The lava dome collapse of 12-13 July 2003 was the largest of the Soufrière Hills Volcano eruption thus far (1995-2005) and the largest recorded in historical times from any volcano; 210 million m3 of dome material collapsed over 18 h and formed large pyroclastic flows, which reached the sea. The evolution of the collapse can be interpreted with reference to the complex structure of the lava dome, which comprised discrete spines and shear lobes and an apron of talus. Progressive slumping of talus for 10 h at the beginning of the collapse generated low-volume pyroclastic flows. It undermined the massive part of the lava dome and eventually prompted catastrophic failure. From 02:00 to 04:40 13 July 2003 large pyroclastic flows were generated; these reached their largest magnitude at 03:35, when the volume flux of material lost from the lava dome probably approached 16 million m3 over two minutes. The high flux of pyroclastic flows into the sea caused a tsunami and a hydrovolcanic explosion with an associated pyroclastic surge, which flowed inland. A vulcanian explosion occurred during or immediately after the largest pyroclastic flows at 03:35 13 July and four further explosions occurred at progressively longer intervals during 13-15 July 2003. The dome collapse lasted approximately 18 h, but 170 of the total 210 million m3 was removed in only 2.6 h during the most intense stage of the collapse.