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Susquehanna River blast catapulted water 700 feet high

Blasting to place BIG INCH under Susquehanna River (York County History Center)

Eight tons of underwater explosives were set off within the bedrock of the Susquehanna River on July 26th 1943. This view of that blast is from atop the Hellam Hills in York County and looks across the river into Lancaster County.

The blast was part of a World War II effort to insure the Allies always had sufficient quantities of crude oil to produce refined products needed to keep the military running; i.e. to fuel defense plants, to operate ships, to fly aircraft and to run military vehicles.

Following the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States declared war on Japan on December 8, 1941. Germany declared war on the U.S. a few days later and Hitler ordered unrestricted warfare against all shipping coming from United States ports. In the first four months of 1942, German U-boats sank or destroyed over sixty oil tankers bringing crude oil up along the Atlantic seaboard from the Gulf region to east coast refineries. An alternative was transporting the crude by rail, however the railroads were already heavily utilized.

Construction of two massive pipelines was the selected solution. A 24-inch diameter pipeline would carry crude oil 1,254-miles from northeast Texas oil fields to refineries in New Jersey. Up to this point, pipelines were much shorter and typically no bigger than 8-inch diameter. As a result, the 24-inch pipeline came to be called the BIG INCH.

A 20-inch diameter pipeline would carry already refined products from Texas Gulf Coast refineries to New Jersey. This pipeline was 1,475-miles long, however followed much of the same route of its big brother; hence it came to be called the LITTLE BIG INCH.

Both of the INCH pipelines pass through York County. The pipelines entered York County after passing north of East Berlin; through Reading Township in Adams County. Within York County, they passed through Washington Township, then under the Conewago Creek into Dover Township. Next, upon passing under the Little Conewago Creek, the pipelines were in Manchester Township. The pipelines progressed through East Manchester Township and then under the Codorus Creek into Hellam Township. The pipelines pass through the Hellam Hills and down a steep 400-foot hill to the Susquehanna River; almost exactly where Vinegar Ferry once operated. The pipelines were buried in the riverbed, passing into East Donegal Township in Lancaster County at Vinegar Ferry Road.

Both of the pipelines were completed in 1943, well in advance of the D-Day invasion at Normandy on June 6, 1944. This is the introduction to a series of posts, focusing on local aspects of the INCH pipelines.

Related posts in the Vinegar Ferry area of the Hellam Hills include:

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