2013 Naval Mine Warfare Essay Contest Third Prize Winner
“We have lost control of the seas to a nation without a navy, using pre-World War I weapons, laid by vessels that were utilized at the time of the birth of Christ.”
RADM Allan E. Smith, Korea-1950
World War I:
From March 1915 to January 1916, 46,000 ANZAC and British soldiers died in the disastrous Battle of Gallipoli, which resulted in a total of 265,000 casualties. The battle was fought primarily through insane frontal assaults against the well-entrenched Turkish Army, occupying superior positions in the mountainous Gallipoli peninsula. Consequently, the Turks, in their defilade positions, slaughtered the ANZAC and British troops for months, until the British finally accepted the obvious fact that their operation and objective failed miserably. The classic movie, Gallipoli, starring Mel Gibson, portrays this well but does not explain why the ANZACs ended up in a vertical trench warfare situation.
The reason for the Battle of Gallipoli escapes many naval and military officers and even many historians. Incited significantly by the vociferous arguments of Winston Churchill, then at age 39 serving as the youngest Lord of the Admiralty, the British desired to open additional fronts against Germany. Particularly aimed at weaker German allies, the strategy included Turkey. The initial intent was to force a naval action through the Dardanelles Straits, the 35-mile long waterway connecting the Aegean Sea and the Sea of Marmara, which led to Constantinople and the Black Sea, with the Gallipoli Peninsula forming the northern land boundary. A combined naval task force of British and French ships began shore bombardment on 19 February 1915 and soon after commenced minesweeping operations. “Bad weather, Allied inefficiency and a newly laid minefield disrupted these plans. An attempt to force the Straits on 18 March was a disaster: three battleships were sunk [two British and one French] and three were severely damaged, all by mines. The naval force withdrew...” and plans were then made for landings on Gallipoli. However, during these naval actions, the Turks supported by German advisors, used the time to significantly improve their defensive positions on the peninsula.
The Dardanelles Straits and Gallipoli: ANZAC and British forces sustained 265,000 casualties with 46,000 fatalities in large part because the Turks negated the use of the straits by employing minefields, sinking two British and one French battleship and severely damaging three others all with sea mines.
Sea mines were the primary reason the British leadership, most notably the young Churchill, made such an egregious operational blunder. More specifically, their inability to conduct counter mine warfare directly led to the debacle ashore. Several military and political careers were ruined or permanently tainted because of Gallipoli. Churchill was forced out of the British Cabinet, resigning “as First Lord of the Admiralty and sought a battlefield posting on the Western Front.” Although Churchill departed in shame, he would rise again as a national and world leader, never forgetting the importance and impact of naval mine warfare.
Regarding mine warfare during World War I, most naval historians neglect Gallipoli, a case of purely defensive mine warfare, and justifiably point to the famous North Sea Barrage, a case of offensive mine warfare. Throughout much of World War I, German submarines had wreaked havoc on allied shipping and even terrorized neutral shipping. By the final year of the war, the sea mine became the primary weapon that defeated the submarines. In order to contain the German submarines, “a gigantic mine barrage in the North Sea, extending 250 miles from Scotland to Norway, was undertaken in June of 1918. Within five months American and British minelayers planted over 72,000 mines...,” sinking six submarines and damaging many more, practically closing the North Sea for submarines.
Post World War I Successes and Setbacks:
The most successful employment of these ultimate asymmetric weapons was during the final months of World War II in the Pacific Theater. After agreement between the U.S. Navy and Army Air Force, Admiral Nimitz and General Lemay worked together on a joint operation, the Navy providing the expertise and mines, the Army Air Force the delivery method, primarily B-29s. The Army Air Force began dropping mines on 27 March 1945. By August 1945, 12,000 mines had been planted. In that short time, Operation Starvation netted the following results: 294 ships sunk, 137 ships damaged beyond repair, and hundreds of other ships damaged, resulting in a tremendous reduction in the vast majority of maritime transportation entering or exiting Japan. In fact, almost all maritime traffic with Japan ceased by August 1945.
The United States has no such significant, historic, hard-won lesson to the degree of Gallipoli, to serve as a rallying cry in support of naval mine warfare. However, America does have one experience, which demonstrated the devastating effects of a navy being unprepared to counter naval minefields. In 1950, NATO forces, led by the United States, intended to land tens of thousands of troops at Wonsan, Korea. Unfortunately, the North Koreans with support from the Soviet Union mined the approaches with “3,000 to 4,000 moored contact and bottom magnetic mines.” The minefield “prevented troop and support ships from entering the port for more than a week...,” even though the mines were technologically old, about 30 to 40 years behind the capabilities of the United States. Furthermore, if the minesweepers “had been under attack from shore batteries at the same time, as was the situation thirty-six years before in the Dardanelles, the mines could not have been cleared and the landing at Wonsan could not have occurred.” Still, the mines sunk four minesweepers and one fleet tug and severely damaged five destroyers, losses that would be tactically and politically devastating and career ending today. The commander of the amphibious task force, Rear Admiral Allan E. Smith conveyed the situation to the Chief of Naval Operations from a unique perspective and in the following concise yet poignant report: “We have lost control of the seas to a nation without a navy, using pre-World War I weapons, laid by vessels that were utilized at the time of the birth of Christ.” Due to the asymmetric nature of the sea mine, the situation in the mine warfare arena is not much different today.
U.S. naval leaders and mine warfare experts often point to the successful mining of Haiphong Harbor during the early 1970s. Truly, this was a significant achievement for the United States against the North Vietnamese, entirely eliminating maritime traffic through their primary port. The closing of Haiphong Harbor created hardships on the North Vietnamese and reduced their war supplies, which in turn contributed to their desire for continued peace negotiations, concluded in Paris in 1973. The peace agreement included the stipulation that the United States would clear Haiphong Harbor of mines and declare it safe for shipping. Operation End Sweep did just that. By June 1973, the U.S. Navy completed minesweeping operations and declared the harbor safe and open for maritime traffic.
Advocate, Educate, Innovate, and Professionalize:
Sea mines are such an effective, asymmetric weapon that “since the end of World War II, mines have damaged or sunk four times more U.S. Navy ships than all other means of attack.” The asymmetric effect of sea mines is so momentous, it is hard to imagine why governments and navies have not used them to greater advantage and have not placed more emphasis on countering them. In using Operation Starvation as a model, senior military, naval, and political leaders could easily direct budgets and strategies for enhancing U.S. offensive mine warfare capabilities, which would necessarily alleviate the need for as many expensive platforms in other programs or reduce the amount wasted in less effective programs, such as special operations or numerous multi-million or billion-dollar platforms. For example, the extremely expensive special operations forces have their own four-star combatant command, U.S. Special Operation Command, and each of the four military services has their own component special operations command, even though special operations forces have never been a deciding factor in any war. Yet, naval mine warfare has been one of the most important factors in deciding the outcomes and courses of World War I, World War II, and Vietnam and has inflicted tremendous casualties and difficulties for many nations during other conflicts, such as the impact in the Korean War and several times during recent decades in the Persian Gulf. Funds should be shifted from less effective and expensive programs toward such proven successes as naval mine warfare.
Why does mine warfare receive such little attention today? Why has one of the most efficacious, asymmetric weapons of the past 120 years been so neglected in budgets and strategies? The answers are not to be found in technology or in the remarkable historical record of sensational successes both in defensive and offensive mine warfare. For several reasons, the answers are to be found within the realm of leadership, or lack thereof, in the naval mine warfare community, past, present, and potential, and among senior American military, naval, and political leaders. These issues are cyclical in nature and can be rectified.
First, the larger mine warfare community must develop and educate a group of advocates among national-level leaders with the requisite experience to understand the absolute necessity for control of the seas without the perceived need for bankrupting budgets on magnificent looking but much less cost effective platforms and programs. For example, a half-billion dollar Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), looks fantastic to national leaders, particularly when advertised as a multi-mission platform. However, as Colonel T. X. Hammes subtly but ably put it: “The wisdom of employing a $600-million ship capable of 40 knots as a minesweeper remains unclear.” An LCS conducting mine warfare is not only “unclear;” it is absolute folly. A worthy enemy would welcome such an ineffective and expensive platform into its minefields where it could easily damage or sink an LCS, humiliating the United States, much like the Turks did to the British Navy, then the greatest naval force in the world.
Military, naval, and national leaders must relearn the benefits of offensive mine warfare, which is significantly less expensive than defensive mine warfare and which permits enormous asymmetric advantages. Operation Starvation and the mining of Haiphong Harbor should serve as standard educational, operational, and strategic examples for every would-be military, naval, and political leader. In the defensive realm, Gallipoli serves as the best example along with the delays and losses at Wonsan in Korea supporting the need for increasing and improving counter mine warfare capabilities. Related to this aspect, the Intelligence Community must also be educated about all aspects of naval mine warfare with input from naval experts on descriptive, estimative, explanatory, and predictive intelligence products.
Second, in order to educate and motivate national leaders, the naval mine warfare community, past, present, and potential, (much like those who budgeted, fought, innovated, and organized against IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan) must make concerted efforts at informing those leaders and in contributing to national and international dialogue through books, Congressional testimony, Intelligence Community products, Internet forums, magazine and newspaper articles, static and operational displays, and more. Most of the information regarding naval mine warfare is not classified, and much of the rest can be tailored for presentation in various forums. What must be avoided is the techno-jargon that has traditionally caused eyes to glaze over and for which busy politicians have no time. For instance, during World War II, the Navy convinced an initially disinterested Army Air Force to drop the vast majority of mines for Operation Starvation, because the Navy simply did not have the aviation assets to do the job. In return, the Navy offered to give the Army Air Force credit for the results. The U.S. Air Force, a potential member of the naval mine warfare community and requiring new missions, is no different today. Only they have the assets that can rapidly deliver thousands of mines to minefields planned by the Navy for strategic waters at or near distant continents and nations. The point here is that for naval mine warfare to return to an effective pinnacle, there must be a joint and combined effort with tangible benefits and supporting budgets and strategies.
Third, the naval mine warfare community must professionalize. It must take the lead in being the go-to source for all things mine related: counter-mine warfare, defensive, offensive, and psychological. The mine warfare community must be competent in all areas. The Naval Mine and Anti-Submarine Warfare Command states on its website that it is “the principal authority for the MIW and ASW missions,” and that it is basically the center of gravity for all things mine warfare with a listing of many other responsibilities. However, a cursory review of the NMAWC website demonstrates a significant lack of interest and attention to the areas of professionalism, public education, and research. There are no available histories or explanations of the importance and effectiveness of naval mine warfare or practical information on mines and mine countermeasures. As of this writing, under the “Media” tab on the NMAWC website, there are only five links to old articles, two of which are inaccurately posted, cross linked to the wrong articles. The NMAWC should be the one-stop, primary source for education and research regarding naval mine warfare, and its website and published materials should reflect this.
Finally, the professionalization and enhanced competence of the naval mine warfare community not only requires improved education and communication but needs realistic training and innovative developments of mines, minefields, delivery methods, and counter-mine warfare capabilities. Experts have indicated that naval mine warfare has not really changed for several decades, perhaps even as far back as the 1940s. Why not? Churchill contributed innovative ideas to naval mine warfare even before Britain commenced hostilities in World War II. With contemporary technology, innovations can be much more quickly and easily developed and implemented.
An Innovative Case in Point:
The bubble effect caused by most sea mines is designed to lift and crack the hull of a ship using the ship’s own weight. One of the reasons for this was that in the first several decades of the 20th Century, the sides of many ship hulls were too thick to sustain serious damage from shells. However, for over a generation, ship hulls have become increasingly thinner and much more vulnerable to smaller blasts. Consequently, new tactics that would not have been possible 50 years ago will succeed today. Such innovations in naval mine warfare can change fleet tactics and affect the types of vessels constructed and employed, just as the advent of air power demolished the myth of the all-powerful battleships.
A case in point, longline fishing vessels set lines up to 150 kilometers long. Smaller, shorter lines, called snoods, with baited hooks hang vertically down into the water and are fastened with swivels about every five to 10 feet or so to the larger, stronger main line which is miles long. The gear these vessels use can easily be converted into a longline of small sea mines with various charges, particularly armor piercing shaped charges designed to detonate upon impacting the sides of vessels at or just beneath the waterline. Ships, as they unwittingly do now, would simply steam right into the longlines, which would then wrap from the bows down the lengths of each side with the mines spaced approximately 10 feet apart. The shells would be armed and placed inside a device that maintains their aim or direction as the long-line is being pulled through the water by the target ship, much like a fishing lure maintains its direction and position while pulled through the water. The only real difference in the fishing is the species targeted. These contact mines with shaped charges would easily penetrate not only the hull but continue the blast effect through interior bulkheads and equipment, just as improvised explosive devices (IED) and explosively formed projectiles (EFP) were used in Iraq. For a vessel 500 feet in length, striking and pulling the longline would equate to being hit by potentially 50 mines on each side at or just below the water line.
An innovative, offensive mine warfare version of a longline would set the main line at an appropriate depth for the targeted naval species to snag the main line. Radio beacons would not be used, and floats would be small and match the ambient water color. Small mines with shaped charges would replace the baited hooks. Movement and wave action would create contact between the mines and vessel hulls which would detonate the charges, shooting dozens of armored piercing blasts through hulls.
The longline, or several of them, would act like a spider web. When something enters or passes through a spider web, the web is usually unseen but quietly and smoothly wraps to the form of the object striking it. Even if the web is broken into several segments, it continues to function. The longline of mines would work in a similar manner at sea, dragged by and striking against vessels. Attempts at backing out of these minefields would only entangle vessels in a different direction or detonate mines in the running gear. Futhermore, radar and sonar would not be able to detect these minefields, because the mines would be too small and the material could be made of plastic, wood, or other nonmetallic products. Additionally, the sets would be in the surface action and would be so small that aerial assets could not detect them either. With multiple layers of lines laid, either lightly moored or drifting, an enormous area could be covered. Much like laws concerning hand guns, the international laws concerning sea mines only affect law abiding nations. Any nation will do what is in its own best interest, particularly when threatened. Consequently, the time is long overdue for the naval mine warfare community to educate, innovate, professionalize, regain relevance, and prepare for new adversaries employing unique equipment and tactics.
LTC Michael F. Trevett served as a Navy EOD Diver, is a Plank Owner of EOD Mobile Unit Six, and is author of Isolating the Guerrilla, a compelling book on counterinsurgency.
 The acronym ANZAC stands for Australian New Zealand Army Corps.
 Jay Winter and Blaine Baggett, The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century, (Penguin Books: New York, 1996), 117.
 Ibid., 109-110.
 Map: Dardanelles and Approaches 1915, Internet, available at http://wow.naval-history.net/MapB1915-DardanellesApproach.GIF.
 Winter and Baggett, The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century, 117.
 Department of the Navy, NAVSEA Mine Familiarizer, (Yorktown, VA: Naval Mine Warfare Engineering Activity, 1985), 2-3.
 Gregory K. Hartmann and Scott C. Truver, Weapons That Wait: Mine Warfare in the U.S. Navy, updated edition (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1991) 73, 78-80.
 For the most thorough account of naval mine warfare in the Korean War, see Malcolm W. Cagle and Frank A. Manson, The Sea War in Korea, (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1957).
 Department of the Navy, Naval Warfare Publication 3-15, Mine Warfare, (Norfolk, VA: Naval Doctrine Command, 1996), C4-5.
 Hartmann and Truver, Weapons That Wait, 80-81.
 NWP 3-15, Mine Warfare, C5.
 Hartmann and Truver, Weapons That Wait, 148-154.
 Department of the Navy, Expeditionary Warfare Directorate, Littoral and Mine Warfare Program Executive Office, Primer, available at http://www.navy.mil/n85/miw_primer-June2009.pdf, accessed April 2013.
 One such group, the Naval Mine Warfare Caucus (NMWC) seems to have been initiated for this purpose. However, practically no information exists on its website, which was last updated in March 2011, available at: http://cnmwc.org/.
 COL T. X. Hammes, USMC (Ret.), “The Danes Have the Answer,” U.S. Naval Institute, Proceedings, vol. 139 no. 4, (April 2013), 12.
 Hartmann and Truver, Weapons That Wait, 73.
 The Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA), Internet website, available at: http://www.afma.gov.au/resource-centre/teachers-and-students/about-fishing-methods-and-devices/longlines/pelagic-longline/.