USCG at the ‘Canal

In July 1940, the Coast Guard numbered just 13,766 officers and men of all ranks, spread out from the Philipines to the Virgin Islands. By July 1942, it would balloon to 58,998 men (and was starting to recruit women as well) on active duty (excluding the CONUS “Corsair Fleet” in the Temporary Reserve), with many of those overseas serving under Navy control. Besides manning sub-busting cutters, frigates, and destroyer escorts, one of the main uses for the Coasties by its bigger brother was in manning landing craft desperately needed in amphibious warfare.

A dedicated landing craft school at the U.S. Marine Base, New River, North Carolina, instructing cutter boatswains, coxswains, and surfboat crews in landing craft handling and engine operation. Pioneering the art of taking Marines and Soldiers from troopships and transports via strange new flat-hulled LCVPs (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel) and LCMs (Landing Craft, Mechanized) to the beach and returning with wounded and prisoners. It was there, along North Carolina’s Onslow Beach, that the foundations of the Torch, Husky, Avalanche, Overlord, Iceberg, and Detachment landings, among others, were laid.

In the spring of 1941, the Navy formed Transport Division Seven out of former U.S. Army troop transports, including the 21,000-ton Coast Guard-manned troopships USS Hunter Liggett (AP-27), USS Joseph T. Dickman (AP-26), and USS Leonard Wood (APA-12), along with the smaller (9,000-ton) USS Arthur Middleton (AP-55). Of these, Hunter Liggett was tapped for Operation Watchtower, the invasion of Guadalcanal while 18 of the 22 other Navy-manned transports on that mission would carry USCG landing crews to man their small boats.

USS Hunter Liggett (AP-27) Halftone reproduction of a photograph taken in 1942. Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson, 1978. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 86976

It was in August 1942 that the Coasties caught their first whiff of landing craft operations in a war zone.

From the USCG Historian’s office on Hunter Liggett off “The Canal” some 80 years ago this week:

She arrived off Guadalcanal the night of 6 August 1942. In this assault, America’s first amphibious operation since 1898, the ship was assigned to a later wave but sent her boats to aid in the initial landings, on 7 August. Air attacks began on the day after the landing, sinking fellow transport George F. Elliott, Hunter Liggett’s gunners shot down several of the attackers as she remained off the beaches. Early on the morning of 9 August, men in the transport area could see the flashes of light from an engagement off Savo Island. As the Japanese attempted to reinforce their Solomons garrison and destroy the transports they surprised an American Task Force and inflicted heavy losses. The Hunter Liggett and the other vulnerable transports got underway but soon returned to the transport area. After noon on 9 August, they began the grim job of rescuing survivors from the sunken cruisers Vincennes, Astoria, and Quincy. That afternoon the transport sailed with the wounded, in company with the damaged Chicago, to Noumea, where she arrived 2 days later. With the Guadalcanal campaign began the refinement of amphibious techniques which was to pay off so handsomely as the war progressed.

Original caption: As landing craft, manned by Coast Guard crews, bring in streams of supplies to the American base on Guadalcanal, a Coast Guardsman directs traffic with his signal flags. In the distance, a transport and a cargo ship stand on the horizon. From the landing barge in the foreground, a jeep emerges and runs down the ramp on the beach.

Original caption: With the nonchalance of long practice, Coast Guard-manned barges are lowered away as dawn breaks over Guadalcanal. For troops aboard the transport it means the end of a long trip, the beginning of a great adventure.

Original caption: Three Coast Guardsmen from a Coast Guard-manned assault transport in the South Pacific are engaged in salvaging useful material from battered and beached Japanese landing craft on an island near Guadalcanal. They are, left to right: Peter Caruso, seaman second class of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Frank Brewer, fireman first class, of Chicago, Illinois; and Lieut. (j.g.) Gordon C. Reinoehl, of Jasper, Texas.

Keep in mind the Coast Guard’s only MOH recipient, Signalman First Class Douglas Munro, earned his decoration posthumously while taking Marines off of a surrounded beach position in Guadalcanal via landing craft in September 1942.

Douglas A. Munro Covers the Withdrawal of the 7th Marines at Guadalcanal by Bernard D’Andrea. 

A display containing Petty Officer First Class Douglas Munro’s Medal of Honor and accompanying citation hangs in Munro Hall at the U.S. Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May, N.J., (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Warrant Officer John Edwards)

By 1943, the Coast Guard had evolved to manning larger LCI(L)s and LSTs, running 28 of the former and no less than 77 of the latter.

USS LST-831 approaching the beachhead at Okinawa on D-Day, 1 April 1945. (Note: the unauthorized letters “USCG” stenciled on her inner hull above the main ramp. US Coast Guard photo from the collections of the Office of the US Coast Guard Historian.

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

LCI landing craft in the wake of a USCG-manned LST en route to Cape Sansapor, New Guinea, mid-1944

Photograph of Coast Guard Landing Barges Ferrying the Flood of Fighting Men Who Are Spreading Our Over Normandy. Original caption: The Invasion Stream Floods the Beaches of France. Bulging with reinforcements from the liberation waves that struck the French beaches and beached the vaunted Atlantic Wall, Coast Guard landing barges ferry the flood of fighting men who are spreading our over Normandy. They are transferred from a Coast Guard assault transport in the English Channel. In the distance, in a rhino loaded with ambulances easing toward the beach.

“The Coast Guard-manned landing craft LCI(L)-85 approached the beach at 12 knots. Her crew winced as they heard repeated thuds against the vessel’s hull made by the wooden stakes covering the beach like a crazy, tilted, man-made forest… The Coast Guard LCI(L)-85, battered by enemy fire after approaching Omaha Beach, prepares to evacuate the troops she was transporting to an awaiting transport. The “85” sank shortly after this photograph was taken. The LCI(L)-85 was one of four Coast Guard LCI’s that were destroyed on D-Day.”

US Coast Guardsmen assisting a wounded Marine into an LCVP after the Marine’s LVT sustained a direct hit while heading to the landing beaches on Iwo Jima, Feb 18, 1945.

US Coast Guard LCVP landing craft carried invasion troops toward Luzon in Lingayen Gulf, 9 Jan 1945

“He’s only 15, but he’s doing a man’s job, this Coast Guard “Invasion Kid.” Gerald W. Haddon, a seaman second class, has been under the fire of battle and is a veteran of 13 landings on Normandy Beach. Granted to be the youngest invader in the Allied Forces, “The Kid” enlisted when he was 14 and celebrated his 15th birthday under a Nazi bombing attack in the Mediterranean. The truth of his age came out after Normandy when he failed to report for morning muster aboard a Coast Guard-manned LST. He was found fast asleep in his bunk, too tired to “hit the deck.” But Coast Guardsman Haddon, now in England, is fighting to stay in the fight. He is the son of Mr. and Mrs. William A. Haddon, of 4150 West Harrison Street, Chicago, Ill.”

Besides this, some 288 of the Army’s ships— AMRS (Army Marine Repair Ship), TY (tankers), LT (large tugs), FS (freight and supply vessels), and F (Freight vessels)– were manned by the Coast Guard and were responsible for keeping those chains of islands in the Pacific as well as ports along the Med supplied and running.

By 1945, with the Coast Guard counting 171,192 officers and enlisted (including 8,877 women in the SPARS), the service was more than pulling its own. If it came across a beach in any theatre, odds are the Coasties had a hand in putting it there.

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