Mines—“the weapons that wait”—have been part of the American naval story from the outset—from the ungainly Bushnell’s Keg in the Revolution to the $71 million earmarked for Quickstrike in the Navy’s 2020 unfunded-priorities list. Mine warfare was a valued arrow in the quiver in the Civil War, in World War I, and particularly in World War II, when aerial- and submarine-laid mines choked off Japanese merchant shipping. And when you combine a need for weapons that wait with the repurposing of weapons that wait in the wings, you come up with a gadget such as this curious piece of hardware. Witness the Mark 42 firing mechanism, part of a kit of add-ons that you affix to a ready-at-hand bomb and, presto—you have yourself a mine.
This device, from the collection of Jonathan Hoppe, was put to great use during Operation Pocket Money—the mining of Haiphong Harbor—in the Vietnam War. The 1972 mining campaign cut off ocean-borne supplies to North Vietnam and kept 32 ships trapped in the harbor for the better part of a year. While A-6 Intruders dropped 1,000-pound Mark 52 mines into Haiphong Harbor’s inner channel, A-7 Corsair IIs were blanketing the outer channel with 500-pound Mark 36 Destructor mines—and the Destructor was a bomb-turned-mine courtesy of the item shown here. It was a versatile plug-in used for a whole series of Destructors, converted from general-pur- pose low-drag bombs to “the first mines to be used on both land and sea,” according to the NAVSEA Mine Familiarizer.
Many pieces of the past served obvious purposes; a sword is a sword, a postcard is a postcard. But unless you have a pedigree in the mine warfare community, you can be forgiven if you do a double-take when confronted by such a whatzit as this. It is, until you know its backstory, one of the mysterious ones—and those often are the most intriguing and compelling artifacts of all.