Minelaying is the act of deploying explosive mines. Historically this has been carried out by ships, submarines and aircraft. Additionally, since World War I the term minelayer refers specifically to a naval ship used for deploying naval mines. "Mine planting" was the term used for installing controlled mines at predetermined positions in connection with coastal fortifications or harbor approaches that would be detonated by shore control when a ship was fixed as being within the mine's effective range.
Before World War I, mine ships were termed mine planters generally. For example, in an address to the U.S. Navy ships of Mine Squadron One at Portland, England Admiral Sims used the term “mine layer” while the introduction speaks of the men assembled from the “mine planters”. During and after that war the term "mine planter" became particularly associated with defensive coastal fortifications. The term "minelayer" applied vessels deploying both defensive and offensive mine barrages and large scale sea mining. "Minelayer" lasted well past the last common use of "mine planter" in the late 1940s.
The most common use of the term "minelayer" is a naval ship used for deploying sea mines. In the Gallipoli Campaign of World War I, mines laid by the Ottoman Empire's Navy's Nusret sank HMS Irresistible, HMS Ocean, and the French battleship Bouvet in the Dardanelles on 18 March 1915. Russian minelayers were also efficient; sinking the Japanese battleships Hatsuse and Yashima in 1904 during the Russo-Japanese War.
In World War II, the British employed the Abdiel class minelayers both as minelayers and as transports to isolated garrisons, such as Malta and Tobruk. Their combination of high speed (up to 40 knots) and carrying capacity was highly valued. The French used the same concept for the Pluton.
A naval minelayer can vary considerably in size, from coastal boats of several hundred tonnes in displacement to destroyer-like ships of several thousand tonnes in displacement. Apart from their loads of sea mines, most would also carry other weapons for self-defense.
Submarines can also act as minelayers. The first submarine to be designed as such was the Russian submarine Krab. USS Argonaut (SM-1) was also one such minelaying submarine. Although there are no modern submarine minelayers, mines sized to be deployed from a submarine's torpedo tubes, such as the Stonefish allow any submarine to function as a minelayer.
In modern times, most navies worldwide no longer possess minelaying vessels; the United States Navy, for example, uses aircraft to lay sea mines instead. Mines themselves have evolved from purely passive to active; for example in the U.S. CAPTOR (enCAPsulated TORpedo) that sits as a mine until detecting a target upon which a torpedo is launched.
A few navies still have dedicated minelayers in commission, including those of Turkey, South Korea, Norway, Sweden and Finland, countries with long, shallow coastlines where sea mines are most effective. Other navies have plans to create extemporised minelayers in times of war, for example by rolling sea-mines into sea from the vehicle deck through the open aft doors of a Roll-on/roll-off ferry. In 1984 the Libyan Navy was suspected of having mined the Red Sea a few kilometres south of the Suez Canal using the Ro-Ro ferry Ghat, other nations suspected of having similar wartime plans include Iran and North Korea.
A new type of magnetic mine dropped by a German aircraft in a campaign of mining the Thames Estuary in 1939 landed in a mudflat, where disposal experts determined how it worked, which allowed Britain to fashion appropriate mine countermeasures.
The RAF operations were codenamed "Gardening". As well as mining the North Sea and approaches to German ports, mines were laid in the Danube River near Belgrade, Yugoslavia, starting on 8 April 1944, to block the shipments of petroleum products from the refineries at Ploeşti, Romania.
Some examples of minelaying vehicles:
- Shielder minelaying system
- GMZ family of minelayers, which the 2S4 Tyulpan is based on, using TM-62 series mines
- Minenwerfer Skorpion
- Type94 Minelayer
- El-Fahda (Egypt)
- Istrice (M113 variant)
- Mine Planter Service (U.S. Army)
- Mine Planter (ship)
- Minesweeper (ship)
- Submarine mines in U.S. harbor defense
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