Patrick Griffiths

I joined the Royal Navy on my 18th birthday in 1942 and served first as an Ordinary Signalman aboard HMS Mansfield, one of the fifty US Lease-Lend destroyers working on the east coast of the United States and Canada. When she was decommissioned, I joined British Yard-Class Motor Minesweeper (BYMS) 2188, an American-built wooden minesweeper, in January 1944. We worked out of Halifax and St John’s, Newfoundland, before returning to the UK for the Normandy invasion.

We were based at Swansea, the South Fish Dock, doing trials in the Bristol Channel. Then we got the signal to proceed to Portsmouth harbour. On our arrival we had a problem finding an anchorage as what seemed to be the whole American fleet were in there having returned from bombarding the French coast. I crossed to Normandy in BYMS 2188 as part of the US Navy’s 206 Flotilla at UTAH Beach, sweeping north to Barfleur Lighthouse, then west along the coast to Cherbourg, with covering fire from the big ships. In the evenings we anchored off the east side of the Iles Saint-Marcouf, which was a quieter area than the beachhead.

On 2 July 1944 we were the first flotilla to enter Cherbourg harbour, which was a day to remember. We swept outside Cherbourg in the morning, which was when motor minesweeper MMS 1019 – one of the larger type – was reported to have her ‘A’ frame hammer sweep down over the forecastle. From where we were, about a mile inshore, she definitely struck a mine and broke in half just fore of the bridge. Other ships went to her aid, but we never really heard the true story as we had our sweep out and there were nearer ships to give the best assistance. There were conflicting reports about the number killed, but they agreed that all those on the bridge were amongst the casualties. That was at approximately 10.00am.

Then in the afternoon, we were sweeping between the East and West main entrances. American YMS minesweeper, No 350, was sweeping very near to the breakwater at 4.30pm. Lining up for her last pass along the breakwater, she possibly got too close, resulting in a mine exploding approximately 500 feet astern. Now knowing they were too close, they veered away but in less than 20 seconds another mine exploded about 100 feet less astern. Before the ratings could leave the stern, about five seconds later a third mine went off right under the stern. Reports said there were about ten fatalities and another ten seriously injured out of a crew of thirty.

BYMS working that day were given the signal to enter slowly into the Outer Rade (Harbour) and the senior ship sent a signalman to direct ships from a vantage point on top of the West Entrance Fort. From there he could see the inner harbour and signal each ship where to go and safely anchor as part had already been cleared by small Motor Torpedo Boats.

At the end of the war I was involved in minesweeping at Ostend. One day we had a very Senior Officer come out with the Flotilla to see ‘How his boys (bloody cheek!) were doing.’ The joke was that he picked the wrong day to come out with us as we were sweeping a new minefield and the Flotilla got around thirty mines. In fact, they were going up all around us and, believe me, no one ever heard from him again. So at least he knew ‘what his boys were doing’!!