Submarine Mining was introduced into the British Forces in 1863 during the American Civil War, when these devices were being extensively used by the Confederate States in their riverine defences. By 1873 Colonel W.F.D Jervois described submarine mining to have “already developed a perfectly efficient system, for practical working purposes”. (TNA WO 33/46). By this date there were two distinct types of ‘engine’ (device):
- The defensive submarine mine, which was mechanically self-acting, electro self-acting or fired by electricity from the shore.
- The offensive mine, (which we would now call a torpedo) which was fired from a vessel or shore installation e.g. the Whitehead torpedo.
The key difference between the two is that defensive mines are always static, while offensive mines are generally mobile.
Details concerning the Brennan Torpedo, used for Harbour Defence, can be seen at The Brennan Torpedo.
On the 20th July 1863 the royal Engineers assumed responsibility for the Submarine Mines with instructions from Sir John Burgoyne (Inspector General of Fortifications) entitled “Floating Obstructions and Submarine Explosive Machines”. In 1873 the War Office issued instructions on mine defence of British Ports, both home and abroad. These instructions set three strict criteria for the use of mines for port defence:
- The minefields should always be covered by coastal or naval gunfire. The 12-pdr QF and 4.7-inch QF guns, supported by machine guns, became the standard weapons for defending minefields.
- The mines should not be more that one thousand yards (194.4 metres) in front of the coastal defences.
- That searchlights illuminate the minefields during the hours of darkness.
Even at this early stage it was realised that sea minefields were part of an integrated defence involving coastal defence batteries, searchlights and guard vessels all working in cooperation.
Early pioneers of Submarine Mining included General Sir C. Pasley R.E., Sir J. Burgoyne, Sir Wheatstone, Captain Steward R.E., Lieut-Colonel Stothers R.E. and others.
1863 Submarine Mining established with the British Army, responsibility of the Royal Engineers.
1870 the submarine mine field was integral to the defence of ports and integrated into the defence plan. The coastal defence guns had predefined fire plans, and the mines were intended to channel the attacking vessels into these pre-registered target areas.
1875 the Royal Engineers (RE) were working with Naval personnel on laying vessels, although the Engineers subsequently took over full control of these vessels.
1877 the RE were instructed to provide mine defences not only for Naval Harbours but also commercial ones.
1878 the Royal Engineers moved into Fort Monkton, using it as a barracks and training centre for submarine mining and the use of searchlights. It was also used for experimentation in defensive warfare using submarine mines.
1880 a manual on submarine mining had been published and by the following years there were five Submarine Companies each of three officers and ninety-three men. By 1892 twenty-six harbours needed to be covered both at home and abroad.
1880 In Canada, concerns was raised by Major-General R.G.A.S. Luard on November 15th 1880 about “the advisability of providing instruction in submarine mining, torpedoes etc.” (State of Militia Report, Canada 1880). These reflected concerns about this dangerous work being done by volunteer personnel. The Engineer corps had established Submarine Mining Sections at Toronto, Kingston, Montreal, Quebec, St. John and Halifax.
1886 an independent Volunteer Submarine Mining Division was formed. Primarily covered commercial ports such as Dundee.
1888 the Volunteer (Militia) Submarine Mining Division had eight companies.
1888 Volunteer unit in Bermuda formed to support the Royal Engineer 27th (Submarine Mining) Company with small boats. By 1900 the Royal Engineers in Bermuda has also taken over responsibility for the Defence Electric Lights.
1889 Royal Engineers (Militia) Submarine Miners formed in Malta (TNA WO 32/7576)
1891 Volunteer Submarine Mining Division reduced to seven companies. Separate to this a Submarine Mining Militia was formed that grew to ten
1906 the Royal Engineers (Militia) Submarine Miners had ten Divisions in the England and totalled 804 all ranks (Hansard HC Deb 17 April 1907 vol 172 c971). They were deployed to Falmouth, Harwich, Humber, Medway Milford Haven, Needles (Isle of Whyte), Portsmouth, Plymouth, Thames, and Western Waters.
1907 Submarine Mining duties handed over by the Army (Royal Engineers) to the Navy.