In the inverted world of Rear Adm. Brian McCauley, whatever goes down must come up. So when the U.S. Navy needed an expert to lead the joint U.S.-British-Egyptian operation to clear the explosives-strewn Suez Canal, McCauley was the obvious candidate. “I am,” he proclaims proudly, “the only admiral in the world today who’s ever swept a live mine.” The tall, bespectacled 52-year-old officer last year commanded Operation Endsweep, the clearing of Haiphong and six other booby-trapped North Vietnamese harbors. A firm believer in the efficacy of mines as a weapon, he saw his mission as proof of their value. “There is no question in my mind that it was our mines that brought North Vietnam to its knees,” declares McCauley. “By the time I went in there, they had run out of almost everything.”
McCauley’s latest assignment promises to be a bit more complicated. The 101-mile Suez Canal has lain turgid and lifeless since the Six Day War of 1967, when Egyptian and Israeli forces turned the waterway into a sort of underwater munitions dump—cluttered with submerged tanks, planes, ships and a graveyard of unspent explosives. Now the Israelis have withdrawn from the canal, and Egypt hopes to reopen it within the year. First McCauley will direct 12 Sea Stallion helicopters in sweeping and detonating Israeli-laid acoustic and magnetic mines. Later, U.S. and British experts will use sonar and other detectors to fashion a map of the canal’s littered bottom. Egyptian divers, trained by the U.S. and British experts, will inherit the thankless task of removing the bombs and shells. After that, salvage crews can clear the canal of wrecked ships.
Admiral McCauley is confident the $20 million U.S. share of the operation can be completed in six to eight weeks—a prediction which delights the Egyptians. They have treated the American officer with warmth and cooperation—”the most pleasant surprise of my life,” he calls it. “After North Vietnam, this is quite a change.” He’s currently bunking in the Nile Hilton, but soon will go aboard the helicopter carrier Iwo Jima. He’ll sweep the canal with some strong feelings about the mine as a weapon. “It doesn’t hit churches or hospitals or civilians, and it doesn’t kill anybody who doesn’t move in to get himself killed.”