Oregon, Washington Coast History (Part Two)

Post-War Mine Terror on the Beaches: Oregon, Coastal Washington History (Part Two)

Posted 2/16/22 5:02 PM PST
By the staff of the Oregon Coast Beach Connection

(Westport, Wash.) – After World War II, as nations slowly began to relax, there were still dangers of sea mines from Japan floating around the waters off the Oregon Coast and coastal from Washington. Deadly surprises meant for wartime ships have been left wandering the ocean, and some have ended up here. (Above: A Japanese mine discovered near Westport in the 1940s, courtesy of the US military)

This is the second part of the post-war Japanese mining story. Part one can be found here World War II mines an explosive problem on the Oregon/Washington coast in the 1950s (part one), which talks about the absolute numbers in the first two years after the war and the how they were disarmed.

From late 1949 until 1950, many Japanese mines were discovered off the northwest coast or on the beaches of Washington or Oregon, from Florence to Westport.

On New Year’s Eve 1949, the Coast Guard Cutter Balsam was hunting for a floating mine about 50 miles off Tillamook/Oceanside when a major storm brought it back to port, according to Salem’s Capital Journal.

Thus begins an eventful chapter in the mines along the Washington coast / Oregon coast: 1950 was a record year for them.

A few days later, a Japanese mine exploded on a beach in Moclips, Washington. On January 3, a squad descended from Fort Lewis to a location one mile north of Moclips. Grays Harbor Coast Guard crews had to stand guard for 21 hours after it was found.

Japanese mine in Florence, 1950 (photo Coos Bay Times)

A few weeks later, at the end of January, Gleneden Beach made the terrifying discovery – again. Another horn mine from Japan ran aground in the sleepy village and was in coast guard custody for a few days. On Jan. 27, they called a San Francisco disposal agent, according to newspaper reports.

The Feb. 2 Roseburg News-Review reported that Lt. J. E. Guentz had traveled from California, under the 13th Naval District Headquarters in Washington State. The mine ran aground near a cluster of houses, about 50 yards away – too close to detonate – so an artillery team came in from California to help.

Guentz pulled out the detonator and propellant, then the crew had to reach the bomb and collect the explosive power handful by handful. Some 220 pounds were removed manually.

“The powder was scattered in a long trench and ignited in 20-pound batches,” the newspaper reported. The mine, however, was estimated to be seven to ten years old at that time, but it was still considered a threat and the gunpowder inside was considered volatile.

Residents of Gleneden Beach went to see a film during the operation, Navy officials said at the time.

The third time is supposed to be a charm, but it was scarier on March 13, 1950. A beach in Florence was the recipient of another mine, this time another Type 93 (there were four different models). Two men were sent from what appears to be Seattle to detonate the mine with rifle fire.

The Coos Bay Times reported that disposing of this specimen was “delicate work”, finding the deadly object covered in barnacles at Sutton Lake, just north of the Oregon coastal town.

Chief Gunner KE Taylor attached a charge to the object and then detonated it. However, there was no secondary explosion, as officials discovered the powder was too wet. They opened the case, cleaned the material and scattered it, rendering it harmless.

On Thursday, August 3, 1950, the most dramatic of Japanese mining incidents came to an end, when the 500-pound object exploded at Westport on the Washington coast.

It all started about 24 hours earlier, when the 73-foot fishing vessel Harold A. caught a mine in its net. The vessel, based in Astoria, was somewhere more than 16 miles off the coast of Washington when the device was snagged in the mesh.

Forced to deal with it at sea, the four-man crew secured the mine to the deck, then had to return at high speed to Grays Harbor in raging seas. The object did not stay in place, rolling and moving often, losing two horns while on deck. Crew members worked frantically to keep it stable. It must have been an unimaginable level of stress.

Some $2,000 worth of fish was at stake, sitting under the mine in the hold of the ship. That’s an estimate in 1950 dollars: today it would be worth well over $23,000.

The next morning, the Seattle Navy crew showed up, and Captain Walt Minor of Astoria watched anxiously as the Coast Guard carefully removed it, then handed it over to the Navy. They managed to blow it just offshore.

A newspaper capped the dramatic coverage with Minor found “in the city center having a drink, the Coast Guard said. He needed it. See Part One WWII Mines, an Explosive Problem on the Oregon and Washington Coast in the 1950s (Part One)

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(Above: A Japanese mine discovered at Gleneden Beach in 1949, on display in Lincoln City. Courtesy North Lincoln County History Museum)

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