"About a quarter of a block from where we were astern of us and I was signaling to them and all of a sudden, I saw a poof and they disappeared. They just blew right out."
Mine sweeping is a very dangerous job. They had four or five different kinds of mines. Our minesweeper was, we went in because, they had what we called anchored mines. They had mines beneath the water, you couldn’t see them. And they were anchored with a chain, a steel chain right down and weighted down there. And we had like what they call a paravane, with these two heavy big steel contraptions that looked like, acts like a knife, a huge thing.
And those we dropped, when we think there’s mines there, we dropped them down into the water and we have a float and we let them down so far and then we start going ahead. Now it acts like a pair of scissors. It, they hit the steel cord that’s holding the mine and cuts it. And the mine comes up and bobs up. And then of course, the mine floats around and then of course, it’s our duty to explode the mine as soon as we can.
But the dangerous part is that those, you’ve got seven ships all staggered, they’re not in line ahead, but they’re staggered. To hit a big sweep, you must have ships at different angles. So it’s very difficult for a mine. You have to be wide awake because those mines were floating all over the place.
Now, that is only one mine, one class of mine. They also have magnetic mines. And for those mines are, they’re down deep, but they’re set by a clock and they might set it for eight or seven and that means that seven ships could go over it if it was set for 8:00, but on the eighth ship going over, it would blow up. Those were magnetic mines and they were very difficult to handle.
And we were Canadian flotilla. Our whole flotilla was then attached to the Maritime 7th Fleet. And they had of course battleships and destroyers and aircraft carriers and whatever. There was a big fleet.
We went out as a minesweeper, our job was to go in ahead of everybody to clear the mines as much as we can for them to come into a landing. And we went into Omaha Beach first. That was a terrible beach as far as loss of lives. By that time, we were going through hundreds of dead, grounded and dead Americans who were either shot from German gunfire or they drowned because it was a rough sea, a very rough sea, a lot of them drowned. If you can picture a soldier getting off a big ship, getting onto a smaller ship and then the waves knocking him all over the place. And they had certain places to go. And don’t forget that they have all these packs on their back and guns and ammunition and everything. And their weight is almost double what the person is. I mean, it must have been 50, 60 to 80 pounds.
If they were dumped too early, they went into the water, they can’t swim. I mean, they just went straight down. It was a terrible scene to see them like that. We tried to get some, we had a big long boat hooks that, the second time we went in to try and pull some of them in that we thought were alive. But we couldn’t stop the ship because it was dangerous for us to stop. Certainly the gunfire would be, although the Germans were not interested in the minesweepers per se, a minesweeper ship didn’t mean too much to them, they were after the big ships out in the back, behind us, the big ships like the troop ships and the destroyers and the battleships and so on and so forth.
So we were underneath all the hail of bullets going over and coming back. Very fortunate that we weren’t wiped right out. We lost two of our ships. And that was something that was really scary. I was up signaling a message that the senior officer’s ship sent to me, to my ship, the HMCS Cowichan (J146) and I had to relay that message to the ship astern of me. And they were astern about, oh, let’s say about half a block away maybe from, well, not even that. About a quarter of a block from where we were astern of us and I was signaling to them and all of a sudden, I saw a poof and they disappeared. They just blew right out. That really shakes you when you’re trying to signal and you know the chaps on that ship because you’re fraternizing with them for three or four months. And so you know, and that ship went down within two minutes.