Steve tells us, as far as I know, MMS 44 was on mine clearance at the mouth of the river Seine, when it ran aground on a sandbank and bent the propeller shaft. That was 6 June 1944, I believe. Which sounds about right, as they would have been on D-Day clearing duties a couple of nights before. (My grandfather did mention separately that it was very dangerous because all those German guns we saw in Saving Private Ryan were aimed at them, with no other targets in sight.) They were ordered back to Sheerness for repairs, but this was delayed as it was low priority. So a quick job ended up taking more weeks.
It was during this time that my grandparents met. Nan was from Hastings and joined the ATS after watching a newsreel in the cinema of Princess Elizabeth. She was stationed in north Kent at Sheerness.
They would go to the dance on Saturday nights in Sheerness. They had a short romance and were married on 11 September 1944. They stayed in a B&B in Tenterden for their honeymoon. That gives a window of time when MMS 44 would have been in Sheerness.
My grandparents emigrated to Australia in 1978, and as part of his visa application granddad got his service history from the MoD. I never saw them again. My father got the records back after his father died.
Our next skirmish was sweeping the River Scheldt and that was where the war really started, at least for HMMMS 44. It made the D Day landings seem like a Sunday School picnic by comparison. Walcheren Isle had been heavily fortified by the Germans and before the sweepers went in it had to be cleared. Apparently the RAF bombed it and then the Marines went in, cleared it, leaving nothing higher than 6 inches so that, if the Germans came back there would be no protection. Then it was the minesweepers turn.
I think those mines must have been laid end to end. They went up like rip-raps, or Chinese crackers So did a few minesweepers. (we were told later that the quayside at the town of Schilling was covered with bodies with broken bones) In no time at all the air was a black fog. The Scheldt at the mouth is 5 miles wide and you could have walked across it on dead and stunned fish. That night we were first up on the BBC’s 6 o’clock news. The only time the minesweepers ever got a mention The operation only took a couple of days but the 44 led a charmed life. As I have said minesweepers were very dispensable. There is more if anyone is interested.
(Clearing the Scheldt and opening the Port of Antwerp was the biggest, most complex and dangerous minesweeping operation of WW2 This allowed war supplies, men and ammunition to be unloaded right on the front line. The men of the minesweepers are credited with shortening the war.)
Richard Cooper, MMS 44
Richard Coopers tells his story.
ANYONE WHO MIGHT BE EVEN SLIGHTLY INTERESTED.
Very soon the victorious armed forces of WWII will be celebrating the landings at Normandy on the 6th June.
It was of course one of the events of the last century and one of the many who did their bit were the Patrol Service whose base was at Lowestoft and supplied some of the minesweepers that swept the approaches to the three beachheads Sword, Juno and Gold. Who seem to have been forgotten or worse, never known.
I was on HMMMS 44, we left Weymouth June 4th, we reckoned that was when D Day started, those who came after us were late. We arrived with sweeps out on the 5th. For the next few weeks it was a bit noisy, I believe several minesweepers were lost but Mickey Mouse minesweepers were very dispensable and little if anything was heard of any of these losses. To be there when a Mickey Mouse explodes a mine, when the sweeper explodes the mine, not the sweeping gear, is something to behold. One second there’s a boat with a crew of 20, some of whom you know reasonably well and then there’s nothing, except a big pall of very black smoke and a tiny bit of debris floating on the sea. LL sweeps were carried out by three sweepers working line abreast. What happens next is the coffin ship, who has been trailing two miles astern comes up and takes the place of the departed and you carry on as if nothing had happened. As I say Mickey Mouse sweepers were very dispensable.
Sometime after D Day, about the 29th July, four of us were sent to sweep a channel as far as the mouth of the River Seine. It was a beautiful day, the sun shone, the sea was as flat as a mill pond, the sort of day rich people would pay one hundred pounds a week for what we were being paid two to three pounds a week, we told ourselves.
We were the sweeper nearest to the shore. I was on the forecastle cleaning the 12 pounder when I heard a splash and looking up saw what was left of the splash some few hundred yards further to sea than the outside sweeper. Apparently the skipper of the middle sweeper, who was in charge, radioed our bosses back at our base, that we were being shelled by a 4.7 shore battery. The base was on a battleship belting 16 inch shells in to Normandy,. The message came back, “There is a war on you wimps carry on !!” or words to that effect. It didn’t take long before the shore battery found the correct range and quickly demolished the outside sweepers superstructure. The battery was some seven miles away and our main armament was the 12 pounder, maximum effective range 800 yards, some use. It was reported to the powers that be that several of the crew had been killed We were then allowed to return, don’t think we rated too highly.
A couple of memories you may find interesting, there was at our beachheads a 10,000 ton merchantman anchored fore and aft, just to supply those that wanted it with water. (We were rationed to 20 gallons per day for the 20 of us. The cook took what he wanted first and when the 20 gallons had been emptied from the tank that was it.)
I often wondered why that ship was never attacked it seemed fairly easy for an e-boat to have nipped in with a torpedo. On watch one night, looking out over Caen, the whole of the sky seemed to be on fire. What I could obviously see were tracer shells but only one in ten of those that were being fired, so there were quite a few at all times At one point in time I saw four aircraft shot down all at the same time. Three of them came down in the traditional way, straight to the ground but the fourth cart-wheeled ever so slowly. I remember thinking or perhaps saying softly to that pilot ‘I hope you have either parachuted out or you are dead’ It was about this time I saw my first V 1 rocket, the Doodlebug. I also remember seeing a dead English army sergeant go floating by. We ignored him, but a very large wheel complete with tyre and tube we stopped for that.
Very shortly after this the tube around the propeller shaft came loose giving us a maximum speed of 3 knots and as 7 knots was needed to mine sweep we were sent back to our base at Sheerness for a refit. We had got as far as about four miles off the coast of Hastings when a V1 went overhead chased by a Spitfire. By this time RAF pilots had stopped shooting them down and had learned to tip the wing which turned the rocket around and send it back the way it had come, if they caught it quickly enough it could blast those that sent it. The pilot did just that and immediately the fuel cut out and down it came. It blew up just astern. The explosion blew us through the water some yards and broke every cup , plate, saucer and even destroyed our little radio we listened to the Forces network with Bing and the Andrews Sisters, Vera Lynn, Anne Shelton etc, etc. However, the one week’s leave we would have got because of the extra damage became two weeks.
Thank you to Steve Cooper for the following information about his grandfather Richard Cooper, who served on the Motor Mine Sweeper MMS 44.
Richard Cooper war hero.
While MMS 44 was undergoing repairs at Sheerness, Richard got married
Richard Cooper's Story.