- Goldsworthy, Lieutenant Commander L V GC DSC GM RANVR
- History - general
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- January 1972 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
1942-43 The Drifters The winter of 1942-43 was particularly severe and a great number of ‘drifters‘ menaced channel shipping and were a constant menace to the little ships of magnetic and acoustic mines sweeping forces. Beach defence and first wave light AA gunners were given permission to fire on and destroy mines in the water. The laid down ‘safe distance‘ was half a mile, but gunners often fired at point blank range with disastrous effect on their emplacements and nearby buildings.
Back in the influence field, recovery began to pay off. Statistical evaluation of serial numbers, of types, of colour markings and particularly knowledge of the arsenals where the mines were manufactured and even the way in which certain German scientists were thinking, began to paint a picture.
The diabolic pattern was everchanging. Self destruction devices were followed by acoustic mines designed to destroy the sweepers; variations were endless and in some cases it was necessary to sweep a stretch of water fifteen times before it could be declared free. Britain almost, but not quite, starved in this wearying period.
In North Africa the Germans not only mined approaches and harbours, but also planted mines under jetties, hung them over breakwaters, poked them into the machinery of slipways and concealed them in repair shops. On a wet Sunday afternoon in Vernon, Mouldy and the author conceived the idea of using squads of divers to locate, immobilise and destroy such objects.
From this idea developed the Vernon Diving Suit, a compromise between the Admiralty Standard Diving Dress and the Salvus Self Contained Oxygen Recirculation Breathing Equipment. The Vernon was essentially a walking suit, good enough for quick recognition dives to 180 feet, but unsuitable for large area bottom searches.
The dream suit took time to become a reality. The war made many demands on the designers of diving dress. Special suits were required for midget submarines, torpedo riders, canoeists and frogmen. In the end, all had to be satisfied with compromises.
The idea of port clearance divers was a ‘hard sell.’ Resistance came not only from the Blimps but from those with the problem of outfitting large squads of divers. There were only two manufacturers to meet the ever-increasing demand.
Mouldy, an excellent tactician, finally sold the ‘P Party‘ idea to the highest authority. He also succeeded in squeezing the Vernon Suit into the already strained production lines.
Full approval was finally received but the author, who had worked in unison with Mouldy, was refused permission to join the new unit.
Fishing ‘drifters‘ was still top priority. Esmerelda, once the pleasure yacht of the Coleman (mustard) family was fitted with every type of sweep for the task. The 105 ton, 105 foot vessel was acquired by the Admiralty after Dunkirk and her original armament was a hand cranked Gatling Signal gun which had once belonged to the Shah of Persia. With it came 13 rounds of ammunition. As the war progressed she boasted a Bofors, an Oerlikon, two Brownings, two illicit Lewis and sundry hand guns.
Esmeralda had a distinguished career. Five years of ceaseless sweeping, the first ship into Cherbourg and the surveys for PLUTO, the underwater fuel line which provided the fuel for the invasion of Europe – fine battle honours for any ship.
Other similar vessels joined Esmeralda and under the command of Lieutenant Commander Collier RNVR became known at ‘Goldy’s Sea Horses.‘ They ploughed the fields of coastal water from Plymouth to the Wash. Asdic pinging, with a bottom sweep trailing on the seabed and a baby Orepesa or a piece of complicated metal discrimination gear they search for German mines.
When the bottom sweep snapped on objects, the divers investigated. The ancient seabed was littered with an amazing variety of garbage. Among ‘finds‘ made by the team were a siege gun of the Napoleonic era, cannons of both Drake’s and Nelson’s times, barrels, bodies and a drum.
Mysterious underwater explosions in ‘H’ Channel off Aberdeen started a panic at this time. The author was flown up in weather unfit for flying. On arrival at the airport at Aberdeen it was a mad rush to the dock.
An armed trawler immediately put to sea, but when the skipper was asked for his chart, he replied he didn’t have one but knew the spot. In mid afternoon the trawler slowed, the skipper sniffed the breeze and said ‘She’s there.‘