MCM 9 Pioneer
"Praecursor Pro Libertate"
The mission of the AVENGER (MCM 1) Class is to clear the ocean bottom and water volume of anti-ship mines. Specific advantages and capabilities include the ship's low magnetic signature diesel engines and wooden hull; a precise navigation system; a high-frequency sonar; three mine sweeping systems; two rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIBs); and a remotely-controlled mine neutralization system.
USS Pioneer (MCM 9), the ninth ship of the class and the second ship of the Fleet to bear the name, was laid down by Peterson Builders, Inc., Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, on 5 June 1989. Mrs. Sally McGuire Tobin christened the ship on 25 August 1990. Construction and fitting out progressed on schedule and, on 14 August 1990, LCDR Jerald Ballance, USNR, accepted Pioneer on behalf of the Navy from Mr. Ellsworth Peterson of Peterson Builders. Pioneer began her commissioned service on 1 September 1992 and, after completing initial crew training, sailed to her new homeport of Ingleside, Texas. Pioneer was formally commissioned 7 December 1992, a tribute to the many U.S. servicemen who had served at Pearl Harbor.
In January 1993, Pioneer began an intense shakedown year filled with numerous evaluations, training periods, exercises, and inspections. These included the first major mine warfare exercise in the western Gulf of Mexico, two visits to the Magnetic Silencing Facility in Charleston, South Carolina, port visits to Port Canaveral and Port Everglades, Florida, an Operational Propulsion Plant Examination, Combat Systems Qualification and Testing in Panama City, Florida, mine sweeping performance trials, Final Contract Trials, and a Logistic Management Assessment. For the remainder of 1993 and throughout 1994, Pioneer continued her aggressive training cycle and conducted post-shakedown maintenance, repairs, and pre-deployment exercises.
In February 1995, Pioneer set sail for Europe on her maiden cruise. During this deployment, Pioneer participated in Exercise BLUE HARRIER '95 and visited Bermuda, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Russia, Portugal, Italy, and Spain. She returned to Ingleside in August and, after a well-deserved break, began her next training cycle.
In January 1996, Pioneer joined USS WARRIOR (MCM 10), USS GLADIATOR (MCM 11), and USS CHIEF (MCM 14) as a training ship for the Mine Force's Rotational Crews. For the next four years, the Navy's eight Mine Countermeasures Rotational Crews conducted their pre-deployment training in these Ingleside-based ships before completing a six-month deployment in the Arabian Gulf in USS ARDENT (MCM 12) or USS DEXTROUS (MCM 13). But by early 2000, the Navy no longer manned its forward-deployed MCM ships with rotational crews, and on 20 January 2000, the remaining members of MCM Rotational Crew BRAVO embarked in PIONEER-a ship they knew well-as her permanent crew. Pioneer now serves in Mine Countermeasures Squadron ONE, the Squadron responsible for planning and overseeing the Navy's Mine Countermeasures operations in the Western Pacific.
The crew moved aboard and quickly made the ship their home by resealing decks, painting, and generally taking ownership. Along with this came a plethora of repairs and upgrades, which increased PIONEER's material readiness. Pioneer then completed a successful CART II and N43 visit and made its way to Panama City, Florida for a Squadron One exercise. Enroute to this exercise, LCDR Samuel Norton relieved CDR Clay Harris as Commanding Officer of PIONEER. The crew remained focussed and performed admirably during the Mine Warfare Exercise. Following a brief port visit to Tampa, Florida, the ship returned to Ingleside Texas to complete preparations for another mine warfare exercise (GOMEX 2000). Pioneer participated in the exercise off the coast of Corpus Christi Texas and the ship and crew's performance was outstanding. With precision and polish, they led the way for mine countermeasures. Members of Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit Three's Detachment 15 aided Pioneer in this task.
Pioneer then prepared to make it's first extended underway period with a permanent crew since 1995. On September 12th 2000 Pioneer set off for Beaumont Texas for Navy Days, its first stop on an East Coast cruise. During this period Pioneer participated in UNIFIED SPIRIT 2000, a multi-national exercise off the coast of North Carolina. Pioneer again identified and neutralized its fair share of mines, aided by members of Fleet Diving Unit Atlantic 8, a Canadian Explosive Ordnance Disposal dive team. The crew worked well with the divers, and claimed a few victories with its Mine Neutralization Vehicle, performing the first live activation of an Mission Package One cutter arm since USS Pioneer gained its permanent crew, bringing a moored mine safely to the surface and completing the neutralization and recovery.
Pioneer then began her journey back to homeport stopping again in Little Creek, Virginia and briefly in Key West, Florida enroute to Mobile, Alabama - the last stop before returning to Ingleside. In Mobile Pioneer was once again greeted by the warm southern hospitality for the members of the Mobile Navy League and the people of Mobile as a whole. Pioneer bid Mobile a fond farewell as she traveled to Ingleside, Texas returning on December 15th 2000.
Ship's Shield and Crest
The ship's shield depicts a celeste, sinister gauntlet argent garnished or grasping a fractured sea mine sable. Blue represents the sea and dedication to duty. The sinister, or left-handed, gauntlet grasping a cracked mine symbolizes PIONEER's primary mission of destroying sea mines.
On the ship's crest, from a wreath of the colors (argent and celeste) eleven rays of the sun surmounted by a fountain of seven azure and argent. The sun rays allude to excellence, life, and safety. The heraldic fountain signifies peaceful seas.
The supporters are made of two lightning bolts saltirewise gules. The lightning bolts, crossed to emphasize strength, underscore PIONEER's electronic technology. Red denotes courage, zeal, and action.
The ship's motto shows a bipartite scroll celeste garnished sable doubled and inscribed "PRAECURSOR PRO LIBERTATE" argent.
The ship's seal shows the coat of arms as blazoned in full color on a white ellipse pointed at the top and bottom edges. The seal is enclosed by a white designation band with black edges. On the left-hand side is incscribed "USS PIONEER" in black letters. On the right-hand side is inscribed "MCM 9" in black letters, surrounded by two silver stars on each side.
USS Pioneer (AM-105)
Built by the Pennsylvania Shipyards, Inc. of Beaumont, TX, USS Pioneer (AM-105) was launched on 26 July 1942. The sponsor at the launching ceremony was Mrs. H. R. Jessup, wife of the local resident officer in charge. The minesweeper was commissioned on 27 February 1943 with LCDR H. B. Stevens assuming command. Shakedown exercises, trial runs and calibrations were made in the Gulf of Mexico and the ship arrived at Norfolk, VA on 28 March 1943. Pioneer arrived at the Naval Mine Warfare School, Yorktown, VA on 3 April 1943 and began conducting minesweeping exercises and target practice in the Chesapeake Bay. A cruise to Annapolis, MD and Washington D.C. prepared the ship for inspection on 20 April 1943 by ADM E. J. King, Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet. After streaming experimental sweep gear at the experimental range on the Potomac River, Pioneer returned to Norfolk on 23 April 1943. The ship conducted further training during a cruise which took her to Bermuda on the 27th and back to Norfolk by the end of April 1943 for alterations and a shipyard availability. During this availability the aft 3"-50 was removed and two 40mm guns were installed. Two 20mm guns were added to the port and starboard sides of the fantail. This brought the ship's weapons complement to: (1) 3"-50 gun forward, (2) 20mm guns on the flying bridge, (2) 20mm guns on the boat deck, (2) 40mm guns aft of the aft stack, (2) 20mm guns on the fantail, (6) .50 cal machineguns on the port and starboard sides, amidships, (2) depth charge racks, (4) "K" guns (two each, port and starboard) and (1) Hedgehog rocket launcher forward of the bridge. Added to this was the equipment for moored, magnetic and acoustic minesweeping.
Pioneer was now ready for distant service and arrived at New York, NY on 12 May 1943 for refueling prior to joining a convoy bound for the Mediterranean on 14 May. The minesweeper served as convoy escort and anchored at Casablanca on 1 June 1943. Patrolling and sweeping the minefields off Casablanca kept the ship busy until she joined another convoy bound for the Untied States, arriving at the Marine Base, Brooklyn, NY by the end of June.
The second escorting assignment to the Mediterranean Area commenced with Pioneer joining a convoy off Hampton Roads, VA on 12 July 1943 and, after a safe voyage, she anchored at Casablanca on the 28th of July 1943. Gunnery exercises at sea on 7 August 1943 preceded her arrival at Gibraltar that same day. Pioneer then set a course for the United States, arriving at Hampton Roads on 26 August 1943. Following a shipyard availability, Pioneer continued her role as an escort vessel on 5 September 1943, by joining a convoy from Norfolk bound for various North African ports. Arriving at Casablanca on 23 September 1943, the ship joined a returning convoy three days later headed for Hampton Roads. The convoy reached Hampton Roads on 15 October 1943 and Pioneer proceeded to New York for a shipyard availability.
Returning to Norfolk on 2 November, she joined a convoy bound for eastern Mediterranean ports. At approximately 1640, on the following day, enemy planes attacked the convoy. Pioneer quickly manned her battle stations and commenced firing at the enemy aircraft. Later, three enemy bombs dropped close aboard inflicting no damage. One of the ships in the convoy was hit, disabling her and setting her ablaze. Pioneer continued to defend the convoy, sustaining several personnel casualties but no damage to the ship. Pioneer began rescue operations for the survivors of the damaged transport ship. The crew rigged a cargo net over the side and used anything they could find to help retrieve the survivors.
Pioneer pulled 606 survivors from the sea, however by the time the ship reached Phillipville Harbor, Algeria the next day five had died of their wounds. Pioneer then stood underway from Phillipville Harbor for Bizerte, Tunisia, arriving on 28 November 1943. For the remainder of the year the ship continued its role as an escort and patrol vessel in the Mediterranean. On 3 January 1944 the ship got underway to test her sweep gear in the Tunisian War Channel off Bizerte. Pioneer later joined the minesweepers PILOT, SWAY, SYMBOL, DEXTROUS, and PORTENT for tactical gunnery and minesweeping exercises in the Bay of Tunis.
In company with other ships of Task Force 18, Pioneer departed 17 January 1944 to participate in the landing of Third Infantry Division on Salerno Beach. The minesweepers in the group streamed sweep gear and swept the area needed for approach and landing. Later the sweepers took assigned stations as part of the cruising disposition, screening amphibious and landing craft of the first assault wave. The rehearsal for the next assault completed, the ships returned to Naples on the afternoon of the 18th. Up to now the Pioneer had made seven Atlantic crossings as a convoy escort, to and from the United States. In addition, she had performed numerous patrols and escorts in the Mediterranean. PIONEER's next assignment was to assist in the landing of the Third Infantry Division and the capture of the Port of Anzio (OPERATION SHINGLE). This is where 20 ships and 5,000 men were lost between 21 January and 12 August 1944. As part of Task Force 18, Pioneer was a unit of Task Group 81.7, assigned the responsibility of sweeping the approach channel one mile wide into the fire support and transport areas. Task Group 81.6 consisted of PREVAIL, SPEED, STRIVE, and 14 YMSs.
Underway on 21 January 1944, Pioneer departed Naples for the assault area off of Anzio. PIONEER, with minesweepers DEXTROUS, SWAY, SYMBOL, and PORTENT formed an open order column on PILOT in order to arrived at their designated point with sweep gear streamed and ready. After mine sweeping operations were completed on 22 January 1944, BISCAYNE entered the transport area with amphibious craft and deployed Third Infantry Division's first assault wave. Upon recovering their minesweeping gear, the ships of Task Group 81.7 took up patrol stations in order to cover their assigned areas. The rocket ships commenced firing on the beach at 0152 and the Army troops commenced landing and established a beachhead. Relieved of duty in Task Group 81.7, Pioneer reported to Commander, Task Group 81.6, in PLUNKETT, for anti-submarine patrol duty. Enemy planes were reported over Anzio at 1022 and bomb explosions and anti-air fire could be seen. The planes were too far away to be picked up by the ship's guns. Later word was received that PORTENT had struck a mine and sunk. While patrolling off the beaches Pioneer received many more air alerts during the rest of the day, but no enemy planes attacked within range of her guns. An LST loaded with rockets and ammunition was stick bombed and subsequently exploded, completely vanishing.
On 23 January 1944, Pioneer resumed escort duties, guarding a convoy of nine LSTs to Naples. The following day Pioneer escorted 17 LSTs to a beaching area south of Anzio. The only other escort was HMS ST. KILDA. After arriving at the beaching area, flares were dropped from enemy planes at 1756. Bomb explosions were observed and anti-air fire opened up from ships in the vicinity, but none of the aircraft came close enough within range for the ship's guns to score. PLUNKETT was reported bombed and on fire at 1800, but although she reported the fire was under control, the ship sank later. A SOS was received at 2053 from the hospital ship ST. ANDREW. She reported being bombed and the hospital ship ST. DAVID was sunk. Pioneer proceeded to scene of the sinking to search for survivors. The hospital ships ST. ANDREW and LEINSTER were already on the scene recovering survivors. They departed for Naples at 2155 with 132 of the rescued personnel aboard. The ST. DAVID had been loading casualties from the area. There is no way of knowing how many lives were lost in the sinking.
Pioneer was assigned outer patrol duty until 8 February 1944, operating 10 to 15 miles offshore, from southwest of Cape Anzio to southwest of Nettuno, along the convoy routes from Naples. Air attacks averaged five per day, with numerous bombs being dropped by enemy aircraft. Pioneer was relieved by SPEED on 9 February 1944 and she returned to escort duty eventually arriving at Karouba, Tunisa for main engine repairs. On 2 March 1944, Pioneer was back at sea and held gunnery practice with STRIVE. She entered the Bay of Algiers on 3 March 1944. During most of March Pioneer was assigned duties as Traffic Master at Anzio. She was strafed twice, however no personnel were injured and no major damage was inflicted on the ship. During April 1944, Pioneer conducted minesweeping, escort duties and anti- submarine patrols in addition to other miscellaneous duties.
In the first week of May 1944, Pioneer conducted magnetic and acoustic sweeps of the entrance channels to Anzio by day and anti-submarine and "E" boat patrols of the area by night. The ship returned to Naples for maintenance work on 8 May. The harbor at Naples was mined and bombed by enemy planes on 14 May 1944, however Pioneer was not damaged in the raid.
Arriving at Anzio on 17 May 1944, the ship relieved SWAY and commenced the first daily minesweeping operations in the Anzio area. On the night of the 17th a low flying Ju-88 just missed the top of the ship's mast. As it flashed past, the ship's guns fired at the aircraft. It was believed that the plane was hit, but evidence of it being downed was observed. Pioneer continued escort duties in the Mediterranean and minesweeping in the Anzio area until August 1944. On 12 August1944, Pioneer stood underway with Task Unit 84.8.1 to escort a convoy to the assault area for the invasion of southern France (OPERATION DRAGOON). The ships arrived in the assault area in the pre-dawn darkness and PIONEER, along with the minesweepers BARRICADE, PREVAIL, SEER, DEXTROUS, six YMSs, eight British and six French minesweepers, two LCCs, and two dan layers, commenced minesweeping operations as soon as the group could be formed. As other phases of the operation unfolded as scheduled at approximately 0750 the first enemy shore batteries were noticed, their shells falling in the near vicinity of the minesweeper group. No hits were observed and the firing soon silenced by allied dive-bombers. By 1105 the minesweeping had been completed in the assigned areas and the formation left the area, heading out to sea to recover sweeping gear and adjust for shallower sweeps. At 1130 shells, from an unidentified location, were observed splashing about 2,000 yards south of the ship's position. The shells were getting closer and the ship turned away and increased speed to open the range. At 1152 one shell from a 88mm hit the water near the port quarter, wounding one officer in the shoulder from shrapnel. When the speed was increased to clear the area the port sweep wire parted and the gear was lost. By 1730 all minesweeping tasks were completed and all channels and fire support areas were cleared, which was necessary for the Third Infantry Division to establish a beachhead at Cavalaire Bay, France. During the evening twilight enemy planes and glider bombs were reported, however no controls signals were picked up. Pioneer continued sweeping operations and patrol assignments in the area until 24 August. While steaming eight miles off the beach at Cape Ceoet, France, shore batteries fired upon the minesweepers, but no hits were scored. On 26 August 1944, the minesweepers commenced sweeping a fire support area off Marseilles, France. The AUGUSTA and LUDLOW arrived on the scene at 0930 to provide fire support. Enemy shore batteries opened up fire on the sweeping units at 1644. AUGUSTA and LUDLOW returned fire and silenced the batteries. Sweeping continued under cover of smoke and during this time one mine was cut and one was detonated by a sweep wire. Two more mines were cut the following day. Sweeping continued through the month, ultimately removing a large number of mines. On the 31st the Baie de Marseilles was ready to receive shipping traffic. Patrol duty and minesweeping in the Mediterranean came to an end on 24 November 1944, when Pioneer departed for the United States as part of Task Group 81.15. Pioneer and the other ships of Mine Division 16 underwent a 45-day overhaul period upon return to the United States.
By 15 February 1945 Pioneer was standing out of Hampton Roads on her way to the Panama Canal as part of Mine Squadron 6. Arriving at Coco Sola on 22 February 1945, the ships transited the Panama Canal and set a course for Pearl Harbor. After gunnery practice off the western tip of Kahoolawe Island, the mine vessels entered the channel into Pearl Harbor on the afternoon of 18 March 1945. A ship yard availability for alterations and installation of a new air search radar and other equipment lasted until 15 April 1945. From 16 to 22 April 1945, Pioneer conducted gunnery and minesweeping exercises. Trouble with the ship's generators on 23 April 1945 caused the ship to return to the Navy Yard for the remainder of the month. On 23 May 1945, PIONEER, in company with DEXTROUS, stood underway for Okinawa.
The ships steamed into Eniwetok on 1 June 1945 and on the 7th both ships moored at Guam for repair work to the foundations of their auxiliary generators to be completed. Remaining at Guam until 31 July1945, Pioneer got underway for Saipan and Okinawa. Pioneer arrived at Okinawa on 7 August 1945 reporting to Commander, Minecraft Pacific for duty. On 13 August 1945, the ships departed for the East China Sea with Task Group 95.4 to clear the area of all japanese mines. The official surrender was announced on 16 August 1945 and by the 24th Pioneer had swept eight mines. At the end of August, Pioneer returned to Buckner Bay, Okinawa for replenishment and upkeep. The ship continued minesweeping operations around the Bungo Suido until returning to Okinawa on 14 October 1945. After leaving Okinawa Pioneer continued minesweeping in the East China Sea, arriving at Shanghai on 22 December. Upon completion of minesweeping operations Pioneer returned to Pearl Harbor. On 7 February 1946, Pioneer departed for the United States, arriving at San Pedro, CA on 14 February 1946. Pioneer was made inactive and placed out of commission in fleet reserve at San Diego on 8 July 1946. In 1955 her designation was changed from AM-105 to MSF-105. In February 1973 Pioneer was stricken and sold to Mexico as the patrol ship LEANDRO VALLE (G-O1 ), where she is still active today.
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