers and many villagers died that day at the train station or on the train. But the most unfortunate concurrence of circumstances was that that day in the afternoon, the passenger train that departs from Smederevo to Belgrade at 14:12 hours was late for only 2 minutes and was destroyed with the highest number of passengers, since the explosion occurred at exactly 14:14. All men agree on one thing: if the train had left right on time, in two minutes it would have left the station and would have been right next to the railway workshops, and no one would be killed, unless someone was injured by glass.

Explosion in Smederevo fortress

Two minutes seem short, but one should count to 120 to pass the time or to make 120 paces of 70 cm, which is 84 meters! But the train would have moved away at least ten times more than that, or about 840 meters! It is worth to note that this train had two forward locomotives as testified by Tasa Ognjanovic, the traffic clerk at the railway station in Smederevo.

At exactly 14:14 pm there was a tremendous explosion of ammunition and explosives in the city and it caused the half of Smederevo - the lower part of the city, to be completely destroyed, and the other half was severely damaged. There was not a single house that has not lost a roof, doors, windows, or wasn't damaged. About 2500 houses were destroyed this way! The main explosion occurred due to the ignition of explosives and ecrasite, which blew up all the ammunition, burning or unlit, and a lot of stone and mortar from the destroyed towers and urban buildings. This huge amount of stones, plaster and whole wall blocks mixed with artillery shells of all calibres and small rifle ammunition exploded and spread across the whole town, destroying everything in its path with a terrible shooting, crashing, breaking, swishing, in the thick darkness of burnt explosives, gunpowder, ammunition, ash, plaster dust, and dust which made the terrified population seem like the judgment day has arrived on earth! And when the major explosion was over, shells in the center of the heated explosion exploded for a long time, and were flying around town, falling on already destroyed and damaged houses and finishing the process of destruction! Those shells which didn't have lighters to explode from shock, fell on the city as rocks, piercing the buildings from the roof to the floor and lodged themselves deeply in the ground. The streets were unusable, as told by many eyewitnesses, because of the grenade and rifle ammunition that lay scattered everywhere. Terrified and afflicted population fled the city out to the vineyards and fields and 4500 dead and wounded were left, where the explosion caught them and shot them down. Only the slightly injured went to hospital for wound tending.

Explosion in train station

During 5 and 6 June the wounded were transferred to the local hospital and the hospital received assistance from Belgrade, Pozarevac and other places, including doctors, medical staff and medical supplies. When it was obvious that such a large number of wounded could not be placed in one hospital, their evacuation to Belgrade hospitals began by trains, ambulance cars, trucks; the seriously wounded were especially sent to Belgrade.

The dead were picked up by special teams for a week and carried to the cemetery for burial. They were buried in a mass grave. The bodies of those killed were so torn and mutilated that their families could not recognize their dead family members at all, except for the remains of their clothing. But many were without clothes because the explosion took everything off of them. The explosion blast and subsequent earthquake was felt and heard 50 km away from Smederevo, and buildings were damaged at a distance of 10 km. Thus, many buildings were damaged in Radinac, Vucak, Petrijevo and elsewhere.

Smederevo city in ruins

The inflamed explosive and ecrasite created a hurricane that had the speed of about 5000 m/s and about 10 million horsepower. This strong hurricane destroyed half of the buildings in Smederevo in around 2-3 seconds, and damaged the other half. The part of the city which took the most damage was the one on the main route of the hurricane blast wave, and that was across the train station to the city center, towards the buildings of the District People's Committee, the City National Council, the church, Grammar school and all the other buildings right to the Danube. But the explosion reached even beyond the main street and demolished buildings in Nemanjina and Ante Protica street, such as the old elementary school and others. The blast leveled to the ground two settlements in Smederevo: the one in Kalemegdan and Jezavski kraj. All people agree on this: if it was not for the Smederevo fortress and its hard towers where the explosion occurred, so that the fortress received the strongest blasts, the demolition of Smederevo would have been even more catastrophic and the number of victims much greater.

The passenger train was in the station and packed full of passengers when the explosion took place. It was torn and destroyed, and the iron and wooden structures were scattered over a wide area around the station. Some train cars were lit and burned. Only a few people from that fatal train remained miraculously unharmed. From the records the persons who were saved were the following: Ceda Zivanovic, engineer, who on that day moved from Zrenjanin (then Petrovgrad) to Belgrade, Ivan Sertic, railroad foreman from Pancevo who was moving for Croatia via Smederevo (transition from Kovin), Bora Janicijevic, priest from Vranovo, Milic Manojlovic, student, Zivota Obradovic, student from Veliko Orasje, Viseslav D. Miloradovic, student from Kolari, Petar Stojkovis, student from Veliko Orasje, Miodrag Pasic, steel mill worker from Milosevac, Svetomir Zivulovic, merchant from Veliko Orasje, Kalman Pajak, factory employee from Smederevo, Milorad Stankovic called "Babac" from Smederevo, Svetolik Savic, actor, member of the Novi Sad Theatre. This actor was well known to many Smederevo citizens from the Novi Sad theater performances in Smederevo by his roles: Jovanca Micic in "The trip around the world" and Maksim in "Djidja". Of the entire theater troupe, which was going that day to Pozarevac to give performances there, only the mentioned actor stayed, and the rest were all killed.

There were a lot of dead people whose corpses couldn't be found nowhere near Smederevo, which means that the explosion blew and tore them into pieces. Many teachers from the Danube district died at the time, as well as many high school students, especially those from the villages who wanted to return to their homes by train. When you read the names of the dead on the board at the cemetery - it is obvious that there were men and women from all over the country, often from very distant places from Macedonia, Banat, and various parts of Serbia, and one must really wonder: What were these people looking for in Smederevo and why did they come?

How did the explosion start and how did the citizens feel it?


All of the statements agree: a thick white smoke first broke out and then a black smoke, and then rifle ammunition began to throw sparks. This was immediately observed by many people at the station, and the officers became upset and, as Tasa Ognjanovic says, who was the duty officer at the station on that day, they began to flee towards the town, because they knew that there was a large amount of ammunition in the city. The duty officer Tasa Ognjanovic went immediately to the locomotives and yelled "Move the train as soon as possible, we'll all die!". Both train drivers (because there were two locomotives in the front) could not move the train, and the tremendous explosion made a dull and short sound, and immediately there was a thick darkness in which no one could see anything, and the fear in survivors turned to horror, which rarely happens in one's life. Tasa does not remember this moment, nor does he recall his words, but this was witnessed by other people who were present then. Of our soldiers – prisoners, who worked on the munitions, and there were about 120 of them, no one was killed, because the Germans took them to lunch at 12 o'clock, and at the time of the explosion they had still not yet returned to work. These soldiers, all of them from our district, took advantage of the Germans' confusion after the explosion and they all fled to their homes. For all the damage that the explosion caused the town of Smederevo and for all victims – the Germans were to blame as they amassed such a large quantity of ammunition and explosives in the vicinity of Smederevo.

Old Smederevo fortress of the despot Djuradj Brankovic was also severely damaged in the blast. The first tower to the left of the entrance to the city, behind which the ammunition was stacked - was destroyed as the blast turned it to dust! And the other two towers to the left of it were also severely damaged and the upper half of them ruined. The urban area of about 150 m was destroyed, and that is at the part where both towers were destroyed or damaged (towards the train station).

Cause of the explosion


For now, the exact causes of the explosion are unknown, and people are just speculating, but maybe later it will be known, or will it remain an eternal mystery. Of all the possible explanations we will mention only those which are most likely or the most widely used:

1. Many people claim that just before the explosion they heard a hum of an airplane that was flying high above the city, and believe that it threw some flammable material and it lit the ammunition. The plane is supposedly English, and flammable material - phosphor plates, which the British really threw at that time on German fields and burnt grain, hay, buildings and other. We read about it in our newspapers. What's more, some swimmers on the Danube say that they saw some shiny objects like tobacco boxes falling from the plane into the city! This assumption has serious objections, for example: the British were in a very serious situation at the time and could not be bothered with our ammunition in the city and even send over their plane. And from where could that plane fly over? From what base? From Malta, Turkey or the Middle East?

2. That the prisoners were smoking and that a cigarette butt lit the ammunition.


3. Many people seriously think that the burning of the ammunition was knowingly done by a patriot so that this much ammunition would not go into the enemy's hands, but that he was not aware of what kind of disaster the explosion would create.

4. The explosives could have been lit by the heat of the sun, as the day was very hot and the explosion occurred at the time when the day is at the hottest (14:14 h).

5. The fifth and most likely assumption about the causes of the explosion on 5 June 1941 would be this: first, small spilled powder was lit, which was all over the road where the barrels were rolled from the city gates to the warehouses in the city, and then barrels with gunpowder lit up and exploded and then - from the created heat and flame the explosives lit up which resulted in the explosion. Tasa Ognjanovic, officer of the railway station and other railway workers, claim that prisoners repeatedly removed barrels of gunpowder from the train and rolled them into town, and gunpowder leaked along the way and covered the entire path to the ammunition depot. While the weather was wet from the rain, gunpowder was also moistened, but at the beginning of June, when there was a lot of heat, the gunpowder dried and was used as an intermediary or conduit of the fire to the depot. The fire, however, with the gunpowder could have easily been created by cigarettes or matches. Railwaymen still remember that German guards at the gate had the habit of often shooting their machine gun. In fact, they did not do it for fun, but it was their method of intimidating the prisoners so as not to flee or attack. This assumption is in accordance with the very beginning of the explosion: first there was white and then black smoke... which would mean that the smoke came from lit gunpowder.

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