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 2,067 converted private motor and sail craft, numbered CGR1 to CGR9040 served with the patrol, with missing numbers in that range for boats that were surveyed but not taken into service.

The program peaked November 1942 with 1,873 boats in commission with the Coast Guard Reserve, a figure that slowly declined from there, dropping below 1,000 in November 1943, under 500 in April 1944, and under 100 in June 1945, with the last craft disposed of at the end of that year. 

Private “Commuter Yacht” Aphrodite built by Purdy Shipyard in May 1937, serving as CGR557 Corsair Navy. Schena notes that CGR557 was 73 feet oal, was assigned to the 3rd Naval District, taken into service April 1942, and disposed of in July 1945, at which point there were only 80 CGR vessels left on the roster. She was reportedly used as a chase and security boat for the Elco PT-boat factory in Bayonne, New Jersey, and tapped from time to time during the war to transport President Roosevelt to and from his home at Hyde Park on the Hudson River. She was originally built for Wall Street financier and later Ambassador to the Court of St. James, John Hay (Jock) Whitney of Manhasset, Long Island.

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. 

Further, a number of those classic yachts and powerboats are still around. For instance, Aphrodite/CGR-557 is still stately at age 83. 

Looks different without the haze grey and machine gun!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.