HDU - Little Creek, VA
Harbor Defense Unit


[Official US Navy photograph]

Flagship of the HDU Fleet, USS YMP-2 (with YMP-1 alongside)
It had a length of 127 ft. and gross weight of 288 tons.
From this we planted/retrieved Mk. 51 Controlled mines.
YMP-2 was the only seagoing navy ship without a rudder, propeller or an anchor!

 SEE THE YMP-2 DESIGN AND TRIALS PAGE

 


[photo by Derick S. Hartshorn]
This is Stan Ridgeway at Yorktown with Mk. 51s.


[Official US Navy photograph, courtesy of ALL HANDS, October, 1954]
Minemen check wiring on Mk 51 control mine

[Official US Navy photograph, courtesy of ALL HANDS, October, 1954]
Mk 51 eased over the side from YMP-2

 


[Photo courtesy of Richard Howlett]
Preparing Mk 51 for planting.

[Photo courtesy of Richard Howlett]
Mk 51 being lowered.


Mk 51 on the way to the bottom

 

SEE SPECS FOR DISTRIBUTION BOX BOAT

 


The YMP-2 had a crew of 18 officers and enlisted men, therefore phots of the YMP-2 and crew during the time it served as a Harbor Mine Planter are necessarily scarce but Richard L. Howlett, a former crewman has volunteered his collection of photos of the ship and crew during his time on board, 1952-1954.

VISIT THE YMP-2 and the MEMORIES OF RICHARD HOWLETT


Another member of the flotilla was the L-boat, the L-81 (former US Army), designated as a
"Distribution Box" boat. It was 65" long, a beam of 18' and grossed 65 tons.
It operated in conjunction with the YMP-2


[photo courtesy of IRichard L. Howlett]
L-81 taking mine cable aboard.

[photo courtesy of IRichard L. Howlett]
L-81 preparing to drop "DB-box"

From this, the guys at Ft. Story told us where to drag the hook to retrieve the cable.
When the cable came on board, it was connected to a DB (distribution box).
This is where I learned marlinspike seamanship and could make a rather decent "Turk's head."


[courtesy of IndicatorLoops.com]

[courtesy of IndicatorLoops.com]


[Official US Navy photograph, from ALL HANDS, October, 1954]
Cables are spliced before insertion into Distribution Box

 


[photo courtesy of IRichard L. Howlett]
Boat makes run to the beach with DB cable.


HECP- Ft. Story, VA


Harbor Entrance Control Post

You're a Ping and a Clunk to HECP

As YOU APPROACH Norfolk from the sea you may notice, if your eyes are better than average, a few dozen weatherbeaten sandbags tossed carelessly against the side of one of the many sand dunes characteristic of the area. This particular sand dune just "happens" to be located on one of the points near the mouth of the harbor. If your eyes are phenomenal, you may detect a small door among the sandbags.

Unless your official business concerns harbor defense, that will be about the extent of your knowledge of one of the most vital elements of our national security. The "sand dune" is Norfolk HECP-Harbor Entrance Control Post-and the buoys and gate vessels are the surface manifestation of a system of steel nets which constitute the harbor's last line of defense from torpedoes and submarines.

You will no longer pass the string of small buoys which, with its two small gate vessels, until recently guarded the harbor against unannounced entry. Your skipper will probably be pleased, for the buoys and tenders are normally regarded by honest navigators as just one more menace to sea-going traffic. But those buoys, which support the harbor's anti-sub and torpedo net, are a welcome addition to Norfolk's defense in time of war.

There's more to it than that. However, the mechanisms and procedures discussed here are, for obvious reasons, not described with an eye for precision and accuracy. It's enough for most of us to know that the approaches to our more important harbors conceal a complex network of mechanical and electronic ears and eyes which insure that any vessel below, or on, the surface is properly identified before it enters the harbor. "Harbor defense might be compared to an iceberg," comments CDR E. L. Willey, USN, Officer-In-Charge, Harbor Defense Unit, Naval Base, Norfolk, "only a small part is visible; the most important portion is below the surface."

Skill and experience are required to operate and maintain this highly technical equipment. In time of national emergency, harbor defense activities must be tremendously expanded. Many of the duties connected with harbor defense will at that time, as they have in the past, be assigned to Naval Reservists. To help prepare themselves for that day, Naval Reserve Harbor Defense Divisions have been organized on the East and West Coasts, from Portsmouth, N. H., to San Diego, Calif., and in Hawaii and the Canal Zone.

How does harbor defense work when, for example, your ship enters in and out of Norfolk, but you'd be safe to estimate that from 60 to 100 vessels are tracked daily. During a four-day period last year, more than 500 vessels were accounted for. HECP is not a place for anyone with weak nerves. Tightly crammed with equipment and men, each of a series of rooms produces its own peculiar type of bedlam.

In one, patterns of green light weave and twitch across oscilloscope screens. Every object in the harbor is reflected by a writhing green light: Eager has passed the mouth of the harbor and is overtaking a plodding ferry; YMP 1 is checking up on the hydrophone that has been giving trouble; an outbound oiler is making a nuisance of itself; and a sub is slipping out to sea for training duty. Every vessel writes its own pattern. In other rooms, men with earphones listen to the audible traffic of the "silent" sea. Fish are grunting, croaking and snapping, schools of shrimp sound if they were cracking tons of peanut shells; the beat of big and small propellers form a counterpoint to the throb of ship's engines. Through the ping and clunk of the heralds, monitors track the course and speed of every vessel in the harbor. All such activities are automatically recorded by galvanometers on long reels of tape.

In the central control room, phone plotters at a vast transparent harbor map sketch the course and progress of every ship in the area through the data fed them by electronic components.

By the time Eager has finally passed over the heralds, you have another safeguard against unfriendly vessels entering strategic harbors. emerged from HECP's sphere of influence. It is no longer interested in you.

Such a system sounds very fine on paper, but does it really work? Does it work under wartime conditions in regard to, let us say, an enemy submarine? How about midget subs, such as those employed by the Japanese and Italian navies during World War II? Could a sneak attack of such craft be detected if combined with normal traffic? Planners of harbor defense asked themselves such questions and decided there was only one way to find out. During one of the recent "Hardex" (harbor defense exercises) a midget sub was used and every trick in the book was tried to get it through HECP's defense without detection. As a result, a few techniques were modified.

The responsibility of learning how each of these devices operates, how to mainsain them, and how best to use the information they offer is the formidable job faced by members of the Naval Reserve harbor defense component. It wouldn't be possible except for the personal coaching on on the part of active duty harbor defense personnel who have made available to the Naval Reserve the Navy equipment now in operation in our major harbors. As the entire system has, with time, become more and more complicated, it has been found necessary to establish two types of Naval Reserve harbor defense divisionsoperational and technical.

In turn, the technical divisions have again been divided into two types: One, (TUN), provides technical training in the installation, operation and maintenance of undenwater detection equipment and in the fabrication, installation and maintenance of nets and booms. The other, (TM) , provides technical training in the assembly, installation, operation and maintenance of controlled mines and training in mine countermeasures including channel clearance, mine location and destruction techniques.

Operational divisions provide training in all operational and tactical functions of harbor defense. Such activities require a wide range of technical skills in the enlisted ratings of the program. As a result, billets are available for boatswain's mates, gunner's mates, quartermasters, radiomen, radarmen, sonarmen, minemen, electronics technicians, telemen, electrician's mates, enginemen, damage controlmen, metalsmiths, I. C. electricians, machinist's mates, torpedoman's mates, yeomen and storekeepers. Women are eligible in those of the above ratings open to them.

Because Reservists in the operational divisions are concerned primarily with operational and tactical duties, they need not be qualified for sea duty.

However, duty with the technical divisions is more strenuous. Reservists selected for this duty must be qualified to perform sea duty afloat in order to install and maintain sea units of the harbor defense equipment. Although many special skills are required in the technical divisions, previous experience in harbor defense operations and techniques is not considered a prerequisite for membership in a Naval Reserve division although it is desirable.

Because of the complexity of harbor defense equipment, it is necessary for Reserve divisions scattered in both operational and technical aspects of the harbor defense program. over. comparatively large areas to use the centrally-located facilities established and operated by the Regular Navy. Harbor defense divisions located in Baltimore, Md., and Richmond, Va., for example, find it necessary to commute each month to Norfolk for a weekend of on-the-job training.

A total of 24 drills and 14 days active duty for training are authorized for pay purposes for Reservists regularly attached to harbor defense divisions. There is no limit, other than that of usefulness, to the number of Reservists who may be associated with a division in a non-pay status. As with other Navy activities, some of, the concepts and procedures of harbor defense have undergone changes since World War 11. At the present time, those Naval Reservists who have been charged with the responsibility of instructing their divisions are devoting intense study to the new (and classified) curriculum which has recently been distributed. The first to be issued since January 1951, the new curriculum, which covers all three areas of harbor defense and which is fully supported by recently developed training aids and revised technical publications, represents a monumental job of research. The next time you enter a harbor, bear in mind the illustration of the iceberg. Come to think, the entire Navy with its Regular and Reserve forces is something like these harbor defense units. There's a lot more to it than appears on the surface.

(ALL HANDS, October, 1954)


[courtesy of IRichard L. Howlett]
Ft. Story as seen from mine field (on left is Cape Henry Lighthouse).   

 


[composite art by Derick S. Hartshorn]
84-ft. observation tower
Virginia Beach, VA

[Photo by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers]
Cape Henry, VA - Ft. Story

[Official U.S. Coast Guard photo]
Cape Henry Lighthouse

Duties at Ft. Story were two-part. (1) Observers would climb to the top of the lighthouse and one of the observation towers. One was in Lynhaven, the other on Virginia Beach. With a telescope, the observer, using head phones, would call out the compass reading of the mine planter or the L-boat, depending on what operation was ongoing.

 


[photo by Phil Payette]
Battery Cramer-main HECP casemate.

[photo by Phil Payette]
Battery Worcester-once had 16" naval guns.

(2) On the receiving end, at the casemate at Ft. Story, the phone-talker would position one of the 10-foot steel arms on a large map indicating the position of the craft. This triangulation method would indicate exactly where the cables and mines were located. This is long before GPS!

 


[photo by Derick S. Hartshorn]
We did a great amount of highly technical work here.
Here we are preparing a training film on beautiful Virginia Beach.
During the day, we took rides into the surf with our Army buddies on DUKWs.
Swimming commenced at 18:00 hours.


As noted previously, HDU/HECP both had small complements. Neither base had more than 30, or so men and officers.
I'd like to share some stories that Charlie Jernigan and I have of Ft. Story. I only met Charlie recently.
 He came on board after I had left for Yokosuka and has some experiences that I unfortunately missed.

Hi Derick,    4-5-2012

I was there a bit after you. I considered my tour at Ft. Story the greatest duty that a sailor could have. After I had been there a year or so, they started shutting down HECB. We moved out of the Quonset huts (I did find some pictures of the huts and the area around Casement 5), moved everything up to the facility on top of the hill where the radar was located. Eventually there were only 14 of us left. We ate in the Army mess hall. The last year we were more like survivors of a war. There wasn't a lot of Navy about us. During the winter the uniform of the day was dungarees, Army sweaters, boots and lined field jackets. One day I took the duce and a half to Little Creek to pick up pay checks and the disbursing officer would not release them to me until I came back in full dress blues. He declared me a disgrace to the Navy, I don't know what he was complaining about, I was shaved (may have been the day before but at least that week) everything was clean and my boots were shined. I didn't have a set of full dress blues so between everyone at HECB we managed to come up with a full set. I think there was a different name on each piece of clothing.

I didn't miss the Quonset huts, as ranking electrician, the boilers were my responsibility, they worked OK except in the winter, they usually failed around 0200. The watch would wake me up and say, "Boilers out". I knew what that meant, and nothing gets colder than a Quonset hut in winter next to the ocean.

It was the best of times and the worst of times.

Charlie


Hi Derick,   -- 4-6-2012

There are a million great stories about HECB. One year there was a joint operation with HDU and UDT team 21 (these were SEALS before there were SEALS). The UDT team was suppose to capture Casemate 5, we had a big meeting and we instructed to be alert and defend the Casemate with our very lives. The operation started at 0000. The Casemate was captured by 0010. No one told the sentry that the UDT men did not have to tell the truth. The story goes that the UDT banged on the Casemate door, the sentry challenged them. The UDT replied "This is Captain Bull and my staff, open the #%@&!? door". The sentry promptly obeyed and Casemate 5 was captured. A new record was set in how short a war can be.

One of the crew had less than ideal personal hygiene habits, most times he smelled so bad you couldn't stand close to him. We were living pretty close so something had to be done. The plan evolved that all he really needed was a good shower, GI type. The involved crew mustered early Saturday morning, we knew he would be pretty hung over, he usually spent Friday nights at the Ft. Story enlisted men's club. While he was sleeping, we ganged up on him, wrapped him in his blanket, tied it with rope. He kicked and twisted but he was tied pretty tight in the blanket. Six of us carried him over the dunes and down to the shore line and tossed him into the water. That was no small project, you remember how soft the sand was going through the dunes to the beach, that was a lot of work. He screamed and yelled and threatened us all with death or worse. He did look rather funny rolling around in the low surf that was the standard for Ft. Story. Everyone had a chance to explain to him that he should change his ways. He threatened to have all of us Courts Marshaled. We explained we knew where he slept and we would do it again. He decided to alter his habits if we pulled him in an turned him loose. We did and he did, he also requested a transfer back to HDU, no one objected. In today's Navy this would probably get everyone involved life in Leavenworth, in the old Navy, crew discipline was not all that unusual, why bother the Chief with petty problems. His worse habit was he would not buy cigarettes, he preferred to bum them, after a while that got very annoying. He just irritated us by being there.

Speaking of showers, remember the Quonset hut head, with the shower stalls and the doors that opened into the shower. There is always one character in every crew, we had one SA that was probably one of the finest black men I met while in the Navy. He was rather small and slim and kind of shy. After he had been with us a few weeks, someone noticed he never took a shower but he was always clean. Someone mentioned that he did take showers, usually after midnight. So we started watching, and sure enough, he would get up after midnight, get his kit and head for the showers. Apparently he was really shy, we all know that a Navy facility is no place for being shy. Being the pranksters that we were, this was to good to pass up, there must be some was to have some fun with this. A few days later we were walking on the beach and saw a two to three foot sand shark had washed up on the beach. The plot thickened, we took the shark, stinking to high heavens and put it in the Emergency Generator building. That night when the victim got up to take his shower, we followed, when we heard the shower running, we got the shark out of the EG building, two of us took an end of the shark and with a one, two, three swing, tossed the shark over the wall of the stall much to the chagrin of the SA in the shower, honest to God, the doors opened going into the shower, the poor guy came out of the shower taking the door with him. We all had a great laugh and after he got over the embarrassment he did also, he was a great guy and probably didn't deserve to be the brunt of this prank, but what the hell, it gets boring at Ft. Story in the winter.

Charlie


Hi Charlie  -- 4-7-2012

Here's another story. I'm not particularly proud of it. When the YMP-2 and L-boats were working the cable fields and planting/retrieving Mk 51 controlled mines, and long before GPS, we triangulated the target from the lighthouse and either a tower at Virginia Beach or the one at Lynnhaven. I was usually in the lighthouse or the one at Virginia Beach. If you ever stood watch there, you'd be familiar with climbing the stairs along with your telescope. It mounted on the gimbles and you would put on the ear phones to listen for the bells that told you to call out the compass reading. Often when the boat had to make an adjustment or when they were taking a break, they'd turn the bells off. I was at Virginia Beach one day and they were connecting up a DB box. When they moved to find another one, they took a break. It usually lasted 5-10 minutes. I took the opportunity to dismount the telescope and look down at the gals changing in the gazebo below that didn't have a roof. I was caught off guard when they went back on the bells and I was a little late in getting it mounted again. I figured that I could get it back with a few guesstimates. Seems like they were in a new position and my guesstimates were off by 30+ degrees. Not willing to admit defeat, I faked it. Not a good idea. After getting royally reamed, I was told later that "the idiot in the tower had the L-boat doing 40 knots." Yeah, loved the duty and was only there spring, summer and fall. I was delighted to go to Japan before winter set in.
 

Derick


Hi Derick,   4-8-2012


Very interesting story, really brings back old times and you were in the service of your country, we can cut you some slack. By the time I was stationed at HECB, we no longer had watches at either the towers or the lighthouse. The only thing left at all installations were generators for power supplies. As ranking EM, I assigned myself the tough duty of maintaining the MG sets. I would take my toolbox and a pair of spotter binoculars, they were huge and heavy but they did the job, you could see the stitches in a girls bathing suit. I preferred the tower at Virginia Beach. I met more girls pretending to be doing something important, like watching out for Russian Submarines and spies. Most time all it took was a wave and a friendly hello to start a week long romance. Not much to do or look at the Ft. Story tower and that was a long climb to the top. I also liked the Lynnhaven tower. The binoculars, keys to the tower and my log book was all I took up the towers. I remember taking some pictures from the tower, don't know what happened to them. Sometimes I would take a voltmeter to read the output voltages of the MG sets and occasionally a ground tester.

I have been trying to remember the proper names of some of the facilities. Do you remember much about Battery Worcester. Was that facility the one that had huge steel double doors and as soon as you stepped inside there were 3 large diesel emergency generator sets side by side and radar antenna on top of the bunker. Ft Story was in the path of a hurricane in 1959. Battery Worcester was declared an emergency shelter. Must have been 500 soldiers and their families were inside facility. They sat along the walls in the generator room. We had asked them to go deeper into the facility but they objected, they said their children were scared. I started all three diesels and brought them up to speed, they had to be running if we lost power so the automatic switching to emergency power would work. You should have seen the troops and families head for the doors to go back into the facility. Actually, the electric load we had would only require one generator to be online but one diesel would not have been nearly effective at clearing the room as all three would be. Anyway, there was only a lot of wind and rain, no damage at all. That was the only time during my service that the generators were started for anything other than maintenance.

I was in Norfolk about 20 years ago on a government project. I went out to HECB Ft. Story and from all appearances it was completely closed. I had a Federal Government ID card so I was able to drive right in and take a quick tour around Ft. Story. I got to do something I always wanted to do, my pay grade as a Government employee allowed me to go to the Officers Club. Made me feel good to finally make it to the OC. I spent a few evenings in the NCO club but always wanted to do the Officers Club, to bad I had to wait so long.
Reminiscing about these old days give me a warm and fuzzy feeling.

Very pleased to have met you!

Cordially,
Charlie

 


If anyone served in either of these bases, please contact me.
I want share memories and get stories and pictures for this page.

 
 
BACK TO MINEMAN MEMORIES

Derick S. Hartshorn - 2009-present
Last Modified: