USS Vireo (AM-52)

USS Vireo (AM-52)

USS "Vireo" (AM-52) was a , and USS|Turkey|AM-13. Shortly before 0800 that morning, Japanese aircraft roared overhead. The marauders swept over the Fleet's base and devastated not only Peal Harbor, but outlying Army and Navy installations all over the island of Oahu.

Caught under attack with her engines dismantled

In upkeep status, with her engines dismantled, "Vireo" nevertheless speedily entered the fight. While her gunners topside fought their mounts coolly and efficiently, the "black gang" below decks assembled the ship's engines and fired up the boilers to get underway. Her 3-inch guns expended some 22 rounds, and the men at her number 2 mount rejoiced when one of their shells exploded directly in the path of a Japanese bomber, causing the Nipponese plane to crash in a ball of fire.

Salvage operations after the attack

When the Japanese attackers departed, they left behind them a swath of death and destruction. Beneath the oily pall of smoke settled the once-proud battleships of the Pacific Fleet, now battered and burnt. "Vireo" and some of her sister sweepers at Pearl Harbor received orders to assist the stricken USS|California|BB-44, sinking into the oil-stained ooze at berth F-3, off Ford Island. While engaged in salvage operations alongside "California", through January 1942, "Vireo" also served briefly as a tender to USS|Enterprise|CV-6. The minesweeper carried ammunition to replenish "Big E's" depleted magazines and prepare that ship for future forays against the Japanese empire.

Hawaiian area operations

After conducting minesweeping operations in the Pearl Harbor channel and other Hawaiian waters, "Vireo" underwent upkeep at Pearl Harbor between 10 and 13 February 1942. Following local operations near Honolulu and Pearl Harbor, she made brief runs to Johnston Island and the port of Hilo. In April and May 1942, after another brief stretch around Pearl Harbor, "Vireo" conducted local patrols out of Hilo, sometimes in company with USS|Crossbill|AMc-9 to conduct magnetic, acoustic, and mechanical minesweeping operations; and to patrol harbors with her echo-ranging and listening gear. From 23 to 24 April, "Vireo", in company with "Crossbill" and USS|Sacramento|PG-19, conducted a search for survivors of a downed Army plane off Pepeekeo Point, near Hilo, and found one body before she abandoned the task.

ervice as Fleet Tug

On 28 May 1942, under secret orders, "Vireo" and gasoline tanker USS|Kaloli|AOG-13 departed Honolulu and headed for Midway Island. During the voyage, "Vireo" was reclassified as an ocean-going tug and redesignated AT-144 on 1 June 1942. While "Vireo" and her charge crept toward Midway at nine knots, two battle fleets steamed toward each other on a collision course. The American and Japanese Navies were squaring off for the decisive Battle of Midway. "Vireo" and "Kaloli" hove to in Midway harbor on 3 June, amidst preparations there for defense of the island. Soon after the two American ships arrived, they received orders to proceed to a point 30 miles off Pearl and Hermes Reef, where they were to await further orders. Underway by 1910, "Vireo" and the gasoline tanker soon arrived at their assigned stations and lay to.

The Battle of Midway

Air action the following day, 4 June 1942, was hot and heavy. Japanese carriers Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, and Hiryu were all crippled and sunk by American planes. However, American carrier USS|Yorktown|CV-5 became the unfortunate victim of Japanese dive and torpedo bombers which heavily damaged the carrier, stopping her dead in the water, and forcing a severe list.

"Vireo" takes "Yorktown" in tow

Lest the ship capsize before the crew could be removed, Capt. Elliot Buckmaster ordered "Yorktown" abandoned. When "Yorktown" stopped settling, Buckmaster concluded that the ship could possibly be saved. Accordingly, "Vireo" received a summons to take "Yorktown" in tow. The tug arrived on the scene by 1135 on 5 June and closed and maneuvered to pass "Yorktown" a towline, accomplishing this by 1308. "Vireo" and her unwieldy charge then labored painfully ahead, at a speed of under 3 knots, with a protective brood of destroyers standing by. "Vireo", hampered by a small rudder and inadequate engines for such a large tow, found itself confronted with the Herculean task of keeping the big carrier pointed into the wind and on course. The next day, USS|Hammann|DD-412 secured alongside "Yorktown" to assist the salvage parties on the larger ship working to correct her trim and to repair her battle damage.

Japanese submarine torpedoes "Yorktown"

Around 1400 on the afternoon of 6 June, Japanese submarine 1-168 fired torpedoes at the nearly helpless targets. "Hammann", mortally hit, broke in two and sank alongside the towering carrier, which also took two torpedoes. As the destroyer sank, her depth charges all went off at once, causing tremendous shock waves which convulsed swimmers in the water and violently wrenched the old tug. "Vireo" freed herself from the carrier by cutting the towing cable with an acetylene torch and then doubled back to commence rescue operations.

"Vireo" takes aboard Yorktown salvage crew

Up her sides clambered carriermen and destroyermen alike, while she maneuvered near the carrier's canting stern to take on board members of the salvage party who had chosen to abandon the carrier from there. She then proceeded to secure alongside the wounded flattop in the exact spot where "Hammann" had met her doom. "Yorktown" rolled heavily, her heavy steel hide pounding the lighter former minecraft's hull with a vengeance as the ships touched time and time again during the rescue operations. This mission completed, battered "Vireo" stood away from the sinking carrier, which sank shortly after dawn on the 7th.

Damaged "Vireo" runs aground at Midway

"Vireo's" troubles, however, had only begun. Underwater explosions from "Hammann's" depth charges had severely jostled the tug's rudder. As a result, it jammed as "Vireo" was entering the shipping channel at Midway harbor on 8 June, and she ran aground on a coral head, carrying away her echo-ranging gear and flooding her sound room. Repeated attempts to free herself only resulted in another grounding, so "Vireo" lay-to and called for a tow.

"Vireo" towed back to Pearl for repairs

After arriving at Midway Island at the end of a towline from "YMT-12", following another brush with a coral head which irreparably damaged the rudder, "Vireo" soon got underway for Pearl Harbor, this time behind USS|Seminole|AT-65. Reaching Hawaiian waters on 17 June, she entered the navy yard at Pearl Harbor for emergency repairs which lasted from 18 to 30 June. Following this, she remained at the Pearl Harbor yard for a complete overhaul and drydocking.

Converted into a tow ship and sent to Fiji

Having concluded the refitting by 19 August, "Vireo" conducted post-repair trials before turning in all her mine gear on 25 August. Two days later, she got underway to escort "SS Gulf Queen" to the Fiji Islands, towing two barges. Upon her arrival at Suva on 11 September, the tug refueled, provisioned, and carried out minor repairs before heading for New Caledonia on 15 September. After arriving at Noumea five days later, on 20 September 1942, she commenced harbor operations under the control of Commander, Amphibious Forces, South Pacific (AmphibForSoPac). In accordance with verbal orders from ComAmphibForSoPac, "Vireo's" crew set about making camouflage nets and painting the ship green in preparation for her next assignment.

Guadalcanal operations

Arriving at Espiritu Santo on 8 October, she awaited further orders, spending four days at this port in the New Hebrides before setting out for the Guadalcanal area on 12 October, to take part in resupply operations for the U.S. Marines at Henderson Field. Since the initial landings on Guadalcanal on 7 August 1942, the campaign had been fought tooth and nail. Fierce land and sea battles had characterized the fighting since the early going. By this juncture, American aviation operations on Henderson Field had been so endangered by shellings, bad weather, and inadequate supplies, that the American situation was extreme. With American aircraft using up gasoline at an alarming rate, that commodity ranked high on the list of priority supplies. Accordingly, a barge-towing operation was mounted in mid-October to ease the critical fuel situation on Guadalcanal.

Struggling to get gasoline to Guadalcanal

The force to carry out this operation comprised USS|Alchiba|AK-23, USS|Bellatrix|AK-20, USS|Jamestown|PG-55, USS|Meredith|DD-434, USS|Nicholas|DD-449, and "Vireo", each pulling a barge carrying barrels of gasoline and quarter-ton bombs. Setting out from Espiritu Santo, the highly volatile convoy was spotted by Japanese aircraft on 15 October. All but "Vireo" and "Meredith" beat a hasty retreat.

Beating a hasty retreat, abandoning Vireo

Cautiously proceeding, the pair beat off a two-plane Japanese attack before they received word that Japanese surface ships were in the area. Only then did they reverse course. At noon, "Meredith" ordered old, slow, and vulnerable "Vireo" abandoned and took off her crew. "Meredith" then stood off to torpedo the tug at 1215 so that she would not fall into enemy hands intact. Suddenly, a whirlwind of destruction swept down from the sky and descended upon the destroyer. Like hawks, 27 planes from the Japanese carrier Zuikaku pounced on "Meredith" and deluged her with bombs, torpedoes, and bullets, sinking her in an instant.

Vireo survivors scramble back to Vireo

"Vireo" and the two gasoline barges, however, drifted to leeward, untouched. One life raft, crammed with some of "Meredith's" survivors, succeeded in overhauling the derelict tug and the men gratefully scrambled aboard. The barges and the tug were later found intact. When a salvage party boarded "Vireo" on 21 October, the ship was dead in the water with no lights, no steam, and no power. After abortive attempts to light fires under the boilers, using wood, the tug had to be taken under tow by USS|Grayson|DD-435. In company with "Grayson" and USS|Gwin|DD-433, "Vireo" arrived safely at Espiritu Santo on 23 October.

Towed back to safety, then sent back with more gas barges in tow

With a new crew -- the majority of her old complement lost in the ordeal with "Meredith" -- she continued to operate in the Guadalcanal area with Task Force 62. She conducted resupply operations to Guadalcanal, towing barges loaded with precious gasoline and bombs and carrying out local escort for other, larger ships, engaged in the same vital duties.

Rest and recuperation in Australia

On 3 December, in company with USS|Hilo|AGP-2 and towing PT-boats, she departed Noumea and proceeded to Australia. Arriving at Cairns on 9 December, she spent the remainder of the year there, enjoying Christmas and New Year's Day in Australian waters before heading back to the combat area, arriving at Espiritu Santo on 9 January.

Return to Guadalcanal operations

Operating out of the New Hebrides in early January, she assisted cruisers USS|Pensacola|CA-24 and USS|Minneapolis|CA-36 as they underwent repairs following damage received at Tassafaronga. Towing barges and firing target bursts for destroyers during gunnery practice off Guadalcanal, the tug continued her operations as before, between that island and Espiritu Santo and Noumea. It was dull and monotonous duty but necessary and vital, nonetheless.

Japanese attack Papua

In April 1943, as American forces advanced on the "island-hopping", "leap-frogging" campaigns against the Japanese in the South Pacific, Japanese Admiral Yamamoto initiated operation "I." Yamamoto aimed this stroke at Papua, in the hope of compensating for the loss of Guadalcanal, by destroying the American advance base there and thus slowing or stopping the Allied advance. The new Japanese thrust began on 7 April when large formations of Japanese planes swept down from Rabaul to attack American shipping in Lunga Roads between Guadalcanal and Tulagi.

Under attack by Japanese dive bombers

Among these ships, there lay "Vireo", engaged in her usual harbor activities. "Pathfinder" was engaged in taking soundings; also near were USS|Ortolan|ASR-5 and "SC-521". Shortly before the attack came, USS|Aaron Ward|DD-483 passed by, escorting "LST-U9". Three Japanese dive bombers swooped down put of the sun and severely damaged the destroyer with their lethal loads. "Ortolan" and "Vireo" took the crippled "Aaron Ward" under tow, but the destroyer sank three miles short of Tulagi.

The Battle of Kula Gulf

As the New Georgia campaign got underway and American forces advanced further up the chain of islands in the southwest Pacific, "Vireo" continued her operations out of Tulagi, Espiritu Santo, or Noumea. In the pre-dawn darkness of 13 July, the Battle of Kula Gulf was fought between Japanese and American surface forces, the latter augmented by New Zealand cruiser "Leander". In the action which followed, USS|Honolulu|CL-48, USS|St. Louis|CL-49, and "Leander" were damaged. Later that day, "Vireo", in company with USS|Rail|AT-139 set out to assist in getting the cripples home and towed "Honolulu" to haven at government wharf, Tulagi, where temporary repairs to the cruiser's bow were made.

econd reclassification

For the remainder of 1943 and on into 1944, "Vireo" followed the Fleet as it inched closer to Japan. In the rearward island areas, she continued her duties as a harbor tug and local escort vessel. On 15 May 1944, "Vireo" was reclassified as an ocean-going tug, old, and redesignated ATO-144. In late July, American forces struck in northwestern New Guinea at Cape Sansapor. "Vireo" took part in these operations from 30 July to 2 August, engaged in the vital support activities necessary to support the successful landings.

"Vireo" moves north to support the Philippine invasion

After service in the South Pacific Ocean, the old tug moved northward with the invasion armada to liberate the Philippine Islands from the Japanese. On 18 October 1944, American troops stormed ashore on Leyte, keeping General Mac Arthur's promise to return to Philippine soil. "Vireo" operated in support of these landings into December. She departed Morotai on the 10th, bound for Biak. From there, she proceeded to Leyte, engaged in towing duties.

"Vireo" supporting Okinawa invasion

Next -- after touching at Hollandia, Manus, and Biak -- she took part in the Okinawa operations in April and May 1945. Returning to Morotai, she engaged in towing operations again, this time to Tacloban on the island of Leyte, departing there on 25 May for Subic Bay. For the remainder of the war, she operated between the Philippine Islands and New Guinea, as American forces continued to sweep northward towards the Japanese home islands.

End-of-war operations

On 20 December 1945, after immediate postwar towing operations at Manila, Luzon, and Samar, she departed Philippine waters on 20 December 1945, in company with USS|Rail|ATO-139 and USS|Whippoorwill|ATO-169, and headed for the Marshalls.

Following a brief stay at Eniwetok, "Vireo" got underway on 4 January 1946 and proceeded via Pearl Harbor to the west coast. She arrived at San Francisco, California, on 5 February and reported to the Commandant,12th Naval District, for disposition.

"Old" tug declared "surplus to needs"

As newer and more powerful fleet tugs supplanted the old converted minesweepers, the need for the old vessels decreased. Thus, on 18 April 1946, "Vireo" was decommissioned, declared surplus to Navy needs, and made available for disposal. Struck from the Navy list on 8 May 1946, "Vireo" was transferred from the Maritime Commission for disposal on 4 February 1947; but no records of her subsequent fate have survived.

Military awards and honors

"Vireo" received seven battle stars for her World War II service.


See also

* List of United States Navy ships

External links

* [ Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships]
* [ NavSource Online: Mine Warfare Vessel Photo Archive - Vireo (Minesweeper No. 52 / AM-52) - AT / AT(O)-144]

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