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In 1950, North Korean Artillery and Mines Did a Number on the U.S. Navy

Sebastien Roblin

Key point: Even weaker or less advanced enemies can find ways to cause damage. North Korea knows this and could do it again.

At noon sharp on October 12, 1950, the minesweeper USS Pirate had just completed a busy but productive morning off the North Korean port of Wonsan when everything went wrong at once. 

Hours earlier, the small, 625-ton vessel had led the five ships of Mine Division 32 based in Sasebo, Japan through two belts of contact mines laid in a channel just one mile wide, and fourteen miles long leading into Wonsan Harbor in North Korea. 

At the time U.N. troops were on the offensive following a successful amphibious landing at Inchon on the western coast of the Korean peninsula. Therefore, a second landing called Operation Tailboard at Wonsan on the eastern coastline was planned. But that meant the minefields barring access to Wonsan had to be cleared first. 

This was no piece of cake, as North Korean boats had laid over 3,000 Soviet-supplied contact and magnetic mines in the 400 island-congested square miles surrounding the port.

Knowing the division was entering dangerous waters, skipper Lt. Cornelius McMullen ordered all non-essential personnel on deck with life jackets to minimize the number that might be trapped below should things go wrong. Cornelius’s superior, Lt. Commander Bruce Hyatt, was also aboard to coordinate the actions of the five-ship division.

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