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z'Defeating the become un-watchable because of built up


magnetism bending the eLectronic beam.
This was Worid Wa r ll tech n ology applied

curse of the
in the home. The same system was also
widely used in public ibra. as until recently,
where details of a book's oan was recorded
on a magnetic strip, which was cancelled by

magnetic mine degaussing upon the boo. s -=tr-n.

Mine technology
Degaussing in a mi tarv sense - on a vastly
Degaussing technology has saved greater scale but stil f o o,,^/' ng the same
basic ideas - arose out ol rrecessity with the
thousands of lives since World War l, development between the two World Wars of

but the solutions have required some increasingly'clever' m ines,


Mines have been used as a marine weapon
extraordinary engineering creativity since the 1 6'h century, when the Chinese used
remotely detonated sealed wooden boxes full
of explosives against Japanese pirates.
Words: Keith Ray Modern style submar'ne n ires came
into use at around the start ofthe 20th
century, being either remotely detonated,
Whilst hardly a glamorous topic, degaussing television, most people would have had or triggered by contact.
was a major factor in assisting the victory at degaussing equipment in their home Throughout World War I contact mines
sea in World War ll. without ever realising it. were used extensively, with over 190,000
Essentially, degaussing means removing ln the days when televisions relied on deployed in the North Sea, Straits of Dover,
the magnetic field, or 'magnetic fingerprint', cathode raytubes, ratherthan LEDs or plasma the Heligoland Bight, and along Britain's
from something which has become screens, when the set was switched on there I East Coast.
magnetised, in this case a ship constructed would be a sort of 'thunk'. That was the sound Atthe end of World War, I both Britain and
largely of iron and steel. ofthe degaussing coil removing residual Germany were keen to develop more
Although it may, at first, appear to be a magnetism from the cathode ray tube and its sophisticated mines. At the time, mines were
rather esoteric topic, degaussing has actually shield and mounting. This action was non-discriminating and could equally blow
been part of our everyday lives for many years. performed every time the set was turned on. up a friendly vessel as an enemy. They were
Until the advent ofthe flat screen Without that the screen would gradually also unreliable.
V
co.nstruction is the only economic route, so
removal of the magnetic footprint is the only
practical solution.

Goiling and wiping


The basic idea behind removing the magnetic
field is to use an electro magnet, in the form of
a large coil, to induce an opposite magnetic
charge to that already present, hence
cancelling it out. There are three basic ways of
doing this, which are normally referred to as:
o Coiling
.Wiping
. Degaussing
Generally speaking the third term,
degaussing, has become the generic term for
A Vickers Wellington fitted with a DWI magnetic mine exploder all three approaches. The original method of
degaussing ships was referred to as'coiling',
ln Britain funding cuts seriously limited (and painfully) and required each ship to be equipped with its
development of more sophisticated mines, but . Detect the mines and destroy them safely own tailor made set of degaussing coils,
in Germany the navy's mine engineers began . Become immune to magnetic detection together with all the supporting equipment
working on magnetic influence mines, and by The first two solutions are fine in home required to generate the very high currents
1924 had developed thei r f i rst successf u I waters. and indeed successful airborne and required, up to 2,000 amps or more.
magnetic proximity mine -the E-BlK. seaborne methods for safely triggering These coils were designed to compensate
This was a 'dip needle' unit which included magnetic mines w.ere developed, including low for both vertical and horizontal components of
a sensor similar to a compass, whose needle
2l
flying aircraft carrying enormous loops of the magnetic signature. and in the more
-when stimulated by a large magnetic object electro-magnets, and ships pulling very long sophisticated installations the adjustment
-would move and trigger the fuse of the mine. loops of magnetic coils at a safe distance could be varied continually by means of a
These mines worked by detecting changes behind. But whilst these ideas are useful in gyroscope which detected changes ofthe
in the Earth's local magnetic field. These home waters and harbours, neither ofthese vessel relative to the Earth's field.
changes could be triggered by any large iron or two solutions works far away from home in This method had the advantage of being
steel object, but would be even more strongly expansive enemy water. able to maintain the vessel's magnetic bias
influenced by a magnetised object moving The ideal solution is to make the vessel continuously and reverse its polarity for
overhead. All steel hulled ships are very large magnetically invisible to the mine. There are operation in either hemisphere.
magnets. The construction process ofsteel two ways of doing this: However, its complexity and cost meant it
hulls itself, especially riveting, instils . Construct the vessel of non-ferrous material was not suitable for installation in allthe ships
magnetism into the hull, and then in operation . Remove the inherent magnetic footprint that needed it. This method was used on many
allsteel hulled ships become more magnetic. from the ferrous material in the hull British cruisers and battleships, and some
It is possible to go some way towards passenger liners used for troop movement
Seeking solutions non-ferrous construction, and indeed part of - most famously RMS Oueen Mary -
Many readers will recall being shown how to the success ofthe Napier Deltic engine for protecting them as they were deployed
make a simple compass at school by stroking minesweepers lies in its largely non-ferrous around the world during the conflict.
a steel needle repeatedly with a magnet, then alloy construction. Many very early
placing it on a piece of card and floating it on mi nesweepers were converted wooden Degaussing stations
water. ln a similarway, as a steel hulled ship trawlers. However, for most large vessels, A much simpler and cheaper solution was
moves through the Earth's magnetic field, so both military and merchant, steel and iron called 'wiping'. lnstead of a permanent coil
ittoo becomes magnetised, just like the installation on each ship, in the case of wiping
needle. lt is simply unavoidable, a law of the coil was a stand-alone shore-based
nature. This is when vessels become potential installation which could process many ships.
victims of magnetic mines. These were based at what became known as
Given that all steel-hulled ships become 'degaussing stations'. Ships would visit these
magnetic, how can they avoid becoming sites periodically, and a cable carrying the
victims of magnetic mines? degaussing current would be dragged over the
There are three solutions: hu ll. The electromagnetic field generated by a
.Avoiding any areas ofsea known to have
high current passing through the cable induced
magnetic mines. Mines are. by necessity, laid the required magnetic bias into the hull as the
in patterns, and these can be learned slowly World War ll degaussing station cable passed over it. with magnetic hysteresis
I HISTORY

current would be reduced slowly whlch


helpedthemagneticbiasto be maintained
Although it sounds crude and brutal, with
&
vast coils absorbing up to 4,000 amps.
degaussing was quite a dellcate and complex
process, and involved a lot mcre tt-an slmply
,gret*$l

,;:irk!
blitzing a ship's hull with elect'o-magnetism.
al;*- Applying too much bias cc";:t or-. or
i*!xi
..]*s*r reversing the polarity by eve' a mcdest
.w amount, could have verY se' c -s
consequencesforthefuture saf::r' of the
vessel. When the vessel visitec:-e cegaussing
station the first step was to esI33 sn the ship's
existing magnetic'fin gerPr; n:'.
This was ach ieved by sa i n g :-: vessel over
i 1

aseriesof magnetometers setl' a re around


Towed electric cables being deployed behind a World War ll Royal Navy minesweeper
equipped with Double-L magnetic minesweeping gear 15Om long with the magneton e::'s around
three metres apart and 1 0m o; : :- e surface.
",
The magnetometers were cc - nected by
cables to the degaussing range louse on the
shore which contained a f ux-eier f or each
magnetometer. Asthe vesse cassed overthe
circuitthe magnetometers r,tol c send
readings to the range house rvhere they were
recorded on magnetic taPe
28
All of the readings wou c:':r be combined
to establish the vessel's mag net c signature,
both intermsof sizeano Po a':\.
This signature would de:erm ne what
* correction needed to be maoe to reduce the
magnetic signature to the oeslred safe level.
In the case of permanent y f ixed coils on a
vessel, the si g natu re wo u d su ggest the size
I

t (nu mber of wind ings ) of th e co ils a nd the


current required. ln the case of a vessel
\ without fixed coils which would just visit the
degaussing station for wiping, it would show
what current would be needed through the
fixed coils for that specific vessel.
The success of the Napier Deltic minesweeper engine lay in its largely non- Once the wiping had been undertaken the
ferrous alloy construction
vessel could betaken again overthe circuit, if
maintaining the bias thereafter. The cables times each year, and it has been reported necessary more than once until the desired
were substantial and very heavy, carrying that during the war degaussing stations, correction had been applied. Sometimes
current in the order of 2,000 amps, and the such as that at Falmouth Docks, were many iterations were necessaryto get it right.
process was complex heavy work. working around the clockwith vessels Although degaussing arose out of
The main problem with wiping ratherthan queuing up for attention in large numbers. necessity in World War ll, and saved countless
using onboard coils was of cou rse that as the It soon became apparentthat a much more Iives, degaussing of mt itary vessels is still
vessel subsequently moved through the convenient method than wiping would be to common today as a precaution.
Earth's magneticfield, so a new magnetic have the vessel sail over a fixed coil placed in Of course, comPuter Power has
signature would be induced in the hull' shallowwater, orto surround the vessel by revolutionisedthe process, and itcan be
This could be mitigated to some degree by floating coils. The only downside was that performed continually and f ully automatically
arranging to change course regularly relative because the distance between the coil and the with modern on-board equipment. Three
to the Earth's field, not necessarily very hullwas inevitably greaterthan with wiping, dimensional on-board digital y controlled
efficient from an operational poi nt of view of even larger currentwould be needed, degaussing equipment can now neutralise up
course, but eventually a return to the typically 3,000-4,000 amps. to generate the to 95 per cent of a vessel's magnetic signature.
degaussing station would become necessary, required magnetic field. After exposure to the However, the basic principles remain just
This typica lly had to be done two or th ree 3,000-4.000 amps for the required period, the the same as they were 80 yea rs ago.