Reverting back to Treasury, 75 Years ago Today

At the time of its inception in January of 1915, the U.S. Coast Guard was composed of approximately 1,800 officers and men from the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service and approximately 2,200 from the U.S. Life-Saving Service. That number is good to keep in mind when compared to what the agency would muster just 30 years later.

As occurred during the Great War, on 1 November 1941, President Franking D. Roosevelt signed an executive order reassigning the service’s duties from the Treasury Department to the Navy for another world war.

Coast Guard Cutter Cuyahoga ready to depart from the Coast Guard Yard in Curtis Bay, Md., Feb. 11, 1945. U.S. Coast Guard photo. Note her 40mm Bofors and Mousetraps crowding her bow.

In all, 214,000 personnel served in the Coast Guard during WWII, of whom 92 percent were in the USCGR, with an additional 125,000 personnel serving in the Temporary Reserve, the latter manning the myriad “Corsair Fleet” of 2,998 converted motor and sail craft used for local patrol that had been acquired through purchase, charter or gift, principally to combat the submarine menace along the coasts.

The USCG was very much in the cold-weather schooner biz in the 1940s, manning almost 3,000 small craft of all kinds to patrol the U.S. coastline. 

At its strongest, on 1 September 1945, the Coast Guard totaled 170,480, including 9,624 uniformed women serving in the SPARS.

1943- U.S. Coast Guard SPAR packing an M1903 Springfield rifle at the Cleveland Armory 

To patrol 3,700 miles of American beaches for saboteurs landing from the sea, a scratch force of 24,000 officers and men, assisted by over 2,000 sentry dogs and nearly 3,000 horses, was built from the ground up almost overnight.

A patrol somewhere along the Atlantic coast shown in the new uniform of the U.S. Coast Guard Mounted Beach Patrol, circa 1943

In addition to the 1,677 Coast Guard-flagged craft in active service at the end of the FY1945, Coast Guard personnel on 1 August 1945 were manning 326 Navy craft– including 76 LSTs, 21 cargo and attack-cargo ships, 75 frigates, and 31 transports– as well as 254 Army vessels, with about 50,000 Coastguard men serving on Navy and 6,000 on Army craft.

United States Coast Guard-manned LST beaching at Cape Gloucester, New Britain, Bismarck Islands, Dec 1943

The Coast Guard maintained nine air stations along the coasts of the United States, under the operational control of the various sea frontiers, with a total of 165 planes, including armed PBYs and J2Fs. These served as task units in the conduct of air-sea rescue. Assistance was rendered in 686 plane crashes and 786 lives were saved during FY1945 alone.

USCG PBY-5 Catalina over San Diego Bay. October 22, 1940

Some 28 USCG-manned vessels were lost during WWII, including three large cutters– Alexander Hamilton, Acacia, and Escanaba— adding 572 Coast Guardsmen to the massive butcher’s bill of the conflict.

On this day in 1945, the agency switched back to the Treasury Department, where it remained until 1972 when it moved to the Department of Transportation, and today it is in DHS, one of the inaugural agencies that started it in 2002.

For more on the USCG in WWII, check out the Coast Guard Historian’s portal on the subject.

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