From the Collection

The Heroic Little Boat that Opened Wonson Harbor

The USS MSB-16 and its crew, along with other mine-sweeping vessels, contributed significantly to the safety and success of UN operations in the Korean War.

February 29, 2024

In 1953, Admiral Radford, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), embarked on a Pacific visit accompanied by National Geographic reporters. During their exploration, they captured a striking photograph featuring an unnamed Boatswain Mate (BM) from the USS MSB-16, a modified 40' Motor Launch. The focal point of the image was the BM painting shark's teeth onto his float, yet the historical significance of the moment was not fully emphasized.

The USS MSB-16 played a pivotal role in the Korean War, credited with sweeping 84 Russian mines in the region. Stolen from Sasebo, Japan, along with its sister ship MSB-15, the vessels were manned by an ad-hoc crew comprising sailors with anti-mine experience. Throughout the Korean War, these boats faced adversity, regularly encountering artillery fire from concealed caves. The artillery would be swiftly deployed, fired, and then retreated into the caves before Gun Fire Support ships (GFS) could target them.

At the outbreak of the war, these small motor launches represented the sole mine sweeping assets in the entire theater. Their courageous efforts, particularly in clearing Wonsan Harbor, saved countless lives during a critical period in history. The flag showcased in the photograph symbolizes the one that fluttered over the USS MSB-16, a testament to its significant contributions in mine sweeping operations during the Korean War.


Clearing mines from Wonsan Harbor during the Korean War was a challenging and crucial undertaking. Wonsan, located on the eastern coast of North Korea, served as a major port and was strategically significant during the conflict. The presence of mines in the harbor posed a serious threat to both naval and amphibious operations, hindering the movement of United Nations (UN) forces.

The efforts to clear mines from Wonsan Harbor primarily involved mine-sweeping operations carried out by ships and small vessels. The USS MSB-16 and its sister ship, the USS MSB-15, played a vital role in these operations. These Motor Launches were stolen from Sasebo, Japan, and staffed with ad-hoc crews comprising sailors with anti-mine experience.

The mine-sweeping process typically involved dragging various types of sweeping gear behind the boats to cut the mooring cables of the mines, causing them to float to the surface or explode. This dangerous task required precision and courage, as the vessels were often exposed to enemy fire, including artillery from concealed caves along the coast.

The minesweeping operations in Wonsan Harbor were critical for the success of UN naval and amphibious activities. By clearing the harbor of mines, the UN forces were able to establish control over the maritime routes, facilitating the movement of ships and supporting the overall military strategy.

The USS MSB-16 and its crew, along with other mine-sweeping vessels, contributed significantly to the safety and success of UN operations in the Korean War. Their efforts in clearing mines from Wonsan Harbor exemplify the importance of mine countermeasures in naval warfare and the sacrifices made to secure key strategic locations during the conflict.

The flag that flew from M.S.B-16 that flew from her mast during this time as well as the Russian style of mine she cleared are proudly maintained and displayed in our collection here at Ghosts of the Battlefield, its history preserved.