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US Navy Admirable-class minesweeper USS Pivot in the Gulf of Mexico for sea trials on 12 July 1944

A minesweeper is a small naval warship designed to counter the threat posed by naval mines.[1] Minesweepers keep waterways clear for shipping.

History[edit | edit source]

Although naval warfare has a long history, naval mines were not deployed until 1855 in the Crimean War. The first minesweepers date to that war and consisted of British rowboats trailing grapnels to snag the mines. Despite the use of mines in the American Civil War, there are no records of effective minesweeping being used.[2] Officials in the Union Army attempted to create the first minesweeper but were plagued by flawed designs and abandoned the project.[3] Minesweeping technology picked up in the Russo-Japanese War, where aging torpedo boats were pressed into sweeping service in 1908 and more boats were purchased for the purpose the following year.

In Britain, naval leaders recognized before the outbreak of World War I that the development of sea mines was a threat to the nation's shipping and began efforts to counter the threat. Sir Arthur Wilson noted the real threat of the time was blockade aided by mines and not invasion. The function of the fishing fleet's trawlers with their trawl gear was recognized as having a natural connection with mine clearance and, among other things, trawlers were used to keep the English Channel clear of mines.[4] A Trawler Section of the Royal Navy Reserve became the predecessor of the mine sweeping forces with specially designed ships and equipment to follow. These reserve Trawler Section fishermen and their trawlers were activated, supplied with mine gear, rifles, uniforms and pay as the first minesweepers.[5] The dedicated, purpose-built minesweeper first appeared during World War I with the Flower-class minesweeping sloop. By the end of the War, naval mine technology had grown beyond the ability of minesweepers to detect and remove.[2]

Minesweeping made significant advancements during World War II. Combatant nations quickly adapted ships to the task of minesweeping, including Australia's 35 civilian ships that became Auxiliary Minesweepers.[6] Both Allied and Axis countries made heavy use of minesweepers throughout the war. Historian Gordon Williamson wrote that "Germany's minesweepers alone formed a massive proportion of its total strength, and are very much the unsung heroes of the Kriegsmarine."[7] Naval mines remained a threat even after the war ended, and minesweeping crews were still active after VJ Day.[8] After the Second World War, allied countries worked on new classes of minesweepers ranging from 120 ton designs for clearing estuaries to 735 ton ocean going vessels.[9] The United States Navy even used specialized Mechanized Landing Craft to sweep shallow harbors in and around North Korea.[10]

As of June 2014, the U.S. Navy had four minesweepers deployed to the Persian Gulf to address regional instabilities.[11][12]

Operation and requirements[edit | edit source]

Siegburg, a modern Ensdorf-class minesweeper of the German Navy

Remote minesweeper used by the Canadian Navy

Minesweepers are equipped with mechanical or influence sweeps to detonate mines. The modern minesweeper is designed to reduce the chances of it detonating mines itself; it is soundproofed to reduce its acoustic signature and often constructed using wood, fiberglass or non-ferrous metal, or is degaussed to reduce its magnetic signature.[13]

Mechanical sweeps are devices designed to cut the anchoring cables of moored mines, and preferably attach a tag to help the subsequent localization and neutralization. They are towed behind the minesweeper, and use a towed body (e.g. oropesa, paravane) to maintain the sweep at the desired depth and position. Influence sweeps are equipment, often towed, that emulate a particular ship signature, thereby causing a mine to detonate. The most common such sweeps are magnetic and acoustic generators.

There are two modes of operating an influence sweep: MSM (mine setting mode) and TSM (target simulation mode or target setting mode). MSM sweeping is founded on intelligence on a given type of mine, and produces the output required for detonation of this mine. If such intelligence is unavailable, the TSM sweeping instead reproduces the influence of the friendly ship that is about to transit through the area. TSM sweeping thus clears mines directed at this ship without knowledge of the mines. However, mines directed at other ships might remain.[14] [15]

The minesweeper differs from a minehunter; the minehunter actively detects and neutralises individual mines. Minesweepers are in many cases complementary to minehunters, depending on the operation and the environment; a minesweeper is, in particular, better suited to clearing open-water areas with large numbers of mines. Both kinds of ships are collectively called mine countermeasure vessels (MCMV), a term also applied to a vessel that combines both roles. The first such ship was HMS Wilton, also the first warship to be constructed from fiberglass.

Minesweeping aircraft[edit | edit source]

A MH-53E towing the MK105 mine sweeping sled

Aircraft can also be used for minesweeping. During World War II, fifteen British Vickers Wellington bombers were modified to carry a large magnetic induction loop and an electrical generator. The 'Directional Wireless Installation' (DWI), a cover story for the true purpose of the magnetic loop, was used successfully on May 10, 1940 to sweep a path for the escape of the Dutch Royal Family to the UK. The DWI was used most successfully in the Mediterranean theatre, particularly over the Suez Canal and Alexandria Harbour. Their use revealed the limitations of the technique, in that it only works effectively in very shallow water (such as canals and harbours). From about 1943, German Junkers Ju 52 transports were similarly converted. Blohm & Voss BV 138 MS tri-engine flying boats were also used for this purpose.

The MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopter, which tows a minesweeping sled, is used by the United States Navy for minesweeping

Notable minesweepers[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]

Further reading[edit | edit source]

  • Bruhn, David D.. (2006). Wooden Ships and Iron Men: The U.S. Navy's Ocean Minesweepers, 1953-1994. Heritage Books. ISBN 978-0-7884-3260-6.
  • Bruhn, David D.. (2009). Wooden Ships and Iron Men: The U.S. Navy's Coastal and Motor Minesweepers, 1941-1953. Heritage Books. ISBN 0-7884-4909-5.
  • Lund & Ludlam. (1978) Out Sweeps! The Story of the Minesweepers in World War II. Foulsham/New English Library ISBN 0450044688. Minesweeping by the wartime Royal Navy.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "minesweeper". The Oxford Essential Dictionary of the U.S. Military. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2012. ISBN 9780199891580. http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780199891580.001.0001/acref-9780199891580-e-5170?rskey=RQ9uw5&result=1&q=minesweeper. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Hattendorf, John B. (2007). The Oxford encyclopedia of maritime history. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press. ISBN 9780195130751. http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195130751.001.0001/acref-9780195130751-e-0543?rskey=BUX7jj&result=1&q=minesweeper. 
  3. Heidler, David S.; Jr, Jeanne T. Heidler, editors ; foreword by James W. McPherson ; David J. Coles, associate editor ; Gary W. Gallagher, James M. McPherson, Mark E. Neely, Jr., editorial board ; cartography by Donald Frazier, Richard J. Thompson, (2002). "Devils". Encyclopedia of the American Civil War : a political, social, and military history. New York: Norton. pp. 595. ISBN 0-393-04758-X. http://books.google.com/books?id=SdrYv7S60fgC. 
  4. Bacon, Sir Reginald (1919). The Dover patrol 1915-1917. G. D. Doran co.. pp. 146. https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=ceBCAAAAIAAJ&rdid=book-ceBCAAAAIAAJ&rdot=1. 
  5. Hawkins, Nigel (2003). The Starvation Blockades: Naval Blockades of WW1. U.S. Naval Institute Press. pp. 60–61. ISBN 0-85052-908-5. )
  6. Dennis, Peter; Jeffrey Grey, Ewan Morris, Robin Prior, Jean Bou (2012). "Auxiliary Minesweepers". The Oxford companion to Australian military history. (2nd ed. ed.). South Melbourne, Vic.: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195517842. http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195517842.001.0001/acref-9780195517842-e-149?rskey=tP17bb&result=12&q=minesweeper. 
  7. Williamson, Gordon (2012). Kriegsmarine Coastal Forces. Osprey Publishing. pp. 48. ISBN 9781782000006. http://books.google.com/books?id=CEvHjyugb3MC. 
  8. Grant, Roderick M., ed (January 1946). "Sweeping up sudden death". pp. 28–34. ISSN 0032-4558. 
  9. Jane's (1997). "Mine Countermeasures". Jane's War at Sea 1897-1997: 100 Years of Jane's Fighting Ships (100 ed.). HarperCollins. pp. 224. http://books.google.com/books?id=dkDkTc56w8MC. Retrieved 15 October 2012. 
  10. Dempewolff, Richard F. (February 1952). "Mother of the minesweepers". In Grant, Roderick M.. Hearst Magazines. pp. 97–104. ISSN 0032-4558. http://books.google.com/books?id=8dwDAAAAMBAJ. Retrieved 15 October 2012. 
  11. Cavas, Christopher P. (March 15, 2012). "U.S. doubling minesweepers in Persian Gulf". http://www.navytimes.com/news/2012/03/dn-us-doubling-minesweepers-in-persian-gulf-031512/. Retrieved 15 October 2012. 
  12. "Four U.S. Navy minesweepers arrive in the Gulf". 25 June 2012. http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/06/25/gulf-navy-mines-idUSL5E8HP1CQ20120625. Retrieved 15 October 2012. 
  13. "Minesweepers". How it works : science and technology. (3rd ed. ed.). New York: Marshall Cavendish. 2003. pp. 2633. ISBN 0-7614-7333-5. http://books.google.com/books?id=fQ5vOMYlKRIC. Retrieved 15 October 2012. 
  14. Dick Linssen and Åshild Bergh (2000): "Target Simulation Mode Mine Sweeping - SWEEPOP", pamphlet, 4 pages, TNO Physics and Electronics Laboratory, The Netherlands.
  15. P A Brodtkorb, B-E Marthinsen, M Nakjem, R Fardal (2005): "Royal Norwegian Navy (RNoN) introduces new mine sweeping capabilities", Undersea Defence Technology (UDT) Europe, conf. proc., Amsterdam.

External links[edit | edit source]

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