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Updated 20 November 2013 (1904 vessels).

Army Ships -- The Ghost Fleet


Coast Artillery Corps
Army Mine Planter Service

The great old Coast Artillery Batteries one occasionally sees along the coast today were part of a defensive system that included minefields. These were not the "horned monsters" usually seen in movies, but bottom laid mines controlled from shore through control panels linked to the mines by cables. Enemies attempting to enter strategic coastal areas would face the guns and also a minefield that was exploded by intelligence, not sensors. The mines were part of the principle armament with guns overseeing the field to prevent clearing efforts. A distinct advantage of controlled fields was that friendly shipping could pass without the hindrance of threading a safe passage through a "dumb" field. Another advantage was that controllers could watch sweeping efforts and ignore this activity, then detonate the mine when a major target was in the kill zone. These mines could choose targets with much more accuracy than self detonating types.

From the Civil War until much later these mines were called "torpedoes" as in Farragut's "Damn the torpedoes" and even the coast defenses were termed the "torpedo service." During that early period the fortification guns had been under Artillery while the mines with their electrical firing systems were an Engineer responsibility. Also, due to the electrical systems, Signals was closely associated. Chester Arthur's second State of the Union presented in writing 4 December 1882 contained this interesting comment "appropriations be made for high-power rifled cannon for the torpedo service and for other harbor defenses" indicating the importance of the mine fields. In later years it is clear the mine fields and the heavy guns were "principle" in the defenses and the mine fields were under "protection" of smaller guns dedicated to mine field protection. The divided command responsibilities in Artillery, Engineers and Signals was seen as a problem and an ultimate consolidation of function was created by dividing Artillery into Field Artillery Corps and Coast Artillery Corps.

The vessels required to install the torpedoes were naturally termed "torpedo planters" with that term seeming to linger perhaps a bit beyond the common usage of "mine" for the weapon itself. The first of the vessels noted individually below were indeed called torpedo planters. In the Annual Reports of the War Department for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1906 one finds:

A bit more interesting in the light of the interchange later to take place with the U. S. Lighthouse Service in which ex Army mine planters became USLHS and later U. S. Coast Guard vessels is the following paragraph:

The vessel, equipment and techniques for working with heavy buoys and mines are naturally parallel. It is thus no surprise to find that the USLHS tended to take in Army vessels so equipped when they were no longer needed by Army and tending navigational aids was a more "full time" job than tending mine fields. When Army reduced forces in 1920 six of its vessels found that new home. That exchange continued until after WW II when the last Mine Planters, after a brief and not particularly well adapted service in Navy, went on to the Coast Guard. Though they usually went on as buoy tenders some became small cable ships. The relationship was so close that there was discussion of the Army just relying on USLHS buoy tenders that it helped finance as a reserve for its work.

The report goes on to describe the manning of the vessels with an Artillery officer in command with a civilian crew of "thirteen men supplied by the quartermaster's department" and eighteen artillerymen trained in mine work.


A Formal Army Mine Planter Service


"Army Mine Planter Preparing To Plant Mines"
Coast Artillery Journal, May 1926, p. 528, published by direction of the Chief of Coast Artillery

From 1904 until 1918 the larger vessels specifically designated as mine planters were crewed by civilians with the master under the orders of the embarked artillery officer. This officer was also in charge of enlisted military mine specialists actually handling the mine operations. Reports indicate this military and civilian functioning under an on board military officer created friction and the civilians were "unmilitary" as can be expected, particularly those recruited from small commercial and private vessel operations. A specific military complaint was that the ship officers and crew sometimes left Army employment for other jobs in the midst of operations leaving the ships idle until replacements could be obtained.

In July 1918 Congress passed an act creating the Army Mine Planter Service and the Army Warrant Officer Corps necessary to provide its ship's officers. The service was now entirely military. A number of those new Warrant Officers were former mine planter civilian masters, mates and engineers recruited to serve in the same capacities with Army warrants. That may have been beneficial to them as well by introducing more stability for them into what had been a purely employee arrangement. In January 1920 the War Department authorized addition of a mine casing below the Coast Artillery Corps crossed guns as a special insignia for the service.

The AMPS Warrant Officers wore a distinctive uniform. The Master and Mates wore a foul anchor insignia on a circle above sleeve rings, all in dark brown. The Chief Engineer and engineering officers wore a three bladed propeller insignia above the same rings. For diagrams and a bit more history of the service see this Warrant Officer Insignia of Rank page. In fact, the Army Warrant Officer and the Corps' official brown color is traced back to the Mine Planter Service. The official history of the Warrant Officer Corps states:

The web page of the Warrant Officers Heritage Foundation offers additional background and detail on Army Warrant Officer History and its connection with the Army Mine Planter Service.

An indication of how these vessels were manned is given in the "Green Book," the United States Army in World War II, The War in the Pacific, The Fall of the Philippines [Louis Morton]. In Table 2--Strength and Composition of U.S. Army Troops in Philippine Islands, 31 July 1941 the strength of the USAMP Harrison is given as forty enlisted and seven officers.

The Coast Artillery Journal. Volume 65, Number 1, July 1926 has an article titled "Coast Artillery Noncommissioned and Warrant Officer Personnel" which states:

The ships were not the only ones having connections with ocean research or cable laying beyond their time as mine planters. Their personnel also continued in such roles. One, Ernest W. Eickelberg, "served as executive officer of the Survey ships Pathfinder, Lydonia, and Surveyor, and commanding officer of the Explorer and Guide in Alaska" as a member of the Coast and Geodetic Survey. During the First World War he had served aboard the mine planter Graham. As with Brig. Gen. Albert J. Myer, his interest and capabilities appear to have spanned a wide range.

The end of the Army Mine Planter Service came with the 1954 Warrant Officer Personnel Act. The need for coastal defenses and their mines had been overcome by events and technology. By the time the service was formally dissolved the ships and function were already some years in the past. Navy now had responsibility for coastal defense. At least some of the little ships went on to other work with a number of the latest planters becoming the Navy's Auxiliary Mine Layer (ACM) group before the war had ended. Many were headed to combat areas when the fighting ended. After the war their function and need was not clear, ships were being deactivated and those not already in reserve mostly went into reserve as surplus.

The origin of the existing Warrant Officer Corps in the Service probably accounts for the Mine Planter Service's better representation on the web than the other ship operating organizations seem to have.

Ships and Craft

The Coast Artillery Corps with its Mine Planter Service had operational control of the ships and, unusually, direct command over the crews. The norm then and today is that an overall, ship specific command (As is today's Military Sealift Command) had primary responsibility for construction, maintenance and crewing of the vessels. The organization with the technical mission directs the movements and activities of the ship. That was the norm then and Signal Corps followed that norm. The exception was now the Mine Planter Service where the crews were part of the Corps as well. The Coast Artillery Corps before and after establishing the Mine Planter Service depended upon and worked with the lead Army organization for ship design, construction and heavy maintenance and modifications. That was the Quartermaster Corps and, after the early WW II consolidation of all transport, the Transportation Corps. Despite that there is an interesting thread of the Mine Planter Service crews coming up with solutions to ship problems and actually building and implementing useful modifications that improved mine and other operations.

The mines were an integral part of the defenses along with the big guns and submarine detection gear. They were controlled from panels within the batteries and could be fired selectively individually or as a group as a target under observation entered a mine's kill zone. The actual vessels planting and maintaining these fields were the Army mine planters which also had the ability to lay the control cables and junction boxes. Another type vessel was responsible for maintaining the junction boxes and other underwater electronics. Mine planters had to raise and maintain or occasionally relocate the mines.

The vessels had collateral functions. A major collateral function was to tow targets for exercises. They acted as local transports connecting forts that were often separated by wide bodies of water. One occasionally finds mention of "cruises" for VIPs or cadets or to take spectators to observe demonstration firings of the big guns. A collateral mission that led to a next life for some of these ships was laying other cables, communication cables between forts. This cable capability explains why a number of small cable layers of the post war years have their origins as mine planters. Two, Trapper and Niles, are covered elsewhere on these pages.

The Lt. Col. Ellery W. Niles was unique. She was built as an individual ship and described as the most beautiful ship the Army ever built. The photograph of the Niles launch from which the image at left was scanned was a gift of Joseph Neely. It is captioned by hand "June 22, 1937, Launching Mine Layer, Pusey & Jones Co., Wilmington, Del." Signed "Ros Ammon" apparently at the time of the event. The photo appeared in the September-October 1937 issue of the Coast Artillery Journal's article about the ship. The tiny bow sheaves seen here are typical of the Army mine planters from this time on.

I knew this ship thirty one years later as the R/V F. V. Hunt, then a vessel owned by Marine Acoustical Services of Miami, Florida, operating under contract to the Navy. She now rests off the Florida Keys and is a well known dive site.

Another photo of the Lt. Col. Ellery W. Niles and good general discussion of the mine fields in coast defense may be seen on Submarine Mine Defense of San Francisco Bay, a page of the California Military Museum. I found the same Army Signal Corps photo of Niles among the records of the Transportation Corps at the National Archives. I was struck at that time how little changed the ship was when I knew her in the late sixties. The ship pictured in that old photo was immediately recognizable. Take away the big masts and add Radar and LORAN -- that is about all.

The Maj. Gen. Arthur Murray, later to become Trapper, was part of a production of a small fleet these vessels after war broke out in Europe to replace First World War vintage vessels. Even their origin might seem strange. They were built at Point Pleasant, West Virginia -- the Mountain State. For the rather weird and interesting story of how the Maj. Gen. Arthur Murray became first a Navy and then a Coast Guard cable layer with some background on this entire group look at "Trapper." Half of the West Virginia constructed group went with Murray to become Navy ACMs. I know of only one minefield that faced an actual invader. The defensive fields in the Philippines are probably the only Coast Artillery Corps mines that were within range of an enemy ship in combat conditions. The 91st Coast Artillery - A Short History by George Munson is on line and has brief sections dealing with the mine responsibilities. "Battery A had three primary duties: maintain the mine equipment and cables, lay and operate mine fields, and man Battery Martin (two 155 mm PPF guns)" though there is no mention of a ship. He notes the new commander, an expert in the mines "quickly discovered that the two controlled mine fields were defective" due to marine borers shorting the control cables.

The mine planter General George F. E. Harrison was stationed in the Philippines and there is a mention of a contract vessel, the Neptune. There would have been the usual fleet of Junction Box Boats and other small craft. Seam Harrison Calms, the daughter of a Commanding Officer of the Harrison, mentions the vessel in her article titled Lost Corregidor - The Home Front Life Before WW2. She gives some detail of the mine planter and life of people in the mine service. Her father, First Lieutenant Harry John Harrison, is noted as meeting his wife in 1937 as they sailed to the Philippines aboard USAT Republic. It appears he commanded the ship 1937-1940 and left the Philippines in 1940. She comments:

Other mentions note the Harrison and her commander of the same name were often in Manila as Dr. Calmes' father was able to continue seeing his future wife while she was in college there and is noted as being there when their daughter was born on Corregidor. The Corregidor Historic Society's page contains many other descriptions of life on the island for those interested in the subject.

The November-December, 1946 issue of Coast Artillery Journal contained the account of CWO Arnold A. Bocksel, the ship's Chief Engineer, during the desperate days as Corregidor fell to the Japanese forces. In the attached extract of his story I have included the notice of his death in 2011, one of the oldest veterans living at the time. He had survived the fall of the Philippines, the Bataan Death March and transport to Manchuria.

One of the concerns in the recapture of Corregidor was its mine control panel that had been captured by the Japanese who had probably maintained the defensive field. Its control center's recapture was a high priority for the Airborne troops in the recapture of the fortress island. The extensive mine field supporting the Manila Bay defenses had to be taken to be certain it would not be used against our naval forces due to enter the Bay.


The Mine Planters

The table and information in notes immediately following were originally based almost entirely on Grover's list and mentions of these ships in U.S. Army Ships and Watercraft of World War II, "Minecraft" with some additional references found. Despite a great deal of research Grover notes the record is not entirely clear on the earlier ships. My relatively brief independent survey bears this out. One, Cyrus W. Field, is clearly listed as a mine planter in National Archives and Records Administration, 391.2.6 "Records of U.S. Army mine planters" with references to that ship being a Signal Corps cable ship associated to some extent with the mine service. Since this page began I have found other references supporting Field and particularly Henry being taken into the Coast Artillery for mine work. CAPT. H. F. E. Bultman, C. A. C. in an article titled "The Army Mine Planter Service" in The Coast Artillery Journal of June 1929 noted:

Records of some of the smaller ships are still vague. Part of the problem is the way Army ships moved about in function. CAPT. Bultman also lamented:

There was a drastic cut in the Army during 1921 and the mine planter fleet dropped from twenty mine planters to eight. It was this period in which a number were transferred to the Light House Service to end up in the Coast Guard.

Others appear to have been diverted even before assignment to mine work. As an example a ship noted as Col. Card that was roughly the size of the mine planters was built for the Quartermaster Corps by Fabricated Shipbuilding apparently along with the 1919 layers. This ship apparently was a small transport on the East Coast, despite being built as a Junior Mine Planter, until bought by Michigan in 1923 as a ferry. The ship was rebuilt to make it a larger car ferry over the years and so used until sold back to the Army in 1940. In 1942 the Army had the ship back on the East Coast as the Brig. General William E. Horton. By 1947 the ship was perhaps under Michigan ownership again as it apparently had a local name. A number of the mine layers have similar in-out-in service histories with multiple name changes.

(2/11/04) Les Bagley, ferry historian, is doing research on these ships and writes:

Both Col. Card and Col. Pond appear to have been built to serve as Junior Mine Planter (JMP). As with a number of these Army vessels they apparently were multiple use or diverted for other primary use. Along with the in-out-in service histories and multiple name changes I have found a number of cases where these vessels were tasked for other uses or served as general purpose vessels when mine work was slow.

The Mine Planter List
Grouped into the year "classes" in which designs were similar if not quite identical.

Ship (Described as "torpedo planters" in contemporary documents)

Built

Col. George Armistead

1904

Gen. Henry J. Hunt

1904

Gen. Henry Knox

1904

Maj. Samuel Ringgold

1904

Cyrus W. Field (Not a "Mine Planter" - see note below)

1904

Gen. Royal T. Frank *

1909

Joseph Henry * (Taken into C.A.C. See comment about role below at Random Recollections)

1909

Gen. Samuel M. Mills 1

1909

Gen. E. O. C. Ord *

1909

Gen. John M. Schofield *

1909




The Annual Reports of the War Department, Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1905, Volume II on page 32 describes the construction of the four 1904 "torpedo planters" thus:

Four 150-foot, twin-screw steel steamers, named General Henry J. Hunt, General Henry Knox, Colonel George Armistead, and Major Samuel Ringgold, for use in connection with the submarine mine service, coast artillery, were built at Philadelphia, Pa., at a contract cost of $122,000 each, and placed in service September, 1904.

The Cyrus W. Field is not in Grover or other sources as a mine planter. The ship is mentioned and included in the mine planter records in NARA Records (below) from 1908-1920. Grover does mention her under Communication Ships, "The Signal Corps acquired other cable layers at an early date, the tiny Cyrus W. Field in 1904 for work on the East Coast," without mention of being among the 1904 planters. Her inclusion here is based on the NARA placement with Mine Planters. In the Annual Reports of the War Department, Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1905, Volume II this vessel is described on page 37:

Cable steamer Cyrus W. Field—This vessel is employed in laying and repairing submarine cable for the Signal Corps at artillery posts along the Atlantic coast, and is of the same class as torpedo planters, although of wooden construction throughout. The principal dimensions are: Length, 121 feet; beam, 30 feet 7 inches; draft, about 10 feet. The propelling power consists of two tandem compound vertical engines driving twin screws and developing about 600 horsepower, steam being supplied by two flue boilers. The vessel is fitted with living accommodations for a crew of about 30 men, these accommodations consisting of berthing quarters, lavatories, galley, mess room, etc. There are also accommodations for Signal Corps officer and ship's crew.

Scattered other reports indicated the Cyrus W. Field spent significant time working in the coastal fortifications on both mine and communication cables between individual forts within a particular coast defense system that were often separated by large bodies of water.

According to Fulton Quintus Cincinnatus Gardner's Random Recollections (see below) the Gen. William M. Graham was the first "combined mine planter and cable ship" -- the model for later mine planters. I believe this helps explain the 1917 - 1919 break as the Graham being the prototype for the 1919 production.

Gen. William M. Graham *

1917

Gen. George F. E. Harrison * (Grover & others have "Col." period C.A.C. accounts "Gen.")

1919

Gen. Absalom Baird *

1919

Gen. Absalom Baird - photo provided by Nick Tiberio with the following:

My father, First Sergeant Nicholas Tiberio, Sr., was with the 242d Coast Artillery. This unit protected the eastern end of Long Island Sound. Ft. H.G. Wright, Ft. Terry, & Ft. Michael, being located on Fisher's Island, Gull Island, and Plum Island.

Gen. J. Franklin Bell / Brig. Gen. John J. Hayden *

1919

Brig. Gen. Edmund Kirby 2

1919

Gen. Wallace F. Randolph 2

1919

Gen. John P. Story 2

1919

Col. Albert Todd 2

1919

Col. Garland N. Whistler 2

1919

Col. John V. White 2

1919


In 1937 a single cable ship of an entirely new type was built. This was the first of the ships built with mine handling and full cable ship capability. This was also a ship described as the most beautiful ever built for the Army. I can vouch for some of that from personal knowledge a bit over thirty years later. The wardroom alone was beautiful with fine wood paneling curving in line with the superstructure aft and a great curved green cushioned bench behind the table stretching across almost the entire space. This was the ship as seen in a Coast Artillery Journal of 1939.

"The last word in mine planters, the streamlined Ellery W. Niles" (U. S. Army Signal Corps photo)

Lt. Col. Ellery W. Niles *

1937


World War II

Unidentified Army Mine Planter of 1942-1943 series (U. S. Army Signal Corps photo)

The Marietta Manufacturing hull numbers in the left column are from Tim Colton's excellent Shipbuilding History site. It is a most valuable resource for all of us researching ship history. See the "U.S. Army Mine Craft - MP, L and M" list there for more detail. There is now agreement between Shipbuilding History MP numbers and the 1999 book Controlled Mines: a history of their use by the United States by Charles H. Bogart. Integrated with the history of one of these vessels, U.S.A.M.P. Major Gen. Arthur Murray MP-9, under its final name of USS Yamacraw (ARC-5), is a description of the M1 planter design from the Coast Artillery Journal of November-December 1941.

All except two were transferred to the Navy from an initial large group in 1944 to several as late as 1950. A number of the 1944 group were on their way or in war zones as naval Auxiliary Minelayers when the war ended. One was present at the surrender in Tokyo Bay on 2 September 1945. Some of the later transfers went immediately into reserve for disposal.

USAMP General Samuel M. Mills MP-4 & USAMP Colonel Horace F. Spurgin MP-14
Sausalito, California, 4 September 1944
Photo: Captain Wells Oviatt Commanding Mills

In Army terminology this was the M1 mine planter.

Year

Hull #

MP#

Ship Name

USN Name

ACM #

Note

1942

474

MP-1

Gen. Henry Knox *

Picket

ACM-8

USCGC Willow (WLB 332)

1942

475

MP-2

Col. Henry J. Hunt *

Bastion

ACM-6

USCGC Jonquil (WAGL 330)

1942

476

MP-3

Col. George Armistead *

Barbican

ACM-5

USCGC Ivy (WAGL 329)

1942

477

MP-4

Gen. Samuel M. Mills *

Grover: "Gen. Samuel M. Mills remained in Army service into the fifties and became the Liberian Gran Canaria until scrapped in 1975"

1942

478

MP-5

1st Lt. William G. Sylvester *

Obstructor

ACM-7

USCGC Heather (WAGL 331)

1942

479

MP-6

Brig. Gen. Henry L. Abbott *

Became fishing vessel Neptune, sank 1975. 3

1942

480

MP-7

Maj. Gen. Wallace F. Randolph *

Nausett

ACM-15

sold 17 May 1961

1942

481

MP-8

Col. John Storey *

Barricade

ACM-3

USCGC Magnolia (WAGL 328)

1942

482

MP-9

Maj. Gen. Arthur Murray * 2

Trapper

ACM-9

Became Yarmacraw (ARC-5)

1942

483

MP-10

Maj. Gen. Erasmus Weaver *

Canonicus

ACM-12

never commissioned

1943

484

MP-11

Maj. Samuel Ringgold *

Monadnock

ACM-14

(See photo for Army's name format.)

1943

485

MP-12

Brig. Gen. Royal T. Frank *

Camanche 5

ACM-11

never commissioned

1943

486

MP-13

Col. Alfred A. Maybach *

Puritan

ACM-16

never commissioned

1943

487

MP-14

Col. Horace F. Spurgin * 4

Miantonomah

ACM-13

Became fishing vessel.

1943

488

MP-15

Col. Charles W. Bundy *

Chimo 5

ACM-1

Decommissioned, sold 1946

1943

489

MP-16

Col. George Ricker *

Planter

ACM-2

Decommissioned, sold 1946

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


* In Army service at outbreak of war or wartime construction. The sixteen 1942-43 vessel construction was in early stages at U.S. entry into the war.

1 Mills of 1909 became the Pequot (WARC-58). There is an apparent error in Pequot's DANFS entry: "Pequot, built for the Coast Guard by American Brown Boveri Electrical Corp., Camden, N.J. in 1921, commissioned as a special craft 29 April 1922 at Camden." The "built" here probably refers to a modification from mine planter to cable ship during the year before Pequot was placed in service for the Coast Guard. The fact an "Electrical" company did the work is somewhat indicative of cable machinery work as such companies often did this work and those modifications would be required in going from a 1909 planter with little or no cable capability to cable work. The Coast Guard's description of Pequot (WARC-58) is accurate. The Pequot's wartime activity is shown on an a very interesting "Indicator Loops" page illustrative of how an old mine planter got back into coastal defense work.

2 Six of the 1919 mine layers became Coast Guard buoy tenders via the U.S. Lighthouse Service between 1923-1927. USCG history has them as Speedwell class. The six: Todd = Lotus (WAGL-229); Whistler = Spruce (WAGL-246); Kirby = Ilex (WAGL-222); Story = Acacia (WAGL-200) (sunk by gunfire from the German submarine U-161 south of Haiti March 15, 1942); Randolph = Lupine (WAGL-230); White = Speedwell (WAGL-245)

3 Grover has Abbott becoming Nautilus "which foundered in 1975" which seems to be an error. Colton has the Abbott becoming Neptune which "sank 1975" which appears to be correct. Spurgin, after becoming the Navy's Miantonomoh, was sold commercial and became Nautilus.

4 USAMP-14 Col. Horace F. Spurgin: Though current DANFS information indicates the vessel was scrapped it appears one of the named buyers put the vessel into service as the fishing vessel Nautilus owned by Edward Madruga and Manuel Cintas. A photo of the Nautilus appears on the Portuguese Research & Education, Inc. Tuna Boats Project web page. I have requested information on that vessel and hope to have more shortly. Tim Colton on his builder's list for U.S. Army Minecraft has: "To USN 1944 as Miantonomoh (ACM 13), sold 1960 as Nautilus, later Aleutian Mist, New Star 1991" for the vessel. Kyle Stubbs posted a photo of the vessel as New Star on the ShipSpotting.com website. The photo note includes: "laid-up as a part of the breakwater at Tyee Marina in Tacoma, Washington on August 12, 2009" and the dates of the names as "COLONEL HORACE F. SPURGIN (MP 14) (1944-49), USS ACM-13 (1949-55), USS MMA-12 (1955), MIANTONOMAH (1955-60), NAUTILUS (1960-90), ALEUTIAN MIST (1990-91)" so that we can trace the vessel into 2009. Grover has Abbott becoming Nautilus "which foundered in 1975" which seems to be an error. Colton has the Abbott becoming Neptune which "sank 1975" and that appears to be correct.

5 The Chimo class Auxiliary Minelayers, ACM, taken into the Navy during 1944-1945 were the eight ships MP-1, MP-2, MP-3, MP-5, MP-8, MP-9, MP-15 and MP-16 that show as being converted by Navy to the ACM function. Six of those eight ACMs became USCG vessels with the other two sold commercial. All appear to have some actual Navy deployments. The six Camanche class ships were MP-7 and MP-10 through MP-14, transferred to Navy in the 1950-1951 period. Camanche itself may be the exception with a date of 1944 sometimes seen. I now think is a mistake (see discussion) despite having used it myself here until now. Of those six vessels only ACM-13, Miantonomah, ex USAMP-14 Col. Horace F. Spurgin, was commissioned. All the rest appear to have gone directly into reserve fleets and, though named while in reserve, never saw any actual service. It is a reasonable speculation that the class difference is thus whether or not the ships were converted from original Army configuration to Navy specifications to serve as flag/tender ships for Auxiliary Motor Minesweeper (YMS) groups. It appears Chimo class vessels were converted. Camanche vessels were not converted and never actually used by the Navy. The Camanche class exception, Spurgin / Miantonomah, is itself an interesting case as is discussed in more detail below.

The Future That Was Not

Pearl Harbor and subsequent events had made the limitations of static coastal defense evident. Most of the Army's M1 planters had gone to Navy even as the war reached its close. The Coast Artillery had focused on Anti Aircraft Artillery and its great forts stripped of most combat capable troops and were being thinly manned by reservists. The value of controlled mine fields was questionable.

The Army Air Forces had already begun a separation process from Army itself that was soon to result in the U.S. Air Force under the massive reorganization from The Department of War and The Department of the Navy into The Department of Defense with three service branches. In that reorganization the Army would lose all its coastal defense role to Navy and most of its blue water ships as well. The last of its mine planters would go straight into inactive reserve fleets for sale or scrap. Its transport fleet that was not destined for Navy's Military Sea Transportation Service, founded almost precisely along Army's operation model, were also destined for layup or disposal.

Still, in 1947 a new and revolutionary Army mine planter was on the drawing boards. That planter was described in some detail in the January-February 1947 issue of the Coast Artillery Journal. A full extract is linked, but the notable features are a smaller, inshore vessel 127 Feet long with a 35-foot beam and 8-foot draft powered by two 500-horsepower diesel engines for a speed of about 12 knots. Electronics were updated with radar, recording fathometer and radio direction finder. This does not appear to be an independent, sea going vessel, though capable of transits. In brief:

"Designed to be highly maneuverable" gets to the unique, revolutionary feature of this planned vessel:

A report on Navy tests of the vessel revealed the fact that the cyclodal propellers were "secured by the Transportation Corps Technical Team of the U.S. Army of Occupation at Heidenheim, Germany" and brought to the U.S. The link is for an extract of the report giving YMP-2 specifications from 1953 Navy tests on the vessel.

The revolutionary new class of Army mine vessels was not to be. Within three years the entire coast defense enterprise would be Navy and the Army's ships in general only an echo of the past. In the meantime this vessel did not entirely vanish. A photo found with a follow up comment in the Antiaircraft Journal, the renamed Coast Artillery Journal reflecting the drastic change of mission, of March-April, 1949 contains a photograph of a model of this new 127 foot mine planter that solves the mystery of the odd Navy YMP-2 that was surrounded with rumors of German war prize ancestry as seen in the link to the full extract. Navy's YMP-2 and another vessel sent to Turkey are the Army design new mine planters.

For some more photos and a personal experience with this odd vessel see Mineman Memories page "YMP-2 Harbor Mine Planter." For some information on the Distribution Box or "L" Boats that I barely mention see "DISTRIBUTION BOX BOAT - L-73 CLASS" at the same site.

Navy Auxiliary Mine Layer (ACM) Notes

Navy Auxiliary Mine Layer (ACM) reuse of names for the Army vessels taken into Navy as the Camanche class, only one of which became Navy before 1950, as well as lack of actual usage and "history" for that class creates considerable confusion within the ACMs:

The early group transferred from Army to navy, the Chimo class, underwent naval conversions and saw some actual naval service. Official photos reveal some of the details of the conversion. Here is the Army version again for comparison:

Most notable is the odd vertical cable drum on the forecastle. That was a steam driven, 50 ton "'King' or Cable Reel" according to the Army's description (full descriptive text included at Yamacraw). Not visible here, but present are small bow sheaves similar to those seen in the Ellery W. Niles above. The Army planters were unarmed or very lightly armed during the war years, 50 cal machine guns being mentioned. The Army description of the original davits, two on each side and seen above the vertical rub bars, was of electric "mine and anchor davits" with two ton/thriteen feet/minute lift capacity.

Now we see the naval conversion without sheaves and the drum replaced by a gun tub, apparently the 40 mm. . It appears the two curved mine handling davits on each side of the Army version may have been replaced by a single one in the conversion. A flying bridge has been added with two of the four 20 mm guns there. I have no information on internal changes, but would expect the steam power equipment for the cable reel to have been removed.

In the photo of ACM-9 below the placement of the 20 mm becomes obvious. Two on the flying bridge and two in tubs by the stack. It appears the boat deck has been extended aft and a house has been placed aft the stack between the boats. The big change here, and one indicating a complete change in function, are the big reels aft. It appears the mine planter/layer has become a sweeper as well.

Note a major absence. There are no signs of true mine laying capability. Naval mine layers rolled mines off rails or otherwise sent them over the side underway in fairly large numbers. The Army vessels carried "mine groups" with the Army description of capacity for two groups on deck and "if the need arises" room for a third group in the hold with some rearrangement. Those were carried to precise locations and planted, connected to shore and fired electrically from shore fortifications when a vessel was calculated by observation to have entered a mine's kill zone.

These were not "mine layers" in the traditional sense as Army and apparently not very much so as Navy. They were mine planters modified to be naval small combatants with some mine handling capabilities, one being sweeping. The histories, particularly of the one vessel present in Tokyo Bay, indicate an actual usage clearing enemy mines, not laying mines. Even then, their actual use was evidently as tenders and flagships for groups of the small Auxiliary Motor Minesweeper (YMS) type vessels doing the actual sweeping. For a discussion of that history see Stephen S. Roberts' Shipscribe Chimo Class page that also includes notes on fates of these Army/Navy vessels. One can only speculate why the Navy used the term "Mine Layer" for these vessels that in fact worked in the mine clearance/sweeping role. Could it have been because some planter facilities had been retained and a "planter" just could not become a "sweeper"?

The USS Picket (ACM-8), ex USAMP General Henry Knox MP-1, was sent to Japan and was the only ACM present at the surrender in Tokyo Bay on 2 September 1945. That ship's Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships entry notes with my emphasis:

One has to remember that there was a huge surplus of ships at the war's end. The Army's M1 mine planter design was pre Pearl Harbor and that event immediately called into serious question what had lurked even before: What use are coastal fortifications in the age of carrier borne aircraft? The coastal fortifications became true backwaters and fairly early in the war the gun crews themselves began to be redirected into anti aircraft artillery. By April 1944 these Army ships began to phase into Navy as the Chimo class Auxiliary Minelayers modified to naval use. Again, Navy did not "plant" mines. Navy "laid" mines. But what real, longer term use did Navy have for such ships? Coastal Forts were obsolete. Did we want permanent live mine fields at the entrance to places like San Francisco Bay or the Chesapeake? The Navy was to take over harbor defense by 1950 and here came the next batch, but for what? There we see the fate of the Camanche class.

The Camanche was taken in by Navy and went immediately into reserve with no mention of conversions. The remainder of that class, with the exception of Miantonomah, ex Spurgin, went in 1950-1951 when the ship glut, with exception of those needed for Korea, was huge. None have any naval history except the note they existed. None had crews beyond those necessary to get them tied up in the boneyards. By all indications they went directly from the now non-existing Army coastal fort role to the boneyard and acquired a hull classification change to Minelayer, Auxiliary (MMA) and then names shortly before disposal in an administrative move. Thus the "Camanche class" has no importance beyond a footnote of conclusion to the military role of Army mine planters. By the time of this reclassification and naming even the earlier transfers, the Chimo group, had gone USCG or been sold commercial.

The later group of planters taken in by Navy as ACMs and later reclassified as "Minelayer, Auxiliary" (MMA), the Camanche class, went directly into reserve without commissioning or even being "in service" with the single exception of Spurgin / Miantonomah. DANFS gives solid dates for the transfer of all these from Army to Navy with the exceptions of the Brigadier General Royal T. Frank (MP-12) that became Camanche (ACM/MMA-11) and Major General Erasmus Weaver (MP-10) that became Canonicus (ACM/MMA-12). The dates for all transfers of this later group except these two that are not given are March 1951 with the exception of 25 January 1950 for the Spurgin. A date of 1944 for Frank / Camanche is sometime seen and I have used that myself. I find it extremely doubtful now. Grover gives a 1950 date for Frank's transfer. Weaver cannot be that early. The January-February 1947 issue of the Coast Artillery Journal on page 74 notes:

The most likely case for all the Camanche class is a mass transfer starting in 1950 and continuing into March 1951 as Navy assumed harbor defense responsibility from a vanishing Coast Artillery Corps and Army was giving up its blue water transport fleet as well. With exception of Spurgin / Miantonomah every one of the Camanche class went directly into inactive reserve without commissioning or active naval service.

The case of the Spurgin/Miantonomah is exceptional. The Coast Artillery Journal, March-April 1948, has a brief note on page sixty-nine titled "The Seacoast Branch, The Artillery School" with:

Two notes specifically on Spurgin reveal the functions that kept that one vessel operational:

That is the only planter acquired in the second phase that was active in Navy, probably explicitly due to that training period for Navy's assumption of the coast defense mine responsibility.

With exception of those that continued a while in U.S. Coast Guard service, and the one that became the USCG/Navy cable ship Yamacraw, the military utility of this interesting little group of ships was done.

Builders

Two of the 1904 ships were built at shipyards not yet located in ready sources. Information is sought.

The 1909 ships were built by several yards:

Gen. William M. Graham of 1917 was built by New York Shipbuilding of Camden, New Jersey

The 1919 ships appear to have all been built at Fabricated Shipbuilding of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The Lt. Col. Ellery W. Niles of 1937 was built by Pusey and Jones of Wilmington, Delaware.

All the 1942-43 ships were built by Marietta Manufacturing of Point Pleasant, West Virginia.

"Another mine planter for the CAC"
Coast Artillery Journal March-April 1942



The Forts

The World War II mine planters appear to have moved to some extent during the war even though some were closely associated with one fortification. I know of no definitive list of movements or assignments covering all the ships. The following indicates at least a period of association with a particular defense area. Mills and Spurgin were in Sausalito, California associated with San Francisco defenses at one point as seen in a photo together. Niles was also in the area, mentioned at Fort Scott. Ringgold was in the Canal Zone at least after the war.

Frank and Sylvester were associated with Fort Miles on Cape Henlopen, Delaware. See this Fort Miles page, "Principle Armament - Mine Field," for a photo of the Frank showing the small bow sheaves and an Army crew in uniform. The page gives an excellent of the composition of such an establishment at the end of the war--the sunset of coastal fortifications and Army marine mine fields. Fire control was plotted by tower observations. Those towers are still located along the Delaware and New Jersey coast.

The entire concept of massive, fixed harbor defense fortifications was questionable even by the end of World War I. By World War II the concept was actually obsolete. The only U.S. fort engaging an enemy were the defenses of Manila Bay that found themselves under siege from the conquered hinterland and the air. They could not hold out and in fact fell in to Japanese hands. The mine field became a threat to U.S. forces recapturing the Philippines and airborne forces dropped to retake Corrigidor had securing the mine casement and its firing panel as a priority. Fixed harbor defense fortification systems of this type probably reached their peak with the "Fortress America" thinking of the inter war years. Some popular news and magazine articles published as war erupted in Asia and Europe touted the concept that these defenses would make it impossible for an enemy to attack and thus the nation could stay uninvolved. It did not work out that way at all. By mid war the Coast Artillery Corps was focused on antiaircraft artillery and stripping coastal forts for deployment overseas in that effort. The mine vessels were also being diverted to more useful service. Another massive, fixed coastal defense started as these forts declined, Festung Europa (Fortress Europe) did not work as well as its builder's expected against mobile forces either.

The vast investments into concrete and heavy guns, mines and mine vessels are an interesting footnote to history with lingering presence on our coasts--too expensive to root out and often useful and enjoyable as parks. I have to smile when I realize that in this sense they are still protecting our coastal areas. One of the beaches that is an easy day trip for my grandchildren is overlooked by one of the fire control and observation towers of the defenses of Delaware Bay. Cape Henlopen State Park is an interesting place for a visit for historical, natural and recreational activities. It is a good coastal birding site and has an environment many do not associate with our coast, pine barrens.

Long ago I read of an isolated 16 inch gun emplacement on a southern beach that made a property impossible to sell. A couple not able to afford beach front property had an idea. They bought the property under some ridicule from locals and then built beautifully designed living space adapted to the interior of the concrete monstrosity. I remember pure envy. A loft hung on steel catwalk frame and a huge, narrow window to the sea with "garage space" in one of the ammunition storage bunkers. It was also as hurricane proof a structure as one is ever likely to find. All through my young years and even now I think of what I could do with such a place. Even so I am glad the forts are usually protecting public space along our coasts.

Joseph Henry

Random Recollections by Fulton Quintus Cincinnatus Gardner contains interesting information on mines and mine planters in the chapter titled "Officer in Charge of the Torpedo Depot" -- particularly with respect to the problem with cables. I am particularly interested in his mention of the ship Joseph Henry, listed above as a mine planter, as being a Signal Corps Cable Ship. In this account that ship and the Western Union cable ship Western Union became models for the first "combined mine planter and cable ship" noted as being the Gen. William M. Graham. I am hoping to determine the exact status of the Joseph Henry, a ship with an unusual name for the mine planters in not having a rank prefix, that may have not been a planter at all or only in a secondary role. It is also entirely possible a ship designated a cable layer planted mines.

Aris Bilalis, a ship researcher in Greece, was asking if I knew dates for some of the Signal Corps cable ships. Joseph Henry came into the exchange. Then it clicked. Joseph Henry was known to have ended up in Greece as a cable ship. Aris suddenly came back with the fact that Thales o Milisios, the ship's new name, wasn't among those fading away at all:


Thalis o Milisios, ex Joseph Henry photographed by and © Aris Bilalis, 2003

What is immediately obvious to me is that Major General Gardner's Random Recollections states that Joseph Henry and "the Western Union cable ship Western Union became models for the first 'combined mine planter and cable ship'" and that stern shows the same curves and form I knew aboard the ex Lt. Col. Ellery W. Niles, the R/V F.V. Hunt. Of course it is also seen clearly in the photograph of Gen. Absalom Baird as well. The family resemblance is striking. Niles/Hunt rests among the groupers off the Florida Keys and her ancestor, two generations back, rests in the Maritime Museum at Faliro, Athens.

Additional References

National Archives and Records Administration

391.2.6 Records of U.S. Army mine planters:

Microfilm rolls at NARA: "M691, Returns From Regular Army Coast Artillery Corps Companies, Feb. 1901-June 1916". 117 rolls. This microfilm publication reproduces the monthly returns received by the AGO from the Regular Army cavalry regiments, and the predecessor dragoon and rifle regiments, from August 1833 to December 1916" has a section "U.S. Army Mine Planter" [rolls 80/81] with inclusive dates December 1907 - January 1917:

Record group 392, Records of U.S. Army Coast Artillery Districts and Defenses, 1901-1942, might also be of considerable interest. Record group 92, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, contain mention of early mine planters and also records relating to other areas covered on this page as the Quartermaster Corps was originally the large ship operator. In particular group 92.5.3 appears to be interesting.

Harrison is mentioned among units cited for defense of the Philippines March 14 to April 9, 1942: "Citation of units in the United States Forces in the Philippines--As authorized by Executive Order 9075 (sec. II, Bull. 11, W.D., 1942), a citation in the name of the President of the United States, as public evidence of deserved honor and distinction, is awarded to the following-named units" mentioning "detachments DS Army Mine Planter Harrison (American and Philippine Scouts)" She was captured, served in the Japanese Imperial Navy and was sunk by bombs in Yokosuka late in the war.

Also in the Philippines: "An auxiliary mine planter, the commercial vessel Neptune which was suitable for the purpose, was leased." The Moore Report

Gen. Absalom Baird is briefly described by Les Stevens in Memories of defending New Hampshire's Seacoast. He also mentions service aboard a "Junior Mine Planter," General Richard Arnold. This was a 98 foot tug built in 1909 assisting mine planters and apparently designated as a JMP at the time. Arnold sank in January 1942. Several of the other small support type vessels are mentioned. In a story about the Arnold there are photos, one of the L-88, a classic WW II "Distribution Box Boat", heavy with ice.

Observation Mines, 1914, a web version of the Royal Navy's Torpedo Drill Book, 1914 (corrected to May 15) instructions from 1914 will give some idea of coastal defense minefields. It mentions "junction box boat," a name and function applied to one of the U.S. vessel types in use into WW II.

A Junction Box Boat, or "L" boat is shown in a photo from Ft. Sherman, Canal Zone, found with photos dated 1917. The boat is not identified as such on the page and is apparently something of a mystery. Comparison with another photo of a Junction Box Boat confirms configuration and the "Submarine L-36" notation (certainly not of a submarine) fits the "L" series numbers of the Junction Box Boats. Some of the early boats were redesignated "J" boats, a term used as late as the 1970s for a very similar small Army craft.

The old Royal T. Frank, torpedoed in the early days of World War II, had a duty of transporting Army dependents to a recreation site on the Island of Hawaii. The March 1950 issue of the Navy magazine All Hands has a piece on harbor defenses with a photo of Spurgin (MP-14) and also a separate article about two LSTs transporting dependents to the recreation area. Comments are interesting:


Of course the Frank was lost with all hands and passengers, soldiers, something that might not have been realized by the writer of the piece above.

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Copyright © 1998, 2009, 2011 by Ramon Jackson

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Permission is given for noncommercial use and distribution of the text and my photographs, provided copyright and this notice are maintained. Photographs taken by others and used with their permission are so noted and their permission must be obtained for use. If used in a web site concerning these ships I would appreciate notification, if for no other reason than to perhaps link to the site. All commercial rights to my photographs and text are reserved. The photographs of the mine planters not noted as being donated are from official photography.