From 1953 to 1994, sixty-five U.S. Navy ocean minesweepers (MSOs) swept mines; searched the seafloor for downed aircraft, sunken ships, and lost munitions; “showed the flag” throughout the world, even sailing up the Congo and Mekong Rivers, calling at dozens of the world's seaports; and carried out patrols and special tasks off strife-torn or hostile countries. Some participated in the 1962 nuclear test program in the Pacific and in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo space programs. Others, as part of a U.S. armada of military and civilian research ships at Palomares, located a nuclear bomb lost on the seafloor off Spain as a result of a midair collision between two U.S. Air Force aircraft. Iron men in wooden ships were with the Fleet in hotspots around the world, including Lebanon and the Quemoy-Matsu islands of Taiwan in 1958; the Dominican Republic in 1961 and 1965; and the Cuban Missile Crisis and Haiti in 1962. During the Vietnam War, minesweepers participated in Operation MARKET TIME to prevent the infiltration of North Vietnamese soldiers and munitions into South Vietnam. Leader received the Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary heroism in Operation SEA LORDS; Endurance engaged in close gun action with and helped destroy an enemy armed trawler in a sea battle; and MSOs cleared mines in Haiphong Harbor, which aided in the negotiations in progress for the return of U.S. prisoners of war. During the twilight of their service in the late 1980s and early 1990s, aging sweeps cleared Iranian- and Iraqi-laid mines in the Persian Gulf.

Cover painting by Richard DeRossett (view entire painting)


Praise for Wooden Ships and Iron Men: The U.S. Navy's Ocean Minesweepers, 1953–1994

Wooden Ships and Iron Men is a fitting tribute to the ocean minesweepers and Sailors who crewed them during a critical time in the U.S. Navy’s modern history. While enduring all the hardships common to life at sea in small vessels, these men contributed significantly to the Navy’s successful operations, from 1953 to 1994, in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, off the coast of Vietnam, and in the volatile Persian Gulf. This work is a must read.
We are truly impressed with the depth of your research on an important, but often overlooked, aspect of the U.S. Navy's Cold War and post–Cold War operations. I plan to spread the word on this important work to my colleagues here at the Center, who I'm sure will find it a useful resource in their own work. As Project Director of our forthcoming Cold War Gallery [for the National Museum of the United States Navy], I can say that it will be at my elbow as I work to develop the exhibition.
Edward J. Marolda
Senior Historian
Naval Historical Center
Washington, D.C.

Cdr. Bruhn’s history of the Ocean Minesweeper will delight all those who served in and worked with these fine wooden ships. It will also provide much interesting detail on their employment to anyone concerned with the U.S. Navy’s mine countermeasures efforts between the Korean War and DESERT STORM. Bruhn reviews many of the ongoing issues and competing priorities that have crippled this important warfare area. Wooden Ships and Iron Men is a real walk down memory lane for a former MSO Commanding Officer and Mine Group Commander. Worth the read!
Captain David J. Grieve, USN (Ret.)
Commander U.S. Mine Countermeasures Force 1990–1991
Operation DESERT SHIELD/STORM (“Persian Gulf War”)

Reading Dave Bruhn’s important book on mine warfare, I was delighted to return to sea on an MSO without the usual seasickness caused by its endless corkscrewing and the nausea induced by stack gas blowing into the bridge on a following wind. I could actually walk a deck without leaving heel prints three feet up a bulkhead! Thank you, David, for returning me to the days of my youth and callow innocence.
Mike Goss, Former Lt., USN

My son gave me a copy of your book for Christmas. Thanks so much for writing it! Upon completion of Radioman “A” School in the Spring of 1963 I served aboard Aggressive (MSO-422) for about two months before being transferred to Agile (MSO-421) for the next two plus years. I reported aboard Agile as a RMSN and departed as a RM2 and leading radioman. I subsequently changed my rate to CT and never saw sea duty again, so the memories of my time with MINDIV 83 out of Charleston are precious to me. It was great to read about the history of the “Sweeps” during my time of service, but very enlightening to read about their history both before and after as well. . . . Again, thanks for a great read!
CTRC Sam Kemp, USN (Ret)

As the Operations Officer aboard USS Woodpecker (MSC-209) from 1966-67, I thoroughly enjoyed Wooden Ships and Iron Men. I appreciate and agree with your candid assessment of the Navy's employment of minesweepers and the shortfalls in their capabilities. I also found your criticism of the administration of the Naval Reserve on target. As a reserve unit commander, I found the TARs obstacles rather than facilitators.
James McClure
Captain, USNR (Ret.)

As the Deck, Gunnery and Mine Countermeasures Officer on USS Firm (MSO-444) from May 1967 to Jan 1969, and as the Staff Operations Officer in 1969 for MINDIV 71 while it was in ROH status at Pearl Harbor, I found your account of the Ocean Minesweepers accurate and compelling. It not only filled in gaps in my memory, but it also fleshed out the partial knowledge I had at the time of the actions I participated in.
In the nearly 40 years since I was discharged, I don't recall ever seeing any recognition of the sailors who served on MSO's or discussion of the ship type and its unique characteristics. I was particularly fascinated by the discussion of replacement vessels and new techniques for sweeping mines that have developed in subsequent years—or the lack thereof. Perhaps if some of your suggestions for reinventing mine warfare were adopted, the mine force would finally receive adequate funding and modernization.
Thanks for a great book!
Don Cook