Tuesday, January 11, 2011
USS Pigeon (Minesweeper No. 47, AM-47, ASR-6)
Figure 1: USS Pigeon (AM-47) in port, 7 July 1919, at about the time she was delivered to the Navy. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the US National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: USS Pigeon (AM-47) in Chinese waters, circa the late 1920s, showing modifications made to fit her as a gunboat for use on the Yangtze River. Courtesy of Alfred Cellier, 1977. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS Pigeon (AM-47) in a Chinese port, circa the late 1920s, after she had been modified for use as a gunboat on the lower Yangtze River. Courtesy of the US Naval Institute, Annapolis, Maryland, 1969. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: Minesweepers laid up at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. View taken circa 1922 or somewhat later, showing several minesweepers laid up in reserve at the end of 1010 Dock. Identifiable ships at left include USS Oriole (AM-7) outboard, with USS Pigeon (AM-47) inboard of her. USS Pelican (AM-27) is the outboard ship in the center. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: Submarine USS S-40 (SS-145) alongside USS Pigeon (ASR-6) at Shanghai, China, 1932. Photographed by Gustave J. Freret, Jr., USN. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: USS Pigeon (ASR-6) in Cam Ranh Bay, Indochina, July 1939. Note the Submarine Force "fish" insignia painted on her bow. Photograph from the New York Times Paris Bureau collection in the US National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 7: USS Pigeon (ASR-6) undergoing refloating operations after she ran aground during a typhoon at Tsingtao, China, September 1939. Note the short range battle targets hung amidships. Collection of Chief Torpedoman John Vieira, USN (Retired). US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 8: USS Pigeon (ASR-6) photographed during salvage operations after she ran aground during a typhoon at Tsingtao, China, September 1939. Collection of Chief Torpedoman John Vieira, USN (Retired). US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 9: USS Pigeon (ASR-6) on the beach after she ran aground during a typhoon at Tsingtao, China, September 1939. Collection of Chief Torpedoman John Vieira, USN (Retired). US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 10: USS Pigeon (ASR-6) "high and dry" after she ran aground during a typhoon at Tsingtao, China, September 1939. From the collection of Jack L. Wheat. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 11: USS Pigeon (ASR-6) "high and dry" after she ran aground during a typhoon at Tsingtao, China, September 1939. From the collection of Jack L. Wheat. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
USS Pigeon (Minesweeper No. 47) was a 950-ton Lapwing class minesweeper that was built by the Baltimore Dry Dock and Shipbuilding Company at Baltimore, Maryland, and was commissioned on 15 July 1919. The ship was approximately 187 feet long and 35 feet wide, had a top speed of 14 knots, and had a crew of 72 officers and men. Pigeon originally was armed with one 11-pounder gun and two machine guns, but this eventually was changed to two 3-inch guns and several machine guns.
Shortly after being commissioned, Pigeon was designated AM-47. The ship was assigned to the US Pacific Fleet and was based at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, until she was decommissioned on 25 April 1922. She then was converted into a gunboat and re-commissioned at Pearl Harbor on 13 October 1923. Pigeon left Pearl Harbor on 7 November 1923 and joined the Yangtze River Patrol at Shanghai, China, on 26 November. For approximately five years she was part of that famous patrol group and was assigned to protect American lives and property in one of the most dangerous and politically unstable countries in the world. In September 1928, Pigeon began tending Submarine Division 16 of the US Asiatic Fleet. She eventually was fitted out as a submarine salvage vessel at the Cavite Naval Station, the Philippines, from April to July 1929, and sailed from Manila Bay on 13 July to escort Asiatic Fleet submarines along the Chinese coast. She returned to Manila, the Philippines, on 11 September. The next day, she was re-classified as a submarine rescue vessel and re-designated ASR-6.
Pigeon remained in the Asiatic Fleet throughout the 1930s and into the early 1940s, serving in both China and the Philippines. In late November 1941, tensions grew between the United States and Japan. As Japanese forces gained control of most of the ports along the Chinese coastline, Pigeon was ordered to escort a pair of American shallow-draft river gunboats to the Philippines. Pigeon left Cavite on 28 November 1941 and rendezvoused with the gunboats USS Luzon (PR-7) and USS Oahu (PR-6), along with the minesweeper USS Finch (AM-9), near the Formosa Straits. All four of the ships made it back to the Philippines, although the tiny convoy was constantly being monitored by Japanese ships and aircraft.
Upon hearing of the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, Pigeon’s skipper, Lieutenant Commander Richard E. “Spittin’ Dick” Hawes, prepared his small ship for war. Hawes was a true original, working his way up the ranks after entering the Navy as a Fireman in 1917. Hawes earned the Navy Cross for distinguished service in salvaging submarine S-51 in 1926 and Congress made him an officer on 18 February 1929 in recognition of his salvage efforts on submarines S-51 and S-4. Hawes later served on several submarines based at New London, Connecticut; became a Master Diver; joined the staff of Submarine Division Four; and commanded the submarine salvage ship USS Falcon from 1935 to 1938. He took command of Pigeon on 12 February 1940.
After learning of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawes had his ship crammed with supplies and as much salvage and repair equipment as possible. On 10 December 1941, while Pigeon and several other ships were moored at the Cavite Navy Yard, Japanese bombers made a massive attack on the ship yard. Commander Hawes and his men sprang into action, quickly getting up steam and moving away from the dock. Pigeon only possessed two .50-caliber and two .30-caliber anti-aircraft machine guns and, although they put up a spirited defense, they could not reach the high-altitude Japanese bombers. Bombs started crashing all over Cavite and several came close to pulverizing Pigeon. A few bombs exploded off the ship’s stern, but Pigeon managed to avoid them. Suddenly, Commander Hawes noticed that the nearby submarine USS Seadragon (SS-194) was still tied to the dock and had no power to get underway. Flames engulfed most of Cavite, with secondary explosions going off from fuel and ammunition depots. Commander Hawes brought Pigeon’s stern against Seadragon’s stern and rigged a tow line to the immobile submarine. As fire raged along the wharf next to Seadragon, a large fuel tank exploded, spewing burning fuel oil at both Pigeon and Seadragon. Then flames engulfed a nearby torpedo overhaul shop, setting off several torpedo warheads, causing a huge explosion. A large amount of debris and shrapnel shot over both ships. Yet Commander Hawes continued with the rescue operation. After the tow line was rigged, Pigeon managed to pull Seadragon away from the dock stern first and into the nearby channel. Once in the channel, the submarine’s crew managed to plug most of the leaks caused by the nearby explosions and the ship was brought to the submarine tender Canopus (AS-9) for additional repairs. After the repairs were completed, the submarine managed to make it to Java on 16 December 1941. In an interesting footnote to history, Seadragon became one of the most successful submarines in US history, earning 11 battle stars during World War II. As a result of her actions on 10 December 1941 and because of her amazing efforts to save Seadragon, Pigeon was the first warship in World War II to receive the Presidential Unit Citation. Lieutenant Commander Hawes also received his second Navy Cross.
Using guns salvaged from other ships, Pigeon was soon converted into a gunboat while still acting as a salvage ship, tender, and tug. Pigeon’s crew obtained two 3-inch guns from two other severely damaged warships and boiler plates were welded into gun and splinter shields for six .50-caliber machine guns that were placed around the bridge. By the end of the month, Pigeon had assisted several damaged warships, salvaged valuable equipment from a sunken submarine, and transported deck loads of torpedoes to Canopus so that the submarine tender could, in turn, re-arm the remaining submarines of the Asiatic Fleet. Pigeon’s crew made underwater repairs to the submarine USS Porpoise (SS-172), supplied submarine S-36 with fresh water, and towed numerous barges and small craft between Manila, Corregidor, Bataan, and Mariveles in the Philippines. During a Japanese aerial attack on Corregidor, Pigeon’s gunners shot down two Japanese low-flying bombers. The next day, Pigeon’s crew scored once again by shooting down a Japanese observation plane. For all of her amazing efforts, Pigeon received a second Presidential Unit Citation for fighting ability not expected of men in a little support craft.
On 5 January 1942, Lieutenant Commander Hawes turned over command of Pigeon to Lieutenant Commander Frank Alfred Davis. Hawes went on to command two other ships during World War II and was promoted to Captain on 25 March 1945. On 1 December 1952, Hawes was transferred to the retired list and promoted to Rear Admiral. Rear Admiral Hawes died at his home at Thomson, Georgia, on 30 December 1968 at the age of 74. In 1984, the guided missile frigate USS Hawes (FFG-53) was named in his honor.
Under Lieutenant Commander Davis’ command, Pigeon continued to assist other warships, salvaged badly needed fuel oil for the few remaining American warships in the area, and fought off numerous Japanese aircraft (shooting down at least one). On the night of 5 January 1942, the ship even steamed into Japanese-held Sangley Point at Cavite and literally stole a barge filled with submarine mines from the Japanese anchorage there.
In March 1942, Pigeon salvaged and her crew concealed valuable gasoline drums ashore, fuel that was used to keep a submarine and several gunboats in operation. Pigeon towed several barges between Corregidor and Mariveles and she salvaged and repaired the merchant ship S.S. Floricita. In early April, Pigeon’s gunners even dueled with Japanese artillery located along the coastline. Then, after Bataan fell on 9 April 1942, Pigeon continued the fight from the island fortress of Corregidor. She rendezvoused with the submarine USS Snapper (SS-185) one night off Corregidor and was loaded with 46 tons of food and supplies for the beleaguered garrison on that island. Pigeon continued operating from Corregidor until 4 May 1942, when a bomb from a Japanese aircraft hit her starboard quarter. The explosion was too much for the small ship to endure and she sank in eight minutes.
Most of Pigeon’s crew was captured by the Japanese, which in most cases was a fate worse than death. Lieutenant Commander Frank Alfred Davis, though, carried on his fight against the Japanese while placed in the infamous prisoner-of-war camp at Cabanatuan, Philippine Islands. He built and maintained a large underground organization to obtain food and desperately needed medicines for his starving men. He volunteered for command of a firewood detail and despite the constant surveillance of the Japanese guards, succeeded in smuggling into camp tremendous amounts of food and other necessities for his fellow prisoners. His great personal valor and grave concern for others at a great risk to his own life contributed to the welfare and morale of all prisoners on Luzon and saved countless lives. Unfortunately, Lieutenant Commander Davis died on 14 December 1944, probably due to disease and malnutrition. Davis was awarded the Navy Cross for his service on board Pigeon and was posthumously awarded the Legion of Merit for his courageous and dedicated service to his fellow prisoners.
Posted by Remo at 8:41 AM