British Mine Layers

Adolf's minenkrieg is being waged against him by Britain's RAF, Fleet Air Arm, and Navy with a ferocity that bides no good for the not-too-plentiful German shipping. Since the beginning of the war, RAF minelayers have flown more than 3,021,000 miles on missions which have carried them from Norway to the Mediterranean. By laying the long, torpedo-resembling mines on the surface or dropping them by parachute, the crews of the big Lancasters, Sunderlands and Stirlings are making the seas surrounding the Axis alive with monsters more deadly than any of those which early mariners were supposed to have dreamed.

Minelaying is dangerous and articulate work but, in spite of this, it is monotonous to the air crews. The specific spots where the mines are to be sown are decided upon by the Admiralty from their detailed knowledge of the sea routes and shipping practices used by the enemy. It is the RAF's job to find these spots — in the dark and without the landmarks which are usually available to bomber crews — through the most precise navigation and clever flying. For the most part, the flying is at low altitude and the pilot does his best to remain in concealment. Nazi spotters at sea and on the shore remain constantly on the alert and warn their minesweepers of danger areas; even if the RAF planes escape antiaircraft fire or any enemy fighters, the mines they took such pains in laying may be neutralized.

The minelaying air crew's job is monotonous because there is no "action relief" such as results from a bombing raid or a strafing sortie. When the bomber crews set out toward their objective, even though they often have to battle their way in through interceptors and antiaircraft, there results a certain amount of psychological satisfaction from seeing the bombs hit the target, seeing the enemy's works going up in smoke, and from watching the frantic attempts of the antiaircraft and fighters to confuse them and drive them away. But the minelayer, after going through the ticklish business of finding the exact spot, plants his mine and watches it disappear into the dark waters. There is no explosion, no damage to the enemy — yet — and he cannot know for certain whether his mine will serve its purpose.

One of the principal purposes of the air offensive against Germany and the occupied countries is to disrupt the already overtaxed Axis communications. The bombing of rail centers has already driven much traffic into coastwise sea lanes. When these coast routes are mined constantly, much delay and dislocation of the Nazi traffic results. Furthermore, shipping is forced further out to sea where it becomes vulnerable to Royal Navy raiders and aircraft.

The great advantage in employing big RAF heavies for this work is that these craft are capable of carrying a large number of the mines over a great distance in a short time. A Lancaster could make five round trips to the Kiel Canal area, for example, in the time that it would take the fastest surface layer carrying the same number of mines to get three-quarters of the way there. Furthermore, a plane can get in all sorts of places a vessel cannot. This, then, is the story behind one of those terse Admiralty communiques which usually reads: "Last night aircraft of the Bomber Command laid mines in enemy waters."

This article was originally published in the March, 1943, issue of Air News magazine, vol 4, no 3, pp 36-37, 61.
The original article includes 10 photos.
Photos credited to Black Star.

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