crews frantically waved to us, wishing us luck, as we thought
British fishing trawler Picton Castle converted to a minesweeper in World War Two. (photo courtesy of tugster.wordpress.com)
Fishing trawlers made ideal minesweepers since streaming parvanes to cut mine cables was similar to deploying fishing nets. This type of minesweeping only worked on sea mines attached to cables which were attached to weights which kept the mines at a certain depth.
Life aboard the converted fishing trawlers wasn’t easy. The trawlers were part of the Royal Navy Patrol Service and except for a handful of Royal Navy sailors, the rest of the men were the original fishing crew who wouldn’t wear uniforms or salute and couldn’t read RN signals.
“Once, in Falmouth, after a raid, it was feared the entrance to the harbour had been mined, with a type which were difficult to sweep. After two days we were given special permission to leave, providing we kept to a very precise channel. As we got under way, other ships sounded their sirens, and crews frantically waved to us, wishing us luck, as we thought. On reaching Fowey, we had to explain why we had steamed right through the danger area. So that was what the other ships were trying to tell us.”
from “Death of a Minesweeper” by A.H. Archer BBC World War Two archive
British Royal Navy minesweepers, November 1941. A look-out on the after gun platform of a minesweeping trawler of the Royal Navy’s Dover Command watches other ships of the group moving up to take station for a sweep. Dover Command was one of the operational commands of the Royal Navy assigned to patrol a section of the English Channel as well as to constantly sweep the civilian shipping lanes for mines.
British Royal Navy minesweepers, November 1941. Minesweeping trawlers from Dover Command line up in readiness to start a sweep.
(Photos Copyright: © IWM and used by courtesy of IWM).
The map above shows the southern waters of Great Britain and the four Royal Navy operational commands which had responsibility for keeping the English Channel navigable and contesting German use of the Channel. The commands are: Nore Command , Dover Command, Portsmouth Command and Plymouth Command. (Map courtesy of www.naval-history.net)