Warship Wednesday Aug 5, 5015: 225 Years of Semper Paratus
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, Aug 5, 5015: 225 Years of Semper Paratus
In honor of the Coast Guard’s 225th Birthday this week, this one is a no-brainer.
Here we see the oldest vessel in the U.S. Coast Guard and one of the last ships afloat and in active service that dates from World War II (although from the other side), the Gorch Fock-class segelschulschiff training barque USCGC Eagle (WIX-327), America’s only active-duty square-rigger.
Designed by John Stanley, the Gorch Fock-class school ships, three master barques with 269-foot long steel hulls, 18,000 sq. feet of square-rigged sails fore and main and gaff-rigged mizzens were perhaps the best training ships built in the 20th Century.
First ordered to replace the lost Segelschulschiff Niobe, capsized in 1932, SSS Gorch Fock was ordered the same year from Blohm and Voss in Hamburg and completed in just 100 days. Then, with a need to greatly expand the German Kriegsmarine soon followed sisters SSS Horst Wessel in 1936, SSS Albert Leo Schlageter in 1937, Mircea for the Romanian Navy in 1937, and SSS Herbert Norkus in 1939.
The subject of our story, Horst Wessel was a happy ship, commissioning 17 September 1936, and spent summer cruises in 1937-39 roaming the globe with a crew of German officer cadets and craggy old chiefs and officers that dated back to the Kaiser’s time.
Importantly for history, her christening was the scene of an image that is perhaps more famous than she was.
August Landmesser was a worker at the Blohm + Voss shipyard in Hamburg. He appeared in a photograph refusing to perform the Nazi salute at the launch of the naval training vessel Horst Wessel on 13 June 1936.
When war came, the training fleet was laid up with Herbert Norkus, never fully completed, sunk at the end of the conflict, Gorch Fock herself scuttled in shallow waters off Rügen in an attempt to avoid her capture by the Soviets, who raised her and used her anyway as the training ship Tovarishch for decades, Schlageter damaged by a mine then confiscated and sold in poor shape to Brazil and Horst Wessel with an interesting story of her own.
Armed with a number 20 mm flak mounts, Horst Wessel had shuttled around the relatively safe waters of the Baltic and came out of the war unscathed.
Won by the U.S. in a lottery of captured but still salvageable German ships, she was sailed to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy where she took the place of the 188-foot Danish merchant academy training ship Danmark, who, interned during the war, had trained thousands of USCG and Merchant Marine officers.
Horst Wessel arrived (under control of her volunteer German crew) and was commissioned 15 May 1946, as USCGC Eagle while Danmark was returned to her proper owner’s that September after Eagle was ready for deployment.
Since then she has been used extensively with a core USCG cadre crew of six officers and 55 enlisted personnel and as many as 150 cadets on summer and even yearlong cruises. During the past seven decades, it can be said that she has sailed with over 10,000 swabs holystoning her decks and rigging her lines.
Eagle allows future officers to put into practice the navigation, engineering, damage control and other professional theory they have previously learned in the classroom.
Upper-class trainees have a chance to learn leadership and service duties normally handled by junior officers, while underclass trainees fill crew positions of a junior enlisted person, such as helm watches at the huge double wooden wheels used to steer the vessel.
Everyone who trains on Eagle experiences a character-building experience gained from working a tall ship at sea.
To maneuver Eagle under sail after her rerigging to a larger set of canvas than the Germans used, the crew must handle more than 22,000 square feet of sail and five miles of rigging.
Over 200 lines control the sails and yards, and every crewmember, cadet and officer candidate, must become intimately familiar with the name, operation, and function of each line.
While she has the nickname of “America’s Tall Ship” and is seen around the world waving the flag, her bread and butter are training cadets from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy as well as NOAA Officer Candidates and the occasional Navy, Merchant Marine and foreign allied maritime officers as well.
And all those sails don’t raise themselves
These ships have proven durable, with Gorch Fock returning to Germany from Russia in 2003 and resuming her old name as a museum ship, Mircea entering her 77th year of service to the Romanian Navy this year, and Albert Leo Schlageter— sailing under the name Sagres III for Portugal since 1961– all still in active service.
Truth be told, only the sad Herbert Norkus, which never sailed anyway, has been lost from the original five-ship class.
Further, since the war ended, another five ships have been built to the same, although updated, design. These include yet another Gorch Fock (built for West Germany in 1958), Gloria (1967, Colombia), Guayas (1976, Ecuador), Simón Bolívar (1979, Venezuela), and Cuauhtémoc (1982, Mexico).
In short, nine tall ships are running around the earth to the same general specs.
And the best traveled of the pack is Eagle, who is all ours and hopefully will see another 75 years under sail.
Although she long ago landed her German eagle for an American one, which carries the Coast Guard seal (while the old one collects dust as a war trophy at the USCGA Museum) and her original wheel carries her Horst Wessel birth name, it also carries her new monicker as well.
In celebration of the Coast Guard’s 225th, he commanding officer of the Coast Guard Cutter Eagle and the U.S. Postal Service will be unveiling a special edition stamp commemorating the Coast Guard’s birthday this week.
In an oil painting on masonite, renowned aviation artist William S. Phillips depicts two icons of the Coast Guard: the cutter Eagle, and an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter, the standard rescue aircraft of the Coast Guard.
The ceremony will take place Friday appx. 10:30 a.m. August 7 at the Oliver Hazard Perry Pier at Fort Adams State Park, Newport, R.I.
Eagle will be open to the public for tours at approximately 12 p.m. following the commemorative stamp unveiling ceremony.
In the event of inclement weather, the ceremony will take place in the visitor center across from the pier.
In Newport, Eagle will be open for free public tours:
* Friday from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m.
* Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 7 p.m.
* Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
If you cannot make Newport, the Eagle has her own social media account that is regularly updated and on a long enough timeline, she will be in a port near you.
Length – 295 feet, 231 feet at waterline
Beam, greatest – 39.1 feet
Freeboard – 9.1 feet
Draft, fully loaded – 16 feet
Displacement – 1824 tons
Ballast (lead) – 380 tons
Fuel oil – 23,402 gallons
Anchors – 3,500 lbs. port, 4,400 lbs. starboard
Rigging – 6 miles, standing and running
Height of mainmast – 147.3 feet
Height of foremast – 147.3 feet
Height of mizzenmast – 132.0 feet
Fore and main yard – 78.8 feet
Speed under power – 10 knots
Speed under full sail – 17 knots
Sail area – 22,300 square feet
Engine – 1,000 horsepower diesel Caterpillar D399 engine replaced 700hp original diesel
Generators – two-320 kilowatt Caterpillar 3406 generators
Training complement – 6 officers, 54 crew, 20 temporary active duty crew when at sea, 140 cadets average.
Maximum capacity – 239 people
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