Doughboy Center

The Story of the American Expeditionary Forces

U.S. Navy Insignia





Mine Squadron One Underway

Presented the Great War Society

...A collaboration between a civilian, Ralph Browne, and a naval officer, Commander S.P. Fullinwider, made possible the mining of the 250 mile North Sea Strait between Scotland and Norway. A glance at the map had caused many civilians, including Assistant Secretary Roosevelt, to consider the feasibility of such an operation. But navy men knew that with the mines then available (which required actual contact to explode) the mine barrage would require a logistical investment far beyond its return. Besides in 1917 the ships required for laying and patrolling the field were needed to conduct the convoys.

USS San Francisco, Flagship of Mine Squadron One

By July, however, Browne and Fullinwider had a mine, with an electrical antennae firing device, which could reduce the original estimate of 400,000 old-type mines to 100,000 of their version. In November the British and Americans agreed to try the scheme.

Mine Dump at Inverness, Scotland

Seven months later the mining force arrived in Scotland to begin the dangerous task. with the American Rear Admiral Joseph Strauss in general command and another Yankee, Captain Reginald R. Belknap, a stern disciplinarian and experienced mine-force commander, in charge of the actual sea work, the ten mine-layers were ready for their mission.

North Sea Mine Force

Commander: Rear Admiral Joseph Strauss

USS Black Hawk
Force Flagship
Captain R.C. Bulmer

Mine Squadron One

Commander: Captain Reginald R. Belknap

USS San Francisco
Squadron Flagship
Captain H.F. Butler
USS Aroostook Capt. J.H. Tomb
USS Baltimore Captain A.W. Marshall
USS Canadaigua Captain W.H. Reynolds
USS Canonicus Capt. T.L. Johnson
USS Housatonic Captain J.W. Greenslade
USS Patapsco Lieutenant W.E. Benson
USS Patuxent Lieutenant J.B. Hupp
USS Quinnebaug Cmdr. D. Pratt Mannix
USS Roanoke Captain C.D. Stearns
USS Saranac Captain Sinclair Gannon
USS Shawmut Captain W.T. Cluverius

During the five months remaining, the Americans planted 56,571 of the 70,177 mines in the North Sea Barrage. Although the British and American mine-layers did not complete the planned minefield, they struck a hard blow at the submarine...

Minelayer in Drydock, Invergordon, Scotland

The men who planted the North Sea mine barrage were, as a member of Sim's staff said, "living on the edge of eternity," for they went to sea in ships packed with high explosives. As...Captain Belknap recalled, "mines were constantly at one's elbow. . ." In a fifty-hour period, the makeshift minelayers (two former cruiser, relics of the 1880s, and eight converted merchantmen and passenger boats) would steam out to position, form three to five abreast at 500 your intervals, drop their one yard in diameter mines, containing 300 pounds of TNT overboard, and return to base. "Precision and quickness of action while at sea were imperative, form start to finish," Captain Belknap noted. To ensure efficiency, Belknap was strict, very strict, but he was fair and apparently well liked.

Mines Aboard Ship

Throughout the thirteen regular excursions, there could be no relaxation from tension. The actual discharging of mine might last from just under four to seven hours, but cruising in darkness or in bad weather with such cargo kept everyone alert. As Belknap wrote his wife in August, "Interesting as these trips are, no sane person would take two for pleasure."

Officers and Crew of USS San Francisco

Even after a safe return to Inverness or Invergordon, it took time to unwind form the tension. Yet, the men evidently maintained high spirits, and there was no friction among their leaders. "A more congenial, cordially friendly lot I never saw," was Belknap's description of his captains.

Ship Captains of Mine Squadron One
Commander Captain Reginald Belknap Seated, Center

By the end of the war, the British and Americans had laid a belt 230 miles long and 15 to 35 miles wide. The Americans contributed four-fifths of this vast minefield. Although as many as 5 per cent of the mines laid in the early expeditions blew up at the time or soon thereafter, enough remained to deter the stoutest hearted German. The results of this effort were at least four certain victims -- a figure which matched the total number of submarines accounted for by American destroyers, yachts and sub-chasers.

Sources and thanks: Sources and Thanks: The text is from The War to End All Wars: The American Military Experience in World War I by E.M. "Mac" Coffman which is recommended as the finest survey ever produced on the US military effort in the Great War. Contributor Ray Mentzer helped with the photos.

An excellent website on the Barrage Wire-Roping the German Submarine The Barrage That Stopped the U-Boat has been PUBLISHED BY John A. Roebling's Sons Co. Trenton, N.J. MH

To find other Doughboy Features visit our

Directory Page

For Great War Society
Membership Information

Click on Icon

For further information on the events of 1914-1918 visit the homepage of

The Great War Society

Additions and comments on these pages may be directed to:
Michael E. Hanlon ( regarding content,
or toMike Iavarone ( regarding form and function.
Original artwork & copy; © 1998-2000, The Great War Society