- Cdr David D Bruhn USN(Retd) & Lt Cdr Rob Hoole RN(Retd)
- ARRSE Rating
- 4 Mushroom Heads
'Black in the hollows and bright where it's breaking -/Awkward water to sweep.
'"Mines reported in the fairway,/"Warn all traffic and detain.
'" 'Sent up Unity, Claribel, Assyrian, Stormcock, and Golden Gain."'
Kipling, 'Mine Sweepers'
This book must become a standard work. It is the categorical account of mine warfare at sea, at home 1914-1918 (and the 1918-1919 very dangerous clearup); but it is also a memorial to the brave men who kept our sea lanes clear in a time of great crisis, particularly the fisherfolk who were luffed into war along with their craft, and also to the remaining fishing fleet that kept us fed while under threat and attack from mines and U-boats. The authors are both mine warfare specialists with (modern) operational experience; you can take this book as as true a bill as you will ever find. The casualties to mining, particularly of submarines - theirs and ours - are brought up to date with immediate recent wreck finds.
Mining is not an exact science and one wonders, given that it was best carried out on a moonless night or a totally foggy day, how precise navigation was ever achieved, with a magnetic compass affected by the mine payload, even when taking departure from a fixed point like a lightship. Taut wire measuring gear, for the layer, gets a fleeting mention. So also, for the sweeper, serrated sweep wire, an important innovation. For the record, fifty years later we were still trying to get explosive cutters to work.
There are excursions into the founding of what became the Royal Canadian Navy, how minelaying was used directly tactically at Jutland, and the Zeebrugge and Ostend raids, and the German U-boat foray (which included minelaying) to the US East Coast, and generally to explain the big boys' war that was going on in the background.
Of course a reviewer must have some niggles. Mine are that there could have been tauter editing, in that where the data for a paragraph is carefully tabulated, the narrative often need not have recited that detail. If there was one table I would have liked to see it would have been one showing in toto the losses and casualties from the civilian drifters and trawlers taken up from trade that were the core effort in the early years. Also, the maps quite unnecessarily show railways, and towns of no naval relevance, and in heavy type which often obscures the coastline because in the underlying map land and sea are two barely distinguishable shades of grey. That said, there are numerous fascinating photographs many of which are sourced, I presume by the American of the two authors, from the USN Naval History and Heritage Command. Care has been taken to explain the geography - and some RN terminology - for American readers, as although late to the party the USN laid thousands of mines in the Northern Barrage.
I learned a lot from this book - I am better informed now; like finding that the Oropesa sweep was named after a trawler rather than a cape in the Mediterranean, and how right from the very start Germany was deliberately in breach of international law. This is niche stuff, and technical as well as historical, with very fine grain detail, reflecting what must be years of research. I commend it to anyone who wants to round out his picture of how we won the Kaiser's War.