Mine Threat to U.S. Ships?


A World War II mine was discovered and destroyed in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol as the U.S. destroyer Forest Sherman was entering the Ukrainian port. The incident occurred on August 9 as the Sherman -- an Aegis missile destroyer -- called at Sevastopol to conduct drills with the Ukrainian Navy.

The destroyer was about 500 yards from the floating mine when it was discovered. The mine was secured to prevent it from drifting into a ship and subsequently was detonated without causing any damage. The mine was estimated to weigh about 1,100 pounds and to contain up to 110 pounds of high explosives.

A half-century ago a similar (albeit larger) weapon sank a Soviet battleship in the worst disaster to befall the Red Navy. The dreadnought was the former Italian Conte di Cavour, which had been transferred to the Soviet Navy in 1949 as part of the division of Axis warships after World War II. Renamed Novorossysk, the battleship -- flagship of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet -- was anchored at Sevastopol. Early on October 29, 1955, the ship was wracked by a massive explosion, apparently caused by a World War II-era German mine.

Although moored only 1,000 feet from the shore, and with numerous other naval units nearby, the ship began to slowly sink to the shallow bottom. But the ship began to rotate and rolled over completely. The capsizing caused the death of 608 officers and enlisted men.

Subsequently 19 German-type mines were found in the general area where the ship had sunk although the area had been swept earlier. But some Soviet officials believed that the explosion was caused by Italian frogmen, who sank the ship to avenge her transfer to the Soviet Union. Others believed it was an internal explosion -- an act of sabotage.

The large loss of life was blamed on the incompetence of the ships commanding officer, the fleet commander, and others for their failure to take appropriate action to beach the ship. And, the loss of the Novorossysk caused the Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Navy, Admiral Nikolai G. Kuznetsov to be fired in November 1955. His first deputy, Admiral Serge G. Gorshkov, was appointed to succeed him. Gorshkov would serve as head of the Soviet Navy for 29 years.

U.S. and Ukrainian officials state that the destroyer Sherman was never in danger from the mine.

-- Norman Polmar

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