Operation Starvation: Mining in WWII, Again

A couple of weeks ago, we discussed aerial mining in war, and mentioned the Germans sinking a Russian warship in 1917 and a paper by John Chilstrom, Mines Away!, that examined mining in WWII. British and German aircraft laid copious minefields (as did ships), but the real action was in Japanese waters.

Here’s a Navy training film on the practice of aerial mine warfare in WWII, thanks to Zeno’s Warbirds (approx 17 minutes):

Now Ex Brad TC at “Bring the Heat” has taken the Chilstrom paper and riffed on it in a new direction.

One other mission the B-29s undertook is virtually forgotten today, but had an impact far out of proportion to the effort expended.

That mission was Operation Starvation, the offensive aerial mining campaign against the Japanese home waters.

A simple glance at a map shows that as an island chain, Japan is critically dependent on sea traffic to move supplies, people, and commodities. Further, virtually all of Japan’s strategic industries were almost wholly dependent on commodities that had to be imported from either the islands of the South West Pacific or from the Asian mainland. From almost the first day of the war, the US Navy had instituted an effort to deny the Japanese the use of these sea lane, primarily through its submarine force.

At the urging of ADM King, GEN Hap Arnold agreed to devote a small percentage of 20th Air Force missions to aerial mining.

Beginning on March 27, 1945, B-29s of the 313th Bombardment Wing would eventually fly 1,529 sorties in 46 missions, and lay 12,135 mines. That accounted for just under 6% of 20th AF sorties. In return, postwar survey would reveal that the mines accounted for an astonishing 670 vessels sunk or damaged, with a tonnage of 1.25 million tons. Considering the Japanese merchant fleet was estimated to have only about 2 million tons available when the campaign began, this was a stunning return on investment.

We remember we promised you a writeup on a unique German mining/dambusting effort deep inside Russia, and we’ve been continuing to work on it. This image from the US Air Force Museum is the Mk25 mine. The Mk 25 and Mk 26 were the most significant weapons in the mining of Japanese harbors, channels, and sea lanes. Together with submarine warfare they crippled the shipping-dependent island empire.

There also was some very interesting use/non-use discussions in the Korean and VN wars, and in the Korean war, the damndest job of dambusting you ever heard of. Things we’re writing for the future.

11 thoughts on “Operation Starvation: Mining in WWII, Again

  1. SPEMack

    Oh boy! I’m excited about the Korean Damn Busting. In college I did a paper on the A-1 Skyraider for Econ, so I know of At least of one tale of Damn Busting derring do.

    1. John Distai

      I believe the movie, “The Dam Busters” is/was some sort of Christmas tradition in the UK. Like the “12 Days of Bond” used to be on TBS. I don’t recall much from the movie, other than the dog’s name.

  2. Y.

    I remember someone saying that while Japanese gave up after being nuked, the blockade was the thing to put them into a receptive state of mind for that.

    That and the firebombing, but the blockade was more important …

  3. DSM

    LeMay wasn’t so happy at the time he had to divert bombers to the mine laying operation but given that he exhausted the supply of bombs on more than one occasion I’d have thought he’d have ben happy that planes were dropping something.

  4. Winston Smith

    I had no idea it was that effective. Excellent article and vid.

    One of my pet gripes with pop WW3 fiction is the lack of extensive mining of the approach routes and harbors. I’m looking at You, Clancy et al.

  5. Firecapt

    Your last post mentioning WWII Luftwaffe mining reminded me of an old (1979) Thames program,
    “Danger UXB”. In one episode, the Royal Engineers assist the Royal Navy in disarming a naval mine which has landed in civilian housing. The episode was named “Seventeen Seconds to Glory” and is available on Youtube . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YytiM3rCGA
    I purchased the DVD set of the program after seeing “The Hurt Locker” and remembering that there was a much more realistic EOD film series. It was shown on “Masterpiece Theater” on PBS in 1981. The bombs used in the series came from British Museums.

    1. Tennessee Budd

      I remember watching “Danger UXB” on PBS as a teenager. IIRC, damned good series.
      I didn’t know the prop bombs were borrowed real ones. Thanks for that bit of trivia!

  6. Bruce

    The Germans dropped a LOT of mines on Britain during WW2.

    Initially these were dropped in seaways and estuaries and took a fearsome toll on shipping of all sizes, but some charmer worked out that they were good for leveling suburbs as well. This was because these things had time, acoustic and magnetic triggering devices. One of these dropped into a house and ending up in the basement was a problem.

    Part of the German approach was to fit these parachute-retarded monsters with a fiendish array of “anti-tamper” devices. Some of these worked, to the extreme detriment of the chap working on it. Eventually, the motley crew of mostly naval types from Britain, Australia, Canada etc., worked out how to defeat these nasty devices.

    The best book I have on the subject is “Softly Tread the Brave’, by Ivan Southall. ( ISBN: 001000001933.)

    1. TomcatTCH

      When I was a youngster I read book about the disposal of mines in England during World War II.

      No idea of the name, but it was literally awe inspiring.

  7. Keith

    Thanks for the write up and video. I had read about the mine laying as part of my self education on history in several places over the years.

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