Introduction You may have noticed the current proliferation of events and news stories marking the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Second World War. Of particular interest to the RN is a lunchtime reception, including talks and audio-visual presentations, to be held on board the Imperial War Museum's floating exhibit, HMS Belfast, on Thursday 26 November 09. This is intended to mark the 70th anniversary of Cdr John Ouvry DSO RN and his team first rendering safe a German magnetic mine at Shoeburyness on 23 November 1939. Invitations will be issued to veterans, senior officers, politicians, representatives of the commercial shipping world, civic dignitaries and the news media. The opportunity will also be taken to promote Project Vernon, the campaign to erect a monument at Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth to commemorate the mine warfare and diving heritage of HMS Vernon which previously stood on the site. [align=center] HMS Belfast on the Thames[/align] HMS Belfast is the obvious venue because she has Ouvryâ€™s mine on display and was herself seriously damaged by a magnetic mine as she left the Firth of Forth on 21 November 1939. This mine, laid on 4 November by the German U-boat U-21, injured 34 of Belfastâ€™s ship's company, broke her keel and wrecked her hull and machinery to such an extent that it took nearly three years to repair her at Devonport. [align=center] HMS Belfast's Director Brad King, John Ouvry's son David and veteran Bomb & Mine Disposal Officer and author Lt Noel Cashford MBE RNVR beside Ouvry's mine[/align] Historical Background The period of WWII between September 1939 and the Battle of France in May 1940 is often referred to as the 'Phoney War' because so little action was apparent to the British public. However, the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy were heavily engaged right from the start; this was still some eight months before the Battle of France and nine months before the Battle of Britain. Within hours of war being declared against Germany on 3 September 1939, U-30 sank the liner SS Athenia off Rockall with the loss of 98 passengers and 19 crew members. On 17 September, the aircraft carrier HMS Courageous was torpedoed by U-29 in the South West Approaches with the loss of 518 lives. On 14 October, HMS Royal Oak was sunk by U-47 at Scapa Flow with the loss of 833 lives and on 16 October, German bombers attacked British warships at Rosyth in the Firth of Forth. In November, the armed merchant cruiser HMS Rawalpindi was sunk by the German battlecruiser Scharnhorst off Iceland and in December, the Royal Navy cruisers HMS Exeter, HMS Ajax and HMS Achilles fought the German pocket battleship, Admiral Graf Spee, at the Battle of the River Plate, forcing her to retreat into Montevideo harbour where she scuttled herself. There was certainly no 'Phoney War' as far as the Royal Navy was concerned. [align=center] German pocket battleship Graf Spee ablaze in Montevideo Harbour 17 Dec 1939[/align] The German Mine Menace In 1939, German U-boats were still few in number and they did not yet have the bases in France providing short and relatively safe access to the open ocean. However, merchant ships and warships around the UK coast and in the approaches to ports were experiencing mysterious underwater explosions and being sunk or seriously damaged at an unsustainable rate. The cargo ships SS Magdapur and SS Phryne were sunk on 10 and 24 September 1939 respectively and the liner City of Paris was severely damaged on 16 September, all as the result of mines laid off Orfordness by U-13 on 4 September. This area had already been swept of moored mines and, as losses mounted, the Admiralty began to suspect the use of magnetic ground mines. However, owing to their self-destruct mechanisms, no mines of this particular type had been recovered intact to confirm them as the cause or enable the development of effective countermeasures. In September and October 1939, mines accounted for almost 60,000 tons of Allied merchant shipping. In November, mines took the lead as the main threat to Allied sea communications, sinking 27 merchant ships totalling 121,000 tons. As Churchill conceded at the time, "The terrible damage that could be done by large ground mines had not been fully realised." [align=center] Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty visiting HMS Vernon 21 Sep 1939[/align] The Breakthrough The breakthrough came on 23 November 1939, the day after a German parachute mine had been discovered on the mudflats at Shoeburyness. Commander John Garnault Delahaize Ouvry Royal Navy, then a Lieutenant Commander as a Render Mines Safe (RMS) officer based at HMS Vernon in Portsmouth, was already investigating reports of German parachute mines in the area and was soon on the scene. He was accompanied by Lieutenant Commander Roger Lewis Royal Navy (another Vernon-based RMS officer). After the mine had been staked against the incoming tide, Ouvry and Lewis photographed it and conducted an initial examination before reporting their findings. Ouvry returned some hours later with Chief Petty Officer Charles Baldwin (killed on 3 Feb 1940 along with course of 14 RNVR Sub Lieutenants on board a drifter while recovering loose British moored mines in the Forth) and Leading Seaman Archibald Vearncombe who had arrived from HMS Vernon. While the rest of his party remained well clear, Ouvry approached the mine with CPO Baldwin and proceeded to render it safe using non-magnetic tools produced specifically for the task. Lewis and Vearncombe, now joined by Doctor Albert Wood, a Principal Scientific Officer in the Mine Design Department at HMS Vernon, then helped dismantle the mine for subsequent recovery and transport to HMS Vernon for detailed investigation. [align=center] Ouvry's mine on the mudflats at Shoeburyness 23 Nov 1939[/align] For his deed, Cdr John Ouvry was decorated with the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) by King George VI at a ceremony on HMS Vernonâ€™s parade ground on 19 December 1939. He was not awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) because his action was not deemed to be "in the face of the enemy" and the George Cross (GC), intended to recognise those in his circumstances, was not instituted until Sep 1940. Others decorated at the same time for this, and other tasks where mines were rendered safe for recovery and examination, were Lt Cdr R C Lewis (DSO), Lt J E M Glenny (DSC), CPO C E Baldwin (DSM) and AB A L Vearncombe (DSM). Of particular note, these were the first Royal Naval decorations of the war. [align=center] King George VI presenting the first RN decorations of the war on HMS Vernon's Parade Ground 19 Dec 1939[/align] The recovery, investigation and exploitation of this first aircraft-laid German magnetic mine (British designation 'GA') enabled HMS Vernon to develop self-protective measures for Allied ships including degaussing coils that helped neutralise their magnetism. It also enabled the development of effective magnetic mine sweeps including the initial crude mine destructor ships containing huge electrical magnets in their holds shortly superseded by minesweepers deploying the highly successful Double L (LL) electrode sweep, used throughout the war. Thus, the German stranglehold on Allied shipping providing Britain's lifeblood at the outset of the Second World War was relaxed considerably. [align=center] King George VI with Capt Riley (SMD), Lt Cdr Ouvry and the German magnetic mine at HMS Vernon 19 Dec 1939[/align] The proud legacy of John Ouvry and his team lives on with those involved in RN mine countermeasures (MCM) and explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) to this day.