Six young USN reserve officers and one hundred young sailors gathered at a boat dock in Bizerte, Tunisia in early summer of 1944. They were told they were going to learn to sweep German mines with shallow draft 36′ boats designated as Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel, or LCVP’s. The Germans allegedly had shallowly planted moored mines off the beaches of Southern France, violating the Geneva Convention, by planting these mines within a foot of the surface. The Yard Minesweepers (YMS) had a draft of six feet, and also had difficulties sweeping close to shore. Using German minesweeping gear captured from earlier invasions of North Africa, this gear was later perfected as Size 5 Oropesa sweep gear in the USN inventory.
The Boat Minesweeping Unit (BMS) was the first large scale boat unit organized by the USN for shallow water minesweeping ahead of an invasion in Europe. Allegedly, Boat Unit Eight practicing for the Normandy Invasion in the English Channel months prior to the June 1944 Normandy invasion, was scratched from the invasion due to rough English Channel weather having swamped their LCVP’s during practice.
Lake Ferryville was the WWII name of the salt water lake fed from the Mediterranean by a channel dug by the Phoenecians in the 3rd or 4th century BC. Lake Ferryville (today lake Bizerte) was where the BMS Unit practiced daily.
The invasions began near St Tropez, St Maxine, and continued westward to Toulan, and Marseilles Harbors. Small boat minesweeping had arrived in the U.S. Navy at the unit level. Previous use of motor launches and landing craft had been dabbled with on a much smaller scale since 1942, according to Mine Warfare Notes – a fleet wide classified USN publication published during WWII.
Irving B. Gerson Lt(jg) USNR and Ed Sinclair