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A Controlled Mine was a circuit fired weapon used in coastal defenses with ancestry going back to 1805 when Robert Fulton termed his underwater explosive device a torpedo:

Robert Fulton invented the word torpedo to describe his underwater explosive device and successfully destroyed a ship in 1805. In the 1840s Samuel Colt began experimenting with underwater mines fired by electric current and in 1842, he blew up an old schooner in the Potomac River from a shore station five miles away.[1]

“Torpedos” were in use during the American Civil War when such devices were made famous with the order given by David Farragut at Mobile Bay. After that war similar mines were being contemplated or put into use by other nations.

In 1869 the United States the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was directed by Secretary of War William Belknap to assume responsibility for torpedoes for coastal defense.[2] That responsibility continued through the formation of the U. S. Torpedo Service as part of the Seacoast defense in the United States. Eventually, after calls for “rifled cannon”[3] to cover the torpedo fields became reality, that service and the Corps of Engineers turned over responsibility to the newly formed U.S. Army Coast Artillery Corps in 1903.

The terms “mine” and “torpedo” were used interchangeably until modern usage began separating the term with “mine” applied to static explosive devices and “torpedo” to self-propelled or “locomotive torpedo” weapons. Even during the Spanish American War the interchangeable terms caused confusion[4]


Unlike naval mines that are dispersed at sea, the controlled mine field location is chosen so that it could be under observation. The exact location of the mines was required so that they could be fired from the mine casemate when a target vessel was plotted by observers to be within the mine's effective range. For this reason the mines were "planted" in predetermined locations with electrical connection through cables to the firing location. The complex of mines, cables and junction boxes required maintenance. Specialized vessels to undertake the hazards of planting mines and maintaining the electrical cables were used.

In the United States a type of vessel termed mine planter was developed, built[5] and deployed in 1904. By 1909 more mine planters were under construction and deployment had reached the San Francisco fortifications.[6] These were assisted by smaller vessels. In the last stages of such coastal defenses during the Second World War the U.S. Army Mine Planter Service (USAMPS) mine flotilla usually consisted of two planters, four Distribution Box Boats and a small fleet of yawls and launches.[7]


  1. | National Park Service | Torpedo Defense | COAST DEFENSE OF THE POTOMAC
  2. Bogart, Charles H. (2008). Controlled Mines: A History of Their Use by the United States. Merriam Press. ISBN 978-1-4357-5835-3. 
  3. | Chester A. Authur - Second Annual Message to Congress
  4. | The Use of Mines by the Spanish Navy
  5. | Army Ships -- The Ghost Fleet - Coast Artillery Corps Army Mine Planter Service
  6. | The California State Military Museum - Forts Under the Sea - Submarine Mine Defense of San Francisco Bay
  7. | Ft. Miles Army Mine Planters

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