The USS Gannet was one of 49 Lapwing Class minesweepers constructed by the United States Navy beginning in 1917. These "bird" boats were built to sweep the East Coast of the United State of German mines after World War I to insure safe shipping channels for the return of troops from Europe. During the 1920ís and 1930ís several of these ships were used in a variety of other duties and were recommissioned as small seaplane tenders (AVP), fleet tugs (ATO), submarine rescue vessels (ASR), rescue and salvage ships (ARS) and even temporary Coast Guard lightships. Arguably, the most notable of the Lapwing ships is the USS Falcon (ex AM-28), which as ASR-2 took part in the first successful rescue efforts on a sunken submarine. The Falcon, using the McCann Rescue Chamber, brought 33 crewmembers USS Squalus to the surface. This dramatic rescue is the subject of the book "The Terrible Hours" by Peter Maas.

The USS Gannet was laid down on 1 October 1918 at the Todd Shipyard Corp., New York, NY. She was launched on 19 March 1919 and was commissioned as AM-41 at the New York Navy Yard on 10 July 1919. The Gannet had a rather routine service record during the 1920ís and 1930ís, spending most of her time performing such duties as towing, transport and passenger service in addition to her aircraft tender responsibilities. The Gannet moved around quite a bit during this period. At different times she was based in the Pacific Ocean, Panama Canal, the Caribbean Sea, the Atlantic Ocean and Greenland. On 22 January 1936, the Gannet was reclassified as AVP-8. The Gannet was tending patrol airplanes in Hamilton, Bermuda on 7 December 1941. After a brief return to Norfolk, the Gannet sailed for Bermuda in early 1942 to serve as tender to Patrol Squadron 74, which provided coverage to air station in on the island, and she served as the communication center for all aircraft operations in that area.

While returning to Bermuda after an unsuccessful search for survivors from the torpedoed merchant ship Westmoreland, the Gannet was struck by torpedoes from a U-boat and she went under quickly taking 14 crewmembers with her. A total of 62 crewmembers, including the commanding officer, were rescued from the sea by aircraft from Patrol Squadron 74 and the USS Hamilton (DMS-18).

Lapwing Class Vital Statistics

Dimensions: Length Ė 187í 10"; Beam Ė 35í 5"; Draft Ė 8í 10"
Displacement: 840 tons; Complement: Approx. 80; Armament: Two 3"/50s
Machinery: One 1,400 shp Harlan & Hollingsworth Corp. vertical triple expansion steam engine;  one shaft; 14 knots

 

Iron Shipwright is slowly but surely producing kits of as many ships that were present at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. The USS Avocet (AVP-4) was one of them and this 1/350 scale kit represents this particular ship. Jon Warneke sent me a pre-release casting for my comments and I started hitting some of the usual sites for photos and drawings of the Avocet.

The main component of the kit is the one-piece full hull, which also has most of the deck fittings and main deck housing cast as integral parts. The kitís smaller parts include the upper decks, funnel, pilothouse, masts and booms, cowl vents, boats, 3" guns, searchlights, anchors and binnacles. The quality of the casting is typical for Iron Shipwright kits. I had to fill in some pinholes in storage and ammo ready lockers and drill out some of the portholes that had resin beads inside of them. The smaller parts needed more sanding to clean up and smooth out surfaces. If you are planning to build the kit as a full hull model, you will need to sand off the remains of the casting runner along the keel. My plans were to build a waterline model so I didnít bother to do that.

The upper deck comes in two sections, fore and aft which join at the point where the inclined ladders are fitted amidships. I had to sand the abutting ends a bit to improve the fit and there was a minor seam that was easily filled and sanded smooth. To facilitate placement of the upper deck section, they are locator pins underneath, which fit into corresponding holes on the top of the main deckhouse. The aft upper deck section has bracing that extends to port and starboard that was used to anchor the main mastís braces. The starboard ship bracing had broken off in transit and the other one broke off while I was removing the casting film, so I decided to replace these with styrene strip. I also decided to substitute brass rod and strip for the resin masts and booms as the latter where warped and too flimsy. Actually, I suspect that these are provided to serve more as a template to scratch build stronger ones.

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The kitís photo-etch brass, which I received several weeks later when the kit was getting closer to actual release, contains the standard suite of railings and ladders as well as boom rigging and the radio aerials spreaders and rigging. The latter is a really nice touch, which simplifies finally assembly and improves the level of detail. I really cannot comment of the assembly instructions, as I never actually received and I used photo references to build the model.

As I was checking out the photos on Navsource, I was pleasantly surprised to see the different fits and color schemes that the Lapwing Class ships wore throughout their careers. I had recently completed the Iron Shipwright USS Hoga kit, which I painted in a Measure 1 scheme. The Avocet was also wearing a Measure 1 scheme at that time so I was not too keen on doing another model in such a dark scheme. Then I came across a photo of the USS Gannet, in Pre-War #5 Standard Navy Gray, with a big number 8 and the early U.S. aircraft insignia on her bows and half of her tall slender funnel painted black. I decided right then and there to backdate the kit to a mid-1930ís fit, which really would not be difficult at all. Besides the paint scheme and markings, the only change I could see from the photos were the masts. In her pre-war fit, the masts had large searchlights and platforms fitted which were subsequently removed; or at least the Avocet did not have them fitted at Pearl Harbor.

I began work on the model by cleaning up all of the parts and removing the bottom portion of the hull using my Dremel and a cutting wheel. I realize that there are other, possible better ways to do this, but that Dremel tool and cutting wheel are the quickest and most effective means in my possession even if I do make a hell of a mess!

Before painting I thoroughly cleaned all of the parts using dishwashing liquid and an old toothbrush. I used White Ensign Models Pre-War #5 Standard Navy Gray to paint the vertical surfaces and fittings and #20 Standard Deck Gray to paint the decks and the black paint was Testors Model Masters enamel. For the hull number and aircraft markings I used the Gold Medal Models decal sheet and for the shipís name on the stern I used black lettering from a Microscale set.

The masts where made from brass rod and strip and thinner brass rod was used for the booms and cross brace. I fashioned searchlight platforms from styrene and found suitable large searchlights from the spare parts box. To make the searchlight lenses, I first painted the resin face silver and added a drop of Krystal Klear over that for a glassy look. I also opened up the pilothouse windows be removing the thin resin film and used Krystal Klear to glaze them. The rigging, with the exception of the photo-etched pulleys and speader/aerials was fishing line.

When I was partially through the kit assembly, a thought came to me for a diorama. I originally intended to do a simple ship underway scene, but the photos of the Gannetís sisters tending aircraft gave me the idea to attempt to recreate such a scene. I could picture some biplanes with chrome yellow wings moored to the Gannet awaiting service. There was even a photo of one of the ships with an airplane actually on her quarterdeck. So I decided to make a diorama that was composite of some of the photos to be called "Tending the Flock".

At that time, the only option available for a pre-war float biplane was the White Ensign Models Curtiss SOC-1 Seagull, from their Flightdeck 350 line, so I ordered a pair. Subsequently, Iron Shipwrights announced the USS Langley kit with 1930ís era biplanes. I told Jon about my diorama plans and he was kind enough to send me some Vought O3U Corsairs and floats to convert the planes from carrier based versions. I have since acquired my own Langley kit and I used the photo-etch and decals provided with that kit for the wing struts and markings on the Corsairs (the Seagulls came with their own photo-etch). The chevrons were made from stripe decals. I added a scratch-built float, Gold Medal Model photo-etch crew and flag decals and spare photo-etch anchor chain to finish off the scene. The water was made from artistís acrylic gel and paints and sealed with two coats of Future gloss. The only thing missing is a brass nameplate, which I will add after I get one made.

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This was one of those projects that kept growing in scope as I was building it. The Iron Shipwright Avocet kit came together well, after the required parts cleanup and minor repairs. It captures the unique look of the Lapwing class of ships. I am pleased with the final diorama as I feel that it captures what I could see in my mindís eye. I wanted to make something colorful and the blend of the pre-war grays with the aluminum and chrome yellow aircraft achieves that goal. I will admit that I took some liberties with the aircraft. The paint schemes and markings are correct for these planes, based on information from Color Schemes and Markings U. S. Navy Aircraft 1911-1950 by Bill C. Kilgrain. I am just not certain if these particular aircraft would have been in such a setting.

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