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World War II Mines an Explosive Problem on Oregon, Washington Coast in '50s (part one)

Published 02/16/22 at 5:02 PM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

World War II Mines an Explosive Problem on Oregon / Washington Coast in '50s (part one)

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(Gleneden Beach, Oregon) – Post-war West Coast, about 1950. There's a baby boom going on, and an economic boom is really just sparking. Tourism on the Oregon coast and Washington coast is kicking into life again (in some places for the first time). A new middle class and larger groups of people with some disposable income are discovering these beaches, and the world is just starting to calm its nerves after years of World War II. (Above: a Japanese mine found in Gleneden Beach in '49, on display in Lincoln City. Courtesy North Lincoln County History Museum)

The good times are just getting going, but there's still some World War II dangers out there along the West Coast. Old mines from Japan and the U.S. are floating this way and occasionally landing on the beaches. Instruments of war meant to destroy ships at sea by surprise are still left out there – from both sides, actually (but it's the Japanese mines that get all the press). Sometimes the spiked and thoroughly scary devices are found at sea; sometimes they wash up on beaches where tourists hang out.

This is part one of the two-part story (Terror of Post-War Mines on Beaches: Oregon, Washington Coast History (part two) )

According to the April 1948 edition of the book series Military Review, in only the two years since the end of the war hundreds of mines were discovered off the west coast of the U.S., and 117 of them in and around the Washington coast and Oregon coast, “either at sea or on the Washington-Oregon beaches,” the book said.

Blowing up a mine offshore (from Military Review)

From here through the early ‘50s, you never knew what you'd find. In fact, according to the North Lincoln County History Museum in Lincoln City, there was one week in 1947 when six Japanese mines were found along the Oregon coast. Two were found drifting off Yaquina Bay, one near Cascade Head, two washed up at Heceta Head near Florence, and another was found near Gearhart.

Army or US Coast Guard personnel usually responded to these incidents, sometimes both. In the above cases, they were disposed of by exploding them at sea or by rifle fire on the beach. Some were deactivated in ingenious ways: like scenes out of the Mission: Impossible series or movies. Military personnel sometimes even dug tunnels under the sand to get to the deactivation mechanisms.

The most common type found on the Oregon coast and Washington coast was the Type 93, which had four chemical horns. It's mentioned numerous times in newspaper reports, and you can see one on display at the North Lincoln County History Museum. That one showed up in Gleneden Beach in 1949. This was the case of tunneling into the sand, but this time it was the Coast Guard that dug under there, then removing the base plate to disable the horns and the charge.

It was the 13th Naval District that responded to much of these incidents on the Oregon coast and Washington coast. According to the book, there was a mine disposal unit headed up by Lt. Devon F. Winslow that made a lot of this stuff go boom when it wound up here. He had been trained in the U.S. and in England during World War II, even working at Pearl Harbor removing unexploded bombs, torpedoes and ammunition after the bombing there in ‘42. Later, he was sent to the Pacific theater.

Up until the book's publication in ‘48, he had exploded or disarmed some 57 mines.

Part two of this series gets into the sizable list of incidents in 1950 alone, which included run-ins with mines off Oceanside, at Florence, Gleneden Beach, Moclips and a very dramatic, white-knuckled encounter with a mine at Westport. See Terror of Post-War Mines on Beaches: Oregon, Washington Coast History (part two) 

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Photos above courtesy North Lincoln County Historical Museum (at bottom: military personnel at Lincoln City during World War II)

Astoria in the 1940s, courtesy OSU

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