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Avocet I (Minesweeper No. 19)


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Caption: Avocet (AVP-4) at Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941, shortly before burning oil from "battleship row" compelled a change of berth. She is wearing Measure 1 camouflage (dark gray/light gray). (80-G-32669)

A long-legged, web-footed shore bird possessing a slender, up-curved bill, found in western and southern states.


(Minesweeper No. 19: displacement 950; length 180'0"; beam 35'6"; draft 9'9" (mean); speed 12.4 knots; complement 72; armament 2 3-inch, 1. 30-caliber Lewis machine gun; class Lapwing)

Minesweeper No. 19 was laid down on 13 September 1917 at Baltimore, Md., by the Baltimore Drydock & Shipbuilding Co.; named Avocet on 17 November 1917; launched on 9 March 1918; sponsored by Miss Frances Virginia Imbach, daughter of the superintendent of the upper plant of the Baltimore Drydock & Shipbuilding Co., and commissioned at the Norfolk Navy Yard, on 17 September 1918, Lt. Christian Crone in command.

Avocet operated in the waters of the Fifth Naval District, primarily in the Lynnhaven-Hampton Roads area, through the Armistice in November 1918. Her duties consisted principally of mine-sweeping as late as the first week of December, but she also provided tug services as required, towing the disabled steamship Mania from 17 to 23 November, passing the tow to the tugs Wahneta and Mohawk off Cape Henry on the 23rd.

Entering the Norfolk Navy Yard on 19 December 1918, Avocet remained there into the second week of January 1919, during which time her main battery of two 3-inch guns was removed, on 10 January. Avocet subsequently resumed sweeping the approaches to Hampton Roads, at Lynnhaven Roads and off Cape Henry, on the 13th, and later performed service as a tug between Hampton Roads, Baltimore, Norfolk, and Portsmouth, N.H., during February and March, 1919. She briefly visited New York City between 10 and 15 March, for recreation, before she returned to Norfolk on the 20th.

Spending the rest of March 1919 at the Norfolk Navy Yard, Avocet called at Annapolis, Md., from 4 to 9 April 1919 before dropping back down to Norfolk on the 9th. Later in April the ship visited Charleston, S.C., and Norfolk, before sailing north for New York City, where she arrived on 1 May. Ordered thence, on 10 May, to the Norfolk Navy Yard for docking and repairs, Avocet spent the balance of May and much of June 1919, fitting out for extended duty sweeping the North Sea Mine Barrage, and ultimately sailed from Norfolk for Boston on 28 June in company with Quail (Minesweeper No. 15) and Lark (Minesweeper No. 21). The three ships reached their destination on 1 July, and set out the following day for Kirkwall, in the Orkney Islands, with Avocet as flagship for the division that had been joined by Whippoorwill (Minesweeper No. 35). The four minesweepers reached Kirkwall on the evening of 14 July.

Over the months that followed, Avocet spent 63 days in the minefelds and only 15 in port, frequently having to battle the North Sea in the course of the already hazardous tasks involved in minesweeping. Once in the course of her operations on the minefields, on 22 August 1919, she narrowly missed hitting a British-laid contact mine. Avocet, like her sisters clearing the North Sea Mine Barrage, was based principally at Kirkwall, but also used Lervig Bay and Stavanger, Norway, as bases as well. Ultimately departing Kirkwall on 1 October 1919, Avocet arrived at Brest, France, on the first leg of her homeward-bound voyage, on 5 October. She lingered there until departing for the United States on the 16th, towing the water barge Rin Tin Tin and steaming in company with Thrush (Minesweeper No. 18), the latter towing the freight lighter Ninette.

The little convoy reached Ponta Delgada, in the Azores, on 22 October 1919, and cleared the port on the 25th for Bermuda. En route, on the morning of 28 October, Avocet intercepted an SOS from the schooner Marie Geresee of Barcelona, Spain, which had been rammed by the steamer Hickman, expressing the crew's intent to abandon ship. Avocet changed course accordingly, to render assistance, but, finding out while standing toward the scene that Hickman had rescued the schooner's crew and was proceeding toward New York with them on board, resumed her voyage. The little convoy paused at Bermuda from 5 to 7 November, and ultimately reached Hampton Roads on the 10th. Having delivered their tows, Avocet and Thrush sailed for Tompkinsville, Staten Island, New York, on the 17th, and arrived the following day.

On 24 November 1919, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels reviewed the ships of the Minesweeping Squadron, including Avocet, at New York, and lauded their accomplishment in clearing the North Sea Mine Barrage. The following day, Avocet led a division of nine of her sister ships to Charleston, arriving there on the 28th, and remained at the South Carolina port through the end of the year 1919.

Avocet sailed for Panama on 3 January 1920 and reached Colon one week later. Transiting the Panama Canal on the 13th, the ship departed Balboa on the 17th, and reached San Diego, Calif., on the 28th. She remained there until 1 March 1920, when she shifted to San Pedro. In reduced commission, Avocet lay inactive at San Pedro through the summer of 1920, and, during this time, was classified as AM-19 on 17 July 1920, during the fleet-wide assignment of identification numbers.

Towed to the Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, Calif., by Brant and Heron (AM-10), between 13 and 16 September 1920, Avocet spent the remainder of 1920 and the first seven months of 1921 inactive and in reduced commission at Mare Island. Underway for the Territory of Hawaii on 21 August 1921, she made the voyage in company with Heron and Finch (AM-9), and the three ships reached Pearl Harbor on the last day of August. Avocet remained inactive in Hawaiian waters into October; she then briefly visited Honolulu from 4 to 6 October before she sailed for Guam on the latter date in company with Heron and Finch. Reaching Guam on 23 October, the ships arrived at Cavite, Philippine Islands, on 2 November, and joined the Asiatic Fleet's Minesweeping Detachment.

Avocet remained at Cavite for the next several weeks, a comparatively uneventful stay enlivened only by a fire that broke out in the Cavite Navy Yard early on the morning of 18 November 1921. The minesweeper sent her fire and rescue party, in charge of the executive officer, Ens. Forrest A. Rhoads, to aid yard forces in battling the blaze. This party returned to the ship an hour later, minus one of its number who had sustained injuries ashore. He rejoined the ship the following day.

Shifting to Olongapo on 7 December 1921, Avocet remained there until towed back to Cavite by Finch on 26 and 27 January 1922. After spending all of February in the yard at Cavite, the ship ran her post-repair trials on 9 March--the same day her captain received orders directing him to decommission her. Mooring alongside Heron in Canacao Bay, near Cavite, on 25 March, Avocet spent the rest of this stage of her career inactive, hercrew busily engaged in wire-brushing and red-leading the ship for inactivation. On 3 April 1922, Avocet was decommissioned at Cavite.

Avocet's inactivity, however, lasted only a little over three years. Reconditioned for service at Cavite, the ship was recommissioned on 8 September 1925, Lt. Grady B. Whitehead in command. Avocet was recommissioned to serve as an "auxiliary aircraft tender," assigned to the Asiatic Fleet's air squadrons.

For the next two years, Avocet operated exclusively in the Philippines, tending aircraft from Torpedo Squadrons (VT) 20 and 5A, in locales that ranged from Olongapo and Subic Bay to Manila, and the southern islands. For the remainder of 1925, these operations were interspersed with duty supporting advanced base evolutions at Port Concepcion and Libas, as well as a visit to Iloilo on Navy Day to "show the flag." From October to December, she provided support for destroyer exercises in Manila Bay, towing targets for the "flush-deckers" of Destroyer Divisions 39, 43, and 45.

During 1926, she provided target services for Asiatic Fleet submarines in January, and towed targets for Jason (AV-2) as the aviation tender conducted her battle practices in February. After exercising with submarines again out of Mariveles in April, she operated locally between Olongapo and Manila Bay into the spring, occasionally transporting passengers and freight back and forth. Her advanced base operations in 1926 took her to Loos Bay, Dapitan Bay, and Zamboanga, where, along with Heron (AVP-2), she tended planes of VT-20. She also operated during the summer at Jolo. Repairs at Cavite kept the ship in the yard there from mid-August through mid-September, after which time she commenced operations at Police Harbor, Parang, Mindanao. Before October was out, she had extended her operations to transporting passengers to Cebu.

While the turmoil in China in 1927 kept much of the Asiatic Fleet engaged in Chinese waters, Avocet remained in the Philippines, operating principally at Olongapo and Manila. She exercised with Asiatic Fleet submarines in February, recovering torpedoes, and then performed a brief stint of tug work at Olongapo, assisting the mooring of the transport Chaumont (AP-5) and the Dollar liner President Lincoln, on 9 and 11 May. That summer, Avocet operated at Zamboanga, Jesselton (North Borneo), and Iligan Bay, Mindanao. Early in August, she transported General Nathorst of the Philippine Constabulary from Jolo to Zamboanga, and then tended planes in Surigao Strait before she returned to Cavite at the end of September. For the remainder of 1927, the ship operated in Manila Bay, Subic Bay, and underwent the usual upkeep at Cavite.

The year 1928 began with local operations put of Manila Bay, through February, and early in March she assisted the fast minelayer Rizal (DM-14) in that ship's battle practice and battle mining exercises; on 12 March, she lay off Corregidor as a unit of the Inshore Patrol Force in Army-Navy war games, challenging strange ships and, during the day, noting the passage of "enemy" planes over Corregidor. At one point on the evening of 13 May she observed two "enemy" vessels inside her patrol area, Jason and the submarine tender Canopus (AS-9), the "enemy" so close at hand that Avocet had to stop and back down to avoid contact.

On 16 March 1928, Avocet towed targets for the oiler Pecos (AO-6) before she operated out of Bolinao Harbor, tending the planes of VT-5A. On 23 March she put into the Cavite Navy Yard where, over the ensuing weeks she received minor repairs, a remodelled magazine, and a pair of 3-inch antiaircraft guns. After running trials and assisting the fast minelayer Hart (DM-8) in her battle and mining practices, Avocet sailed for China on 25 April in company with Finch and Pecos, the oiler towing two battle raft targets.

Arriving at Chefoo on 3 May 1928, Avocet shifted down the coast to Shanghai on the 14th, returning to North China waters on the 18th. She spent the remainder of May, all of June, and much of July at Chefoo, tending planes and providing tow and target services for the fleet flagship Pittsburgh (CA-4) as that cruiser conducted her battle practices. On 9 July, Avocet's deck watch noted a sampan under sail capsize 1,000 yards off the ship's starboard beam; the tender accordingly called away a rescue party and soon had two Chinese men on board, dried their clothes and sent them ashore in Jason's liberty launch.

At the end of July 1928, Avocet sailed for Hsinho, China, with liberty parties from Heron and Jason embarked, touching at Dairen, Manchuria, en route back to Chefoo. Reaching that port on 14 August, she soon commenced her own battle practices with her recently installed battery.

A typhoon, however, curtailed the ship's activities. At 2015 on 26 August 1928, Avocet grounded on a sand bar. With the wind clocked at Force 8, Avocet remained at the mercy of the tempest for the rest of the night, but fortunately sustained no major damage. When the storm abated, help soon arrived, with Commander Aircraft Squadrons, Asiatic, Cmdr. Richmond K. Turner, flying his pennant in Bittern (AM-26), taking charge of salvage work.

Heron attempted, unsuccessfully, to get a line across while working parties from the destroyer tender Black Hawk (AD-9) and the light cruiser Trenton (CL-11) came on board to assist. Bittern, meanwhile, started laying out anchors to seaward. Bittern, Finch, and Heron all attempted to free their stranded sister ship but without success on the 27th, as surging surf and heavy swells moving in from offshore complicated matters of getting divers over the side with high-pressure hoses to try and blast away the mud holding the ship fast. Three destroyers, MacLeish (DD-220), Parrott (DD-218), and Simpson (DD-221), were even enlisted to try and free Avocet by steaming by at high speed and attempting to create a wave that would rock the ship free. Ultimately, after working parties from three cruisers arrived to help lighten the ship by transferring stores and ammunition to lighters and boats, a dredge was brought alongside and a fuel oil barge took on the ship's fuel. The combined efforts of Avocet's three sister ships, the waves again created by the three destroyers, and the ship's own engines, finally allowed Avocet to slide free at 2135 on the 29th.

After minor repairs alongside Black Hawk, Avocet sailed for Shanghai, arriving there on 7 September 1928. Docked and her damage investigated, she underwent more permanent repairs and an overhaul while she lay in dock. While there, she witnessed the commissioning of the new river gunboat Panay (PR-5).

Avocet departed Chinese waters on 15 October 1928, and arrived at Cavite on the 20th. Steaming thence to Lemery and Taal for Navy Day observances, the ship operated locally between Olongapo and Manila before she proceeded to Salomague, where she provided services to a British flying boat squadron on a good-will visit to the Philippines before it got underway for Hong Kong on 18 November, briefly hosting the British fliers and the Salomague reception committee on the 16th.

Avocet migrated to the southern Philippines early in 1929, to Zamboanga and Police Harbor. She tended Army amphibian aircraft at Bolinao Harbor before she then operated at Looc Bay and Catbolagan; she sailed thence to Iloilo on 25 March to relieve Penguin (AM-33) as station ship for the Eclipse Expedition, a task she turned over to Finch on 8 April. Returning then to Cavite, Avocet remained there a month, sailing for China on 10 May.

Arriving on the 15th, Avocet remained at Shanghai until 10 June 1929, when she sailed for Nanking, and remained at that Yangtze port from 12 to 23 June before returning via Shanghai to Cavite. The ship returned to Chinese waters soon thereafter, however, carrying passengers to Shanghai before proceeding again to Nanking, where she served as station ship from 13 July to 20 September. Returning to Manila on 3 October, Avocet remained in the Philippines for the rest of 1929.

The years 1930 and 1931 brought more of the same: local operations in the Philippines, a yearly overhaul at Cavite, interspersed with tending planes and providing services in Chinese waters. In the spring of 1930, Avocet, along with Heron and Jason, visited Hong Kong and Amoy for the first time, and then spent the period from 5 May to 8 September operating at Tsingtap before returning to Manila Bay on 30 September, via Shanghai. In the spring and summer of 1931, Avocet, specifically designated as a "minesweeper for duty with aircraft" on 30 April 1931, operated at both principal Asiatic Fleet operating areas in North China, Chefoo and Tsingtao, tending planes and towing targets. Towed back to the Philippines by Heron at the end of this second deployment, Avocet remained in Philippine waters through the spring of 1932.

Avocet's operations for 1932 were proceeding as routine: operating in Manila Bay, tending planes from VT-5A with men from that squadron living on board a former coal barge, YC-147, moored alongside. On 10 March, however, she received urgent orders to proceed to the scene of a marine disaster; a fire had broken out on board a Japanese merchant ship, Kaku Maru. Avocet got underway immediately, at 1550 on the 10th, and arrived on the scene at 0110 the following morning. Avocet managed to get a line to the stricken ship, assisting Pigeon (AM-47) in the tow, but that line soon parted. Pigeon managed to beach Kaku Maru in Paluan Bay, while the destroyer Tracy (DD-214), which had taken Kaku Maru's crew on board, transferred the 29 Japanese sailors to Avocet, which took the men to Manila and disembarked them that evening.

Avocet resumed her routine soon thereafter, towing targets at the end of March for destroyer battle practices. She underwent an overhaul at Cavite from 11 April to 16 May 1932, and ultimately stood out of Manila Bay for the last time at 1923 on 18 July, bound for the Hawaiian Islands. After stopping at Guam from 25 to 29 July, the minesweeper sailed thence for Pearl Harbor, arriving at her destination on 12 August.

Avocet then operated out of the Fleet Air Base, Pearl Harbor, through early April 1933, local operations punctuated only by upkeep in the navy yard. She sailed independently for French Frigate Shoals on 15 April, anchoring there on the 17th to commence advanced base operations, the first such evolutions for Pearl Harbor-based flying boats. She got underway on the 19th to reach her plane-guard station, and soon logged in the arrival of 30 flying boats from Patrol Squadrons (VP) 1, 4 and 6. She supported VP-6, providing berthing and messing facilities for the squadron's officers and men, over the next several days, out of French Frigate Shoals, until recovering the seaplane moorings and breaking camp on 28 and 29 April. She sailed the latter day for Parl Harbor in company with the small seaplane tender Pelican (AVP-6). Arriving back at the Fleet Air Base on 2 May, Avocet operated locally for the remainder of the year 1933, acting as plane guard for familiarization flights, night flying, and, on one occasion, salvaged the wreckage of a crashed Douglas PD-1 flying boat from VP-9, during August 1933, recovering the body of one of the pilots and parts of the aircraft.

Avocet plane-guarded the last leg of the inbound flight of the new Consolidated P2Y flying boats of VP-10 as they arrived at Pearl Harbor on 11 January 1934, and then operated locally until heading for Kahului, Hawaii, with the seaplane tender Wright (AV-1), on 29 January. Avocet participated in advanced base operations and Hawaiian Tactical Exercise No. 2 at Kahului until 8 February, when the ship sailed for Pearl Harbor with Lark, ultimately rendezvousing with Wright and the "Blue" Force before ceasing exercises on the 9th.

The ship then sailed for a plane guard station for the flight of VP-8F to Midway, arriving at Laysan Island on 14 February 1934, thence to station "Affirm" 35 miles south-southwest of Nihoa Island, in the Hawaiian chain. Having completed her duties there, Avocet returned to Pearl Harbor on 19 February, remaining there a month before sailing for San Diego on 19 March. She arrived at that west coast port on 28 March.

Underway for Corinto, Nicaragua, on 3 April 1934, Avocet tended the Martin PM-1 flying boats from VP-7F and 9F from 13 to 15 April, and briefly served as the flagship for Rear Adm. Alfred W. Johnson, Commander Aircraft, Base Force, while at Corinto. She accompanied the fleet's patrol planes as they migrated across the Gulf of Dulce, and, after transiting the Panama Canal on 24 April, met them at Coco Solo, whence she followed them to the Bay of Caldera, off the coast of the Dominican Republic.

One highlight of this period came on 10 May 1934 when Avocet received word that one of VP-9F's planes had been forced down, and was under tow of the merchant ship Prospector. Underway from the Bay of Caldera at 1304 on 10 May, the ship rendezvoused with Prospector at 2238, and at 0040 on the 11th, first took the Martin PM-1 under tow and then hoisted it on board for repairs later that day. Avocet later operated out of St. Louis Bay, Haiti, before returning to Coco Solo, Pacific-bound, on 16 May, and hoisting out the repaired PM-1 en route. After transiting the Panama Canal on 19 May, she reached San Diego on the 30th.

Following a brief period of voyage repairs at the Mare Island Navy Yard, Avocet sailed for San Francisco, and thence to Juneau, Alaska, for her first deployment to Alaskan waters. She stood watch on plane-guard station off Cape Scott, British Columbia, from 26 to 28 July 1934, before she reached Juneau on 28 July, and over the weeks that followed operated at Yakutat Bay, Seward, Cordova and Ketchikan. Again she served briefly as Rear Adm. Johnson's flagship in August 1934, and provided VP-9F with berthing and messing facilities while at Cordova.

Winding up her first stint in Alaskan waters when she sailed from Ketchikan on 20 August 1934, Avocet called at Astoria, Oreg., en route to Mare Island, and after spending the period from 7 September to 1 October at San Diego, returned to Pearl Harbor on 9 October. She conducted local operations out of the Fleet Air Base at Pearl Harbor for the remainder of the year 1934. During that period she took part in Hawaiian Tactical Exercise No. 3 with VP-10F at Nawiliwili, Kauai, in late October.

For the first four months of 1935, Avocet operated locally out of Pearl Harbor, before she sailed for Midway on 3 May to take part in advanced base operations as part of Fleet Problem XVI. In that major fleet exercise, the five squadrons of Pearl Harbor-based patrol planes were to fly to Midway and join the force commanded by Rear Adm. Thomas C. Hart, Commander Cruisers, Scouting Force, in his attack and seizure of the island; they were then to operate from Midway to defend it from the WHITE fleet, supporting the Marines defending the island by scouting "enemy" dispositions. With Midway yet to be developed as a base, logistics were a prime concern to Rear Adm. Johnson, commanding the patrol planes, and the five squadrons had to be virtually self-supporting. Avocet and her sister ships, and the submarine tender Beaver (AS-5), had to support the six different types of patrol planes by carrying an unusual number and variety of spare parts.

Concerned over the problems presented by the location in which his planes would operate, Rear Adm. Johnson sent Capt. John H. Hoover, his chief of staff, in Beaver, to Midway in advance, with Avocet accompanying Beaver. Hoover was to "look over the situation," have the channels buoyed and 500-pound anchors laid out for the flying boats expected to arrive. Arriving on 8 May 1935, that advanced party, despite "rain squalls and continued bad weather," succeeded in "skillfully and expeditiously" accomplishing its task. Over the days following, Avocet supported seaplane operations out of Midway, accommodating men from VP-8 on board during this time.

Departing Midway on 24 May 1935, Avocet reached Pearl Harbor on the 29th, and operated locally out of the Fleet Air Base into March of 1936, when she sailed for French Frigate Shoals and Pearl and Hermes Reef, to support survey operations there. Back to Pearl Harbor on 23 April, Avocet operated on a passenger-carrying service between Pearl Harbor and Hilo, Hawaii, that August.

On 25 September 1936, Avocet transferred her ammunition to the ammunition depot at Pearl Harbor, taking on board 3,700 pounds of granular TNT for blasting operations at Johnston Island. She then sailed for that island on the 28th. She subsequently returned to Pearl Harbor on 12 October. She returned to Johnston Island later the same month, and supported advanced base operations there with VP-4, there and at Pearl and Hermes Reef. She spent the remainder of the year 1936 and the first four months of 1937 operating out of Pearl Harbor, French Frigate Shoals, and Hilo.

On 5 May 1937, Avocet shifted from Pearl Harbor to Honolulu, and the following day embarked a 16-man National Geographic-U.S. Navy Eclipse expedition under Capt. Julius F. Hellweg, USN (Ret.), the superintendent of the Naval Observatory. Hellweg later described his first sight of Avocet as she lay moored on the waterfront: "Her undisturbed, peaceful air, her smart appearance, her very evident readiness to go, cheered us tremendously." Seen off on her scientific voyage by a party that included the territorial governor, the Honorable Joseph B. Poindexter, and the commandant of the 14th Naval District Rear Adm. Orin G. Murfin, Avocet sailed for Canton Island.

After soundings at Enderbury Island revealed no good anchorage there, Avocet proceeded thence to Canton, arriving the same day, 13 May 1937. 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.

It was around this time that the noted American aviatrix, Amelia Earhart [Putnam], attempted a round-the-world flight, accompanied only by her navigator, Fred Noonan, and flying a Lockheed Model 12 "Electra." When she disappeared in the vicinity of what was believed to be Howland Island, the Navy launched a search to find her. Shortly after noon on 8 July 1937, Avocet arrived at Lahaina Roads, the deep-water anchorage off the island of Maui, and moored to the port side of the aircraft carrier Lexington (CV-2). She commenced issuing gasoline to the carrier at 1300 and completed the task at 2015. Lexington soon sailed to carry out an extensive, but in the end unsuccessful, search for the missing aviatrix.

Avocet returned to Johnston Island for further blasting operations from 20 to 27 July 1937; later, on 16 August, she picked up the tow of ex-Eagle No. 10 (PE-10) and sailed for Lahaina Roads. On 18 August, the submarine Argonaut (SS-166), in target practice, sank the old Eagle boat by gunfire.

Subsequently transporting passengers to Kahului and Hilo, Avocet tended VP-1 at the latter port from 23 to 31 August 1937 before she returned briefly to Pearl Harbor. She sailed thence for French Frigate Shoals on 1 September, and tended, in succession, VP-8, VP-10, VP-6 and VP-4, until 19 September, at which point she returned to the Fleet Air Base. She remained at Pearl Harbor until 15 October, when she sailed for American Samoa.

Arriving at Pago Pago, Samoa, on 25 October 1937, Avocet served as station ship at that port through February 1938. On 11 January 1938, Pan American Airways' Sikorsky S-42B "Samoan Clipper" (NC 16734) took off from Pago Pago at 0540, on the final leg of its flight to New Zealand. At 0608, the pilot, Captain Edwin C. Musick, reported an oil leak and that he was shutting down number four engine. Musick apparently elected to jettison some of the fuel the "Clipper" was carrying, and radioed his intentions to do so at 0842.

With no word from the plane since Musick's 0842 transmission, Avocet sailed from Pago Pago at 1910 for a point 12 miles north of Tapu Tapu Point. Avocet sighted an oil slick at 0606, and wreckage at 0637. Lowering her motor launch at 0700, men from the ship soon brought on board wreckage positively identified as having come from the Samoan Clipper. Avocet continued the search during the forenoon watch, but found no signs of any survivors of the crew of seven. A subsequent investigation speculated that sparks from the engine exhaust had ignited the fuel Musick had reported he was jettisoning, triggering a violent explosion that blew the Sikorsky apart in flight.

Underway from Samoan waters on 5 February 1938 for Pearl Harbor, Avocet sailed via Fanning Island, taking on board mail for delivery to the Honolulu post office, and ultimately reached Pearl Harbor on 18 February. Avocet--reclassified from AM-19 to AVP-4, a small seaplane tender, in March 1938-- returned to French Frigate Shoals on 23 March 1938, supporting advanced base evolutions of VP-8; during that time she took on board gasoline from the submarine Nautilus (SS-168). Departing French Frigate Shoals on 28 March, Avocet proceeded directly to the village of Makua, on the coast of Oahu, and arrived on the 30th. The following morning she attempted the salvage of a crashed flying boat of VP-4, recovering the body of a radioman; she hoisted the wreckage of the plane on board on 1 April.

Avocet then operated locally out of Pearl Harbor through mid-July, conducting short-range battle practice and planting bombing targets off Barbers Point, and, for a brief time, on 6 July 1938 and again on 15 to 20 July, served as flagship for Commander, Patrol Wing (PatWing) 2, Capt. Kenneth Whiting. Before the year 1938 was out, Avocet conducted two periods of advanced base operations at Midway, tending VP-6 from 25 to 27 July and VP-4 between 25 to 27 October.

Avocet spent the first six months of 1939 operating from Pearl Harbor, interspersing the routine local evolutions with advanced base maneuvers, once at Hilo, twice at Midway, and once at French Frigate Shoals, and an inspection of Lisianski Island. During this time Capt. Whiting again flew his pennant briefly in Avocet and the ship supported VP-4, 6, 8 and 10 at varying times.

Sailing from Pearl Harbor on 23 June 1939 for San Diego, Avocet arrived at her destination on Independence Day having planeguarded for VP-1 en route. Now assigned to PatWing 1, the seaplane tender remained at San Diego until late August, at which time she shifted to San Pedro. The outbreak of war in Europe on 1 September 1939 found the ship moored alongside the submarine tender Argonne (AS-10) for upkeep. For the remainder of 1939, Avocet was based at the Naval Air Station (NAS), San Diego, occasionally supporting advance base operations at San Pedro and Pyramid Cove, off the island of San Clemente.

Avocet operated locally from San Pedro and San Diego into the spring of 1940, at which time she sailed for Pearl Harbor on 29 March 1940. Performing plane-guard duties en route, Avocet arrived at Pearl Harbor on 9 April, and got underway for French Frigate Shoals four days later, to establish an advanced base for the Consolidated PBY flying boats of VP-24 as part of the "Maroon" fleet in Part VI of Fleet Problem XXI, the last of the large-scale fleet maneuvers.

"War" had been declared on 8 April 1940 between "Maroon" and"Purple," and Part VI of Fleet Problem XXI, that phase of the war games which involved all combatant and auxiliary types of the fleet, commenced on the 19th, four days after Avocet had arrived at her advanced base site. With all of VP-24 in the air to conduct search missions on the 20th, the seaplane tender found herself alone when a formation of "Purple" cruiser-based scout planes arrived overhead.

Avocet sighted 10 planes off her starboard quarter at 1325 and went to general quarters. Four of the floatplanes attacked the ship from the starboard side two minutes later, but Avocet opened fire with her 3-inch and .30-caliber machine guns, and drove them off. Subsequently, 10 planes attacked from the port bow before flying off to the north. Soon thereafter, the seaplane tender sighted six destroyers that opened fire at 1355 but abruptly ceased four minutes later, moving off to the southeast. Departing French Frigate Shoals later the same day, Avocet arrived at Pearl Harbor on the 24th, winding up her participation in Fleet Problem XXI. She returned thence to the west coast of the United States, and operated from San Diego, San Pedro, and Coronado for the balance of the year 1940.

Avocet spent the first two months of 1941 in the San Diego area, first undergoing an overhaul at the Destroyer Base from 13 to 27 January before returning to NAS, San Diego, for local operations. During this latter period, she salvaged a crashed fighter from VF-2 in Coronado Roads on 29 and 30 January, and a Douglas SBD-2 from Scouting Squadron (VS) 2 on 21 February, recovering the latter intact and hoisting it on board to transfer to a seaplane wrecking derrick (YSD) the following day.

After a docking in ARD-1 from 3 to 5 March 1941, Avocet sailed down the west coast to Salina Cruz, Mexico, where she plane-guarded for a flight of planes from VP-43 before getting underway to return to San Diego on 25 March.

While en route back to her home port, however, Avocet received a distress signal from the fishing vessel Cape Horn. Changing course at 1558 she lay to at 1607 close aboard the fishing boat, and within a few moments was taking on board the first assistant engineer of the boat, who had suffered an injured hip in an accident. Avocet took the sailor to San Diego, transferring him to a Public Health Service launch upon arrival on 2 April 1941.

After operating out of San Diego until 26 May 1941, Avocet sailed for Pearl Harbor, and arrived there on 9 June. In late June, she towed targets for Army bombing planes and on 1 July investigated Japanese fishing sampans apparently navigating in restricted waters, obtaining names and numbers in each case. For the rest of the summer, Avocet operated locally out of NAS Pearl Harbor. She towed targets for Army planes in late July, and on 11 August salvaged a downed SBD-2 from VS-2, exercised first with the seaplane tender Thornton (AVD-11) and later with the seaplane tender Curtiss (AV-4), and then tended VP-22 at Hilo. Following a docking on the marine railway at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard in late September, Avocet fueled, underway, from the fleet oiler Neosho (AO-23) on 2 October.

Following calibration runs in Maalea Bay, Maui, the seaplane tender proceeded out to sea from Pearl Harbor for plane guard duty from 4 to 7 November 1941; she spent much of November at Pearl Harbor, shifting to the navy yard for a restricted availability on the 29th of that month and mooring alongside Porter (DD-356). Completing her scheduled upkeep on 5 December, the ship exercised briefly with the seaplane tender McFarland (AVD-14) before returning to Pearl Harbor on the morning of 6 December 1941; at 1147 she moored port side to the NAS dock.

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.

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., marvelled 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.

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 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.

Oil from ruptured battleship fuel tanks had been set afire by fires on those ships, 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.

No sooner had she completed that task when 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 operated out of Pearl Harbor through the first week of May 1942, interspersing these routine operations supporting the reforming and outfitting of new units and the extensive patrols in the Hawaiian area, with two periods of advanced base evolutions, first at Port Allen, Kauai (16 to 19 January 1942) and then at Nawiliwili (4 to 8 March 1942). Departing Pearl Harbor on 11 May 1942 in convoy 4098, Avocet arrived at Alameda on 20 May, and shifted to Hunters Point on the 23d for a major refit.

Departing Hunters Point on 17 July 1942, Avocet returned to Alameda the same day, and sailed for Seattle on 18 July. Reaching her destination on the 21st, she lingered there for only three days, as she sailed for Kodiak on the 24th, eventually pushing on thence to Woman Bay, an inlet on the Gulf of Alaska, on the east coast of Kodiak Island.

Avocet operated in Alaskan waters through late October. She supported PBY flying boats of Fleet Air Wing 4 by tending and fueling planes, and transporting people, plane parts and ordnance supplies; she also performed patrol duty and participated in survey work as required. 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. In addition, the squadrons serviced by Avocet provided "dumbo" services (rescue missions named for the Walt Disney studio's cartoon pachyderm) for all American services, and flew antisubmarine patrols as well. When the Japanese submarine RO-61 torpedoed Casco (AVP-12) in Nazan Bay, off Adak, Avocet went to the stricken seaplane tender's aid. From 2 to 4 September 1942, she assisted in salvage operations, helped to tow the ship to safety, and took on board a portion of her crew.

After an overhaul at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, which commenced on 1 November 1942, Avocet returned to Alaskan waters, reaching Atka on 20 January 1943. Sailing thence to Ogluiga, and arriving on 28 January, Avocet landed a party of Navy "Seabees" (Construction Battalion men) and Army engineers there, before she proceeded on to Nazan Bay, a month later, arriving on 28 February.

For the remainder of 1943, Avocet continued to support the operations of Fleet Air Wing 4's squadrons, operating successively out of Dutch Harbor, Adak, Amchitka, and Adak a second time, Attu and Dutch Harbor through 16 July. During this time, she escorted the freighter Sam Jackson, along with the motor minesweeperYMS-121, from Amchitka to Adak, and then accompanied the seaplane tender Hulbert (AVD-6) in escorting a merchantman from Adak to Attu, arriving at the latter port on 21 June. The squadrons supported by Avocet during that period continued flying antisubmarine and reconnaissance patrols, as well as provided "dumbo" services as required. Avocet spent the remainder of 1943 operating out of Dutch Harbor, Adak, and Kodiak, until shifted to Seattle, arriving on 23 December 1943, two days before Christmas.

Avocet returned to Kodiak on 6 March 1944, and steamed thence to Adak, and then Attu, where she remained until the last day of March. The small seaplane tender shifted back to Adak on 1 April, but stayed there only a short time, clearing that place on 5 April for Attu, where she arrived shortly thereafter.

During the first half of May, 1944, Avocet alternated with the destroyer escort Doneff(DE-49) on guard and rescue ship station west of Attu. While returning from one such deployment, Avocet had her second brush with enemy aircraft. At 1125 on 19 May 1944, she sighted what she identified as a twin-engined Mitsubishi G4M Type 1 land attack plane [Betty] bomber two miles away, in foggy weather.

When first sighted, the Betty seemed to be on a course parallel to the ship's, but appeared to begin circling when he sighted Avocet, perhaps to look her over. Avocet opened fire on the Betty with 3-inch and 20-millimeter guns, but scored no hits. The Betty, for her part, strafed the ship with her tail 20-millimeter gun. Neither side suffered any damage in the encounter, and Avocet resumed her voyage back to Attu.

Operating alternately out of Attu, Massacre Bay and Kuluk Bay for the remainder of May 1944, Avocet departed Massacre Bay on 30 May for Kiska, arriving there on 1 June to embark passengers for transportation to Amchitka. The small seaplane tender operated out of the Aleutians for the remainder of the summer, frequenting the waters at Adak, Attu, Massacre Bay, Shemya Island, and Dutch Harbor before clearing Attu on 29 July 1944 for Puget Sound and an overhaul.

Avocet remained in the northern Pacific theater for the remainder of World War II, working out of Adak, Attu and Dutch Harbor through the end of hostilities with Japan in mid-August. Highlighting that period at the end of the war, Avocet accompanied the high speed transport Harry L. Corl (APD-108) to the Kamchatka Peninsula to establish a weather station, arriving on 6 September 1945, before ultimately returning to Adak.

Slated to be relieved by the small seaplane tender Unimak (AVP-31), Avocet cleared Adak on 7 October 1945 for Seattle, and arrived on the 16th, reporting to the Commandant, Thirteenth Naval District, for disposal. Inspected on 20 November 1945, the ship was found to be "beyond economical repair." She was accordingly decommissioned on 10 December 1945, and her name was stricken from the List of Naval Vessels on 3 January 1946. Sold to the Construction & Power Machine Co., Brooklyn, N. Y., on 12 December 1946 for use as a hulk, she remained listed on the American Bureau of Shipping Record, until 1950, after which time her name disappeared. She was scrapped subsequently.

Avocet (AVP-4) earned one World War II battle star for her participation in the defense of the fleet at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941.

Robert J. Cressman

1 November 2016 

Published: Thu Sep 01 07:55:13 EDT 2022