Tag Archive | minesweeper

Boom!

“GULF OF THAILAND (June 7, 2019) The Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship USS Pioneer (MCM 9) observes a controlled mine detonation while conducting a joint mine countermeasures exercise with the Royal Thai Navy during Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Thailand 2019.” :

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Corbin Shea/Released)

With the premature scrapping/disposal of the 12 Osprey-class mine hunters (which only had a decade on their hulls when put out to pasture), the now 11-ship (out of 14 built) Avenger-class are all that is left of the dedicated U.S. counter-mine vessels. Of course, the Mine Counter-Measures Modules of the Littoral Combat Ships currently in commission are expected at any time. (Holds breath. Turns blue. Dies of circa 1908-designed mines in a littoral).

Warship Wednesday, June 5, 2019: Overlord’s First Loss, now 75 years on

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, June 5, 2019: Overlord’s First Loss

D-Day Map showing Firing Plan from USS Texas (BB-35) NHHC_1969-232-A_full

NHHC 1969-232-A

Here we see a British Admiralty chart entitled “Iles St Marcouf to Cap Manvieux,” covering a span of the Normandy Coast in France. This chart was used by the venerable New York-class battleship USS Texas (BB-35) during her bombardment operations in support of the Operation Neptune landings, 6 June 1944, the seaside part of Operation Overlord. If you note in the top right-hand quarter of the chart is a set of two parallel lines marked with dan buoys marking a 900-meter-wide channel that was swept of mines immediately prior to and on D-Day.

In short, if it hadn’t had been for those minecraft that cleared the aforementioned path, the whole invasion would have gone a good bit different. With that, today’s Warship Wednesday is on the loss of the Raven-class minesweeper USS Osprey (AM-56), which sunk 75 years ago on 5 June 1944. As noted by military historian and D-Day guru Stephen Ambrose, the six bluejackets killed on Osprey that day were the first Allied casualties of Overlord.

The two ships of the Raven-class were basically all-diesel predecessors of the later Auk-class minesweepers (which had diesel-electric drives) and came in a tad lighter, giving them a draft that was almost two feet shallower.

USS Raven (AM-55), Osprey’s sole sister, off Rockland, Maine, 19 March 1941, while running trials 19-N-24352

Built side-by-side in 1939-40 at the Norfolk Navy Yard as AM-55 and AM-56, the much more prolific (95 hull) Auks followed them with hull numbers that started at AM-57.

Named for the large, hawk-like bird with a dark brown back and a white breast, Osprey was the second such warship for the Navy with that moniker, with the first being the Lapwing-class minesweeper AM-29 which was commissioned in 1919 then soon transferred to the US Coast and Geodetic Survey as USC&GS Pioneer.

USS Osprey (AM-56) soon after her completion. Note her hull numbers. USN Photo 120-15

USS Osprey (AM-56) soon after her completion. Note her hull numbers and two-part scheme. USN Photo 120-15

Commissioned 16 December 1940, by mid-1941 Osprey was detailed with coastal patrol duties off the U.S. Eastern seaboard and, once America got more active in the European war after Pearl Harbor, soon found herself in England.

USS Osprey (AM-56) Underway, circa April 1941, probably while running trials. Note that her bow numbers have been freshly painted out. Photograph was received from the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Portsmouth, Virginia, in 1972. NH 84026

USS Osprey (AM-56) underway with a bone in her teeth, circa April 1941, probably while running trials. Note that her bow numbers have been freshly painted out and she wears an all-over dark scheme. The photograph was received from the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Portsmouth, Virginia, in 1972. NH 84026

Osprey Off the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, 19 April 1941 19-N-23990

Osprey Off the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, 19 April 1941. Note she has been freshly fitted with depth charge racks on her stern. 19-N-23990

By November 1942, she convoyed with the USS Texas and company and later helped direct and protect the waves of landing craft moving shoreward at Port Lyautey, Morocco for the Allies Torch Landings.

North Africa Operation, November 1942 Invasion convoy en route to Morocco, circa early November 1942. Ships include more than twenty transports, with USS TEXAS (BB-35) and USS AUGUSTA (CA-31) in the distance. Photographed from an SBD off one of the invasion force aircraft carriers. Catalog #: 80-G-1032486

North Africa Operation, November 1942 Invasion convoy en route to Morocco, circa early November 1942. Ships include more than twenty transports, with USS TEXAS (BB-35) and USS AUGUSTA (CA-31) in the distance. Photographed from an SBD off one of the invasion force aircraft carriers. Catalog #: 80-G-1032486

After completing anti-submarine patrols off Casablanca, Osprey returned to Norfolk for a year of coastal escort assignments aimed at helping to curb the German U-boat threat off Hampton Roads. With other minesweepers, she escorted convoys from Norfolk and New York to ports in the Caribbean and along the Gulf Coast.

Raven photographed in camouflage paint in 1943 with depth charge rack at stern. Osprey had a similar scheme at the time NH 43519

Raven photographed in camouflage paint in 1943 with filled depth charge rack at the stern and additional AAA weapons. Also, note her false bow-wave and smaller but visible hull numbers. Osprey had a similar scheme at the time. NH 43519

By April 1944, Osprey was back across the pond and assigned to the growing invasion flotilla heading for Normandy. Rommel, who had wanted to sow millions of landmines in France to seal off the beaches from invasion, was also a fan of their seagoing variants.

“The Generalfeldmarschall himself had quickly grasped the value of naval mines in his system of defense. He continually requested an increased use of this weapon,” notes a U.S. Navy history.

Dropping mines from a German mine layer during World War II. The Seemine looks to be an EMC-type contact mine which used a charge of 551-pounds. The Germans were fans of contact (with both Hertz and three horns) and magnetic influence mines in moored and drifting flavors and used them liberally during the war from Greece to Norway, often with anti-sweep obstructors. NH 71333

Dropping mines from a German minelayer during World War II. The Seemine looks to be an EMC-type contact type which used a charge of 551-pounds. The Germans were fans of contact (with both Hertz and switch horns) and magnetic influence mines in moored and drifting flavors and used them liberally during the war from Greece to Norway, often with anti-sweep obstructors. NH 71333

German sea mines in a railroad car, abandoned in the railway station at Cherbourg, France, 3 July 1944. 80-G-254312

German sea mines in a railroad car, abandoned in the railway station at Cherbourg, France, 3 July 1944. 80-G-254312

The German naval minefield facing the Overlord invasion stretched 120 km across the Bay of Normandy and was 16 km deep.

The Allied plan was to use 255 vessels to clear 10 channels through the mine barrage– two channels per beach– in the immediate predawn hours of D-Day, with each sweeper ship, such as Osprey, clearing paths by cutting the moored contact mines. Specially equipped trawlers would follow on the search for magnetic mines while dan-laying launches would mark the swept zone. The channels were to be from 400 to 1,200 yards in width depending on their route.

The danger of mines in inshore waters was to be disregarded during the assault, but the areas were to be searched as soon as sweepers were available.

British Admiral Bertram Ramsay noted that “There is no doubt that the mine is our greatest obstacle to success,” when discussing the Cross-Channel attack. “And if we manage to reach the enemy coast without being disorganized and suffering serious losses, we should be fortunate.”

After months of intensive practice in combined sweeping operations with MinRon 7 off Torbay, England, en route to the Normandy invasion beaches on 5 June, Osprey soon struck an enemy mine. The crew put out the resultant fires but could not save their vessel. She sank that evening.

Early on the 6th, the mine division started sweeping the coast of France in assault and check sweeps to assure safe passage channels for the landing craft and the primary naval gunfire support for the beaches.

The only loss to mines on 5 June, Osprey was soon joined by numerous other craft who could not stay in the same cleared channel as the battleships or were hit by floating contact mines, cut free in the initial sweeping. This was later compounded by the Germans air-dropping mines and sowing them at night from E-boats and coasters.

On 6 June, the landing craft USS LCI(L)-85, LCI(L)-91, LCI(L)-497, LCT-197, LCT-294, LCT-305, LCT-332, LCT-364, LCT-397, LCT-555, LCT-703 and destroyer HMS Wrestler all struck mines just off the beachhead and were lost.

The next day saw the loss of the Army transport ship USAT Francis C. Harrington, Navy transport USS Susan B. Anthony, landing craft LCI(L)-416, LCI(L)-436, LCI(L)-458, LCI(L)-489, LCI(L)-586, and the Auk-class minesweeper USS Tide (AM-125), all to the infernal devices. Meanwhile, the Allen Sumner-class destroyer USS Meredith (DD-726) was damaged by a mine and sunk the next day by a Luftwaffe bombing which split her in two.

Auk-class minesweeper USS Tide (AM-125) sinking off Utah Beach after striking a mine during the Normandy invasion, 7 June 1944. USS PT-509 and USS Pheasant (AM-61) are standing by. Photographed from USS Threat (AM-124). 80-G-651677

Auk-class minesweeper USS Tide (AM-125) sinking off Utah Beach after striking a mine during the Normandy invasion, 7 June 1944. USS PT-509 and USS Pheasant (AM-61) are standing by. Photographed from USS Threat (AM-124). 80-G-651677

On 8 June, the net layer HMS Minster was sunk by a mine off Utah Beach while the Buckley-class destroyer escort USS Rich (DE-695) struck two mines and sank in the English Channel off Normandy.

The U.S. Navy destroyer escort USS Rich (DE-695) strikes a mine, amidships, while operating off Normandy, France, on 8 June 1944. She had previously hit another mine, which blew off her stern. NH 44312

The U.S. Navy destroyer escort USS Rich (DE-695) strikes a mine, amidships, while operating off Normandy, France, on 8 June 1944. She had previously hit another mine, which blew off her stern. NH 44312

Through the end of the month, mines off Normandy would continue to claim another dozen landing craft and steamers, as well as the British RN destroyers HMS Fury and HMS Swift along with the Dido-class cruiser HMS Scylla, proving just how hazardous the belt laid by the Germans, had been. It is easy to forget, with the scale of Overlord, but mines caused one hell of a butcher’s bill in June 1944 off the French coast.

As for Osprey‘s sister ship, Raven would sweep at least 21 German and Italian naval mines on D-Day alone. She would survive the war and pass into mothballs with three battle stars to her credit.

Raven seen flanked in the 1946-47 edition of Jane's Fighting Ships, shown as a single outlier among 63 Auk-class and 106 Admirable-class minesweepers in U.S. service.

Raven seen flanked in the 1946-47 edition of Jane’s Fighting Ships, shown as a single outlier among 63 Auk-class and 106 Admirable-class minesweepers in U.S. service.

Struck in 1967, she was sunk as a target in deep water off the coast of southern California.

As noted by DANFS, the name Osprey was assigned to AM-406 on 17 May 1945, but the construction of that ship was canceled just three months later with the end of the war.

Osprey would go on to grace the hulls of two later U.S. Navy minecraft: AMS-28, a small YMS-1-class minesweeper which served in Korea where she prepared a firing base anchorage for the big guns of the battleship USS Missouri (BB-63) at the Inchon landings– a true namesake to her predecessor– and MHC-51, the lead ship of late Cold War Osprey-class coastal mine hunters.

Four U.S. Navy minesweepers (AMS) tied up at Yokosuka, Japan, following mine clearance activities off Korea. Original photo is dated 30 November 1950. These four ships, all units of Mine Division 31, are (from left to right): USS Merganser (AMS-26); USS Osprey (AMS-28); USS Chatterer (AMS-40) and USS Mockingbird (AMS-27). Ship in the extreme left background is USS Wantuck (APD-125). Official U.S. Navy Photograph 80-G-424597, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Four U.S. Navy minesweepers (AMS) tied up at Yokosuka, Japan, following mine clearance activities off Korea. The original photo is dated 30 November 1950. These four ships, all units of Mine Division 31, are (from left to right): USS Merganser (AMS-26); USS Osprey (AMS-28); USS Chatterer (AMS-40) and USS Mockingbird (AMS-27). Ship in the extreme left background is USS Wantuck (APD-125). Official U.S. Navy Photograph 80-G-424597, now in the collections of the National Archives.

USS Osprey (MHC-51), a coastal minehunter in commission from 1993 to 2006. Of note, one of her sister ships was USS Raven (MHC-61), a familiar name on her family tree. NHHC L45-221.03.01

As for our D-Day Osprey, her bell surfaced some time ago, but I believe is in private hands in the UK.

USS Osprey ships bell Ivan Warren Michelle Mary Fishing & Diving Charters 2007 via wrecksite.eu

USS Osprey ships bell, via Ivan Warren Michelle Mary Fishing & Diving Charters in 2007, via wrecksite.eu

Still, if it had not been for Osprey and those like her, the Longest Day could have proved even longer.

Specs:

USS Osprey (AM-56) Off the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, 19 April 194119-N-23989

USS Osprey (AM-56) Off the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, 19 April 194119-N-23989

Displacement: 810 tons, 1040 tons full load
Length: 220 ft 6 in overall, 215 w.l.
Beam: 32 ft 2 in
Draft: 9 ft 4 in mean
Machinery: Diesel, 2 shafts, 1,800 BHP
Speed: 18 knots
Complement:105 officers and men
Armament:
2 × 3″/50 caliber guns
2 × 40 mm AA guns
8 × 20 mm Oerlikon cannons (added 1942)
2 × depth charge tracks (added 1941)

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Warship Wednesday, April 17, 2018: Canadian Snorkel Power

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, April 17, 2018: Canadian Snorkel Power

U-190 surrendered

George Metcalf Archival Collection, Canadian War Museum (CWM) 20030014-094

Here we see IXC/40-class submarine U-190 of the German Kriegsmarine sailing to Bay Bulls, Newfoundland in May 1945, under escort by Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) vessels including the Fairmile-type motor launch seen in the distance. If you note, she is flying the RCN’s White Ensign and had just become the country’s first post-WWII submarine.

U190 surrendered Canadian jack

Boom! The RCN Jack over her conning tower, as the first German submarine, to surrender to the Canadians (and their first sub in service since 1927). Note the sub’s distinctive 8-pointed star crest and her post-commissioning snorkel apparatus. Photo via The Rooms

One of the nearly 200 Type IXC/40s completed during the war, U-190 was laid down in 1941 at DeSchiMAG AG Weser of Bremen and commissioned on 24 September 1942 with Kaptlt. Max Wintermeyer as her first skipper. At some 1,257-tons, she was not a big boat, running just 251-feet overall. However, the class was well designed and capable of 13,000-nm cruises on their economical diesel engines. Able to carry 22 torpedoes and a 4.1-inch deck gun with 180~ shells as well as a Flak armament, they were deadly and efficient killers when it came to stalking Allied merchantmen.

This photograph shows the September 1942 commissioning of the German submarine U-190. As part of the commissioning ceremony, the German navy’s ensign flies from the conning tower (left) and is being given the Nazi salute by the submarine’s commanding officer (center right) and by spectators (lower right). George Metcalf Archival Collection CWM 19870078-002

By 1 March 1943, she was assigned to 2 Flottille in Lorient, France.

As noted by Uboat.net, although she conducted six war patrols and took part in at least three North Atlantic wolfpacks (Neuland, Ostmark, and Stürmer), she was not very successful. Her only confirmed merchant victim was the British-flagged freighter Empire Lakeland (7,015-tons) sunk south of Iceland while part of New York-to-Glasgow convoy SC-121 during the submarine’s 111-day 2nd Patrol.

In August 1944, Oblt. Hans-Erwin Reith, 24, took command of the vessel and bugged out for Flensburg as the Allied liberation of France removed Lorient as an operating base. On 19 February 1945, Reith left Horten for U-190‘s final (German) patrol. It would last 85-days, with the crew later saying she spent upwards of 40 days on this patrol snorkeling continuously.

Her mission, as detailed by Cameron Pulsifer:

Equipped with a schnorchel and armed with 6 [T-3 Lut] contact torpedoes and eight T-5 Gnat acoustic torpedoes, its mission was to interdict Allied shipping off Sable Island and the approaches to Halifax harbor. It was, in fact, part of the new strategy on the part of the commander-in-chief of the German Navy, Admiral Karl Dönitz, initiated in the dying days of the Nazi regime, to increase pressure on shipping in North American waters in an attempt to ease allied naval pressure in waters closer to home.

There, on 16 April, U-190 encountered a Bangor-class minesweeper, HMCS Esquimalt (J272) and sank her with a single Gnat fired from a stern tube. Esquimalt was the last Canadian warship lost to enemy action during the Second World War (or since, for that matter) and took 39 souls with her to the bottom. U-190 remained submerged for a solid week following this attack, during which time she was hunted by surface vessels, who rained numerous depth charges down upon her decks.

Dönitz had ordered all his U-boats to surrender as from 08:00 5 May, but not all did so immediately.

According to an interrogation report of U-190s crew, it was only on the 11th that U-190 picked up an incomplete version of the surrender orders, to which they responded “An B.d.U.: Seit 12 April ohne F/T. Nach erfolgreicher Unternehmung auf Ruckmarsch. F/T über Kapitulation verstuemmelt aufgenommen. Bitte um nähere Anweisungen”. (“To Admiral Commanding U-boats: Have been without wireless communication since 12 April. Now homeward bound after a successful patrol. Wireless orders about surrender received in a mutilated form. Request fuller details”)

However, Germany never returned their call and on 12 May U-190 surfaced, raised a black flag, tossed her secret papers and gun ammo overboard, and sailed on a heading of 305-degrees while sending surrender signals to New York, Boston, and Cape Race. Soon met by the River-class frigate HMCS Victoriaville (K684) and Flower-class corvette Thorlock (K394) at 43° 54’N., 45° 15′ W, Reith signed a surrender document and deeded his boat over to Canada.

In this sketch by HMCS Victoriaville's gunnery officer, U-190's captain surrenders his submarine to the captain of the Canadian frigate, Lieutenant Commander Lester Hickey (center left, with cap). Hans-Erwin Reith (center, with beard), U-190's commander since July 1944, subsequently signed a deed of unconditional surrender handing over the U-Boat to the Royal Canadian Navy. Lieutenant Bud Burbridge (left) was among the Canadians who would form part of the crew taking U-190 to Bay Bulls, Newfoundland. George Metcalf Archival Collection CWM 20030255-010

In this sketch by HMCS Victoriaville’s gunnery officer, U-190’s captain surrenders his submarine to the captain of the Canadian frigate, Lieutenant Commander Lester Hickey (center left, with cap). Hans-Erwin Reith (center, with beard), U-190’s commander since July 1944, subsequently signed a deed of unconditional surrender handing over the U-Boat to the Royal Canadian Navy. Lieutenant Bud Burbridge (left) was among the Canadians who would form part of the crew taking U-190 to Bay Bulls, Newfoundland. George Metcalf Archival Collection CWM 20030255-010

In the early hours of 12 May 1945, Hans-Erwin Reith, U-190's commander, signed this document formally surrendering the submarine to the Royal Canadian Navy. Although units of the Royal Canadian Navy had been involved in the boarding or surrender of U-Boats during the war, this document marked the first formal surrender of a German submarine to Canadian forces. Kenneth George Tryon donated this document and related artifacts to the Canadian War Museum in 1968. George Metcalf Archival Collection CWM 19680168-009

In the early hours of 12 May 1945, Hans-Erwin Reith, U-190’s commander, signed this document formally surrendering the submarine to the Royal Canadian Navy. Although units of the Royal Canadian Navy had been involved in the boarding or surrender of U-Boats during the war, this document marked the first formal surrender of a German submarine to Canadian forces. Kenneth George Tryon donated this document and related artifacts to the Canadian War Museum in 1968. George Metcalf Archival Collection CWM 19680168-009

For the next two days, with a skeleton German crew aboard watched by an armed force of Canadians, U-190 made for Bay Bulls while flying an RCN White Ensign.

Once they arrived, the Germans were transferred ashore to a POW camp.

Canadian war artist Tom Wood's watercolor depicts German sailors being transferred from U-190 on 14 May 1945. Wood, assigned to paint subjects in eastern Canada and Newfoundland, was present when Canadian ships escorted U-190 to Bay Bulls, south of St. John's. There, Canadians removed the last of the U-Boat's crew, who had been operating the vessel under guard. The majority of U-190's crew had been taken onto Canadian ships at the time of the submarine's surrender. Beaverbrook Collection of War Art. CWM 19710261-4870

Canadian war artist Tom Wood’s watercolor depicts German sailors being transferred from U-190 on 14 May 1945. Wood, assigned to paint subjects in eastern Canada and Newfoundland, was present when Canadian ships escorted U-190 to Bay Bulls, south of St. John’s. There, Canadians removed the last of the U-Boat’s crew, who had been operating the vessel under guard. The majority of U-190’s crew had been taken onto Canadian ships at the time of the submarine’s surrender. Beaverbrook Collection of War Art. CWM 19710261-4870

U-190 reached its destination on 14 May.

U190 alongside at Bulls Bay

U-190 star of Rio

According to the Crow’s Nest, the 8-pointed star was the Stern von Rio (Star of Rio).” Some say this name came from the boat’s inaugural trip which was supposedly to Rio but others recall it simply as the name to a popular song in Germany at the time. Hirschmann the U-190’s chief engineer, says it was only a compass rose.”

Canada’s early submarine program

The Canadians got into subs in a weird way when in August 1914, Sir Richard McBride, KCMG, the premier of British Columbia, bought a pair of small (144-foot, 300-ton) coastal submarines from Seattle Construction and Drydock Company, an act that your local government normally doesn’t do. The boats had been ordered by Chile who later refused them as not up to snuff.

Sailing for Vancouver in the dark of night as they were technically acquired in violation of a ton of international agreements (and bought for twice the annual budget for the entire Royal Canadian Navy!) they were commissioned as HMCS CC-1 and CC-2. The Dominion Government of Canada later ratified the sale while a subsequent investigation was conducted into how they were acquired.

CC-class

Nonetheless, the two tiny CC boats were the first submarines of the Maple Leaf and continued in service until after the Great War when they were laid up and replaced by a pair of American-made 435-ton H-class submarines from the Royal Navy, HMS H14 and H15, which remained in the Canadian fleet as HMCS CH-14 and CH-15 until broken up in 1927.

H-class

After this, Canada went out of the submarine business– until 1945.

Now back to our U-boat.

U190 pennant

Marked “HMC Sub U-190,” for “His Majesty’s Canadian Submarine,” the pennant graphically marked the new ownership of the surrendered submarine, with a bulldog seizing a Nazi eagle by the neck. CWM 19760322-001

The Canadians in May 1945 had two German Type IXC/40 U-boats, sisters U-190 and U-889, both in working condition and constructed in the same builder’s yard. After transferring them on paper to the Royal Navy, they were transferred back (apparently the same day) and both became vessels of the RCN, dubbed HCMS U-190 and U-889.

The navy promptly took U-190 on a tour of eastern Canadian ports before putting it to use for training.

German submarine entering U-190 in St. John's Harbour Newfoundland courtesy of The Rooms

German submarine entering U-190 in St. John’s Harbour Newfoundland, courtesy of The Rooms

German submarine U-190 in St. John's Harbour Newfoundland courtesy of The Rooms U190

German submarine U-190 in St. John’s Harbour Newfoundland, courtesy of The Rooms

German submarine U-190 in St. John's Harbour Newfoundland courtesy of The Rooms U190

German submarine U-190 in St. John’s Harbour Newfoundland, courtesy of The Rooms. Today, her periscope is still there, located since 1963 in The Crow’s Nest Officer’s Club overlooking this very spot.

U-889 in the meantime had been deemed as one of the 10 U-boats allocated to the U.S. by the Tripartite Naval Commission and was decommissioned in December 1945 and transferred to the Yanks who later scuttled her in 1947 after a series of experiments.

U-889 in U.S. service before she was scuttled. The Navy was very interested in her snorkel, as numerous images of it are in the archives. NH 111270

As for U-190, she was soldiered on as Canada’s sole submarine throughout 1946 and into 1947.

Of her time in Canadian custody and use, dozens of detailed photos exist of her interior, a rare sight today. (See For Posterity’s Sake, The Rooms, The Crow’s Nest and Haze Gray for more.)

In October 1947, the Canadian Navy sank U-190 as a target during Operation Scuttled, a live-fire naval exercise off Halifax– near the site of Esquimalt‘s loss. It was to be epic, with the Tribal-class destroyers HMCS Nootka and HMCS Haida using their 4.7-inch guns and Hedgehog ASW mortars on her after an aerial task force of Seafires, Fireflies, Ansons and Swordfish worked her over with ordnance.

U-190 was the featured star of “Operation Scuttled” staged near the spot where Esquimalt was sunk.

Sadly, the actual show fell far short.

From Michael Hadley’s, U-Boats Against Canada:

Almost before the ships had a chance to enter the act, U-190 pointed its bows into the air after the first rocket attack and slipped silently beneath the sea. And thus, the RCN press release announced with inflated pathos, “the once deadly sea raider came to a swift and ignominious end” – just 19 minutes after “Operation Scuttled” had begun.

Nonetheless, for a destroyed U-boat, U-190 is remarkably well preserved as relics of her are all over North America.

U-190‘s war diary is in the collection of the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command

The working Enigma machine recovered on U-190 is now part of the Canadian CSE’s (Communications Security Establishment– the country’s crypto agency) collection of historical artifacts.

The Canadian War Museum has her pennant, star globe, equipment plates, a C.G. Haenel-made MP28/2 Sub-machine Gun seized from her armory (which had been on display at Naval Service Headquarters in Ottawa until 1959) and other gear.

MP28 2 Sub-machine Gun seized from U-190

How about a submarine’s submachine gun? The CWM has it, from U-190

And of course, U-190‘s sky periscope, one of just five such instruments preserved worldwide, has long been in the care of the historic Crow’s Nest Officers Club in St. John’s, Newfoundland where its top sticks out over the roof to allow members and visitors to peak out over the harbor.

U190 scope Crows nest

The periscope has reportedly been there since 1963 (Photo: The Crow’s Nest)

Only a single member of the Type IXC class survives, U-505 at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Of the 87 Type IXC/40 subvariants, such as U-190 and U-889, the salvaged hull and conning tower of U-534 remains preserved at Birkenhead in England.

As for Reith, he was repatriated to Germany in 1946 and died there in 1987, aged 67. His personal DWM Model 1906 (1st issue) Navy Luger recently came up at auction. Likely presented to him by family or friends on the occasion of his new command, it is marked “U-190.” It appears that it too was surrendered in 1945 and went on to live its own life.

Reith Luger P06 Navy RIAC U-1902

RIAC

Esquimalt was his only victory and she is remembered every year at a public ceremony in the British Columbia that served as her namesake.

Meanwhile, the Canadians took a decade break from subsea ops after U-190 was scuttled but eventually got back into the sub biz, using two U.S. boats, —USS Burrfish (SS-312) and USS Argonaut (SS-475), as HMCS Grilse (SS 71) and Rainbow (SS 75), respectively– from 1961 to 1974. Then they bought their first new subs since CC-1 & CC-2, a trio of British Oberon-class diesel boats– HMCS Ojibwa (S72), Onondaga (S73) and Okanagan (S74), which served from 1965 to 2000. Since then, they have been using the quartet of second-hand RN Upholder-class subs, HMCS Victoria (SSK-876), Windsor (SSK-877), Corner Brook (SSK-878) and Chicoutimi (SSK-879) which are expected to remain in service in some form until the 2030s.

Specs:

U-190 model by Maschinenbau, Gabler CWM 19720073-001

U-190 model by Maschinenbau, Gabler CWM 19720073-001

Displacement:
1,144 t (1,126 long tons) surfaced
1,257 t (1,237 long tons) submerged
Length:
251 ft 10 in o/a
192 ft 9 in pressure hull
Beam:
22 ft 6 in o/a
14 ft 7 in pressure hull
Height: 31 ft 6 in
Draught: 15 ft 4 in
Installed power:
4,400 PS (3,200 kW; 4,300 bhp) (diesels)
1,000 PS (740 kW; 990 shp) (electric)
Propulsion:
2 shafts
2 × diesel engines
2 × electric motors
Range:
13,850 nmi at 10 knots surfaced
63 nmi at 4 knots submerged
Test depth: 230 m (750 ft)
Complement: 4 officers, 44 enlisted
Armament:
6 × torpedo tubes (4 bow, 2 stern)
22 × 53.3 cm (21 in) torpedoes
1 × 10.5 cm (4.1 in) SK C/32 deck gun (180 rounds)
1 × 3.7 cm (1.5 in) SK C/30 AA gun
1 × twin 2 cm FlaK 30 AA guns

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The hard-serving Bangor-class and the last Canadian loss of WWII

An unsung class of warship during WWII was the 59-vessel Bangor/Blyth/Ardrossan-class oceangoing minesweepers.

08.04. 1 Bangor Class Minesweeper 2

Despite their designation, these 600-ton/162-foot vessels carried a decent main gun (3-inch in RN service, 4-inch in the RCN) as well as ASW kit to include depth charges and listening gear to bust subs, making them something of a multi-purpose coastal escort that could also sweep mines.

They spent much of their time in harm’s way, with nearly a quarter of the class never seeing the end of the war.

Several were lost in their primary tasking, including HMS Clacton (J151), HMS Cromer (J128), HMS Felixstowe (J126) and HMS Cromarty (J09) all struck mines during clearing efforts in the Med in 1942-43, pointing out just how dangerous the mission was. Off Normandy, class member HMS Peterhead (J59) was similarly lost just two days after D-Day while HMCS Mulgrave (J313), who struck a mine off Le Havre, was so badly damaged she was never repaired.

When it came to fighting subs, HMCS Clayoquot (J174), HMCS Clayoquot (J174) and HMS Hythe (J194) were torpedoed and lost. Meanwhile, three whose names shall not be mentioned were captured by the Japanese when Hong Kong fell.

Post-War, they continued to serve in RN and Commonwealth service, as well as in the Turkish and French fleets well into the 1970s, in all, giving excellent service for such a humble maritime figure.

Which brings us to the subject today.

HMCS Esquimalt (J272) was a Bangor-class minesweeper that was sunk by U-190, a German U-Boat on 16 April 1945, making her the last Canadian warship lost to enemy action during the Second World War (or since, for that matter).

HMCS Esquimalt J272 Via Canada Archives

Note her splinter mats, forward 12 pounder (76mm gun) and HF/DF radio gear

Tragically, she was lost just three weeks before VE-Day, proof that the Battle of the Atlantic remained very hot right until the end of the conflict– and then some.

Every year on the anniversary of her sinking, the 35-member Naden Band of the Royal Canadian Navy, accompanied by a Guard of Honour from Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt pay tribute to the crew of the lost minesweeper and the 39 souls still at sea with a moment of silence and wreath-laying in Esquimalt Memorial Park, where a cairn to the ship and crew has long been established.

This year’s ceremony will be held at 5:45 pm and is open to the public.

As for what became of U-190, that’s another story.

Warship Wednesday Dec. 7, 2016: The eclipsing old bird of Battleship Row

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday Dec. 7, 2016: The eclipsing old bird of Battleship Row

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-32445

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-32445

Here we see the Lapwing (“old bird”)-class minesweeper-turned-seaplane tender USS Avocet (AVP-4) from atop a building at Naval Air Station Ford Island, looking toward the Navy Yard. USS Nevada (BB-36) is at right, with her bow afire. Beyond her is the burning USS Shaw (DD-373). Smoke at left comes from the destroyers Cassin (DD-372) and Downes (DD-375), ablaze in Drydock Number One. The day, of course, is December 7, 1941 and you can see the gunners aboard Avocet looking for more Japanese planes (they had already smoked one) at about the time the air raid ended.

Inspired by large seagoing New England fishing trawlers, the Lapwings were 187-foot long ships that were large enough, at 965-tons full, to carry a pair of economical reciprocating diesel engines (or two boilers and one VTE engine) with a decent enough range to make it across the Atlantic on their own (though with a blisteringly slow speed of just 14 knots when wide open on trials.)

Not intended to do much more than clear mines, they were given a couple 3″/23 pop guns to discourage small enemy surface combatants intent to keep minesweepers from clearing said mines. The class leader, Lapwing, designated Auxiliary Minesweeper #1 (AM-1), was laid down at Todd in New York in October 1917 and another 53 soon followed. While five were canceled in November 1918, the other 48 were eventually finished– even if they came to the war a little late.

Which leads us to the hero of our tale, USS Avocet, named after a long-legged, web-footed shore bird found in western and southern states– the first such naval vessel to carry the moniker. Laid down as Minesweeper No. 19 on 13 September 1917 at Baltimore, Maryland by the Baltimore Drydock & Shipbuilding Co, she was commissioned just over a year later on 17 September 1918– some seven weeks before the end of the Great War.

USS AVOCET (AM-19) at Baltimore, Maryland, 28 September 1918. Catalog #: NH 57468

USS AVOCET (AM-19) at Baltimore, Maryland, 28 September 1918. Catalog #: NH 57468. Note the large searchlight on her fwd mast.

After spending eight months assigned to the Fifth Naval District, where she drug for possible German mines up and down the Eastern seaboard, she landed her 3-inchers and prepared to ship for the North Sea where she would pitch in to clear the great barrage of mines sown there to shut off the Kaiser’s U-boats from the Atlantic. Setting out with sisterships Quail (Minesweeper No. 15) and Lark (Minesweeper No. 21), the three sweeps made it to the Orkney Islands by 14 July 1919 where they joined Whippoorwill (Minesweeper No. 35) and Avocet was made flag of the four-ship division.

Spending the summer sweeping (and almost being blown sky high by a British contact mine that bumped up against her hull) Avocet sailed back home in October, rescuing the crew of the sinking Spanish schooner Marie Geresee on the way.

It would not be her last rescue.

After being welcomed by the SECNAV and inspected at Hampton Roads, Avocet would transfer to the Pacific for the rest of her career. Assigned to the Asiatic Fleet’s Minesweeping Detachment in 1921, she would become a familiar sight at Cavite in the Philippines where she was decommissioned 3 April 1922 and laid up.

Reactivated in 1925, she was converted to an auxiliary aircraft tender taking care of the seaplanes of VT-20 and VT-5A (with men from that squadron living on board a former coal barge, YC-147, moored alongside) as well as visiting British flying boats and Army amphibian aircraft at Bolinao Harbor while putting to sea on occasion to tow battle raft targets for fleet gunnery practice.

Tending the flock: Avocet with two T4M floatplanes of VT-5 in Manila Bay circa early 1932. One aircraft is afloat under the ship's aircraft handling boom aft while the other is on a wooden Navy open lighter (YC-147) amidships. Men from the aircraft squadron also lived in the tents on the barge. Luxury, you are the Asiatic Fleet! The T4M, the ultimate evolution of the Martin SC-1 series, was a hearty torpedo bomber scout with a range pushing 700 nms. The Navy ordered 102 of the planes and they remained in service until the late 1930s.

Tending the flock: Avocet with two T4M floatplanes of VT-5 in Manila Bay circa early 1932. One aircraft is afloat under the ship’s aircraft handling boom aft while the other is on a wooden Navy open lighter (YC-147) amidships. Men from the aircraft squadron also lived in the tents on the barge. Luxury, you are the Asiatic Fleet! The T4M, the ultimate evolution of the Martin SC-1 series, was a hearty torpedo bomber scout with a range pushing 700 nms. The Navy ordered 102 of the planes and they remained in service until the late 1930s. As for VT-5, they later flew carrier-based TBD Devastators from Yorktown (CV-5) and Saratoga until the type was retired in favor of the TBF-1 Avenger, at which point VT-5 was resurrected for the new Yorktown (CV-10)

In 1928, she got her teeth back when she was rearmed with a single more modern 3” /50 gun, and survived being grounded during a typhoon in Force 8 winds.

By 1932, Avocet was transferred to Hawaii to support Pearl Harbor-based flying boats. There, she was the first to support seaplanes at the remote French Frigate Shoals and outlying lagoons at Laysan and Nihoa as well as Midway.

Heavy cruiser USS Augusta (CA-31) steaming past the Fleet Air Base at Pearl Harbor, T.H., January 1933. USS AVOCET (AM-19), serving as an aircraft tender, is at the dock. Note cane fields being burned at upper right. Catalog #: 80-CF-21338-4

Heavy cruiser USS Augusta (CA-31) steaming past the Fleet Air Base at Pearl Harbor, T.H., January 1933. USS AVOCET (AM-19), serving as an aircraft tender, is at the dock. Note cane fields being burned at upper right. Catalog #: 80-CF-21338-4

In 1934, the aging tender served as flagship for Rear Adm. Alfred W. Johnson and was used in expeditionary missions in Nicaragua, crossing into the Caribbean to Haiti, then back to the Pacific. Talk about diverse!

In August 1934, Avocet supported VP-7F and VP- 9F in Alaskan waters with early Douglas PD-1 floatplanes to test the ability of tenders to provide advance base support in cold weather conditions.

Image of Avocet as a seaplane tender likely in the late 1920s with what looks like a Martin T3M-2 torpedo bomber from the Pearl Harbor-based Torpedo Squadron 3 (VT-3) on her stern. The Navy ordered an even 100 of the planes in 1926 and they served in both torpedo patrol squadrons and carrier-based scouting squadrons (on Lexington and Saratoga) into the early 1930s.

Image of Avocet as a seaplane tender likely in the late 1920s with what looks like a Martin T3M-2 torpedo bomber from the then-Pearl Harbor-based Torpedo Squadron 3 (VT-3) on her stern. The Navy ordered an even 100 of the planes in 1926 and they served in both torpedo patrol squadrons and carrier-based scouting squadrons (on Lexington and Saratoga) into the early 1930s. VT-3 itself, later flying TBD Devastators from the USS Yorktown, was annihilated at Midway.

As Trans-Pacific clippers came into their own, Avocet increasingly found herself in remote uninhabited tropical atolls, exploring their use for seaplane operations. This led her to bringing some 2-tons of high explosive to Johnson Atoll in 1936 to help blast away coral for a land base there.

On 6 May 1937, Avocet embarked the official 16-member National Geographic-U.S. Navy Eclipse Expedition under Capt. Julius F. Hellweg, USN (Ret.), the superintendent of the Naval Observatory to observe the total solar eclipse set to occur on June 8, 1937 with its peak somewhere over Micronesia.

The expedition took aboard 150 cases of instruments, 10,000 ft. of lumber and 60 bags of cement, remaining at sea for 42 days. In the end, they would watch the eclipse from Canton Island in the Phoenix chain, midway between British Fiji and Hawaii.

canton

According to DANFS, the event went down like this:

While returning to Enderbury to land observers on 24 May, the ship remained at Canton for the eclipse expedition through 8 June. Joined by the British sloop HMS Wellington on 26 May, with men from a New Zealand expedition embarked, Avocet observed the total eclipse of the sun at 0836 on 8 June 1937. Sailing for Pearl Harbor on the afternoon of 9 June, the ship arrived at her destination on the 16th, disembarking her distinguished passengers upon arrival.

According to others, when HMS Wellington arrived at Canton Island– whose ownership was disputed at the time between the U.S. and HMs government– she fired a shot over Avocet‘s bow when the latter refused to cede the choicest anchorage spot to the British vessel after which both captains agreed to “cease fire” until instructions could be received from their respective governments.

The Grimsby-class sloop HMS Wellington (U65), some 1,500-tons with a battery of 4.7-inch MkIX guns was more than a match for the humble Avocet.

The Grimsby-class sloop HMS Wellington (U65), some 1,500-tons with a battery of 4.7-inch Mk IX guns was more than a match for the humble Avocet.

While this may or may not have happened, what is for  sure is there was an exchange of official diplomatic cables about the interaction on Canton that in the end led to a British reoccupation of the island in August 1937.

Where was Avocet by then? She was supporting the huge flattop USS Lexington (CV-2) by transferring avgas to her at Lahaina Roads for her aviators to use in searching the Pacific for the lost aviatrix Amelia Earhart, that’s where.

Then came more seaplane operations, supporting in turn the early Douglas T2D twin-engine torpedo bombers, Consolodated P2Y, and Martin PM2s of VP-4F, 6, 8 and 10 at varying times as well as the smaller single-engined T3/T4Ms of several VT squadrons while searching for lost flying boats including the famed Pan American Airways’ Sikorsky S-42B “Samoan Clipper.”

Avocet was in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 moored port side to the NAS dock where she had a view of Battleship Row.

From DANFS:

At about 0745 on Sunday, 7 December 1941, Avocet‘s security watch reported Japanese planes bombing the seaplane hangars at the south end of Ford Island, and sounded general quarters. Her crew promptly brought up ammunition to her guns, and the ship opened fire soon thereafter. The first shot from Avocet‘s starboard 3-inch gun scored a direct hit on a Nakajima B5N2 carrier attack plane that had just scored a torpedo hit on the battleship California (BB-44), moored nearby. The Nakajima, from the aircraft carrier Kaga‘s air group, caught fire, slanted down from the sky, and crashed on the grounds of the naval hospital, one of five such planes lost by Kaga that morning.

Initially firing at torpedo planes, Avocet‘s gunners shifted their fire to dive bombers attacking ships in the drydock area at the start of the forenoon watch. Then, sighting high altitude bombers overhead, they shifted their fire again. Soon thereafter, five bombs splashed in a nearby berth, but none exploded.

USS Avocet (AVP-4) at Berth Fox-1A, at Ford Island, prior to 1045 hrs. on 7 December, when she moved to avoid oil fires drifting southward along the shore of Ford Island. She is wearing Measure 1 camouflage (dark gray/light gray). Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-32669

USS Avocet (AVP-4) at Berth Fox-1A, at Ford Island, prior to 1045 hrs. on 7 December, when she moved to avoid oil fires drifting southward along the shore of Ford Island. She is wearing Measure 1 camouflage (dark gray/light gray). Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-32669

From her veritable ringside seat, Avocet then witnessed the inspiring sortie of the battleship Nevada (BB-36), the only ship of her type to get underway during the attack. Seeing the dreadnought underway, after clearing her berth astern of the burning battleship Arizona (BB-39), dive-bomber pilots from Kaga singled her out for destruction, 21 planes attacking her from all points of the compass. Avocet‘s captain, Lt. William C. Jonson, Jr., marveled at the Japanese precision, writing later that he had never seen “a more perfectly executed attack.” Avocet‘s gunners added to the barrage to cover the gallant battleship’s passage down the harbor.

USS Nevada (BB-36) headed down channel past the Navy Yard's 1010 Dock, under Japanese air attack during her sortie from Battleship Row. A camouflage Measure 5 false bow wave is faintly visible painted on the battleship's forward hull. Photographed from Ford Island. Small ship in the lower right is USS Avocet (AVP-4). Note fuel tank farm in the left center distance, beyond the Submarine Base. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 97397

USS Nevada (BB-36) headed down channel past the Navy Yard’s 1010 Dock, under Japanese air attack during her sortie from Battleship Row. A camouflage Measure 5 false bow wave is faintly visible painted on the battleship’s forward hull. Photographed from Ford Island. Small ship in the lower right is USS Avocet (AVP-4). Note fuel tank farm in the left center distance, beyond the Submarine Base. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 97397

Although the ship ceased fire at 1000, much work remained to be done in the wake of the devastating surprise attack. She had expended 144 rounds of 3-inch and 1,750 of .30 caliber [that’s a lot of 47-round Lewis machine gun drums!] in the battle against the attacking planes, and had suffered only two casualties: a box of ammunition coming up from the magazines had fallen on the foot of one man, and a piece of flying shrapnel had wounded another. Also during the course of the action, a sailor from the small seaplane tender Swan (AVP-7), unable to return to his own ship, had reported on board for duty, and was immediately assigned a station on a .30-caliber machine gun.

Fires on those ships had set oil from ruptured battleship fuel tanks afire, and the wind, from the northeast, was slowly pushing it toward Avocet‘s berth. Accordingly, the seaplane tender got underway at 1045, and moored temporarily to the magazine island dock at 1110, awaiting further orders, which were not long in coming. At 1115, she was ordered to help quell the fires still blazing on board California. Underway soon thereafter, she spent 20 minutes in company with the submarine rescue ship Widgeon (ASR-1) in fighting fires on board the battleship before Avocet was directed to proceed elsewhere.

Underway from alongside California at 1215, she reached the side of the gallant Nevada 25 minutes later, ordered to assist in beaching the battleship and fighting her fires. Mooring to Nevada‘s port bow at 1240, Avocet went slowly ahead, pushing her aground at channel buoy no. 19, with fire hoses led out to her forward spaces and her signal bridge. For two hours, Avocet fought Nevada‘s fires, and succeeded in quelling them.

USS Nevada (BB-36) aground and burning off Waipio Point, after the end of the Japanese air raid. Ships assisting her, at right, are the harbor tug Hoga (YT-146) and USS Avocet (AVP-4). Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-33020

USS Nevada (BB-36) aground and burning off Waipio Point, after the end of the Japanese air raid. Ships assisting her, at right, are the harbor tug Hoga (YT-146) and USS Avocet (AVP-4). Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-33020

No sooner had she completed that task than more work awaited her. At 1445, she got underway and steamed to the assistance of the light cruiser Raleigh (CL-7), which had been torpedoed alongside Ford Island early in the attack and was fighting doggedly to remain on an even keel. Avocet reached the stricken cruiser’s side at 1547, and remained there throughout the night, providing steam and electricity.

That night, at 2105, Avocet again went to general quarters as jittery gunners throughout the area fired on aircraft overhead. Tragically, these proved to be American, a flight of six fighters from the aircraft carrier Enterprise (CV-6). Four were shot down; three pilots died.

Avocet was awarded one battlestar for her actions at Pearl Harbor.

However, her war was not over.

Augmented with 20mm guns, she was assigned to support the PBY flying boats of Fleet Air Wing 4, she arrived in Alaskan waters in July 1942. Despite the often bad flying weather, the Catalina-equipped squadrons tended by Avocet carried out extensive patrols, as well as bombing and photo missions over Japanese-held Attu and Kiska, in the Aleutians.

USS Avocet (AVP-4) In Elliott Bay, Seattle, Wash., on 1 March 1944. Her single 3"/50 (circled) gun is mounted in the original large tub that previously held two of these weapons. Photo No. 19-N-63708 Source: U.S. National Archives, RG-19-LCM

USS Avocet (AVP-4) In Elliott Bay, Seattle, Wash., on 1 March 1944. Her single 3″/50 (circled) gun is mounted in the original large tub that previously held two of 3″/23s when she was commissioned for the First World War. Also note her original foremast is gone, replaced by a lighter aerial between the wheelhouse and stack. Photo No. 19-N-63708 Source: U.S. National Archives, RG-19-LCM

She came to the rescue of the torpedoed USS Casco (AVP-12), landed Navy Seebees and Army combat engineers on barren Alaska coastline, and served as a guard and rescue ship station throughout the Aleutians Campaign where she helped feed and care for Patrol Squadrons VP-41, 43, 51, and 62 (totaling some 11 PBY and 20 PBY-5A amphibious flying boats) which provided support for the cruisers and destroyers of Task Force Tare.

Avocet would meet the Japanese in combat at least one more time when on 19 May 1944, she sighted what she identified as a twin-engine Mitsubishi G4M Type 1 “Betty” land attack plane west of Attu. The plane strafed the tiny ship and Avocet opened up with all she had, but both sides managed to retire from the field of battle without casualties.

She only left Alaskan waters in October, a month after the end of hostilities. When inspected on 20 November 1945 she was found beyond repair and soon decommissioned and struck from the Navy List.

Avocet was sold to a shipping company who used her as a hulk until at least 1950, and she is presumed scrapped sometime after.

As for the rest of her class, others also served heroically in the war with one, USS Vireo, picking up seven battle stars for her service as a fleet tug from Pearl Harbor to Midway to Guadalcanal and Okinawa. The Germans sank USS Partridge at Normandy and both Gannet and Redwing via torpedoes in the Atlantic. Most of the old birds remaining in U.S. service were scrapped in 1946-48 with the last on Uncle Sam’s list, Flamingo, sold for scrap in July 1953.

Some lived on as trawlers and one, USS Auk (AM-38)/USC&GS Discoverer was sold to Venezuela in 1948, where she lasted until 1962 as the gunboat Felipe Larrazabal. After her decommissioning she was not immediately scrapped, and was reported afloat in a backwater channel as late as 1968. Her fate after that is not recorded but she was likely the last of the Lapwings (Update, she is still apparently in the channel, in pretty bad shape)

As for Avocet‘s name, it was given in 1953 to the converted USS LCI(L)-653, which was pressed into service as a minehunter and sonar training ship for the Naval Electronics Laboratory out of San Fran. She was disposed of in 1960 and there has not been an “Avocet” on the Navy List since.

About the only tangible reminder of Avocet is the series of postal cancellations issued aboard her during the 1934 flying boat inaugural in Hawaii and the 1937 solar eclipse at Canton Island.

vp-10-related-mass-hawaii-flight-uss-avocet

This 1934 cancellation, for which Avocet served as plane guard, was for 6 P2Y-1 aircraft of VP-10F (pictured), Lieutenant Commander Knefler McGinnis commanding, that made a historic nonstop formation flight from San Francisco, California, to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in 24 hours 35 minutes. The flight bettered the best previous time for the crossing; exceeded the best distance of previous mass flights; and broke a nine-day-old world record for distance in a straight line for Class C seaplanes with a new mark of 2,399 miles (3,861 km).

n3838

For the “Battle of Canton Island”

enderbury1937eclipse-cover-cantonisland

Ditto

Her old “foe” at Canton, HMS Wellington, survived WWII and since 1947 has been preserved as the floating headquarters ship on the River Thames in London for the Honourable Company of Master Mariners.

Still, we can remember Avocet when we see the sun, or when the calendar hits December 7 each year, as the little unsung tender likely saved the lives of many grateful bluejackets and Marines in the inferno that was Pearl Harbor, 75 years ago today.

Her dock at Ford Island, as seen today. U.S. Navy photo illustration by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Diana Quinlan

Her dock at Ford Island, as seen today. U.S. Navy photo illustration by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Diana Quinlan

Specs:

Displacement: 950 tons FL (1918) 1,350 tons (1936)
Length: 187 feet 10 inches
Beam: 35 feet 6 inches
Draft: 9 feet 9 in
Propulsion: Two Babcock and Wilcox header boilers, one 1,400shp Harlan and Hollingsworth, vertical triple-expansion steam engine, one shaft.
Speed: 14 knots (26 km/h; 16 mph); 12~ by 1936.
Complement: 78 Officers and Enlisted as completed; Upton 85 by 1936
Armament: 2 × 3-inch/23 single mounts as commissioned
(1928)
1 x 3″/50 DP single
4 Lewis guns
(1944)
1 x 3″/50 DP single
Several 20mm Oerlikons and M2 12.7mm mounts

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

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The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

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From the oldest Pearl Harbor survivor– a minesweeper man

Navy Seaman Raymond Chavez is now 104 years old but he remembers one of the first sightings of a Japanese midget submarine hours before the attack and racing back to his ship once the fight was on.

Chavez was one of just 13 men on the crew of the 85-foot long converted wooden-hulled purse seiner USS Condor, pressed into service as a Coast Guard-manned coastal minesweeper (AMc-14).

USS Condor (AMc-14) Photographed in 1941, probably off San Diego, California. Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives - http://www.history.navy.mil Photo #: 19-N-24615

USS Condor (AMc-14) Photographed in 1941, probably off San Diego, California. Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives – http://www.history.navy.mil Photo #: 19-N-24615

While conducting routine sweeps outside the harbor, the crew spotted what is is thought to have been the first enemy contact at 0350– more than four hours before the air attack began– when they saw what they felt to be an enemy submarine.

“He said, Mr.McCoy, we got company,” recalled Chavez, who was at the minesweeper’s helm, remembering the lookout saying to the officer of the deck.

The contact was handed over to the crew of the destroyer USS Ward, who would later fire the first American shot of the Pacific War on the submarine around 0630, while Chavez’s ship was ordered to return to Pearl.

He had only just returned home and gotten asleep when his wife awoke him to the news of the air attack.

“You could see the black smoke from one end to the other,” said Chavez. “The ships were on fire, and burning their oil.”

Rushing back to his ship, he spent the next 10 days underway, first fighting the Japanese, then helping with the recovery.

“I started crying,” said Chavez. “I’m not ashamed to admit it…all the Sailors who were trying to save themselves, and all the dead bodies, and the oil.

As reported by the San Diego Tribune, Chavez is working out regularly and has flown back to Pearl Harbor for the 75th anniversary of the attack on Wednesday.

Warship Wednesday Dec. 16, 2015: The Long Legged Bird of the Java Sea

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday Dec. 16, 2015: The Long Legged Bird of the Java Sea

Naval History and Heritage Command#: NH 85178

Naval History and Heritage Command#: NH 85178

Here we see the humble Lapwing-class minesweeper USS Heron (AM-10/AVP-2), while fitting out at her builders in late 1918, being rushed to completion to help serve in the Great War. While her service “over there” was rather quiet in the end, her trip to the other side of the world and experiences in another world war would prove more exciting.

When a young upstart by the name of Franklin D. Roosevelt came to the Navy Department in 1913 as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, he helped engineer one of the largest naval build-ups in world history. By the time the U.S. entered World War I officially in 1917, it may have been Mr. Wilson’s name in the role of Commander in Chief, but it was Mr. Roosevelt’s fleet.

One of his passions was the concept of the Great North Sea Mine Barrage, a string of as many as 400,000 (planned) sea mines that would shut down the Kaiser’s access once and for all to the Atlantic and saving Western Europe (and its overseas Allies) from the scourge of German U-boats. A British idea dating from late 1916, the U.S. Navy’s Admiral Sims thought it was a bullshit waste of time but it was FDR’s insistence to President Wilson in the scheme that ultimately won the day.

mines-anchors1 North_Sea_Mine_Barrage_map_1918

While a fleet of converted steamships (and two old cruisers- USS San Francisco and USS Baltimore) started dropping mines in June 1918, they only managed to sow 70,177 by Armistice Day and accounted for a paltry two U-boats gesunken (although some estimates range as high as 8 counting unaccounted for boats).

And the thing is, you don’t throw that many mines in international shipping lanes without having a plan to clean the up after the war (while having the bonus of using those mine countermeasures ships to sweep enemy-laid fields as well).

That’s where the 54 vessels of the Lapwing-class came in.

Review of the Atlantic Fleet Minesweeping Squadron, November 1919. USS Lapwing (AM-1) and other ships of the squadron anchored in the Hudson River, off New York City, while being reviewed by Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels on 24 November 1919, following their return to the United States after taking part in clearing the North Sea mine barrage. The other ships visible are: USS Lark (Minesweeper No. 21), with USS SC-208 alongside (at left); and USS Swan (Minesweeper No. 34) with USS SC-356 alongside (at right). Heron was there, but is not seen on the photo. U.S. Navy photo NH 44903

Review of the Atlantic Fleet Minesweeping Squadron, November 1919. USS Lapwing (AM-1) and other ships of the squadron anchored in the Hudson River, off New York City, while being reviewed by Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels on 24 November 1919, following their return to the United States after taking part in clearing the North Sea mine barrage. The other ships visible are: USS Lark (Minesweeper No. 21), with USS SC-208 alongside (at left); and USS Swan (Minesweeper No. 34) with USS SC-356 alongside (at right). Heron was there, but is not seen on the photo. U.S. Navy photo NH 44903. Note the crow’s nest for sighting floating mines.

Inspired by large seagoing New England fishing trawlers, these 187-foot long ships were large enough, at 965-tons full, to carry a pair of economical reciprocating diesel engines (or two boilers and one VTE engine) with a decent enough range to make it across the Atlantic on their own (though with a blisteringly slow speed of just 14 knots when wide open on trials.)

Not intended to do much more than clear mines, they were given a couple 3-inch pop guns to discourage small enemy surface combatants intent to keep minesweepers from clearing said mines. The class leader, Lapwing, designated Auxiliary Minesweeper #1 (AM-1), was laid down at Todd in New York in October 1917 and another 53 soon followed. While five were canceled in November 1918, the other 48 were eventually finished– even if they came to the war a little late.

Which leads us to the hero of our tale, USS Heron.

Laid down at the Standard Shipbuilding Co. in Boston, she was the first U.S. Navy ship to carry that name, that of a long-legged seabird of the Gulf Coast. Like all her sisters, they carried bird names.

Commissioned 30 October 1918, the war ended 12 days later but she was still very much needed to help take down that whole barrage thing. Therefore, she arrived in the Orkney Islands in the spring of 1919 where, along with 28 of her sisters and a host of converted British trawlers, she scooped up Mk.6 naval mines from the deep for the rest of the year.

When she returned home, she was transferred to the far off Asiatic Fleet, sailing for Cavite PI in October 1920.

There, she was laid up in 1922, with not much need of an active minesweeper.

Then, with the Navy figuring out these economical little boats with their shallow draft (they could float in ten feet of seawater) could be used for any number of side jobs, started re-purposing them.

Six of the “Old Birds” were reclassified as salvage ships (ARSs) while another half-dozen became submarine rescue ships (ASRs). The Coast Guard picked up USS Redwing for use as a cutter during Prohibition while the U.S. Coast & Geographic Survey acquired USS Osprey and USS Flamingo and the Shipping Board accepted USS Peacock as a tug.

A few were retained as minesweepers in the reserve fleet, some used as depot ships/netlayers, one converted to a gunboat, another to an ocean-going tug, three were sunk during peacetime service (USS Cardinal struck a reef off Dutch Harbor in 1923 while USS Curlew did the same off Panama in 1926 and USS Sanderling went down in 1937 by accident in Hawaii) while nine– Heron included– became seaplane tenders.

While these ships could only carry 1-2 seaplanes on deck, they typically milled around with a converted barge alongside that could park a half dozen or more single-engine float planes for service and support.

U.S. Navy Small Seaplane Tender USS Heron (AVP-2); no date. Note the floatplane service barge alongside. Image via navsource http://www.navsource.org/archives/11/02010.htm

U.S. Navy Small Seaplane Tender USS Heron (AVP-2); no date. Note the floatplane service barge alongside. Image via USNI collection.

Recommissioned in 1924 (later picking up the hull number AVP-2, as a Small Seaplane Tender), Heron was photographed with a variety of floatplanes including Grumman JF amphibians and Vought O2U-2 scout planes in the 20s and 30s.

Carrying two Vought O2U-2 scout planes of Scouting Eight (VS-8) while serving in the Asiatic Fleet on 15 December 1930. Photo No. 80-G-1017155 Source: U.S. National Archives, RG-80-G

Carrying two Vought O2U-2 scout planes of Scouting Eight (VS-8) while serving in the Asiatic Fleet on 15 December 1930. Photo No. 80-G-1017155 Source: U.S. National Archives, RG-80-G

Serving as an aircraft tender before 1936

Serving as an aircraft tender before 1936. Note the aviation roundel on her bow.

She continued her quiet existence in the South China Sea and elsewhere in Chinese and Philippine waters, filling in as a target tower, survey ship, and gunboat when needed.

U.S. warships inside and outside the breakwater, circa the later 1930s. Color-tinted photograph by the Ah-Fung O.K. Photo Service. Among the ships present are USS Black Hawk (AD-9), in left center, with a nest of four destroyers alongside. USS Whipple (DD-217) is the outboard unit of these four. USS Heron (AM-10) is alongside the breakwater, at right, with a Grumman JF amphibian airplane on her fantail. Another JF is floating inside the breakwater, toward the left. Two Chinese sampans are under sail in the center foreground. The four destroyers outside the breakwater are (from left to right): USS Stewart (DD-224), unidentified, USS Bulmer (DD-222) and USS Pillsbury (DD-227). Collection of James E. Thompson, 1979. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 90544-KN

U.S. warships inside and outside the breakwater, circa the later 1930s. Color-tinted photograph by the Ah-Fung O.K. Photo Service. Among the ships present are USS Black Hawk (AD-9), in left center, with a nest of four destroyers alongside. USS Whipple (DD-217) is the outboard unit of these four. USS Heron (AM-10) is alongside the breakwater, at right, with a Grumman JF amphibian airplane on her fantail. Another JF is floating inside the breakwater, toward the left. Two Chinese sampans are under sail in the center foreground. The four destroyers outside the breakwater are (from left to right): USS Stewart (DD-224), unidentified, USS Bulmer (DD-222) and USS Pillsbury (DD-227). Collection of James E. Thompson, 1979. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 90544-KN

Stationed at Port Ciego, Philippines when the balloon went up, Heron was luckier than several of her sisters in the same waters, with six sunk in six months.

  • USS Tanager (AM-5), Sunk by Japanese shore battery fire off Bataan, 4 May 1942.
  • USS Finch (AM-9), Damaged by Japanese bomb (near miss), 9 Apr 1942 while moored at the eastern point of Corregidor. Abandoned, 10 Apr 1942. Salvaged by Imperial Japanese Navy; renamed W-103. Sunk for good by US carrier aircraft in early 1945.
  • USS Quail (AM-15) Damaged by Japanese bombs and guns at Corregidor, she was scuttled 5 May 1942 to prevent capture.
  • USS Penguin (AM-33) Damaged by Japanese aircraft in Agana Harbor, Guam, 8 Dec 1941; scuttled in 200 fathoms to prevent capture.
  • USS Bittern (AM-36) Heavily damaged by Japanese aircraft at Cavite Navy Yard, Philippines; scuttled in Manila Bay to prevent capture.
  • USS Pigeon (AM-47) Sunk by Japanese aircraft at Corregidor, 4 May 1942.

Heron was ordered to leave the PI for Ambon Island, part of the Maluku Islands of then Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), a strategic key to the area held by some 3,000 Dutch and Australian troops. There, along with USS William B. Preston (AVD 7), she supported PBYs of Patrol Wing TEN until the going got tough and the island was overrun in February 1942.

110201002

It was during this time at Ambon that Heron became a legend. Upon hearing that the four-piper USS Peary (DD-226) was damaged, she sortied out to help assist or tow if needed but was caught by Japanese flying boats and proceeded to fight them off over several hours.

As noted dryly in the combat narrative of the Java Sea Campaign:

The Heron, which was sent north to assist the Peary, was herself bombed in a protracted action in Molucca Strait on the 31st. Shrapnel from near hits penetrated the ship’s side and started fires in the paint locker and forward hold. About the middle of the afternoon, a 100-pound shrapnel bomb struck the foremast near the top and sprayed the ship with splinters, which did considerable damage. The Heron acquitted herself well, however, in spite of her 12-knot speed, and succeeded in shooting down a large enemy seaplane.

“Evasion of Destruction” by Richard DeRosset portrays a strafing run by three Japanese “Mavis” flying boats following their unsuccessful torpedo attack on the USS Heron (AVP-2) on 20 December 1941. Heron shot down one of the aircraft with her starboard 3-inch gun; her port gun had been disabled by earlier combat action. This final attack followed a series of earlier ones by twelve other enemy aircraft against the seaplane tender as she sailed alone in the Java Sea. Due to heroic actions by her captain and crew, Heron survived seemingly overwhelming odds during the long ordeal. Heron had approximately 26 casualties, or about 50 percent of the crew, because of the attack.

“Evasion of Destruction” by Richard DeRosset portrays a strafing run by three Japanese “Mavis” flying boats following their unsuccessful torpedo attack on the USS Heron (AVP-2) on 31 December 1941. Heron shot down one of the aircraft with her starboard 3-inch gun; her port gun had been disabled by earlier combat action. This final attack followed a series of earlier ones by twelve other enemy aircraft against the seaplane tender as she sailed alone in the Java Sea. Due to heroic actions by her captain and crew, Heron survived seemingly overwhelming odds during the long ordeal. Heron had approximately 26 casualties, or about 50 percent of the crew, because of the attack.

For her valiant action during this period, Heron received the Navy Unit Commendation.

The rest of her war service was less eventful, serving in Australian waters as a patrol boat and seaplane tender until 1944 when she began moving back to the PI with the massive Allied armada to retake the archipelago. She conducted search and rescue operations and assisted in landings where needed, still providing tender service until she was decommissioned at Subic Bay, Philippines 12 February 1946, earning four battle stars for the War.

Sold for scrap to a Chinese concern in Shanghai in 1947, Heron‘s ultimate fate is unknown but she may have lingered on as a trawler or coaster for some time or in some form.

As for the rest of her class, others also served heroically in the war with one, USS Vireo, picking up seven battle stars for her service as a fleet tug from Pearl Harbor to Midway to Guadalcanal and Okinawa. The Germans sank USS Partridge at Normandy and both Gannet and Redwing via torpedoes in the Atlantic. Most of the old birds remaining in U.S. service were scrapped in 1946-48 with the last on Uncle Sam’s list, Flamingo, sold for scrap in July 1953.

Some lived on as trawlers and one, USS Auk (AM-38) was sold to Venezuela in 1948, where she lasted until 1962 as the gunboat Felipe Larrazabal. After her decommissioning she was not immediately scrapped, and was reported afloat in a backwater channel as late as 1968. Her fate after that is not recorded but she was likely the last of the Lapwings.

For Heron‘s memory, the Navy passed on her name to two different mine countermeasures ships since WWII.

The first, the 136-foot USS Heron (MSC(O)-18/AMS-18/YMS-369), was renamed in 1947 and went on to win 8 battlestars in Korea before serving in the Japanese Self Defense Forces as JDS Nuwajima (MSC-657) until 1967.

The second and, as of now final, U.S. Navy ship with the historic name, USS Heron (MHC-52) was an Osprey-class coastal minehunter commissioned in 1994 and transferred while still in her prime to Greece in 2007 as Kalipso.

But that’s another story.

Specs:

Lapwing_class__schematic

Displacement: 950 tons FL (1918) 1,350 tons (1936)
Length: 187 feet 10 inches
Beam: 35 feet 6 inches
Draft: 9 feet 9 in
Propulsion: Two Babcock and Wilcox header boilers, one 1,400shp Harlan and Hollingsworth, vertical triple-expansion steam engine, one shaft.
Speed: 14 knots (26 km/h; 16 mph); 12~ by 1936.
Complement: 78 Officers and Enlisted as completed; Upto 85 by 1936
Armament: 2 × 3-inch/23 single mounts as commissioned
(1930)
2 x 3″/50 DP singles
4 Lewis guns
(1944)
2 x 3″/50 DP singles
Several 20mm Oerlikons and M2 12.7mm mounts

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