AM Minesweepers
USS Staff-AM114, USS Towhee-AM388, USS Tanager-AM385, USS
Mediterranean moored as part of the 6th Fleet at Marseilles, France in August 1953.

My name is Robert J Gerety and on December 27, 1951 I enlisted along with some of my buddies in the United States Naval Reserve 3rd Naval District on the USS Prairie State located at 25rd Street & the East River, New York City.  We were lured by the offer of something to do on a Friday night that included free beer and sandwiches.  We were required to attend meetings once a week aboard ship where we received Military training. We were also required to spend two weeks of active reserve duty such as Boot Camp at the Bainbridge Recruit Training Facility located near Elkon, Maryland. In addition we also spend some time at Camp Smith in upstate New York for firing range practice using Springfield rifles the type used by the Military in World War 1. 
In the Fall of 1952 I submitted the required paperwork to go on active duty and on October 6th was on my way back to Bainbridge for another 13 weeks of basic training.  When I completed Boot Camp I went on special assignment for a additional 3 months prior to being assigned to serve aboard the minesweeper Tanager 385 at the Port of Charleston, South Carolina.
Within two weeks we were on our way to the Mediterranean as part of the 6th Fleet.  It took almost 12 days to cross the Atlantic and since the sea was so rough that 101 out of 105 men were seasick including both Officers and Crew members. We were required to use ropes to navigate walking on the decks and climbing the quarterdeck to stand watches. For several days we were unable to see other ships in the convoy due to the extreme height of the waves. Our first port was Tangiers, North Africa, it was like the Arabian Nights seeing Camels, Tents, etc. Some of the other places we visited were the Port of Asinara on Isle of Sardina(Italian), The Isle of Malta, then, Athens, Piraeus, Avalla, Salonika in Greece.  We also went to Seville,Spain by sailing up the 408 mile Guadalquivir from the North Atlantic.  It was the first time I traveled through locks. When we arrived at Seville we greeted by a large crowd of residents showering us with flowers, etc. They had not seen a United States Ship since the end of WW2 in 1945 and were happy to see us. The local business owners offered us food and drinks on the house and invited us to a bull fight that was held in our honor on Sunday afternoon.
After 9 days we continued on to Marseilles, Cannes, Toulon, Nice in France; Salerno, Livorno, Leghorn, Palermo, Naples, La Spezia in Italy and Messina in Sicily.  While I was in Naples I had the opportunity to visit the ancient city of Pompeii which was a short train ride from the Naples Railroad Station. It was a breath taking experience to view this ancient city. While in different ports we were welcome by various USO's from both France and Italy.

On that night in early September we had just left Naples. I was at the Helm when we were steaming through the Straits of Gibraltar on our way to Seville, Spain. I recall it was a dark misty night and all of a sudden I spotted a rusty freighter bearing down on us off the starboard bow. It did not seem to have any visible markings. I yelled several times through the pipes to warn the Officer of the Deck of the impeding danger but received no response from the bridge. I don't know if he was distracted by something or just dozed off for a moment. Realizing that if we continued on our course we would have a collision with the freighter I instinctively turned the ships wheel hard left. At that point the OD reacting to what I had just done gave me the order to turn.  In addition he also gave me the order to "Back Down Full" which in fact reverses the screws (propellers). As a direct result of these two action the ship started to shutter and violently vibrate so hard that several crew members were thrown from their bunk beds.  Within minutes Captain Barnes was at the Pilot House yelling about who gave the order to turn the ship so abruptly. Apparently the OD overheard the Captian and piped down from the Bridge that he gave the order covering his ass and mine.  
I recently received the following report from Mike Vukobratovich who was the Radarman on the Tanager AM385 at the time of this incident. He stated as the following:
"The Freighter in question was plotted by us on a collision course for 45 minutes but OD Ensign Monroe would not do anything regarding our request. In my opinion he almost got us rammed which was the fate of the USS Hobson when it was rammed by the Carrier Wasp a year earlier cutting the ship in half and losing 176 lives. I further recall at the at the last minute the Staff, in the lead,  yelled out on the radio Everyone For Themselves.  I quickly opened the Radar Shack hatch facing the rear of the ship and was stunned at the size of the vessel which almost hit us. In closing I always thought that my radar team was responsible for saving the crews lives but your actions that night should be honored, even at this late date. We were lucky that a sharp Helmsman was on duty that night."
Mike, Thank you for your kind words but I feel this was a team effort and credit should go to all of the Crew that were involved in preventing a potential disaster including your radarman, the radiomen and all others that helped us avoid a collision that eventful night in the Straits of Gibraltar. It was 62 years ago but it remains very vivid in my mind to this day. Thank God we all survived. Bob

During the time we spent in the Mediterranean and with the coordination of the French Navy, British Navy, Greek Navy and the later the Turkish Navy we performed joint minesweeping operations.  When we returned to the United States we visited Havana, Cuba.  Batista was still in power at that time.  We found it a great liberty port. We also moored at other ports such as Panama City, Fort Lauderdale, and Key West in Florida and finally Savannah, Georgia. from there I returned to the outgoing unit in Charleston for processing and in July 1954 I was released from active duty and continued to serve in the United States Navy Reserve until October 1962 when I received a Honorable discharge.
 Minesweepers are named after birds. Any of the numerous American, passerine birds. The brightly colored males are unmusical and inhabit woodlands and I served on this one from April 1953 to August 1954. (AM-385: dp. 890; l. 221'1"; b. 32'2' ; dr. 10'9" (mean); s. 18.1 k. (tl.); cpl. 117; a. 1 3"; cl. Auk) The second Tanager (AM-385) was laid down at Lorain, Ohio, on 29 March 1944 by the American Shipbuilding Co.; launched on 9 December 1944; sponsored by Mrs. Thomas Slingluff; and commissioned on 28 July 1945, Lt. Comdr. Oscar B. Lundgren, USNR, in command. Tanager steamed via the St. Lawrence River to Boston, Mass., in late July and early August. In October, she moved south to the Naval Amphibious Base at Little Creek, Va., for shakedown training and minesweeping exercises in the Chesapeake Bay area. For almost six years, Tanager operated with the 2d Fleet along the eastern seaboard and in the Caribbean area. She conducted minesweeping exercises and supported the training efforts of the Mine Warfare School at Yorktown, Va. On three occasions-once each in 1948, 1950, and 1951-she did tours of duty with the Naval Mine Countermeasures Station, located at Panama City, Fla. On 2 September 1951, she departed Charleston, S.C., for the Mediterranean Sea. While she was deployed with the 6th Fleet, she conducted more minesweeping exercises and visited many of the famous ports in the area. Among those were Mers-el-Kebir, Gibraltar, Naples, Monaco, Cannes, Venice, Malta, and Genoa. In February 1952, Tanager returned to Charleston and resumed operations with the 2d Fleet. After repairs at Charleston and a voyage to Norfolk and back, the minesweeper began her second Mediterranean deployment in April 1953. During that cruise, she added some new ports-of-call to her itinerary, notably Tangier, Palermo, Pireaus (Port of Athens) Marseille, Leghorn, Marseille, Malta, Sardina, Cannes, Salonika, and Seville. She also participated in a number of minesweeping exercises with other units of the 6th Fleet. Tanager re-entered Charleston on 26 October 1953. Following minesweeping exercises along the southeastern coast of the United States and in the Caribbean, she entered the yard at Savannah Machine & Foundry Co. on 29 June 1954 for repairs. On 23 September, the minesweeper departed Savannah and headed for Beaumont, Tex. She arrived on the 28th and entered the drydock the same day. She was refloated on 8 October and towed to the naval station at Orange, Tex. Two months later, on 10 December 1954, Tanager was decommissioned and berthed there with the Atlantic Reserve Fleet. On 7 February 1955, the minesweeper was redesignated MSF-385. On 4 October 1963, Tanager was transferred to the Coast Guard for use as a training cutter. Her name was struck from the Navy list on 1 November 1963, and she was commissioned in the Coast Guard as Tanager (WTR-885) on 16 July 1964.  She was decommissioned once more on 1 February 1972; and, on 15 November, she was sold to Mr. William A. Hardesty of Seattle, Wash. 
Note: I am often asked exactly how does a minesweeper actually find and destroy mines. Underwater mines come in a variety of different types, from bottom mines that sit on the sea floor, to magnetic mines that explode in close proximity to ships, to mobile and homing mines. Mines can either explode themselves or be essentially canisters that fire a torpedo at their targets. Contact mines that use World War I-era technology are still in use, and just as deadly as ever. Building mines today is both easy and inexpensive, and they are more difficult to detect and counter than ever before. Consequently, mine countermeasures remains a tedious, labor-intensive, and dangerous job that puts personnel and vessels in harm’s way. Here is a diagram showing how one method of sweeping mines. When the cable attached to the mine is cut and it pops up to the surface our expert riflemen shoot and explode the mine. There are several other methods. Here is a diagram of typical method for sweeping mines.
 Former USS Tanager AM 385

Docked at the Port of Ensenda, Baja, California/Mexico on


    As of 8/31/2007 here are the latest updates regarding the former Tanager AM385 from interested contributors around the world. I would like to express my thanks for all of their help and assistance and their interest in this site. 
    On 4/26/2002 Bob Manthei emailed me stating that the Tanager now resides San Pedro harbor in LosAngeles, California. He stated he served on her in 1968/69 as a CG reservist out of Yorktown, Va. At that time she has benn impeccably restored by the Coast Guard and crew in 1969 with new power plant and structural improvement prior to sailing to the West Coast in late 1969. Her condition at that time was nearly that of being totally restored like a vintage car. Having seen her in the movie I was curious enough to track her down. I was very disappointed at what I saw an about what I had learned about her stewardship in the past few years.  The ship survived the sea and warfare but the dirty hands of man.  All you have to do is mention the Tanager by name on the waterfront, and everyone there knows about it and its current owners. The coast Guard, US Justice Department, Customs and the San Pedro Harbor Police all have extensive files on the ship's recent shady past.  She currently sits dockside withour propulsion and is painted black. The crew onboard are not receptive to visitors and act as if they have something to hide. I wish I had been able to go aboard, but was unable to get permission.  It is too bad she cannot be saved.
    On 4/1/2008  Brian Lerond emailed me stating that he lived and worked on the Tanager during the 1970's in San Francisco, He stated that a second deck was added at Todd Shipyards in Oakland and removed the original diesel electric engines among a vast amount of other work. The ship was owned by renowned underwater photographer Al Giddings, who rechristened her  the Research Vessel Eagle.  He planned to make her the American equivalent of Jacques Cousteau’s Calypso.  We worked on the ship in between film projects, and the ship was much beloved by us all.  Unfortunately, the project was killed by the oil crisis, as it became clear that the cost of operating the ship could never be covered by the planned worldwide film and television projects.
    Some time in the 1980's a former airline pilot purchased the ship with the idea in mind of making it a cruise ship with passengers manning the ship. At some point in the 80's it was reported to have been seen tied up just south of the San Francisco /Oakland Bay Bridge in San Francisco.  Sometime later it was used in the 1995  Hollywood film "The Usual Suspects" staring Kevin Spacey and Stephen Baldwin. It was also used in Hitman's Run iin 2001 as well as the television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
    A former Coast Guard veteran by the name of Bob Manthei reported in April 2002 that the Tanager was moored in San Pedro harbor, Los Angeles, California. He stated that he served on her in 1968-69 as a CG reservist out of Yorktown, Virginia.  She was impeccably restored by the Coast Guard and crew in 1969 (major power plant and structural) before sailing to the West Coast in late 1969.  Her condition at that time was nearly that of being totally restored like a vintage car.  Having seen her in a movie I was curious enough to track her down. I was very disappointed at what I saw and about what I learned about her stewardship in the last few years.  The ship survived the sea and warfare, but not the dirty hands of man.  All you have to do is mention the Tanager by name on the waterfront, and everyone there knows about it and its current owner and its questionable activities.  The Coast Guard, US Justice Department, Customs, and San Pedro Harbor Police all have extensive files on the ship's most recent shady past. She sits dockside without propulsion and is painted black. The crew onboard is not receptive to visitors and acts as if they have something to hide. I wish I could have gone aboard, but I could not get permission. It is too bad she could not be saved.
    Update  -  I received a report in August 2007 from Lic. Armando Arceo Hernandez who is employed by the Mexican Government in Mexicali, Baja California next to Calexico, Ca. regarding the Tanager. He stated that in 2004 it was found abandoned in the (San Diego)port of Ensenda. Sometime in the past an extra deck had been added consisting of four rooms, two bathrooms, office and a living room with an attached kitchen. The ship had been painted black as was reported by a former contributor,  Bob Manthei.  According to Armando Arceo Hernandez the ship was towed from San Diego with the idea of repairing the ship but that plan was changed after accessing the damage. there was extensive vandalism to the ship and it would be very expensive (for us) to try and fix it.  Our present intention is to sell the the ship sometime in 2008. It will no doubt be used for scrap metal.  Its a sad faith for a great ship that served its country for so many years.

I have maintained Bobs Minesweeper Site since  10/10/1995. During this time I have heard from former crew members and from many others interested in obtaining information about the ship and its crew members who served aboard the USS Tanager AM385.  I have heard from sons and daughter of crew members who were interested in finding more  information about their relatives and friends, ect.  In addition I was also contacted a few years ago by  Lic. Armando Arceo Hernandez who is employed by the Mexican Government in Mexicali, Baja California next to Calexico, Ca. regarding the Tanager. He found my site on the internet and was kind enough to take several pictures of the ship and keep me updated as to its future. I appreciate all of his efforts and the many the many others who have contributed in assisting me over the past 20 years. I thank you all.
Note: Additional pictures of the Tanager from various contributors over the years. Click Here USS Tanager AM385 Pictures & Daily Activities Files at the bottom of page.  

Contact me at minesweeper385@hotmail.com

Asbestos on Minesweepers

Asbestos was widely used in insulation around engine boilers, and other minesweeper compartments that experienced high temperatures. Steam pipes were insulated with asbestos cementasbestos cloth and asbestos pipe covering. Asbestos packing, felts, pads and gaskets could also be found all over the ships. According to a listing of components used to build minesweepers and other Navy vessels, more than three hundred parts included asbestos as a major component.

All of these asbestos-containing products can degrade overtime or become agitated with daily use, releasing its fibers into the air. Once the fibers are inhaled, they can become lodged into the lining of the lungs and with persistent inhalation, the accumulation of fibers may causemesothelioma cancer or other asbestos-related diseasesDocuments pertaining to the Lapwing-class minesweeper, USS Tanager (AM 385), confirm the use of asbestos mittens on board to protect workers’ hands from high temperatures, as well as ample use of asbestos insulation in a number of ship compartments, including vermiculite insulation, which may contain asbestos. Asbestos insulation was confirmed on USS Tanager in the main and auxiliary exhaust, engine trunks, reduction gears, air compressors, a boiler, and a distilling apparatus.

For additional information see this link.              http://www.asbestos.com/navy/minesweepers/

Disclaimer: This site is a place where interested parties exchange information concerning the USS Tanager AM385 and other minesweepers. Such information is not guaranteed in any way whatsoever as to its completeness or accuracy, by any source or any person. The opinions expressed are subject to change without notice. In addition this site has no affiliation with the any of the various links shown on this page and are only for the convenience of the web page visitors.  This site was created on 05/09/1995.