Submarine Minelaying – More than one way to skin a cat

There is more than one way to skin a cat.

That is one of those odd sayings form a long lost generation that typically means there is more than one way to successfully complete a task.

My cats Moses and Oscar would be offended by the original usage which was about actually skinning cats.

From Grammerhow:

“1832 / The House Of Commons

As we’ve stated, there was a meeting in the House of Commons in 1832 where they talked about passing a bill to prevent cruelty to animals.

During this meeting, a man claimed to have seen a fur company skinning cats alive, while the fur company argued that it would be impossible to do so and unnecessary for sales. This whole discussion may have gone on to establish the well-known saying today.

1840 / Money Diggers

Money Diggers was a short story written by a humorist called Seba Smith in 1840. It’s perhaps the first known usage of the original phrase with all the parts in order.

In Money Diggers, the quote “there are more ways than one to skin a cat” was used to establish the original meaning. It meant that there were multiple things you can do to achieve your goals or aims.

Since then, the saying has been used in much the same way, always written to mean that someone can achieve their aims in many ways. If they find resistance in one method, they simply have to try another one before they need to worry about not achieving the goal in the first place.

We’ve explained all about the meaning above. The original House of Commons meeting argues between a company skinning cats while they were alive, while the company argues that the cats weren’t alive. This already shows two different ways to achieve success. The metaphor is then extended further to reach everyday life.”

In January 0f 1942, the leadership of the US Navy had to figure out a new way to skin cats.

Since the end of the World War in 1918, the direction of the US Fleet had been centered on the use of battle groups which consisted of large battleships, cruisers and destroyers operating in well-designed patterns against theoretically similar battle groups. Even the inclusion of aircraft carriers and submarines was only a manner to extend the use of the battlegroups and provide additional protection for the mighty ships of the sea.

The water of Pearl Harbor was where preconceived notions about warfare at sea came to die. While the fleet would recover, the addition of airpower and new tactics wiped out nearly twenty years’ worth of carefully scripted drills and blind assumptions.

Submarines, once the step child of the fleet, were among some of the first vessels to sail after the attack and were proving to be a formidable force against a foe that was dependent on open sea lanes for everything from food to fuel and every manner of raw materials in between.

But in 1942, the small submarine force had not yet grown to the size it would soon be. The boats available were better than all generations before but there weren’t enough yet to fully neutralize the home islands of Imperial Japan. The well-known problems with torpedoes also had yet to come to a solution. Many boats sailed with weapons that were unreliable. But they did sail and they did have an impact.

One weapon that was not as close to the top of the list as torpedoes was the mine.

As early as early July of 1941, the study of planting mines had been incorporated into the navy’s plans in the event of a war with Japan. The attack at Pearl Harbor limited the number of special mine laying missions just because of the limits on the numbers of available submarines. But by the fall, the limited number of torpedoes actually opened a window of opportunity to see if this new type of mission would have any benefits beyond the planned model.

The submarines would sacrifice the number of torpedoes in exchange for the mines they would carry to the designated locations. Some submarine commanders were not happy for the loss of potential for sinking the ships directly. But by October and November of 1942, conditions were right for the missions to begin. Six submarines were selected to conduct the special missions.

Submarines Thresher, Tambor, Gar, Tautog, Whale and Grenadier were all chose to set the mine plants in place. All but Whale were to focus on the Southwest Pacific. Whale was to lay her plant at the eastern entrance to Inland Sea at Kii Suido – deep within the inner ring of the Japanese homeland sea frontier.

Thresher made the first plant of the war in the Gulf of Siam near the entrance to Bangkok.  Gar was next a few days later in waters near the Thresher’s plant. Grenadier laid hers in the Gulf of Tonkin off of Vietnam as did Tambor. And Tautog laid hers in th waters of Cape Padaren, French Indochina.

USS Thresher SS 200

USS Gar SS 206
USS Tautog

These mines replaced the submarines from the Southwest Pacific group that were urgently needed to help with the battles of the Solomons.

While not as capable as a hunting submarine, the surprise factor certainly took its toll on resources and shipping that were desperately needed to fill the supply chain from conquered areas to the home islands. The surprise element consumed precious Japanese warships to patrol and eliminate the threats.

The submarines could not loiter to determine effectiveness but the changes in shipping patterns would become apparent within a short amount of time. Prewar shipping lanes were well documented and war reports throughout the rest of the war would attest to the changes.

USS Whale

The Whale, assigned to Japanese home waters, was on her maiden patrol. The skipper had been given directions on where to plant based on pre-war maps. Using his own crew’s initiative and his ability to adapt, he placed the mines in shallower water. They had determined through their own observation that merchant and IJN ships were hugging the coastlines with a high degree of regularity and so planting the mines in their path would have greater effect.

“If we move in closer and plant the mines across their track just off the beach in that cove near the lighthouse, we’ll scare them into a conniption, “ Harlfinger (Whale’s XO) pointed out. “They’ll never expect a sub to get in that close, and afterward, they’ll have to sweep every inch of the coastline.”

The boat crept in that night narrowly avoiding a Japanese minefield that was placed further off shore. The mine placements of the Japanese made sense for the movements of shipping. The mines were planted in a fully moonlit night and the next day whale was able to attack a convoy in a conventional manner. She was no longer just a submarine… she was a combat veteran.

Whale continued her attacks but was pummeled by surface and air units for her trouble. She would survive and earned 11 battle stars during World War II, sinking 57,716 tons of Japanese shipping.

In December 1942, Sunfish, Drum and Trigger would be tasked with a second mine plant mission. All three would be sent to the home islands to continue the work Whale had begun. Trigger had the unique experience of seeing her mine plant in action.

USS Sunfish
USS Drum
USS Trigger


The submariners all regretted missing opportunities to use the guns and torpedoes to directly damage so many targets. But the longer term implications slowed the shipping and in too many cases for the Japanese empire, destroyed both ships and cargoes. The loss of experienced crews also added to the misery of the citizens of Japan. But traditional submarine warfare would have been harmful to the boats since the existence of the planted mines drove the enemy ships even closer to the shore where the boats were more vulnerable.

At the conclusion of the December operation, an analysis revealed three conclusions:

  1. Priority should be given to the mining of harbor approaches, and sea lane plants should be relegated to later in the war
  2. A comprehensive study of the areas should be inaugurated to determine the best possible locations for minefields to achieve the best harvest
  3. Mining operations should be conducted with the aim of destroying the maximum number of ships before the fields were rendered impotent by enemy sweeping.

The long term conclusions came at the war’s conclusion. During the war, no one on the American side knew how effective these mines proved to be, but a postwar analysis of Japanese shipping records credited Whale’s minefield with sinking five enemy ships.

The crippling of the Japanese merchant fleet played a significant role in saving allied lives and ending the war.

Submarine Mine laying was just one more way to help skin the cat.

For more in-death reading, follow this link:

Mister Mac


US Navy Communiqué No. 237 January 2, 1943

Pacific and Far East.

  1. U. S. submarines have reported the following results of operations against the enemy in the waters of these areas:

(a) Two large cargo ships sunk.

(b) One medium-sized passenger-cargo ship sunk.

(c) One medium-sized cargo ship sunk.

(d) One medium-sized transport sunk.

(e) One medium-sized tanker sunk.

(f) One small cargo ship sunk.

(g) One destroyer damaged.

These sinkings have not been announced in any previous Navy Department communiqué.

The Mk 12 Mine:

Submarine launched mine. Unlike the Mark 11, the Mark 12 was designed to be launched from a standard 21″ (53.3 cm) torpedo tube. Cylindrical with an aluminum case, this mine was developed in the 1920s from German S-type mines. Dimensions were 20.8D x 94.25L inches (52.8 x 239.4 cm). Weighed 1,445 lbs. (655 kg) with a 1,100 lbs. (499 kg) TNT charge or 1,595 lbs. (723 kg) with a 1,250 lbs. (567 kg) Torpex charge. Mod 1 was parachute mine, Mod 3 was a submarine type and Mod 4 was a replacement for Mod 1. Some of these mines were delivered to Manila just before the start of World War II. They were dropped into deep water to prevent capture.

US submarines planted a total of 576 Mark 12 mines and 82 Mark 10 mines in 36 fields. Of these, 421 mines planted in 21 of the fields sank 27 ships of about 63,000 tons and damaged 27 more of approximately 120,000 tons.


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