The Bird Class, also called the Lapwing Class after the first of the class USS Lapwing AM-1, minesweepers came about in 1916. Their characteristics were to provide minesweepers but a second set of characteristics was for fleet tugs. In late 1916 these characteristics were approved but in April a change was suggested. In looking at the two sets of characteristics it was noticed that the sets of requirements were very similar. The minesweeper called for a speed of 16 knots and a maximum draft of 12-feet and the fleet tug requirement called for a speed of 15 knots and a maximum draft of 15-feet. Because all of the shipyards were stretched to capacity, why not combine the two sets of requirements to one dual purpose set? In May 1917 the Secretary of the Navy approved a joint design and ordered 14 ships with a speed of 14 knots, a draft of 12 ˝-feet and a displacement of 950 tons.
The minesweepers were considered so important that they were given precedence over destroyer construction and given the U-Boat threat, that says a lot about their importance to the USN. In all 54 of the design were ordered as minesweepers and a new requirement was added, the ability to lay mines as well as to sweep them. Most were completed and helped in sweeping the very extensive North Sea Mine Barrage after the armistice in November 1918. Some were damaged by exploding mines while serving on this mission. By July 1, 1919 nine of the 54 ships ordered were still incomplete. Five were canceled, AM-11, AM-12, AM-42, AM-49, and AM-50 and three that were authorized were not ordered, AM-55, AM-56 and AM-57.
After the war the class became maids of all work. Because of new technology they acquired new missions. Nine became small seaplane tenders as AM-1, 10, 18, 19, 23, 27, 34, 41, and 51 were designated AVP 1-9. Five became submarine rescue vessels as AM-28, 29, 44, 45, and 47 were designated ASR 2-6. Three, AM-29, 32 and 38 served in the Geodetic Survey from 1922-23 and then on to the Coast Guard were they were joined by AM-48 in 1924. AM-53 and 54 became salvage tugs for the Shipping Board.
USS Vireowas built in the Philadelphia Navy Yard. The Vireo was 189-feet long (57.6m), 35-feet in beam (10.8m) and 12-feet 6-inches (3.8m) in draught. Displacement was 950 tons normal and 1,400 tons full load. The two Babcock and Wilcox boilers and vertical triple expansion (VTE) engines drove the one shaft design to a maximum speed of 13.5 knots. The range was 6,850 nautical miles at 8 knots. The class was armed with two 3-inch (76mm)/50 guns and two machine guns and had a complement of 85.
USS VireoAM-52 was laid down on November 20, 1918 and commissioned October 16, 1919. One of her early missions was in towing German prizes to the East coast in July 1921, where they were used as targets in BG Billy Mitchell’s bombing tests. Other early duty included target towing, buoy maintenance and personnel and equipment transport.
On the morning of December 7, 1941 quite a few of the Bird Class were at Pearl Harbor. Five still had their AM minesweeper designation, Bobolink AM-20, Vireo AM-52, Tern AM-31, Grebe AM-43, Rail AM-26 and Turkey AM-13. Two were AVP, seaplane tenders, the Avocet AVP-4 and Swan AVP-7, which was on a marine railway and Submarine Rescue Ship ASR-1 Widgeon, ex-AM-22.
On that morning Vireo and sisters Rail, Bobolink, and Turkey were berthed at the coal docks. Vireo had her engine disassembled for upkeep bit as soon as the attack started, the engine was quickly reassembled and the boilers were fired up to get underway. During the attack Vireo fired 22 3-inch rounds and hit one Japanese bomber, which crashed in flames. After the attack Vireo and Bobolink tried to save the California. "Although minesweepers Vireo and Bobolink closed the battleship and applied their pumps, and numerous ‘handy billies’ (portable gasoline-driven pumps) were obtained from other vessels, California slowly settled" The Rising Sun in the Pacific by Samuel Eliot Morison at page 112.
Also at Pearl was one of Vireo’s sisters that had been converted into one of the small seaplane tenders, the Avocet. "The only other ship moored to this side of Ford Island was the twenty-three-year-old seaplane tender Avocet, converted from a minesweeper. Her two 3-inch 50-cal guns opened fire about seven minutes after the start of the action, and winged one ‘Kate’ that had turned away after torpedoing California. The plane was seen to burst into flames and crash near the Naval Hospital." The Rising Sun in the Pacific by Samuel Eliot Morison at page 113.
Vireocontinued working on the California until January 1942 and also hauled ammunition to USS Enterprise CV-6 and also served briefly as the Big E’s tender. In addition to her service at Pearl Harbor, Vireo also had the distinction of serving at the Battle of Midway. On May 28, 1942, she with USS Kaloil AOG-13, left Pearl Harbor, headed for Midway. While at sea Vireo designated as fleet tug AT-144 from minesweeper AM-52. Vireo was ordered to take the badly damaged USS Yorktown CV-5 under tow and get her to safety. She had the towlines rigged and was in the process of towing Yorktown, with USS Hammann DD-412 lashed along side Yorktown to help in repairs, at the speed of three knots, when the Japanese submarine I-168 struck. When both the carrier and destroyer were hit by torpedoes, Vireo cut her tow line and circled back for crew rescue. She moored to the stern of the doomed Yorktown at the same spot that the already sunken Hammann had just occupied. Vireo stood by the carrier until Yorktown sank on June 7, 1942, at which time she departed for Midway Island.
Contact with the Yorktown and concussion damage from the depth charge explosions from the sinking of Hammann had damaged the rudder of Vireo. As she reached Midway, Vireo lost rudder control and grounded twice. Eventually she was tower to Pearl Harbor by Seminole AT-65. At Pearl she was repaired and overhauled. (History from Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships 1906-1921, Corsair Armada Instructions for USS Vireo by Mike Czibovic, Pearl Harbor, Why, How, Fleet Salvage and Final Appraisal by VADM Homer N. Wallin and The Rising Sun in the Pacific by Samuel Eliot Morison )
Corsair Armada’s USS Vireo
The kit comes with a extremely thin resin sheet on which the 17 smaller resin pieces are attached and a resin runner with 27 more resin parts. Additionally there are separate castings with the stack and with the 3-inch gun barrels. The resin sheet is really a film and parts can be separated from it by fingers alone, although you will probably want to do a minimal clean up. The biggest of these parts is the superstructure deck, which carries over the intricate detail of the hull. The 02 superstructure level is cast integral to this deck. The 02 superstructure and the runs of deck skylights are the focal points of this part. As with the hull, there are plenty of supporting actors in the cast. Smaller winches, boat chocks and other fittings are found. The boat chocks are a trifle thick but will be obscured once the ship’s boats are attached. To top the 02 level superstructure Corsair Armada gives you separate bridge deck and pilot house, constituting the 03 superstructure level.
The smaller parts also include, the three-inch guns, condenser canopies in two styles, which are optional parts, funnel, 30-foot motor launch, 26-foot motor whale boat, searchlights with searchlight platform, rafts, anchors, reels, vents, supports and different diameter rods for various vertical posts and supports. In addition Corsair Armada provides some optional parts to portray the Vireo at the Battle of Midway. After the attack on Pearl Harbor Vireo received additional AA guns in the form of two 20mm Oerlikon single mount AA guns. Corsair Armada provides these as a resin gun pillar and two photo-etch parts, one for the gun and one for the shield and shoulder supports for each of the guns. Also provided are the separate gun tubs that were added for the Oerlikons before Midway. As a bonus Corsair Armada gives you more parts than you need. As examples you get four 3-inch guns, rather than the two required or four complete 20mm Oerlikons rather than the two required. Now you have spare parts for replacement or for other projects.
Brass Photo-Etch Parts
The USS Vireo is a ship that was a supporting actor. Other ships, the California, the Enterprise and the Yorktown took the center stage but all the while little Vireo was there doing her bit. With the Corsair Armada USS Vireo, the little ship can come forward into the spotlight. With resin and photo-etch detail that equals or exceeds far larger models, the Corsair Armada Vireo shines.