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April 28th: Focus - Lapwing-class Minesweepers

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Alpha Tester
4,691 posts
2,055 battles

So we actually have a pretty busy day, and I could have talked about USS Essex, Atago, Takao, or even the US Tier 2 CV, USS Wright.


1900 – Asahi – Asahi -Commissioned

1906 – Nürnberg - Königsberg class (1905) - Launched

1920 - Wright – Wright class - Launched

1927 – Atago - Takao-class - Laid Down

1927 – Takao - Takao-class - Laid Down

1928 - Leipzig  - Leipzig - Laid Down

1934 – Astoria New Orleans-class- Commissioned

1939 – Jamaica Fiji-class  – Laid down

1941 – Essex Essex-class– Laid down

1940 - Vittorio Veneto - Littorio-class     Commissioned

1944 – Hollandia – Casablanca-class– Launched

1945 – Helena – Baltimore-class - Launched



Laid down - 34

Launched - 41

Commissioned  - 49


Instead? Minesweepers. Who did not long remain minesweepers.




April 28th is, coincidentally the launching date of USS Sandpiper, a Lapwing-class minesweeper. They are also known as the "Bird-class", being all named after birds. The US committed heavily to the large-scale and frankly a little mad North Sea Mine Barrage in 1917. This was a single continuous minefield extending from the Orkneys across the North Sea all the way to Norway, intended to curtail U-boat activities, and composed of over 100000 Mark 6 mines. Having decided to create the largest single minefield in history to that date, the USN foresaw a need to clean it up after the war was over.


The 48 ships of the Lapwing-class were their solution. Designed as ocean-going minesweepers whose primary concern was to complete an Atlantic crossing under their own power, the design was relatively small, just under 190 feet long, just over 850 tons, and its overall layout was reminiscent of ocean-going fishing boats common to New England though greatly scaled up. They used reciprocating diesel engines, some of them, or VTE steam engines for others, and could only make 15 knots, but acquired a reputation as excellent sea boats.


At Rest: USS Eider, AM-17, and her attendant subchasers for cleaning up swept mines, at Kirkwall in the Orkneys between sweeps of the North Sea Barrage; 1919, exact date unknown.



Several of the class were never completed when the war ended, but 28 Lapwings would ultimately serve the duty they were designed for and help sweep up the North Sea Mine Barrage, accounting for about 30% of the mines that were originally laid. The others could not be found, and were assumed to have sunk, been blow up by unlucky marine life, broken their moorings and drifted off, or otherwise been neutralized. The other twenty that ultimately saw service were completed too late.


Home from the wars: The Atlantic Fleet Minesweeping Squadron on review, November 24th, 1919, in the Hudson River. USS Lapwing (AM-1) is front and center, with USS Lark (AM-21) and USS Swan (AM-34) visible in the background. Also in the shot are some of the subchasers that acted to clean up swept mines by detonating them with gunfire.



The interwar years saw them serving as odd-jobs auxiliaries, moving mail and sailors, towing target sleds, and other things similar. Many of them were reclassified into salvage ships, small seaplane tenders, or submarine rescue ships in the interwar years. USS Warbler, USS Willet, USS Redwing, USS Auk, USS Osprey, and USS Flamingo became salvage ships; several were renamed or went to civilian service briefly only to be bought again in 1941, and Auk was handed off to the Coast & Geodetic Survey from 1928 to 1941. USS Avocet, USS Heron, USS Lapwing, USS Pelican, USS Sandpiper, USS Swan, USS Teal, USS Thrush, and USS Gannet were reclassified AVP, or Auxiliary, Seaplane Tender, Small. And finally USS Chewink, USS Falcon, USS Mallard, USS Ortolan, USS Pigeon, and USS Widgeon were reclassified as submarine rescue vessels.


Several the Lapwings were present during the attack on Pearl Harbor, where they acquitted themselves with some distinction; USS Vireo, USS Swan, and USS Avocet all scored kills, with the little Lapwings together putting up a fiercer defense than the battleships of Pacific Fleet are usually credited with. They then turned-to and commenced operations to rescue survivors and try to save those battleships that could be saved, with USS Bobolink and USS Vireo unsuccessfully trying to save the crippled USS California, while USS Rail swept North Channel and USS Turkey and USS Avocet went to the assistance other ships, including cruisers USS Helena and USS Raleigh.


Courage in All Sizes: USS Avocet during Pearl Harbor, engaging torpedo aircraft off her bow; the attackers are trying to set up a run on USS Nevada, center background.



It was a fitting start. The war would occupy the services of all the surviving ships, and in the process from December 8th 1941 to June 11th 1944, ten of the class would lost. USS Bittern, lost December 10th 1941, would do the class least proud; she was not even directly hit, but was tied up in the Cavite Navy Yard next to submarine USS Sea Lion. Sea Lion took a hit from a Japanese bomber, and the resulting explosions, fire, and debris sank Bittern. USS Finch would serve under two flags, being sunk by Japanese aircraft near Corregidor in April of 1942, and was raised by the Japanese and served them as Patrol Boat No. 103 until again sunk, this time by US carrier aircraft in early January of 1945. Several of the other ships of the class participated in the last stand at Corregidor before succumbing to Japanese bombs, shore guns, or both. USS Penguin was stationed at Guam and fought off Japanese air attack on December 8th, downing one plane in the process, to reach 200 fathoms and scuttle in water deep enough that she could not be salvaged; she made it, despite more than 60 of her crew of 75 being injured. The star of the class would be, of course, USS Vireo, which won seven battle stars for her service in World War 2, more than many combatant ships of the fleet, and ultimately only two less than even the mighty USS Iowa.


After the war most of the class was immediately sold off to civilian concerns, either for scrap, or as small cargo and fishing vessels. Some of the specialized salvage conversions served on into the early '50s, however, and one, USS Discoverer (ex-USS Auk) was sold to Venezuela in 1948, where she lasted until 1962 as the 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. Thus passed one of the most successful and adaptable classes of USN auxiliary.


Length: 187 feet 10 inches

Width: 35 feet 5 inches

Draft: 15 feet

Displacement: 853 tons



2x 3"/50 Mark 5 or Mark 8 DP gun

2x to 4x .30 caliber Lewis AAMG OR .50 caliber/90 M2 BMG AAMG as available; these weapons were not part of the ship's official armament but unofficial additions by the crews, and begged, borrowed, or stolen. Late in the war, they may have been replaced with 20mm/70 Mark 4 Oerlikon AAMGs.



2x Diesel Reciprocating Engine OR 1x Vertical Triple Expansion engine with two boilers, one shaft

1000 IHP on average



15 knots as designed; by World War 2 most of the class could only reach 14



75 as designed, 186 by end of the war for Tug conversions

Edited by NGTM_1R
  • Cool 6

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Alpha Tester
4,691 posts
2,055 battles

EDIT: Cleanup complete.

Edited by NGTM_1R

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Alpha Tester
1,702 posts
208 battles

Bah, posted early by accident. Excuse the mess while I clean it up.

You are excused ;)

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Alpha Tester, In AlfaTesters, Beta Testers
1,196 posts
16,085 battles

I learn something new every time I read one of these threads. +1, OP. I bet I could study all my life on WWII, and still not learn everything about it.

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Alpha Tester
1,354 posts
735 battles

Our District Judge commanded a minesweeper during Viet Nam. I'll have to find out more. It didn't sound like the ideal vessel in a storm. Wulf

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