SABOTAGE OF MINESWEEPERS IN WONSAN BAY, 1951-1952
By the spring of 1951, the U. S. and Allied Coalition had gained virtually complete control of both the sea and the air space around the coasts of North Korea. But the land war was quite furious and the U. S. Forces were having a bad time, indeed! By that time, the North Koreans could no longer go out at night in boats and re-mine the harbors and sea lanes. But, they frequently attached contact mines to pieces of timber, bales of straw, and other items of flotsam in hopes that the currents would bring such mines into contact with American warships, auxiliary ships, or minesweepers. The shipboard personnel would routinely receive warnings about such hazards, but, to our knowledge, our ships had not encountered any harm from such sabotage.
Then, one evening, as the three minesweepers were anchored, having our evening meal, in a cove off a small island inside Wonsan Bay, we suddenly received a message from the quartermaster of the watch that the FIRECREST was getting underway. We rushed out on deck to see the FIRECREST circling what looked like a bale of straw that was floating directly toward where we were anchored. Our ships used an operational voice radio communications system that was very informal. We used the skipper's first name, as a ship identifier, in talking to a particular ship. The skipper of the FIRECREST was LT AL SMITH. The skipper of my ship, the HERON was LTJG
These three ships of MINDIV 54 were operating as a unit with LT AL SMITH serving as OTC (Officer-in-Charge) because the Division Commander, LCDR JANECKEY was not present. So AL SMITH, being senior, meant that the FIRECREST and its CO was in charge at the scene. AL SMITH was a Mustang (former enlisted man, having advanced up through the hierarchy to officer status and CO of the minesweeper). Both skippers were outstanding officers and ship handlers and both of them were exceptionally experienced minesweeper officers. But for some reason, that day, DIXON LADEMAN declined AL SMITH's suggestion to get the HERON underway. It was only a suggestion, not an order. (During previous months we had seen many bales of straw and other items float harmlessly by, so I felt no danger and I don't believe my shipmates felt any danger from that particular bale of straw either). I distinctly remember most of the HERON crew standing out on the main deck laughing and watching the FIRECREST as it circled the bale of straw until the straw came right up along our portside. It came within a few feet of the HERON. As it floated by, I could clearly see the joints in the stalks of straw.
Following that episode, the officers and enlisted men went inside and quietly completed eating our dinners. But we, on the USS HERON, never again took for granted any item of flotsam that drifted around in the currents of Wonsan Bay!
Photographs by Burl Gilliland, Ens, USNR
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