Wooden Ships and Iron Men: The U.S. Navy's Coastal and Motor Minesweepers, 19411953
Possessing insufficient minesweepers to protect U.S. harbors and bays as the threat of war in Europe spread, in the winter of 1939-40 the Navy began purchasing fishing vessels and modifying them to combat mines. One of them, Condor (AMc-14), first sighted the Japanese Type-A midget submarine that destroyer Ward (DD-139) sank on December 7, 1941 with the first shots fired by American forces during World War II. She would be one of six coastal minesweepers to receive a battle star. From boat- and shipyards across America came the largest production run of any World War II warship, 561 scrappy little 136-foot wooden-hulled vessels characterized by Arnold Lott in Most Dangerous Sea as "belligerent-looking yachts wearing grey paint." Although their designers envisioned that they would operate primarily in the vicinity of yards or bases, the YMSs (too numerous to be given names) would see action in every theater of war, earning almost 700 battle stars, 21 Presidential Unit Citations, and 15 Navy Unit Commendations. YMSs were present in the North African campaign, in Sicily, at Anzio, Salerno, and elsewhere in Italy, and swept ahead of invasion forces at Normandy and in Southern France. In the Pacific, they operated in the Marshall Islands, New Guinea, Solomons, Treasury Island, Gilbert Islands, New Britain, Admiralty Islands, Guam, Palau, Leyte, Luzon, Manila Bay, Iwo Jima, Southern Philippines, Okinawa, and Borneo.
Following the war, they cleared mines from the East China Sea, Yangtze River approaches, and throughout Japanese waters, and their activities gave rise to the proud slogan of the mine force: "Where the Fleet Goes, We've Been." During the Korean War, a mere 16 auxiliary motor minesweepers (former YMSs) performed the bulk of mine clearance, often while inside the range of enemy coastal artillery, necessary for larger naval vessels to close the coast to support operations ashore. Garnering collectively 124 battle stars, 7 Presidential Unit Citations, and 7 Navy Unit Commendations, the men aboard these ships were then, and remain to date, the most highly decorated crews of minesweepers in the history of the U.S Navy.
Cover painting by Richard DeRossett (view entire painting) Click here for an expanded view of "Moonlit Assault in the Aegean" by Richard DeRossett, depicting the Luftwaffe attack in 1943 on British Yard Minesweeper 72. This air attack and capture of BYMS-72 by German naval forces is the subject of one chapter of the book.
Praise for Wooden Ships and Iron Men: The U.S. Navy's Coastal and Motor Minesweepers, 19411953
As a small craft sailor myself I shared the experience of the seagoing life of those iron men of yours in the YMSs and AMcs. We thought PCs were a rough ride (and indeed they were) but I have even today a sharp mental picture of two YMSs in 1944 sweeping the Caribbean approaches to the Canal Zone, sailing slowly in the troughs of long ground swells, doing slow rolls of thirty degrees or more from one side to the other with hardly a pause at the vertical. As we sailed past them, escorting a shipload of marines into the safety of Limon Bay I breathed compliments of admiration for those minesweeper men.
Closer to my heart, I must mention to you my lifelong friend William (Bill) Kinzler. I recall hearing from him in late 1943 or early 1944 as to assignment to a minesweeper on the New England Coast, and his telling me in a letter that an all African-American crew, a first ever in the Navy, manned his ship. Now I see in your book (at page 46) your mention of USS Vigor (AMc110).
I cannot close until I say to you, congratulations on your excellent books, and especially for this Volume Two, which touches on the days Bill Kinzler and I proudly wore the uniform. I am sure it is a small minority of men who ever trod the wooden decks of AMcs; and I was one of them, if only a visitor.
John A. Klein
Former Commanding Officer, USS PC-1175
Lt Cdr R J Hoole MBA MCMI MIExpE MNI RN
Vice Chairman & Webmaster
Minewarfare & Clearance Diving Officers Association
Wooden Ships and Iron Men really took me back to my days aboard USS Firecrest(AMS-10) off the coast of Korea from 1951-53. More than that, it answered the many questions I pondered during my minesweeping days. Why were there so few of us? Where had Firecrest and the others served before I became ship's company? Most of all, what was the big picture at the time I served. As a helmsman, my view was dead ahead and port/starboard. Your book is not only a great read, but it has given me the big picture I lacked at the time. Thanks for a great trip down memory lane!
William "Andy" Anderson
Fair Oaks, California
James A. McClure
Capt. USNR (Ret.)