Naval mines originated in the sixteenth century, but their use in naval combat began in the American Revolutionary War by David Bushnell, who placed such devices under the hulls of British ships in New York harbor using a small one‐man, wooden submarine he invented. During the Civil War, the Confederate Navy protected its harbors and sank a number of Union Navy ships using moored and mobile contact or electrically controlled mines (mislabeled “torpedoes”). Major use of underwater mines began in World War I with the British and later Americans planting tens of thousands of mines to contain the German surface and submarine fleets, and the Germans laying mines in British coastal waters. The Allies lost 586 ships and the Germans lost 150 warships and 40 submarines. In World War II, nearly 700,000 naval mines were laid, accounting for more ships sunk or damaged than any other weapon (the Allies lost 650 ships to mines, the Axis lost around 1,100).
Mining operations and countermining operations have been part of America's wars since World War II. Although the North Koreans did not use mines to try to prevent the Inchon Landing (1950), in the Korean War, they subsequently planted 3,500 Soviet magnetic mines at Wonsan, which took U.S. minesweepers a week to clear before the landing of United Nations forces there. In the Vietnam War, the U.S. Navy cleared mines so it could operate off the coast of North Vietnam, and in 1972 it mined Haiphong harbor, thereby blocking the influx of Soviet supplies. In the Persian Gulf War (1991), Iraq laid mines to block oil shipments and impede seaborne assault by the forces of the U.S.‐led coalition, but helicopter air sweeps, surface minesweeper ships, and underwater demolition teams cleared the sea lanes and access routes. Development of detection and countermeasures are becoming increasingly important since terrorists, such as those who planted mines in the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf in the 1980s, have begun to use this inexpensive stealthful weapon for its military, economic and considerable psychological effect.
[See also Anti‐Submarine Warfare Systems; Blockade; Mines, Land.]
Louis Gerken , Mine Warfare Technology, 1989;
Tamara Moser Melia , Damn the Torpedoes: A Short History of U.S. Naval Mine Countermeasures, 1777–1991, 1991;
Howard S. Levie , Mine Warfare at Sea, 1992;
Samuel Loring Morison , Guide to Naval Mine Warfare, 1995.
John Whiteclay Chambers II