Warship Wednesday Jan 22, 2020: Oh, Mr. Volstead, what have you done?

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Jan 22, 2020: Oh, Mr. Volstead, what have you done?

U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office

Here we see, a U.S. Coast Guard Loening OL-5L seaplane flying majestically over a pair of new-built 75-foot “six-bitter” patrol boats, likely around 1927 off Glouchester, Mass. While the Coasties only operated three OL-5s, they went much bigger on the contract for the 75-footers.

The so-called “noble experiment” that was perhaps always doomed to fail, Congressman Andrew Volstead’s championed 18th Amendment, which survived President Woodrow Wilson’s veto to bring about an official prohibition on liquor from sea to shining sea, became the law of the land on 17 January 1920– 100 years ago this month.

However, all it did was spark a new war, the so-called Rum War, which pitted federal law enforcement against often international smugglers and criminal syndicates of all sizes. Increasingly, this forerunner of the War on Drugs became an actual military campaign.

That’s where the Coast Guard came in.

Charged with policing “Rum Row,” the line of booze-laden ships parked just off the international limit with all the best Canadian whiskey, Cuban rum and bottles of European hootch rushed to the thirsty market, the USCG was rapidly expanded to sever the link between this liquor line and coastal bootleggers in fast boats, fishing luggers and skiffs. Some 10 million quarts of liquor left Nassau alone in 1922, headed to points West.

To do this, the service was loaned a whole fleet of mothballed Navy destroyers (20), subchasers (21) and Eagle boats (5) leftover from the Great War as well as being granted a sweeping raft of new construction. Between 1924 and 1926, the USCG doubled in size from 5,900 to 10,000 uniformed personnel, a manning crisis that caused the Coast Guard Academy to switch to a two-year program to speed up the pipeline for new officers.

The largest group of new vessels, at least in terms of hulls and manpower to sail them, were the 203 “cabin cruiser-style” patrol boats that are the subject of our tale.

At 75-feet overall length, these humble craft became known in service as “six-biters.”

“Old 75-foot patrol boat.” Photo No. 34363; photo dated 15 February 1928; photo by Joseph N. Pearce. USCG Historian’s office

Equipped with two 6-cylinder gasoline engines, they could make 15.7 knots with their powerplant wide open and sortie out for about a week or so until their eight-man crew ran out of groceries or the 1,000-gallon fuel tank started sounding hollow.

Initially, they were to be armed with a single 3″/23 caliber gun, considered good enough to fire a warning shot across the bow of a bootlegger. However, to save weight, these patrol craft instead were equipped with a single-shot one-pounder 37mm gun of about 1898 vintage. Nevertheless, the go-to weapons for their crews were small arms.

CG-222

To speed things up, these patrol boats were mass-produced in 1924 and 1925 by nearly 20 yards, both public and private, simultaneously with hull prices running between $18,000 and $26,000 per vessel. Their construction, of white oak frames and keel with fir and yellow pine planking and bulwarks, ensured their short lifespan but quick construction.

CG-283, note her crew hailing a ship forward

They were built to a design finalized by noted yacht maker John Trumpy. With simply too many cutters to name, they were numbered CG-100 through CG-302 and delivered on an average of four to five cutters per week.

Via U.S. Coast Guard Cutters and Craft of WWII by Dr. Robert Schenia.

The boats soon swarmed the coastline from Maine to the Florida Keys, along the Gulf Coast, and from Seattle down to San Diego while others served on the Great Lakes.

Six-Bitters and Destroyers at New London, 1926

SIx-Bitters tied up at Base 7 in Gloucester, 1928, NARA

The renewed offensive on booze escalated as the development forced the slower bootleggers, in other words, the part-timers using trawlers and sailboats, dropped out of the business and left the heavy lifting to professional, and increasingly armed and squirrely smugglers.

Six-Bitters out of Base 7 at Gloucester, 1928, NARA

Six-Bitters leaving Base 7 at Gloucester, 1928 NARA

In one incident, with the Liberty-engined fast craft Black Duck and the 75-foot cutter CG-290, the bootlegger zigged when they should have zagged while blasting away from the slow patrol boat and got a blast of Lewis gun in the boathouse, killing two rumrunners and wounding another two.

Another incident, between the six-bitter CG-249 and the motorboat V-13997 while en route to Bimini, left the cutter’s skipper, BM Sidney Sanderlin, killed in a one-way shootout and two other Coasties wounded. In a sign of the times, the master of V-139977 who pulled the trigger was captured and later hung at the Fort Lauderdale Coast Guard station.

“Fort Lauderdale, Sec. Base Six, Dec. 6, 1926, The Commandant looking over the latest capture.” Photo No. B-6/4, #21; 1926; photographer unknown.

“U.S. Coast Guard 75-ft. Patrol Boat CG-262 towing into San Francisco Harbor her prizes, the tug ELCISCO and barge REDWOOD CITY, seized for violation of U.S. Customs laws.” Photo No. CPI-02-24-27 GEN.; 1927; photographer unknown.

These cutters of course also contributed to traditional USCG missions such as search and rescue and fisheries enforcement. In fact, once Prohibition was repealed in 1933, it became their primary tasking. This led to 52 of the vessels being quickly passed to the Army, Navy, and USC&GS for use as dispatch boats for coastal defense batteries, district patrol craft (YPs) and survey ships.

Coast Guard boat CG-139 at Boston June 1929, Boston Public Library Leslie Jones Collection

Coast Guard boat CG-242 at Boston 1928, note her 1-pounder. Boston Public Library Leslie Jones Collection

Others suffered losses while in service. CG-114 was lost at sea in 1925 only weeks after she was completed. The “Great Miami” hurricane in September 1926 wrecked CG-247 and CG-248. A similar cyclone in 1928 claimed CG-188. CG-111, CG-113, CG-256, and CG-243 were lost in fires, groundings or collisions. C-245 went down in unexpected heavy seas within view of El Morro Fortress in 1935. CG-102, which at the time was serving as YP-5 with the Navy, accidentally caught a practice torpedo in 1938 and sank.

Yet others were sold off for their value as scrap.

By 1941 when the Coast Guard was chopped to the Navy’s service, Only 36 were still on the USCG’s list, although six that had previously been sold to the public were re-acquired and put back to use.

CG-172 at Key West in 1942, note her .50 caliber water-cooled gun in addition to her 1-pdr and dark scheme

As an update with the times and to acknowledge they were intended to fight U-boats and Japanese submarines, the lingering six-bitters picked up a 20mm/80 Oerlikon AAA gun or .50 caliber machine gun forward, and two depth charge racks aft. Likewise, most received QBE sonar listening sets and BK detection radars late in the war. They were used for inshore convoy escort, coastal anti-submarine patrol and port security duties.

During the war, CG-74327, one of the renumbered six-bitters who started life as CG-211, was sunk in a collision with the Tench-class submarine USS Thornback (SS-418) of Portsmouth in November 1944, claiming the life of BM2 Ireneus K. Augustynowicz. CG-152, as YP-1947, similarly sank in a collision while in Navy service in 1943. CG-267, stationed in Guam in 1941 as YP-16, was scuttled to prevent capture by the Japanese. Sistership CG-275, serving at Guam as YP-17, was scuttled but later salvaged and used by the Japanese. 

By 1946, the smattering of six-bitters still in the Navy and USCG service was transferred to MARAD and sold off. Many of the 75-foot craft went on to endure for another couple decades as yachts, fishing vessels, houseboats, and research ships. I cannot find an example of one that was still afloat today.

Still, the legacy of the rowdy wooden six-bitters is today upheld by the Coast Guard’s 87-foot Marine Protector-class patrol boats.

Specs:

(Coast Guard Historian’s Office)

Displacement: 37 tons designed, 42 tons (1945)
Length: 74.9 feet
Beam: 13.75 feet
Draft: 3.6 feet as designed, 5 feet (1945)
Machinery: Sterling 6cyl gas engines, 400 SHP, twin screws
Speed: 15.7 designed, although some made 17 when new.
Crew: 8 as designed, 13 in 1945
Armament:
1 x 37mm 1-pounder as designed, small arms
1x 20mm/80cal and/or 12.7mm machine gun, 2 depth charge racks in WWII.

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

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About laststandonzombieisland

Let me introduce myself. I am a bit of a conflict junkie. I am fascinated by war and warfare, assassination, personal protection and weaponry ranging from spud guns and flame throwers to thermonuclear bombs and Soviet-trained Ebola monkeys. In short, if it’s violent or a tool to create violence it is kind of my thing. I have written a few thousand articles on the dry encyclopedia side for such websites as Guns.com, University of Guns, Outdoor Hub, Tac-44, History Times, Big Game Hunter, Glock Forum, Firearms Talk.com, and Combat Forums; as well as for print publications like England Expects, and Strike First Strike Fast. Several magazines such as Sea Classics, Military Historian and Collector, Mississippi Sportsman and Warship International have carried my pieces. Additionally I am on staff as a naval consultant and writer for Eye Spy Intelligence Magazine. Currently I am working on several book projects including an alternative history novel about the US-German War of 1916, and a biography of Southern gadfly and soldier of fortune Bennett Doty. My first novel, about the coming zombie apocalypse was released in 2012 by Necro Publications and can be found at Amazon.com as was the prequel, Chimera-44. I am currently working on book two of that series: "Pirates of the Zombie Coast." In my day job I am a contractor for the U.S. federal government in what could best be described as the ‘Force Protection’ field. In this I am an NRA-certified firearms, and less-than-lethal combat instructor.

One response to “Warship Wednesday Jan 22, 2020: Oh, Mr. Volstead, what have you done?”

  1. Rick says :

    In a county of coastal central California, at least two ranching familes became quite wealthy because of Prohibition. Iron bollards are still to be found on the rock ledges at a cove on ranch property. This is where the runners delivered the hootch to be driven inland twelve miles to another rancher.

    That rancher used one of his barns as a cash-and-carry. Townspeople ‘in the know’ would drive to the ranch which was outside city limits. Nonetheless, operations were conducted at night only, lights off, and people had to vouched for, and for Pete’s sake, take the round about way home. This was in a rural area and the Sheriff was likely to look the other way. How rural? How about

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