The YMS-350, a Yard Class minesweeper, hit a mine and sunk on July 2, 1944. The YMS-304 hit a mine on July 30, 1944. Both sunk in the English Channel. In his book, We Have Been, my brother Tom writes about both ships from his research and recalls some of the conversations he had with Dad over the years. I could not find a photograph of the YMS-350. The photograph above is of the Navy and Marine Corp Medal awarded to the Executive Officer, Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Mead B. Kibbey, for heroic conduct during WWII related to the sinking of the YMS-350, including the rescue of two injured crewman.
When the YMSs had completed their minesweeping in the Bay of Seine, they turned their attention to Cherbourg. The Germans knew how important this harbor was to the allies so they intentionally left it in a shambles. They had sunk all their merchant ships in the harbor making it difficult for the allies to use, and they especially left it heavily mined. The American Army captured Cherbourg on June 27th and two days later the minesweepers went back to work.
On July 2, 1944, while Dad was sweeping mines outside Cherbourg, he heard an explosion. When he looked up he saw that the YMS-350 had hit a mine. Out of all the destruction and sinking and catastrophes he had witnessed in the last number of days, this would probably be the most personal to him, as this was a sister ship in his squadron.
The YMS-350 was a sister in many ways. The YMS-350 and the YMS-346 were both born in the Gibbs Gas Engine Co. They were both launched in January of 1943, only 24 days apart. They crossed the Atlantic Ocean together, they crossed the English Channel together and they worked side by side in clearing safe passage for the allied ships in Normandy.
Lieutenant Mead B. Kibbey was the Executive Officer on the YMS-350 that fateful day. When he went up to the bridge to chart the ship's location, a huge explosion knocked him almost unconscious to the deck. When he came to, only seconds later, he found that the ship's Helmsman had fallen on top of him. He immediately yelled for him to get off. When there was no answer he realized the Helmsman had broken his neck and was dead.
Quickly the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant George Hammer began placing classified documents into weighted bags and threw them overboard. The Gunnery Officer and the Gunners Mate made sure all the depth charges were set on safe so they would not explode underwater when the ship sank and endanger survivors. Kibbey himself and the Electricians Mate went below deck to check on the bulkhead between the aft and engine room, but suddenly realized that it was leaking badly. When they returned on deck, they began to hear dishes and other items crashing in the hull and knew that the ship was sinking. Kibbey climbed over the starboard gunwale and sat on the side of the ship waiting for it to sink. It was then he noticed, floating in the water, a long strand of what appeared to be a detonating line from a German "snag mine" and knew what they had hit.
Fifteen crew members were blown overboard and many of them were picked up by the British ship HMML-137. The crew of the ML-137 had dropped a rope ladder down her side and was pulling survivors on board. One of those who helped out that day was the ML-137's commander Lieutenant Brendan Maher, who lost his hat in the water while trying to pull survivors aboard. Lieutenant Kibbey, who was already in the oil soaked water rescuing many of his shipmates, rescued the commander's hat too.
The ML-137 brought the wounded survivors to the nearest US ship and left them in the care of the pharmacist mates. It was then that they decided to return to the debris of the YMS-350 for a last attempt at locating survivors. After probing through every piece gently they discovered a man totally submerged. They brought him onboard where he was found to have no pulse, no breathing and no movement. Crew members began applying pressure to the man's back and with every push oil and water spewed from his mouth. Finally life came back to him and he began breathing.
Commander Maher and his crew never again encountered the survivors of the YMS-350. Many years later Commander Maher, who had then become Dr. Maher, a professor at Harvard and author of "Passage to Sword Beach", became curious about that last survivor rescued from the YMS-350. With the help of the National Minesweepers Association, he was able to learn that the man was the Ship's Cook second class Sterling D. Shaffer, and it was sadly learned that he had died only a few days after being picked up by the ML-137.
The YMS-350 was gone and so were ten of her crew. Before the job could be finished at Cherbourg, Yoke Squadron Y2 would be without one of their own. Two days later the remaining YMSs in the squadron would enter Cherbourg and would have the distinction of being the first US ships to do so.
Squadron Y1 would experience the same tragic fate twenty eight days later when, on July 30th the YMS-304 hit a mine and sank in 63 seconds. It would have the record of being the fastest sinking of World War II. The History Channel's "Deep Sea Detective" would do an investigative show on the sinking over sixty years later to determine exactly how the YMS-304 sank. Their findings show that it most probably hit an oyster mine, one of Hitler's new secret weapons.
When the YMS-304 sunk, she lost eight of her crew and sent 30 injured survivors into the waters around her where they were quickly rescued.
9/14/44 - Dear Bess: Well! You will have to forgive me for not writing to you for the last couple of weeks. We were on a special sweeping job and we could not receive or send mail. I hope you were not worried too much.
10/9/44 - Dear Bess: I'm sorry that radio bulletin scared you Bess, and that I didn't write to you in so long but it couldn't be helped. I think I explained it to you in my other letter. There are a heck of a lot of ships like mine Bessie, so don't worry about what the radio says.
I don't know what radio bulletin or incident Jack is referring to in this letter or how timely or detailed any public information was during that time. I can only imagine how frightening it must have been for the families back home left to struggle with not knowing and imagining the worst. These letters, written and sent by their loved ones, were a life line for them.
Next: YMS-346 - One Year in Commission