Lawyer Turned Lookout: The Hooligan Navy

— The 80th anniversary of the founding of the Coast Guard Reserve is this month. Of note, of the 214,000 personnel that served in the USCG during WWII, 92 percent were in the USCGR, with an additional 125,000 personnel serving in the Temporary Reserve.–

Feb 1943. Official caption: Coast Guard Auxiliary. Guardians of inland waters. The Marblehead unit of the Coast Guard Auxiliary includes among its members Bill Welch, a Boston lawyer, junior commander of the flotilla. He contributes twelve hours a week to patrol duty, during which time he assumes regular Coast Guard status as a temporary reservist.

Photo by Alfred T.Palmer, via Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection (Library of Congress) LC-USE6-D-010130 

Welch and his flotilla were part of the so-called Hooligan Navy or Corsair Fleet, members of the volunteer Coast Guard Auxillary ordered on 4 May 1942 by Chief of Naval Operations, ADM Ernest J. King to organize into an anti-submarine patrol force officially termed the Coastal Picket Patrol.

Made up primarily of private yachts– the plan was advocated to King by the Cruising Club of America– and fishing boats, crewed by their owners, and converted for ASW use, the small craft of all sizes made regular sorties along the American coast into October 1943. Equipped and outfitted with whatever arms and uniforms the service could spare, these vessels were assigned 15-mile patrol squares extending from the beach to the 50-fathom curve.

In all, a remarkable 2,998 converted private motor and sail craft served with the patrol. 

Although actual combat with U-boats was slim for the group, they did provide lots of help in so far as OPSEC was concerned as they often shielded coastwise convoys from random small boat traffic and would board vessels to seal their radios in such instances so that random commo traffic wouldn’t accidentally give away positions to those who were listening for that type of thing. 

The nicknames of the force were fitting, as the volunteers, at least in the early days of the patrol, ran the gamut from semi-reformed smugglers and rumrunners to boy scout troops and yachtsmen such as the good Mr. Welch, our trusty lookout in the first image.

There was even something of an embrace of the term, with Disney pitching in to make an unofficial insignia, that sadly was never issued to the units and men involved. 

For a good doc on the Hooligan Navy, A&E– before they were all aliens and mermaids– had an excellent show called Sea Tales and they covered the USCGA in WWII, to include interviews with veterans of the force. 

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