Category Archives: homeland security

Bollinger Delivers 47th Fast Response Cutter to USCG, Last of 6 Headed to Persian Gulf

Sentinel (Webber)-class 154-foot Fast Response Cutter USCGC Clarence Sutphin (WPC-1147) in Key West, Florida, shortly after delivery. Note that she doesn’t seem to have her PATFORSWA gear installed/mounted yet, and may pick it up at the USCGY in Maryland. Photo: Bollinger Shipyards.

Via Bollinger:

LOCKPORT, La., — January 6, 2021 – Bollinger Shipyards LLC (“Bollinger”) has delivered the USCGC CLARENCE SUTPHIN to the U.S. Coast Guard in Key West, Florida. This is the 170th vessel Bollinger has delivered to the U.S. Coast Guard over a 35-year period and the 47th Fast Response Cutter (“FRC”) delivered under the current program.

The USCGC CLARENCE SUTPHIN is the final of six FRCs to be home-ported in Manama, Bahrain, which will replace the aging 110’ Island Class Patrol Boats, built by Bollinger Shipyards 30 years ago, supporting the Patrol Forces Southwest Asia (PATFORSWA), the U.S. Coast Guard’s largest overseas presence outside the United States.

“Ensuring that the brave men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard have the most state-of-the-art, advanced vessels as they work to build and maintain the necessary regional alliances to ensure maritime security in the region is a top priority,” said Bollinger President & C.E.O. Ben Bordelon. “Bollinger is proud to continue enhancing and supporting the U.S. Coast Guard’s operational presence in the Middle East and ensuring it remains the preferred partner around the world.”

Earlier this year at the commissioning ceremony of the USCGC CHARLES MOULTHROPE, U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Karl Schultz lauded the “enhanced seakeeping” capabilities of the PATFORSWA-bound FRCs, saying “these ships are truly going to be game-changing in their new theater of operations” and “offer increased opportunities for integrated joint operations with our Navy and Marine Corps colleagues” as the Coast Guard seeks to be part of the whole-of-government solution set in the region.

PATFORSWA is composed of six cutters, shoreside support personnel, and the Maritime Engagement Team. The unit’s mission is to train, organize, equip, support and deploy combat-ready Coast Guard Forces in support of U.S. Central Command and national security objectives. PATFORSWA works with Naval Forces Central Command in furthering their goals to conduct persistent maritime operations to forward U.S. interests, deter and counter disruptive countries, defeat violent extremism and strengthen partner nations’ maritime capabilities in order to promote a secure maritime environment.

Each FRC is named for an enlisted Coast Guard hero who distinguished themselves in the line of duty. Clarence Sutphin, Boatswain Mate First Class, USCG, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his courageous actions during the invasion of Saipan Island in 1944. His citation reads: “For heroic achievement in action against enemy Japanese forces during the invasion of Saipan, Marianas Islands, on June 15 and 16, 1944. Swimming with a line through heavy surf to a tank lighter stranded on a reef, SUTPHIN remained aboard under mortar and artillery fire until the boat was salvaged. Returning to the beach, he aided in salvaging another tank lighter under enemy fire and, when a mortar shell struck a group of eight Marines, promptly treated the wounded and moved them to a first aid station. His courage and grave concern for the safety of others reflects the highest credit upon SUTPHIN and the United States Naval Service.”

About the Fast Response Cutter Platform

The FRC is an operational “game-changer,” according to senior Coast Guard officials. FRCs are consistently being deployed in support of the full range of missions within the United States Coast Guard and other branches of our armed services. This is due to its exceptional performance, expanded operational reach and capabilities, and ability to transform and adapt to the mission. FRCs have conducted operations as far as the Marshall Islands—a 4,400 nautical mile trip from their homeport. Measuring in at 154-feet, FRCs have a flank speed of 28 knots, a state of the art C4ISR suite (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance), and stern launch and recovery ramp for a 26-foot, over-the-horizon interceptor cutter boat.

As we have covered in previous months, the FRCs are a very interesting class of patrol boats, with one recently returning from a 7,000-mile extended patrol in remote island chains.

Besides their stabilized MK 38 25mm gun and half-dozen M2 mounts, the six-pack of FRCs headed to Bahrain are equipped with the CG-HALLTS system, a hailer that has laser and LRAD capabilities, as well as a special S-band Sierra Nevada Modi RPS-42 pulse doppler with full-time 360-degree coverage, and other goodies to include four Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRADs) on the O-1 deck. Additionally, the already experienced cutter and boarding crews of PATFORSWA have to go through 5-6 weeks of Pre Deployment Training (PDT) with the service’s Special Mission Training Center at Camp Lejune.

The Final Clock is Ticking on the Ohios

The massive 18,500-ton Ohio-class Trident ballistic missile submarines– the largest subs constructed outside of Russia’s Typhoon and Borei-class boats– are bigger than Great White Fleet-era battleships and can carry enough firepower to practically erase a country from the map in a salvo.

However, they are also aging, with the first of class ordered in 1974 and the final vessel commissioned in 1997. While 24 Ohios were planned, only 18 were completed and the first four of the class later converted to SSGN Tomahawk throwers. The Ohio-class submarines were designed to have a service life of 42 years (two 20-year cycles with a 2-year midlife nuclear refueling period), which has been stretched a bit.

The 14 “boomers” left in service range in age from 24 to 37 years on active duty. The youngest of these, USS Louisiana (SSBN-743) just completed an outrageous 818-day overhaul and refueling at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard that required 6.5 million man-hours of labor to pull off.

Bremerton, WA – USS Louisiana (SSBN 743) undocked Dec. 7, 2021, at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility, as part of an Engineered Refueling Overhaul, the final ERO for Ohio-class submarines.

Now set to run another 20 years on that core, at which point she will be 44 years old, “Big Lou” and her sisters will need to be replaced within the coming decade by a fully-fleshed new SSBN, the Columbia class.

While the class leader of those new Tridents, USS Columbia (SSBN-826), was ordered in 2016 from Electric Boat, she was only laid down last October and is not scheduled to leave on its first deterrent patrol until 2031 at a cost of $10 billion with a “B.” Meanwhile, the oldest remaining Ohio bomber, USS Henry M. Jackson (SSBN-730), is set to begin recycling in FY27, although the Navy may try to slow roll that.

However, there is only so much juice you can squeeze from a submarine hull built during the Reagan administration. 

Coast Guard Doubles Down on 2nd New Heavy Icebreaker (err Polar Security Cutter)

ST Engineering/Halter in Pascagoula (Moss Point, actually), has been hard at work on the Coast Guard’s new Polar Security Cutter since they received a $745 million contract in 2019. The 460-foot 19,000-ton (launch weight) icebreaker has required significant enhancements to Halter’s yard on the river.

The USCG and USN must be happy with the progress thus far because this came in yesterday’s DOD Contract announcements:

VT Halter Marine Inc., Pascagoula, Mississippi, is awarded a $552,654,757 fixed-price incentive modification to previously awarded contract N00024-16-C-2210 to exercise an option for the detail design and construction of the second Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter. Work will be performed in Pascagoula, Mississippi (61%); Metairie, Louisiana (12%); New Orleans, Louisiana (12%); San Diego, California (4%); Mossville, Illinois (4%); Mobile, Alabama (2%); Boca Raton, Florida (2%); and other locations (3%), and is expected to be completed by September 2026. Fiscal 2021 procurement, construction, and improvement (Coast Guard) funds in the amount of 485,129,919 (80%); fiscal 2020 procurement, construction, and improvement (Coast Guard) funds in the amount of $100,000,000 (17%); and fiscal 2019 procurement, construction, and improvement (Coast Guard) funds in the amount of $20,000,000 (3%) will be obligated at time of award and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity.

As the USCG only has a single active heavy icebreaker, and it has been limping along for the past couple of years on bubblegum and duct tape, these new vessels can’t come fast enough.

Of NOAA’s Gliders (Not That Kind)

With the end of the 2021 hurricane season– a busy one that produced 21 named storms (winds of 39 mph or greater), including seven hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or greater) of which four were major hurricanes (winds of 111 mph or greater)– NOAA released a by the numbers graphic to show the nuts and bolts of their response.

Interestingly, the nation’s seventh uniformed service (in terms of commissioned officers) detailed they had 66 underwater glider (USV/UUV) deployments to study hurricanes, amounting to a serious 2,309 days underway. The agency uses Slocum gliders– the same as the Navy’s O office— among others. 

An ocean glider is an autonomous, unmanned underwater vehicle used for ocean science. Since gliders require little or no human assistance while traveling, these little robots are uniquely suited for collecting data in remote locations, safely and at relatively low cost.

More on the NOAA Glider Project, which has been around since 2014, here.

Basswood of the Pacific

Here we see the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Basswood (WAGL-388, later WLB-388) underway during World War II. Marianas Section, off Victor Wharf, Agana Heights, Guam, late 1945.

Library of Congress photo HAER GU-3-1.

Commissioned on 12 January 1944, Basswood was one of 39 180-foot Balsam-class seagoing buoy tenders built from 1942–1944, specifically being one of the 20 improved Class C (Iris) subvariants. She is fairly well armed to tend navigational aids, with her 3″/50 gun visible pointing over her stern while” Y-gun” depth charge throwers are clearly visible on her starboard side. If you look to her stack– under her mast with an SL1 radar system– you can see two 20mm Oerlikons mounted. Unseen are two Mousetrap ASW rocket systems as well as a QBE-3A sonar suite. Several former Warship Wednesday alumni from the same class got to use those weapons during the war.

Capable of a blistering 13-knots, Basswood would go on to have a long career in the Western Pacific, supporting nuclear weapons testing during Operations Greenhouse (1951), Castle (1954), and Redwing (1956). She also completed three deployments to Vietnam in 1967, 1971, and 1972, earning a trio of both Vietnam Service Medals and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medals.

The Coast Guard Cutter Basswood works a buoy as busy Vietnamese fishermen travel to open sea and their fishing grounds from Vung Tau harbor during her 1967 deployment. The cutter battled monsoon weather for a 30-day tour to establish and reservice sea aids-to-navigation dotting the 1,000-mile South Vietnamese coastline. USCG Historian’s Office photo

Decommissioned 4 September 1998 after 54 years of service, she was disposed of in 2000, eventually scrapped.

Chasing relics for ‘public safety’

Police in Northwest England have been celebrating ridding the tough streets around Liverpool of collectible antique firearms, air guns, and starter pistols. 

The Merseyside Police this month closed a two-week gun surrender event focused primarily on taking in antiques that were recently designated as being forbidden under the country’s strict firearm codes. The new change targeted firearm chambered in one of seven long-obsolete 19th Century ammunition types, once protected under the UK’s Firearms Act 1968, for old guns typically “held as an ornament” or curiosity.

“During the surrender, we had 14 viable guns handed in, comprising of shotguns, revolvers, and self-loading pistols as well as 9 blank firers, 12 air weapons, and a quantity of ammunition,” said Merseyside Police. 

The photos released by the agency showed off a sampling fit for the likes of Colonel Mustard or Professor Plum. 

More in my column at Guns.com. 

7,000 Miles on a 154-foot Patrol Boat

The Coast Guard Cutter William Hart participates in the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency’s (FFA) Operation Kurukuru off American Samoa, Oct. 29, 2021. Operation Kurukuru is an annual coordinated maritime surveillance operation with the goal of combating illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. (U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of the Coast Guard Cutter William Hart/Released)

The Coast Guard is really stretching the legs on their new Sentinel (Webber)-class Fast Response Cutters, especially in parts of the Pacific that may become very interesting in the coming years. Just 154-feet long overall and powered by an economical diesel suite, these vessels are a hair smaller than the Navy’s Cyclone-class PCs which are typically just assigned to coastal ops in the Persian Gulf region (a role the USCG is likely to take over once the Cyclones are retired).

One FRC just clocked 7K miles in a 39-day patrol. Sure, sure, it wasn’t an unbroken 39 days underway, but still, that’s some decent mileage on a small hull, especially on an operational cruise. Further, the patrol targeted IUU fishing, a big bone of contention with China and a legitimate cause of international heartburn in the Pacific with Bejing seen as a bully by many small Oceanic countries in the region, especially when you take the “Little Blue Men” of China’s Maritime Militia into account. 

Via the USCG PAO:

HONOLULU — The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter William Hart completed its 39 day patrol over 7,000 nautical miles in Oceania in support of the Coast Guard’s Operation Blue Pacific, last week.

Operation Blue Pacific is an overarching multi-mission Coast Guard endeavor promoting security, safety, sovereignty, and economic prosperity in Oceania while strengthening relationships between our partners in the region.

“This patrol had multiple goals which really displayed the adaptability of our crew,” said Lt. Cmdr. Cynthia Travers, the commanding officer of the William Hart. “While we continued to support international efforts to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the region, we’ve also worked with our partners including New Zealand’s National Maritime Coordination Centre (NMCC), the nation of Samoa, the National Park Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on a number of joint endeavors.”

In November the crew of the William Hart, one of the Coast Guard’s new Fast Response Cutters, participated in the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency’s (FFA) Operation Kurukuru, an annual coordinated maritime surveillance operation with the goal of combating IUU fishing.

IUU fishing presents a direct threat to the efforts of Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) to conserve fish stocks, an important renewable resource in the region.

Following the successful conclusion of Operation Kurukuru, the William Hart’s crew continued to patrol the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of the United States, Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati and Fiji to prevent illicit maritime activity.

Upon request from NOAA, the crew visited Fagatele Bay in the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa, using the cutter’s small boat to ensure there was no fishing or activity which would damage the coral within the United States’ largest national marine sanctuary.

The crew of the William Hart also supported a National Park Service boat during a transit between Tutuila Island and the Manu’a Islands, providing search and rescue coverage.

The cutter’s crew then departed for Fiji’s EEZ, where they supported New Zealand’s NMCC by locating an adrift Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis (DART) buoy and reporting the buoy’s condition to Headquarters Joint Forces New Zealand and other stakeholders.

DART buoys are real-time monitoring systems strategically deployed throughout the Pacific to provide important tsunami forecasting data to researchers.

“These expeditionary patrols are important to the continued stability and prosperity of Oceania,” said Lt. Cmdr. Jessica Conway, a Coast Guard 14th District operations planner. “Partnerships are key to promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific. Operation Blue Pacific allows us to coordinate with regional partners and most effectively employ our assets towards shared goals.”

Birddogging Chinese AGS 

 
In related news from the West Pac, the Coast Guard responded to a request from the Republic of Palau pursuant to the U.S.-Palau bilateral law enforcement agreement– one of 11 bilateral law enforcement agreements with Pacific Island Countries and Territories throughout Oceania– to assist with locating the Chinese-flagged research vessel Da Yang Hao (IMO: 9861342, MMSI 413212230) and observe its activity.
 
Owned by the China Ocean Mineral Resources R&D Association, the ship’s main purpose is prospecting for mineral resources, but it has the equipment useful in making the kind of accurate seabed charts needed by submarines to operate safely in the area of seamounts. Of note, Palau is important for vital maritime prepositioning assets of the MSC, which would be a ripe target in the opening 24 hours of a China-US conflict. 
 
The 4,600-ton vessel entered Palau’s EEZ on Nov. 29. On Nov. 30, the Coast Guard’s Joint Rescue Coordination Center (JRCC) Honolulu received a notification from the Palau Division of Maritime Security that the Da Yang Hao was observed north of Kayangel State within Palau’s EEZ without proper authorization. 
 

Via Naval News 

 
JRCC Honolulu deployed a Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point HC-130 Hercules aircraft to locate the research vessel and confirm the vessel was not in distress given its varying course and minimal speed while operating in the Palauan EEZ.
 
The USCG Herky bird arrived on scene and located the research vessel approximately 100 nm WNW of the main Palauan island of Babeldaob transiting at slow speeds eastbound.
 
The Da Yang Hao communicated to the Hercules aircrew via radio that they were conducting storm avoidance. A subsequent overflight the following day relocated the research vessel transiting slowly north approximately 190 nautical miles northwest of the islands, approaching the limits of Palau’s EEZ.
 
This is where we should point out that the 14th Coast Guard District recently welcomed their first new HC-130J Super Hercules long-range surveillance aircraft this summer. The older HC-130Hs at the station are being replaced with the more capable Super Hercules aircraft; the current schedule has a fleet of four HC-130Js in Barbers Point by the end of summer 2022. These Herks have a new 360-degree, belly-mounted, multimode surface search radar and other bonuses not seen on the older aircraft.
 

The HC-130J features more advanced engines and propellers, which provide a 20% increase in speed and altitude and a 40% increase in range over the HC-130H Hercules. Another notable difference is the liquid oxygen system, which allows crews to fly at higher altitudes, providing a better vantage point for many missions. These aircraft have a modernized glass cockpit, the capability to execute GPS approaches, and are outfitted with the Minotaur Mission System Suite, which provides increased capabilities for use of the sensors, radar and intelligence-gathering equipment.

Florida reboots their (likely not a Secret Police) State Guard

A phenomenon of WWII was, with state militias being redesignated as part of the National Guard under the 1903 Dick Act, once the Guard was federalized in 1940 and soon deployed overseas in 1941-42, the “Homeland” was left without anything to ward off potential Axis attacks other than local police (itself depleted by a loss of men joining the colors, remember, even “Bert the Cop” from Its a Wonderfull Life did his bit!) and boy scouts.

This led to the formation of the Civil Air Patrol to span the skies and the Corsair Fleet of the USCG Auxillary to patrol the seas, both composed of volunteers who, at least at first, just used their own equipment.

To stand sentinel at factories, vital chokepoints, and potential targets like bridges and railway yards– as well as provide the governor muscle during times of local need such as natural disaster and riots– states formed “State Guard” units from those too old, too young, or too 4-F to head overseas but still had a desire to serve. Sort of like Dad’s Army but in American format.

California State Guard’s 5th Inf. Regiment at Camp Rubidoux, 1942, note the M1917s and recycled CCC jackets

Florida Defense Force Personnel at U.S.O. Jacksonville. 1942. Spottswood Studio Collection. The Florida Defense Force, later known as the Florida State Guard, formed in 1941, numbered 2,100 men in 36 units two years later. It was disbanded in 1945.

We’ve talked about assorted State Guard forces in WWII several times. As a throwback to this, nearly every state has laws authorizing state defense forces still on the books.

There was something of a resurgence in SG formations during the darkest spots of the Cold War, then another post-9/11 with a Homeland Security flavor. Today, at least 17 states, plus Puerto Rico, have “active” SDFs or State Guards each with different levels of activity, support, with a (squishy) force strength of approximately 14,000 individuals nationwide.

With that, Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida last week announced $3.5 million to reestablish the Florida State Guard. Envisioned to be a 200-member unit, “The establishment of the Florida State Guard will further support those emergency response efforts in the event of a hurricane, natural disasters, and other state emergencies. The $3.5 million to establish the Florida State Guard will enable civilians to be trained in the best emergency response techniques.”

Chapter 251 of the Florida Statutes authorizes the formation, organization, and rules regarding a Florida State Defense Force.

According to the group pushing for the reactivation:

The proposed Florida State Defense Force (SDF) would be a voluntary professional military corps who offers support in totality to the Florida National Guard (FLNG). Operations in security operations, engineering, transportation, chaplaincy, emergency management, legal, and medical services among others operational areas.

​The Florida SDF will be comprised of retired, prior service military personnel and selected professional individuals who volunteer their time and talents in further service to their state.

The Horror!

The move from DeSantis, rumored to be a potential POTUS candidate in 2024, has brought lots of handwringing and overheated pearl-clutching from political opponents. They compared the nascent FSG to something akin to Modero’s notorious colectivos, the Tonton Macoute of “Papa Doc,” or Castro’s “popular revolutionary vigilance detachments.”

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, a Democrat running for governor next year, tweeted, “No Governor should have his own handpicked secret police.”

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, another Dem running to replace DeSantis, echoed, “Can’t believe I have to say this, but Florida doesn’t need a paramilitary force that only answers to @RonDeSantisFL. Millions of Floridians know what it’s like to live under regimes like this — and came to our state to escape them. This must be stopped.”

Come on

I was in the Mississippi State Guard for a decade, joining around 1998 when it was battalion-sized (and even boasted a platoon-sized MP “company” drawn mostly from state-certified LEOs), totaling about 500 or so members, with a lot of those being ghosts. Drills were supposed to be monthly, but usually were held quarterly, with attending members having to eat their own uniform, chow, and travel costs. However, both Camp Shelby and Camp McCain made their barracks facilities open to the MSG, which was helpful, although, naturally, you had to supply your own fire watch and CQ folks (been there, did that).

From my own experience, and talking to members of other states’ units, State Guards are pretty innocuous, focusing on delivering Red Cross 1st Aid training (I was an instructor for decades), pushing FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute (EMI) training, and joining the non-profit national State Guard Association (SGAUS) to complete that group’s Military Emergency Management Specialist (MEMS) Academy– which is basically the EMI with extra steps. All of these are vanilla programs and none of which stress secret police squads, weapons training, giving “helicopter rides” to political opponents, or standing to serve as “build your own Wolverine resistance group” primers.

I saw a lot of good in my time with the MSG, as the group helped out in a lot of ways ranging from providing honor guards and funeral details to helping with toy and food drives besides their bread-and-butter emergency management/support. Kinda like overgrown boy scouts in camouflage. They asked for nothing from the state, which was good, because they wouldn’t have gotten it!

In short, not a chance of a state guard doubling as a terror squad, unless you are afraid that your pot of old coffee will be drained– and $3.17 in pocket change left behind.

I left around 2009 after the MP company (which responded during Hurricane Katrina and other statewide emergencies) was disbanded and the group kinda just devolved into an old boys club with all the 50 or so remaining active members (half of which were designated chaplains regardless of actual theological certifications) seemingly promoted to full colonel and above. “We are a cadre division with three brigades!” was the motto every time a promotion round was announced. But I digress.

From what I understand, the MSG has revitalized off and on in recent years, even trying to form another MP “battalion.” Good on ’em if so!

My thoughts on Florida rebooting their State Guard? Great! I think every state should have such a volunteer force ready for community service. As long as the group tries, and is successful in recruiting to keep new blood revitalizing it, it can do a lot of good.

Incidentally, the Floridan Army National Guard contends they have the longest Western military tradition in the country, dating back some 456 years: 

According to the Florida National Guard State Historian’s Office, the “first muster” took place on Sept. 16, 1565 when Pedro Menendez de Aviles gathered around him the soldiers of his small Spanish army, as well as the civilian settlers that had accompanied him to the newly established presidio town of St. Augustine. He was about to march north to the French settlement of Fort Caroline near the mouth of the St. Johns River, with the purpose of driving out the “usurpers of Spanish land.”

Because his plan called for the use of the majority of his regular soldiers, Menendez drew upon Spanish laws governing the militia, or milicia, in an imperial province. As both the civil governor and commander-in-chief of the military establishment he had the authority to call all free male settlers in the presidio province to active service. That first muster in St. Augustine consisted of about 50 men.

The exact location of that first muster is unknown, but local historians and archeologists believe it lies a few miles north of the present site of the Florida National Guard headquarters.

In the earliest tradition of the Citizen-Soldier, the musters of the late 1500s and early 1600s were not much more than simple gatherings of able-bodied men in the town square. It wasn’t until 1671 that volunteer militia units were organized in St. Augustine.

Greg Moore, a Florida National Guard historian, said that while the English militia tradition in the Massachusetts Bay Colony is credited with giving the modern National Guard its earliest organized regiments, it is a fact of history that the Spanish first brought the European tradition – men available for short terms of military service in time of war or domestic turmoil – to the New World … first in Cuba and Puerto Rico, then to the continent at St. Augustine.

Coast Guard says goodbye to their beloved 52s

Built at a cost of $235,927, the Coast Guard’s four Victory-class 52-foot steel-hulled motor lifeboats have earned their keep, stationed off the rugged and dangerous coasts of the Pacific Northwest since the 1950s and 60s. Built at the Coast Guard Yard after a century of experience with surfboats and life-saving vessels, they had a design that just wouldn’t quit.

As noted by the Coast Guard Historian:

All four of the steel 52’ MLBs have served their entire careers at lifeboat stations out on the Pacific Northwest coast where their ruggedness and long endurance are needed for the typically high surf conditions that exist there, along with the operational need to tow disabled fishing craft over longer distances and over inlet bars. These lifeboats have all survived multiple capsizing episodes, as well as pitch-poling incidents. The only criticism that has ever been mentioned of these craft is their relatively slow speed, but in the heavy seas and surf in which they typically operate, this has not been viewed as a significant detriment.

Now, after being sidelined earlier this year on “restrictive duty,” these indestructible craft are in their final stages of being decommissioned and have been towed away from their familiar stations.

The Victory, Intrepid, Invincible, and Invincible were towed to Ilwaco, Washington to be pulled out of the water for the last time, shrink-wrapped, and removed from service. 

Retired Master Chief Thomas McAdams reflects on his experiences aboard these magnificent boats as expressed in a poem he wrote inspired by their decommissioning, to the heartbreak of Surfmen everywhere. 

As the Winds Blow

Original caption: “The Coast Guard icebreaker Westwind (WAGB-281, ex-Severni Pulius, ex-AGB-6), left, receives personnel and cargo from her disabled sister ship the Eastwind (WAGB-279), right, as they lay moored in Kane Basin north of Thule, Greenland. Enroute to Weather Station Alert with supplies, the Eastwind suffered damage to her starboard propeller blade and a hole in her forepeak while maneuvering to break through heavy Polar floes driving the ship toward shore. The Westwind went to the assistance of the Eastwind and undertook the attempt to reach Alert. The two Coast Guard icebreakers accompanied a Navy Task Force Group on the 1954 joint U.S. Canadian resupply mission to far northern weather stations in the Arctic.”

Note the WWII-era Higgins type LCVP between the two icebreakers and a second one on Westwind’s davits. USCG Photo via the National Archives (205581260)

If you look carefully, you will also see the uniqueness that is a trio of H-13 Sioux (Bell Model 47) type helicopters on the breakers’ decks, with one on Westwind and two on Eastwind. The USCG purchased three up-engined Navy HTL-4 variants (dubbed HTL-5s) in 1952 and used them through 1960, with all three likely seen in the above image. They, as with other helicopters since the 1940s, proved useful in scouting paths through the ice fields.

With their full “soap bubble” canopies, the Korean War-era whirlybirds are instantly recognizable to fans of “MASH.” Between the HTL-5s and similar variants, the service used eight Bell 47s, redesignated HH-13s, as late as 1968.

Both of the above Winds were laid down during WWII– with Westwind serving with the Soviets as Lend-Lease for six years– and would continue in their role of crushing it in the polar regions for decades after the above image was snapped.

“Ice Breaker Penetrating the Ice Pack” Painting, Watercolor on Paper; by Standish Backus; 1956; “Pack ice is composed of massed fragments of sea ice drifting with wind and current. Modern Icebreakers such as Glacier, Edisto and Eastwind normally transit such ice fields without difficulty or loss of speed. However, thinned-skinned vessels must be protected from ice pressures against their hulls. This may be accomplished by leading the escorted vessel through the dangerous areas with its bow lashed firmly into the notched stern of the icebreaker. Here Eastwind is represented towing YOG-34 through the Ross Sea pack, while overhead one of the helicopters scouts the ice conditions.” –Commander Standish Backus. Unframed Dimensions 22H X 30W Accession #: 88-186-BH.

Eastwind, which had captured the German trawler Externsteine during the “Weather War” in Greenland, an event that went down in history as one of the last enemy vessels seized by an American prize crew, decommissioned early Dec 1968 and was slowly scrapped in New Jersey– a fate worse than death.

Westwind was the next to last of her class decommissioned, serving until 1988, at which point she had 43 years under her belt (under two different flags). Plans to keep America’s last WWII-era icebreaker as a museum ship never firmed up and she was, like her sisters, recycled.

Speaking of helicopters and icebreakers…

Shortly after completing her historic crossing of the Northwest Passage (during which the ice wasn’t even thick enough for an Ice Call) by the medium icebreaker USCGC Healy (WAGB-20), an MH-60R of the “Vipers” of HSM-48 cross decked this week from USS Jason Dunham (DDG-109) while off the East Coast, the first time an MH-60R had landed on an icebreaker. 

Shades of the new Polar Security Cutter, perhaps… 

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