The towing and replenishing of naval munitions vessels is a very important and risky 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 speaks to O.J., complaining about Bluenose. 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.
At the Star Pier, Captain Star informs the tugs they will be carrying munitions for the Navy; the Z-Stacks having the explosives. Warrior is given garbage detail, Top Hat is to transport car floats, Ten Cents is sent to Lucky's Yard to pickup oil to take to the Naval yard, and Sunshine is to take Mighty Mo home. Captain Star thanks Big Mac for winning the steel contract, and tells him to collect the last girder barge.
The Z-Stacks, meanwhile, are picking up the explosives, which are to be delivered to the Naval tramper, Kraka-Toa.
Ten Cents, now with the oil barge, is ordered about by Bluenose, who tells him to move out of the way. Bluenose purposely scraps the barge, which shocks Ten Cents and makes him very cross.
Night falls. Big Mickey the crane is transferring the munitions to Kraka-Toa when Bluenose arrives and starts issuing orders that a barge, which is being unloaded, cannot be moved. But he does not listen to anyone's warnings about the danger of munitions and he ends up bumping the barge hard, resulting in a fire starting. The tugs present back away from the flames, but Bluenose is unable to because his engine has failed, so Ten Cents bravely tows him out of danger. The fire expands with continuous explosions. Big Mickey's dock catches fire and he tips over and falls into the water while Kraka-Toa begins to burn.
Meanwhile, further away, Top Hat is towing Frank and Eddie, the rail floats. They see the lights in the sky. Eddie thinks there is “a dockside celebration,” but Top Hat corrects him, “If there was a party, I would have been invited." Suddenly, Sunshine and the Fire Chief rush by, on the way to the fire.
Puffa, the tank engine, is very close to the flames. The tugs shout and whistle to warn him and he makes it out just in the nick of time. To make matters worse, the Star line oil barge catches fire, so Ten Cents jumps in to move it despite the risk of an explosion.
Nearby, Warrior and Lord Stinker, the garbage barge, see the lights in the sky too. Warrior leaves Lord Stinker at the dock and rushes to the scene.
The Fire Chief has now finally arrived, ordering everyone to stay back. O.J. informs how it was Bluenose’s fault. The Fire Chief tells Sunshine to douse the flames with the fire barge. Ten Cents continues with the oil barge, intending to push it out to sea. Warrior arrives, and is told by the Fire Chief to use his fire hose. Sunshine bravely fights the fire; 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. He then tells Zorran to help him with the other fire barge in an attempt to save Kraka-Toa. Zorran cannot see the barge doing much good, but he agrees to help the Fire Chief.
Out at sea, Ten Cents is still pushing the burning oil barge. Suddenly, he notices it is starting to smoke. Realising it will explode, Ten Cents reverses immediately, but it's a bit too late as a large explosion occurs. Sunshine sees it and is worried Ten Cents is in the blast, but it is too dangerous so he is not allowed to go and help his friend. The Fire Chief relieves Zorran and warns everyone that Kraka-Toa is about to capsize. She sinks into the water with one final blast out of her smokestack. However, thanks to Sunshine and Warrior, the fire was unable to spread towards the city. Top Hat arrives, rather too late, for which the Z-Stacks make fun of him.
The next morning, the tugs think Ten Cents has been destroyed by the explosion. Before they can salute the brave tug, a familiar toot is heard in the near distance and Ten Cents appears out of the fog. He is covered from stem to stern in soot. He explains how he was immobilized due to the explosion flooding his engine. Thankfully, Grampus rescued him before he sank. With that, Grampus, laughing heartily, tows a disgraced and still stunned Bluenose away. Captain Star concludes with a lesson for the viewers on the dangers of fire as Grampus hauls Bluenose out to sea.
Captain Star narrates some extra scenes which are not in the director's cut.
Big Mickey is said to have survived the explosion, as he had fallen into shallow water.
In the director's cut, Sunshine says to Top Hat, "Yeah, follow on, Top Hat! Fire at the old dock!" In the TV version, the dialogue is changed to "Yeah, Top Hat! Follow on! Fire at the old dock!" The following bit where Top Hat threatens to set Frank and Eddie's tracks alight was also omitted.
In the TV version, Zorran says, "Eat your hearts out, Star Tugs!" In the director's cut, this is changed to "Eat your hearts out, Star Stacks!" Also in the TV version, his line, "Right. Easy does it." is different from the director's cut.
Captain Star has two different ending messages:
Captain Star's Ending Message (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 O.J. 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.
Captain Star's Ending Message (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 Munitions logo was later seen in the Thomas & Friends Season 5 episode "Toby's Disocovery".
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 first scene of the factory.
When Top Hat turns his head and says to 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 scene, 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 the episode, the Coast Guard is not in front of Kraka-Toa, but 2 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 make it looks more like day than night.
Munitions was first released on VHS in 1988 by Castle Vision and was released along with the episode 4th of July.
Munitions was re-released on VHS in 1990 by Castle Vision along with 4th of July to match the style of the of video release covers.
It was released a third time in 1990 by Castle Vision under the Playbox range of videos with the same episodes.
In 1992, TV Tokyo Video and TAKARA had released the television version of the episode on home video.