Tag Archives: minesweeper

After 30 years, Scout to hang it up

Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship USS Scout (MCM 8) sails off the coast of Southern California as part of Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise 2014. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Mark C. Schultz/Released)

The Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship USS Scout (MCM 8) is the fourth Navy vessel to carry the name, following in the path of two Great War-era patrol gunboats– that ironically served concurrently– and a WWII minesweeper.

Laid down on 8 June 1987 at Peterson Builders in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, like her sisters she has a wooden inner hull with a fiberglass outer shell.

Commissioned in December 1990, she has spent the past three decades being ready to work in a world filled with floaty explody things.

As noted by the minesweeper’s command:

USS Scout – MCM 8 would like to take the opportunity to invite all past and current crew members and family members to celebrate the decommissioning is USS Scout via Facebook. The ceremony will take place on 19 Aug. This may be the decommissioning of USS Scout, but Pathfinders will always lead the way! 

Oh, Canada…

The Canadian Navy has been heavy into the submarine biz for generations.

The Canucks 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 for a while until 1945. Then, Ottawa inherited two newly surplus 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, which they kept as working souvenirs for a couple years.

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

Fast forward a bit and the Canadians began 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.

Three O-boats (Oberon-class) submarines of the Royal Canadian Navy in Bedford Basin, Halifax, 1995. RCNavy Image 95-0804 10 by Corp CH Roy

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.

HMCS Submarine Chicoutimi.

The thing is, the Canadian Navy managed exactly zero (-0-) days underway with their subs last year– but not without cause.

As reported by CBC:

“The boats were docked last year after an intense sailing schedule for two of the four submarines over 2017 and 2018. HMCS Chicoutimi spent 197 days at sea helping to monitor sanctions enforcement off North Korea and visiting Japan as part of a wider engagement in the western Pacific. HMCS Windsor spent 115 days in the water during the same time period, mostly participating in NATO operations in the Atlantic.”

It is hoped that three of the four may return to sea at some point this year.

Yikes.

Queen City, Fifth Edition

The fifth U.S. Navy warship built for the first city constructed after the War of Independence was commissioned into the Fleet this weekend.

All photos: Chris Eger, feel free to share. Note that big bow thruster marking and the fact that she is drawing under 5m. 

USS Cincinnati (LCS-20), an Independence-class littoral combat ship, follows on the heels of a Los Angeles-class SSN, two cruisers (more on that later) and a City-class ironclad gunboat that was sunk and raised twice during the Civil War. This, of course, all befits the mold of storied Roman statesman and military leader Quintius Cincinnatus.

I attended the ceremony– which had Adm. Jamie Foggo (COMNAVEUR-NAVAF) in attendance, who spoke eloquently about Cincinnatus and, in the end, broke his flag aboard the Navy’s LCS– met her crew and toured the vessel.

For a 420-foot/3,100-ton frigate-sized (although not frigate-armed) warship, the wardroom is small.

Her skipper and XO are both CDRs, while OPS is an LCDR. Ten O2/O3s flesh out the rest of the departments (NAV, CSO, 1stLT, EMO, Weaps, Ordnance, Chief Engr, Main Prop Aux, Aux, Electrical). There are 25 Chiefs including an HMC who serves as the ship’s independent duty corpsman. The rest of the crew is made up of just 33 ratings and strikers. This totals 71 souls, although it should be noted that some of those were from other LCS crews. Notably, Crew 214 recently commissioned a previous Independence-class LCS only months ago.

Of interest, her first watch was just four-strong (including two minemen) with just two watchstanders on the bridge.

A few other things that struck me was the size of the payload bay on the trimaran– the ship has a 104-foot beam, more than twice that of the FFG7s!– which was downright cavernous for a ship that could float in 15 feet of brownish water. This translates into a helicopter deck “roof” that is the largest of any U.S. surface warship barring the Gator Navy and, of course, carriers.

One thing is for sure, you can pack a lot of expeditionary gear and modules in here.

She also has a lot of speed on tap, packing 83,410 hp through a pair of (Cincinnati-made) GE LM2500 turbines and two MTU Friedrichshafen 8000 diesels pushing four Wartsila waterjets. She is rated capable of “over 40 knots” although Foggo noted with a wink she could likely best that.

She has a 3200kW electrical plant including four generators and an MTU 396 TE 54 V8 prime mover.

Sadly, she doesn’t have a lot of firepower, limited to topside .50 cals, her Mk-110 57mm Bofors and C-RAM launcher.

She is expected to be optimized for mine countermeasures with the MH-60-based ALMDS and AMNS systems along with an Unmanned Influence Sweeping System (UISS) and AN/AQS-20A mine detection system. She has a missile deck for the new Mk87 NSM system, although the weapon itself is not currently installed.

Still, should she be headed into harm’s way, I’d prefer to see more air defense/anti-missile capabilities installed, but what do I know.

USS Cincinnati will join her nine sister ships already homeported in San Diego: USS Independence (LCS 2), USS Coronado (LCS 4), USS Jackson (LCS 6), USS Montgomery (LCS 8), USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10), USS Omaha (LCS 12), USS Manchester (LCS 14), USS Tulsa (LCS 16) and USS Charleston (LCS 18).

Built just at Austal’s Alabama shipyard, an hour away from where she was commissioned, five sisters are currently under construction in Mobile. Kansas City (LCS 22) is preparing for sea trials. Assembly is underway on Oakland (LCS 24) and Mobile (LCS 26) while modules are under production for Savannah (LCS 28) and Canberra (LCS 30), with four more under contract through to LCS 38.

A bell lost, a bell found, a bell talked about, a bell returned

On the 75th anniversary of D-Day, we highlighted the lost Operation Neptune minesweeper USS Osprey, which went down in the early morning of 6 June 1944, clearing a way for the invasion fleet.

In that Warship Wednesday, we covered that her bell had apparently been recovered sometime around 2007 and gave a lead to the dive op that may know more about it.

Well, one thing led to another and, after the post was shared, the NHHC got involved and, as noted by the BBC:

The US authorities contacted the UK coastguard when pictures of the ship’s bell appeared on the internet.

An investigation was launched by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency when it was established the bell had not been reported to the receiver of wreck.

Acting receiver Heloise Warner said the agency “put the word about” that it was searching for the bell and it was subsequently left anonymously at an undisclosed location last month.

“It’s absolutely fantastic that such a poignant part of our history is back in our possession,” she added.

Osprey’s bell via MCA

It is expected the NHHC will soon take possession of the recovered bell.

Bravo Zulu, guys, and, as always, thanks for sharing! Let’s continue to save history together.

A hearty toast to those lost on Osprey, who will never be forgotten so long as their names are still written:

  • Lieutenant Van Hamilton
  • Seaman 2nd Class John Medvic
  • Fireman 1st class Walter O’Bryan
  • Quartermaster 2nd Class Emery Parichy
  • Motor Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Joseph Vanasky, Jr
  • Motor Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class Cleo Whitschell

‘The ships that the Navy forgot’

Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship USS Pioneer (MCM 9) observes a controlled mine detonation while conducting 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)

Pro Publica had this take on the Navy’s current state of minesweeper deficit with the protracted LCS mine countermeasures systems still a long ways off and the Avenger-class ships getting the short end of the readiness dollar.

It’s actually pretty interesting.

The U.S. Navy officer was eager to talk.

He’d seen his ship, one of the Navy’s fleet of 11 minesweepers, sidelined by repairs and maintenance for more than 20 months. Once the ship, based in Japan, returned to action, its crew was only able to conduct its most essential training — how to identify and defuse underwater mines — for fewer than 10 days the entire next year. During those training missions, the officer said, the crew found it hard to trust the ship’s faulty navigation system: It ran on Windows 2000.

The officer, hoping that by speaking out he could provoke needed change, wound up delaying the scheduled interview. He apologized. His ship had broken down again.

“We are essentially the ships that the Navy forgot,” he said of the minesweepers.

More here. 

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.

Osprey and Raven in Drydock 2 at Norfolk Navy Yard Aug 23 1940 NHHC

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

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