Resolving A D-DAY Mystery
Scripture, Fred, Sea Classics
There's always a degree of confusion when a ship is sunk in wartime. In the case of YMS-350 - sunk early in the greatest invasion in history - it took nearly half a century to discover the fate of a missing shipmate
MANY HISTORICAL ARTICLES HAVE BEEN WRITTEN ABOUT NAVAL ENGAGEMENTS AND INVASION FORCES WITH THE USUAL EMPHASIS ON THE BATTLESHIPS, CRUISERS, DESTROYERS, ETC. AFTER DESCRIBING EVENTS AND CONDITIONS SURROUNDING THE FLEET, THE ARTICLES USUALLY END WITH A COMMENT, "MINESWEEPERS WERE THERE ALSO."
THE BOOK D-DAY JUNE 6, 1944 BY STEPHEN E. AMBROSE, CHAPTER 14 - TITLED A LONG COLUMN OF SHIPS - GETS IT RIGHT! THE FOLLOWING IS THE OPENING PARAGRAPH FROM THAT CHAPTER:
"THE MINESWEEPERS WENT FIRST. THERE WERE 255 OF THEM. THEIR JOB WAS TO SWEEP UP LANES FROM THE ISLE OF WIGHT THROUGH THE CHANNEL UP TO THE TRANSPORT ANCHORING AREA OFF THE FRENCH COAST. THE MINES THEY WERE AFTER CONSISTED OF CONTACT AND ANTENNA MINES, SOME FLOATING, MANY ANCHORED, PLUS PRESSURE MINES PLANTED ON THE BOTTOM AND EXPLODED BY A CHANGE IN WATER PRESSURE EXERTED BY THE HULL OF AN APPROACHING SHIP. THESE MINES CONSTITUTED THE GERMANS' MOST EFFECTIVE - INDEED, VIRTUALLY ONLY -NAVAL DEFENSE."
TELL THE AVERAGE PERSON THIS FACT AND THEY WOULD NOT BELIEVE IT BECAUSE OF THE ABUNDANCE OF MATERIAL PUBLISHED OVER THE YEARS DESCRIBING MORE EXOTIC WEAPONS OF NAVAL OFFENSE AND DEFENSE. THE FIRST ALLIED CASUALTIES OF THE INVASION WAS THE RESULT OF THE MINESWEEPER USS OSPREY (AM-56) STRIKING A MINE AND SINKING WITH THE LOSS OF SIX CREW MEMBERS. AMONG OTHER VESSELS SUNK DURING THE INVASION PERIOD WAS THE USS YMS-350 OFF THE COAST OF CHERBOURG, FRANCE.
THE STORIES YOU ARE ABOUT TO READ ARE IN THE WORDS OF THE MEN WHO LIVED THE EXPERIENCE, THEIR FEELINGS, THEIR OBSERVATIONS AND THEIR THOUGHTS.
MEMORIES OF A SURVIVOR
First a little background information on our ship and myself: The USS YMS-350 was a small 136-ft long and 300-ton wooden minesweeper that had been launched in Florida 298 days before. In it, we had been in tropical storms off Florida, crossed the North Atlantic on convoy duty, fought off German E-Boats while towing in the English Channel, swept mines off Omaha Beach hours before the first landings, rescued American soldiers from a sinking LCT as battleships fired over us at German artillery positions, and watched the USS Osprey strike a mine and sink near us. Through it all, our ship had been like a strong and dependable friend, always saving the lives of others and sheltering those who served in her. Even in death she maintained a sort of dignity with her oil-soaked flag still flying as her broken hull sank stern-first into the sea off Cherbourg.
I was a Lt. jg. in the Naval Reserve, qualified for deck and engineering duty and served as the ship's executive officer throughout its short life. In 1938, as a freshman at UC Berkeley, I had entered the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps and later graduated with a BS in Mechanical Engineering, majoring in Naval Architecture. Although only 22-years-old at the time of the sinking, I had been involved with ships and the Navy for six years. The oldest man on our ship was 30.
In late-June 1944, the port of Cherbourg had become of great interest and potential value to the Allies because storms had ruined the artificial ports off the invasion beaches The port, and particularly its relatively shallow northern approaches, was very heavily mined, which denied its use, even though the Allied Armies occupied the city and were working on the local forts. On the morning of 2 July 1944, we had joined a large Allied Naval effort to sweep channels to the harbor and during these sweeps we were a little threatened by German cannon fire. This threat was kept "little" by a number of large ships that fired big guns over us at any muzzle flashes they could see on the shore. We kept an eye on the concrete forts, but as the day wore on, the Germans seemed to realize that shooting at us was not a very safe proposition. …