The towing and replenishing of naval munitions vessels is a very important and dangerous job. One such vessel, a tramper named Kraka-Toa, is being towed by Hercules. All is going well until Sergeant Bluenose, the officious naval tug, comes along. Uppity, Bluenose insists that Hercules may not continue on until he has made an inspection. Hercules steams off, finished with the run, ignoring him.
Hercules complains about Bluenose while talking to O.J.. O.J. tells him he has been having the same problem, over some buoys. He tells him about the danger of loading munitions and fuel aboard the same ship. Hercules goes to have a rest at the Coal Depot. Bluenose comes by, still being overbearingly bossy before moving on to bother the Fire Chief too.
Up River, the Z-Stacks are picking up the explosives from the munitions factory, which are to be delivered to the Kraka-Toa. Bluenose makes his way to the same tramper with his own barge and orders about Ten Cents, who's picking up a Star Line oil barge. Bluenose purposely scrapes the barge, which shocks Ten Cents and makes him very annoyed.
As night falls, Big Mickey is transferring the last of the munitions from Zorron’s barge to Kraka-Toa when Bluenose arrives and starts issuing orders, which O.J. says cannot be moved. Bluenose does not listen to anyone's warnings about the danger of munitions and pushes in, bumping the barge hard, resulting in a fire starting. The tugs present back away from the flames. Bluenose’s engine fails, so Ten Cents bravely tows him out of danger. The fire expands with continuous explosions. Big Mickey's dock catches fire. The big crane tips over and is lost in the water while Kraka-Toa begins to burn.
Meanwhile, Top Hat is towing Frank and Eddie back in the city. They see the lights reach the sky. Eddie thinks there is “a dockside celebration,” leaving Top Hat to boast that it’s only a party if he’s invited. Suddenly, Sunshine and the Fire Chief rush by, leaving Top Hat orders to leave current job and follow on to help fight the fire.
As the tugs shout to warn Puffa and the engine makes it out just in the nick of time, the Star line oil barge catches fire, so Ten Cents jumps in to move it away from taking all the tugs down with a explosion.
The Fire Chief finally arrives, ordering everyone to stay back. He orders Sunshine to douse the flames with the fire barge and upon the arrival of Warrior, to use his fire hose. Ten Cents continues with the oil barge, intending to push it out to sea. Warrior is hit square in the face by a bit of debris. Eventually, the Fire Chief orders him to move out, but Warrior refuses to abandon Puffa, who has been badly stung and that the harbour tug believes in standing by highly valuable friends.
Ten Cents makes it into the open sea still pushing the burning oil barge. He notices it starting to smoke and realising it will explode, he reverses immediately, but it's a bit too late as a large explosion occurs. Sunshine sees it from the docks and fears Ten Cents’ life, but O.J. orders Sunshine to remain as the on-fire Kraka-Toa begins to capsize.
The Fire Chief calls off all the efforts and warns everyone to get clear. Kraka-Toa’s decks are destroyed completely and she finally sinks into the water with one final blast out of her smokestack. O.J. surveys the aftermath. However, The Fire Chef explains it’s nothing to what have happened if the fire was able to spread towards the city without anyone’s efforts to stop it. Top Hat finally arrives after bluntly doing his earlier job first, to find he’s too late for the action. Zorron jokes to his fleet about how Top Hat was all dressed up with nowhere to go.
The next morning, the tugs think Ten Cents did not survive the explosion. Before they can salute the brave tug, a familiar whistle is heard in the near distance and Ten Cents appears out of the fog. He is covered from stem to stern in soot, which he explains how he was immobilized due to the explosion flooding his engine and that Grampus rescued him before he sank. Grampus, laughing heartily, tows a disgraced and still stunned Bluenose away from the old dock the navel tug left in ruins.
Captain Star narrates some extra scenes which are not in the director's cut.
The following bit where Top Hat argues with Frank and Eddie after orders to follow the Fire Chief was omitted.
In the director’s cut, Warrior and Lord Stinker see the fire from the garbage yard, thinking it’s the sunset at first until finding out it’s a fire. Warrior rushes to the scene, leaving Lord Stinker appalled when he doesn’t take him.
In the TV version, Captain Star stares that Big Mickey “lied in shallow water and was saved from both fire and explosions.” after the crane sinks to the sea floor. This was likely done to hint that Big Mickey may have survived the whole incident. However, Ten Cents and O.J. still express of how he went out.
Captain Star has two different ending messages:
Director's Cut: "The accident was caused by a few hasty words, and bad temper. Orders may be orders, but they don't supersede common sense. Bluenose was right in his way, as were Ten Cents and OJ right in theirs. But common sense from all three would have prevented the fire starting. Always respect fire. If you don't, it will destroy you, your surroundings, and your friends."
TV Version: "That all happened because of a few hasty words and bad tempers. Orders may be orders, but they blinded Bluenose from using simple common sense, and from keeping level headed. So a tiny incident grew into a big disaster, and the old dock was left in ruins. We should have the greatest respect for fire. Just think what might have happened to Ten Cents and his friends, just because Bluenose didn't."
Former TUGS model-maker Jeremy King was asked by the Sodor Island Forums some details about filming this episode; "Ross King supervising the explosion of lots of was and balsa scenery for about four weeks. Fireballs were petrol and rubber dust mixed with black powder. Terry over-cranking the camera as much as he could". When asked if the pyrotechnics were a problem in the studio, he replied, "No. We opened the doors to clear the air and kept going!"
Events from High Tide are mentioned in the director's cut of the episode.
Although Munitions was broadcast in 1989, the director's cut was released on VHS in 1988.
In front of the Coast Guard in the opening scene, a wagon reading 'STAR' can be seen, a possible link to The Star Fleet.
The shot of Hercules towing Kraka-Toa into port is one of the scenes used for the title cards of 15 minute episodes. A deleted scene of Hercules next to Kraka-Toa was also shown in the opening sequence of the episode Sunshine.
The Japanese title of this episode is called "Thick-Skulled Bluenose".
The plot of the episode is most likely inspired by the real world event known as the "Black Tom Explosion" when the Johnson Barge No. 17 was sabotaged by German spies and exploded, in New Jersey port, whilst carrying 100,000lbs of munitions, detonating even more explosives on the keyside.
Captain Star says that the Z-Stacks were upriver at the munitions factory but they were in the Bigg City Port in the 1st scene of the factory.
When Top Hat turns his head and asks Warrior, "Me?! How could you suggest such a thing?" his monocle falls off.
When Captain Star says, "The Z-Stacks were up river at the munitions factory." Zebedee is seen in the background in the port. However in two shots later, Zebedee is with Zorran at the munitions factory.
A model of a 1934 Ford Model B is seen at the munitions factory, despite the fact the series is set in the 1920s.
After the fire starts, O.J. is seen backing up, but in a later clip, he is seen backing up again.
In the scene with Grampus starting to tow Bluenose away, the top of the set is visible in the reflection on the water.
Zorran goes to help the Fire Tug with the fire barge, but when it cuts back to Zebedee, Zorran is still beside him.
In the first scene of this episode, the Coast Guard is not in front of Kraka-Toa, but two shots later he is.
When Zorran backs away from the fire barge, his face is dirty but in a close up of him when Kraka-Toa sinks and when Top Hat arrives, his face is clean.
When Ten Cents says "That was too close for comfort!" the sky makes it look more like day than night.