Category Archives: USCG

Edenton/Haley Soldiers On

Following an extended $6 million seven-month dry dock maintenance period in Seattle, the one-of-a-kind 282-foot British-built Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley (WMEC-39) returned to her homeport at Coast Guard Base Kodiak, Alaska earlier this month.

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley returns to homeport at Coast Guard Base Kodiak, Alaska, on Jan. 12, 2023. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Ian Gray

As noted by Coast Guard 17th District (Alaska)

The engineering department oversaw 76 work items including major overhauls on the cutter’s controllable pitch propeller system, speed reducers, rudders, and boilers, along with inspections of fuel, sewage, and water tanks. The operations department supervised a renewal of Alex Haley’s flight deck, navigation systems, and electronics while maintaining critical law enforcement currencies. The deck department expertly completed vast amounts of painting and topside preservation, while ensuring small boat operational readiness.

The Coast Guard Alex Haley sits dry-docked for repairs and maintenance in Seattle, Washington, on Dec. 13, 2022. While in the dry dock, the crew and contractors successfully completed more than $6 million worth of repairs.

In typical USCG fashion, Haley is one of the oldest ships in the U.S. maritime service, with 56 years on her hull and another decade of service looming.

Built by Brooke Marine in Lowestoft, Sussex between 1967-71 as USS Edenton (ATS-1), the 3,500-ton vessel was the lead ship of a three-hull class of salvage and rescue ship capable of worldwide operations.

USS Edenton (ATS-1) NHHC L45-82.06.01

Joining the fleet when commissioned on 23 January 1971, as part of the Second Fleet, she would go on to complete no less than nine extended Med cruises and one West Pac deployment before she was decommissioned on 29 March 1996, completing 25 years “haze gray and underway.” Of note, the builder of the class, Brooke Marine, had gone into receivership and been sold off almost a decade prior, while the class’s Paxman diesels were increasingly unsupportable.

Edenton was stricken from the Navy List on 29 December 1997.

While her sisters USS Beaufort (ATS-2) and Brunswick (ATS-3) would be retired at the same time, they would retain their extensive salvage gear fit and be sold in a hot “as-is” transfer to the South Korean Navy, where they linger in service as ROKS Pyeongtaek (ATS-27) and ROKS Gwangyang (ATS-28), respectively.

As for Edenton, over a two-year period, she would land much of her deep water salvage gear to make room for a helo deck, grab a white paint scheme with a racing stripe, trade her vintage Mk 16 20mm guns for MK38 Bushmaster 25mm mounts, swap her Paxmans for Catapillars, and ship off to Kodiak where she would take the place after WWII-era icebreaking cutter USCGC Storis (WAGL-38/WMEC-38) was retired, as the Coast Guard’s primary live-in asset in the Bering Sea. Of note, that is why Haley carries the next hull number in line (WMEC-39) after Storis.

Her missions typically involve search and rescue, fisheries law enforcement, and vessel safety inspections across Alaska.

Since her commissioning in USCG service on 10 July 1999, ex-Edenton has carried the name of the late Alexander Palmer Haley, Chief Journalist, USCG (Ret.).

Long before he drew international acclaim for Roots, Haley enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1939 as a mess attendant/steward and, serving through WWII on the cutters Mendoza and Pamlico and in the Pacific Threatre on the cargo vessel USS Murzim (AK-95), contributed articles to the Coast Guard Magazine and started a mimeographed ship’s newspaper. Switching to a Journalist rate in 1949, he would transfer to the Reserve list in 1959, completing 20 years of active duty including WWII service across three theatres and Korean War service. He would then go on to become a senior editor for Reader’s Digest and conduct a series of brilliant interviews for Playboy in the 1960s, back when folks really did buy it for the articles, before becoming a household name.

JOC Haley passed in 1992, aged 70.

The Mighty D hangs up her guns

The sun is getting low on the half-century-old Reliance class cutters, and one of my favorite ones just finished up her last official tasking.

Via Coast Guard LANT

USCGC Decisive returns home from Eastern Pacific Ocean deployment, completing final patrol

PENSACOLA, Fla. — The crew of the USCGC Decisive (WMEC 629) returned to their homeport in Pensacola, Friday, following a 33-day patrol in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, concluding 55 years of service to the Nation.

Decisive patrolled the Eastern Pacific Ocean in the Coast Guard Eleventh District’s area of operations. While underway, the Decisive’s crew supported the Coast Guard’s drug interdiction and search and rescue missions to promote safety of life at sea and deter the flow of illegal narcotics into the United States.

While deployed, Decisive’s crew collaborated with Coast Guard assets and foreign military aircraft to detect, deter, and interdict illegal narcotics voyages. At one point, Decisive disrupted two vessels suspected of drug trafficking in the same night. Decisive also collaborated with the USCGC Alert (WMEC 630) to safely transfer three suspected smugglers. While aboard Decisive, the detainees received food, water, shelter and medical attention.

“The crew’s remarkable professionalism, competence and determination were on full display as we met the diverse challenges of operations at sea,” said Cmdr. Aaron Delano-Johnson, commanding officer of Decisive. “Whether it was conducting simultaneous boardings or our skilled engineers conducting voyage repairs in Panama, the crew exceeded expectations at every turn. After a successful, final patrol for Decisive, we are looking forward to returning home to our family and friends on shore.”

During the patrol, Decisive traveled more than 6,000 miles and traversed through the Panama Canal. By transiting the historic waterway, Decisive’s crew earned their Order of the Ditch certificates, a time-honored nautical tradition recognizing mariners who have crossed the Panama Canal between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Decisive is a 210-foot, Reliance-class medium endurance cutter with a crew of 72. The cutter’s primary missions are counter-drug operations, migrant interdiction, and search and rescue in support of U.S. Coast Guard operations throughout the Western Hemisphere.

Back in 2011, while working on an article about the old girl for Sea Classics, I spent a day hanging out with the Swamp Rats of Decisive while she was based at CGS Pascagoula, formerly NAVSTA Pascagoula, directly across from Ingalls on Singing River Island. Since Decisive moved to Pensacola in 2017, the sprawling base, which had been originally intended for a battleship surface action group in the 1980s, has largely just hosted a Sentinel-class (154-foot) fast response cutter and the occasional passing NOAA survey ship in addition to overflow from Ingalls.

Anyway, enjoy! These were cleared by 8th District over a decade ago, but never published. 

Moto in Miami

Always been a sucker for well-done unit photos and this one from Coast Guard Air Station Miami, showing five airborne MH-65D Dolphins hovering in unison behind five tarmacked EADS HC-144 Ocean Sentry patrol planes– the station’s entire airframe complement– is great.

Photo by USCG Aux Joey Feldman

As noted by the station:

When exceptionally hard work meets opportunity. This photo would not have been possible without the hard work of our Aviation Engineering department. They worked tirelessly to make all ten of our aircraft available in a very short time window and on top of that, they made sure all five of our MH-65 Dolphins were operational to provide an amazing backdrop for our 2023 unit photo. To our AvEng department, be proud of this accomplishment. Your hard work has paid off. Bravo Zulu!!

Coast Guard Air Station Miami first opened in June 1932 at the old Navy seaplane base on Dinner Key in Biscayne Bay next to the Pan Am station, originally flying Fokker PJ Flying Life Boats as the Coast Guard’s first “modern” aviation unit, and celebrated its 90th-anniversary last summer– a span that included flying armed Vought OS2U-3 Kingfishers on ASW patrols and CSAR during WWII.

“Coast Guard planes from the Coast Guard Air Station Miami, Florida, greeting new 165-foot patrol boat/subchaser USCGC PANDORA arrival December 6, 1934, to take station.” Top to bottom: Fokker PJ Flying Boat ACAMAR, Douglas RD-1 Amphibian SIRIUS, and Fokker PJ Flying Boat A. 

For those curious:

U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Miami employs a highly trained and exceptionally motivated crew of 339 personnel, comprised of 71 Officers, 255 Enlisted, and 13 Civilians. Its fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft conduct a variety of Coast Guard missions from Charleston, S.C. to Key West, and throughout the Caribbean Basin. Air Station (CGAS) Miami is located at Opa-Locka Executive Airport.

 

Slow salute to the survey foot

“Ensign Virginia McKachern studies a chart in the Port Director’s Office, Jacksonville, Florida, to which she is now attached. Hydrographic distribution has become a function of this office, photograph released circa 1943.” U.S. Navy photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-CF-8811-7_Box 175

On New Year’s Eve 2022, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and National Geodetic Survey, National Ocean Service, NOAA, and the Department of Commerce officially retired the U.S. survey foot, established in 1893, and replaced it with the international foot.

For reference, A U.S. survey foot is expressed as a fraction — 1200/3937 meters — while an international foot is expressed as a decimal, exactly 0.3048 meters. The U.S. has been in a slow march for the past two years to halt the institutional use of the “old” foot. Meanwhile, the U.S. military has largely been metric since 1957, as a part of NATO standardization, although some things (altitude and ship dimensions) are kept in feet for traditional reasons.  

As noted by NOAA, “Doing so will reduce surveying errors that can cost money, and increase accurate positioning for surveying, mapping, and more.”

As detailed by NIST:

Beginning on January 1, 2023, the U.S. survey foot should be avoided, except for historic and legacy applications and has been superseded by the international foot definition (i.e., 1 foot = 0.3048 meter exactly) in all applications. Prior to this date, except for the mile and square mile, the cable’s length, chain, fathom, furlong, league, link, rod, pole, perch, acre, and acre-foot were previously only defined in terms of the U.S. survey foot.

Blue water sailor…

“If you’re not shippin’ green you don’t deserve sea pay…”

This was recently posted on the social media page maintained by the frigate-sized Legend-class National Security Cutter USCGC Stratton (WMSL-752). Stationed at Alameda, California, and assigned to the Coast Guard Pacific Area, she is currently on a Bering Sea patrol.

On the way to the Arctic, CGC Stratton transited north through some heavy seas off the Pacific Northwest. At times, the sea spray reached as high as CGC Stratton’s mast, which is nearly 150 feet tall.

Built at Pascagoula alongside Burke-class DDGs like all her sisters, Stratton joined the fleet in 2012.

Importantly, Ingalls is getting close to the end of the road with the class, as the future USCGC Calhoun (WMSL-759), NSC 10, just recently christened and is expected to commission later this year.

The final ship, USCGC Friedman (WMSL-760) would end the nominal 11 ship class although some Long Lead Time Materials funds for a 12th hull have been allocated. As the class was ordered to replace the 12-vessel Hamilton-class cutters built in the 1960s, it would only seem correct to run the full dozen. 

A Meeting of Racing Stripes

The U.S. Coast Guard has been making great use of its large frigate-sized Berthoff-class national security cutters, showing them off in the past couple of years as true worldwide deployable assets. This has included several Westpac cruises and Fourth Fleet missions, and, as witnessed by the arrival of USCGC Hamilton (WMSL 753) at her homeport Wednesday following a 94-day deployment as part of the U.S. Sixth Fleet, even Europe.

While some would grouse that it is out of step for the “Coast” Guard to deploy overseas under the Navy’s control in peacetime, it helps build those national defense/intelligence skills needed should they ever have to do it for real– of note, Hamilton exercised with the Gerald Ford carrier group while the new carrier made its first “warm” deployment— but also allows an easier mesh with allied littoral coast guard types than the Navy would be able to pull off with a 9,000-ton DDG.

Plus, things like migrant interdiction and fisheries enforcement missions aren’t really in Big Navy’s wheelhouse.

U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Arthur Flaherty, a boatswain’s mate assigned to the USCGC Hamilton (WMSL 753), prepares to transfer Hamilton crewmembers onto the Swedish Coast Guard vessel Amfitrite in the Baltic Sea, Oct. 31, 2022. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Alejandro Rivera)

U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Denzel Canty and Petty Officer 3rd Class Drew Freiheit, maritime enforcement specialists assigned to USCGC Hamilton (WMSL 753), conduct a tactical exercise with members of the Finnish Border Guard’s Special Intervention Unit while underway in the Baltic Sea, Nov. 3, 2022. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Alejandro Rivera)

As noted by USCG Atlantic Area:

Hamilton began its deployment with a transatlantic voyage to Rota, Spain, and met with operational commanders from U.S. Sixth Fleet. After Spain, the cutter transited through the English Channel and Danish Straits, two vitally significant waterways that provide safe passage for 15% of the world’s shipping.

Immediately upon entering the Baltic Sea region, Hamilton conducted at-sea exchanges with naval, coast guard and border guard forces of multiple Baltic Sea allies and partners, including Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Each engagement was oriented to support either traditional Coast Guard missions or in combination with defense readiness exercises used to enhance interoperability between the U.S. and NATO partners.

As the first U.S. military vessel to visit Turku, Finland in over a decade, Hamilton hosted public tours of the cutter and held a reception for U.S. and Finnish government and military leaders. Guests included the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Finland, the deputy chief of the Finnish Border Guard, the state secretary of the Ministry of Interior, and the mayor of Turku. The visit also served to reinforce the long-standing partnership between the Finnish Border Guard and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Additionally, Hamilton is the first U.S. Coast Guard cutter to visit Riga, Latvia in more than 20 years. The crew met with the U.S. Ambassador to Latvia and hosted a reception on board Hamilton for members of Latvia’s navy and coast guard to include the Latvian navy’s chief of staff and the commander of the Latvian coast guard. Hamilton also served as a backdrop to Latvia’s 104th Freedom Day celebration alongside NATO forces.

Maritime Mystery: Death of a Wooden Shoe

Some 80 years ago today, a warship and her entire crew vanished from the waves and not a single confirmed piece of her has ever been seen since.

Constructed in 1941 at Snow Shipyards in Rockland, Maine, the 225-ton, 116-foot wooden-hulled longline trawler F/V Belmont was acquired for $2,122 on 19 June 1942 by the U.S. Coast Guard for use on the newly-formed Greenland Patrol, watching over the Danish possession and fighting the “Weather War,” keeping German radio and meteorological stations out of the frozen land.

Commissioned as USCGC Natsek (WYP-170), named in honor of a geographical feature on Greenland, her armament was slight– an old 6-pounder 57mm gun taken from prewar cutter stocks that was deemed still deadly enough to haul over German weather trawlers in spotted, two 20mm Oerlikons should she encounter a German Condor patrol plane, and two short depth charge racks should she see a U-boat.

Assigned to CINCLANT control out of Boston with the rest of the Greenland Patrol, Natsek could make a stately 11 knots and cruise at 9.5. Her and her Snow-built half-sisters USCGC Nanok (ex-F/V St. George) and USCGC Nogak (ex-F/V North Star), earned the nickname of “wooden shoes” as they looked, well, like large wooden shoes and had about the same characteristics.

Other vessels of the Greenland Patrol converted at the time included seven larger and sturdier steel-hulled trawlers (F/V Helka, Lark, Weymouth, Atlantic, Arlington, Winchester, and Triton) that likewise received similar armament and Greenland geographical monikers but starting with an “A” to set them apart as a class (USCGC Alatok, Amarok, Aklak, Arluk, Aivik, Atak, and Arvek, respectively).

Besides keeping the Germans out of Greenland, the Patrol’s primary task was to establish and supply a series of 14 “Bluie” met and HF/DF stations around the coastline. Airfields would soon be added to these isolated stations to allow them to serve as way stations for the North Atlantic ferry route, running planes from bases in Labrador to Scotland with stops in Greenland and Iceland. 

The fact that these converted trawlers could carry 90 tons of cargo below decks and draw but 11 feet of seawater when doing so helped greatly. While it would seem folly to us today to task 10 small vessels (the largest of these, Winchester/Aivik, was only 590 tons and 128 feet overall) with such a mission, keep in mind that the locations chosen for the Bluie stations were often only reachable by snaking through dense fields of icebergs and narrow fjords, so chosen to remain hidden from German surface raiders.

Natsek’s first patrol, began just ten days after she was commissioned, with newly-minted Lt. (jg) Thomas La Farge, USCGR, skipper. La Farge, who had no prior military experience, received his temporary commission as he was “a yachtsman and lover of ships” and noteworthy as a grandson of the late, great, muralist, John La Farge.

She set sail for Greenland waters in company with the minesweeper USS Bluebird (AM-72), and fellow USCG-manned armed trawlers Atak and Aivik, as part of CTG 24.8 on 29 June. Arriving at Bluie West #1 (Narsarssuak) on 20 July, Natsek plied Greenland waters, supplying Bluie stations through the month of August. Beginning on 28 September, she set sail from Narsarssuak to transport supplies, equipment, and personnel to Skoldungen to establish and build a weather station. She arrived there on 12 October. She continued on to help establish another weather station, this time at Torgilsbu and later that month another one at Skjoldungen.

On 9 November she was ordered to assist in looking for a downed plane along the southeast coast of Greenland.

On 15 November she then received orders to escort the Army cargo ship Belle Isle to Torgilsbu from Skjoldungen. She accomplished the escort without incident and arrived at Torgilsbu on 16 November. She departed Torgilsbu on 23 November and arrived at Narsarssuak on 30 November.

On 14 December 1942 Natsek departed Narsarssuak in a convoy with Bluebird and fellow “wooden shoe” USCGC Nanok, to return to Boston via Belle Isle Strait.

Natsek never arrived.

In January, the Navy made it official after she was several weeks overdue.

From the 1/24/43 issue of the NYT:

The detailed story of her disappearance, via the 1947 report, “The Coast Guard at War: Lost Cutters”

Click to make bigger

This, from “Death of a Wooden Shoe :A Sailor’s Diary of Life and Death on the Greenland Patrol, 1942” by Thaddeus D. Nowakowski, a journal kept by a Coast Guardsman during his six crucial months as a seaman on board Natsek’s sister, USCGC Nanok, and digitized by the Coast Guard Historian’s Office in 1994:

Besides LaFarge, Natsek vanished with a crew of 23 including 10 Coast Guard regulars (counting both her chiefs) a Navy radioman, and 12 wartime-era recruits. Considered lost at sea, their names are inscribed on the World War II East Coast Memorial in Manhattan’s Battery Park as well as a marker at Arlington that notes of the Natsek:

The entire crew of 23 men and one commissioned officer are considered to have met death in the line of duty on or after 17 December 1942, as a result of drowning.”

Natsek at the time was the fourth Coast Guard ship to be lost in WWII and 107th American vessel overall. Ultimately, the USCG would lose no less than 40 vessels in the conflict.

As for the Weather War, the Allies won and today, Bluie West Six is Thule Air Base, still an important enough asset that the Pentagon on Friday awarded a $4 billion civil engineering and maintenance contract to a local firm in Greenland, Inuksuk A/S, running through 2034.

And Pass the Ammunition

Original caption: “Seaman Barrett C. Benson who was a Methodist minister with two churches at Dalton and LaFayette, Georgia, saw the men of his churches going off to war…Deciding to follow them, he enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Note his flat cap with Coast Guard band, the distinctive USCG shield on the sleeve of his winter jumper, classic 13-button trousers, 10-pocket M1910 belt with M1905 bayonet hanging from its side, and an M1903 rifle with stripper clip of .30-06 M2 ball at the ready. If you are curious, the photo even caught the rifle’s serial number (587211) which makes it a circa 1914 Springfield Armory-made weapon. (USCG Photo, NARA NAID: 205588663)

The former minister joined the Coast Guard as an apprentice seaman and went through the regular ‘boot’ training with thousands of other young men. He is shown carrying on his duties as an armed guard protecting fighting ships under construction at Manitowac, Wisconsin.

On Sundays, he has been helping out as a preacher in a Twin Rivers church, after answering a call to fill in for the regular minister who was unable to attend.

Coast Guardsman Benson said, “When the war is over, I hope to be back in the pulpit a better man for having had the adventure of trying to maintain my duty to both Church and State.”

While there is no date on the photo, the craft behind the good SN (Rev.) Benson is, judging from the number and the shape of the wheelhouse, likely the 38-foot “cabin cruiser” type picket boat CG 38387, or possibly CGR-387, a Coast Guard Reserve “Corsair Fleet” picket boat (formerly the 37-foot pleasure craft Contact, #22H158) taken into service in the 8th Coast Guard District in Feb 1942 and then disposed of in June 1946. As both vessels were active throughout WWII, that doesn’t narrow it down very much, but I’d lay odds on, judging from the uniform and equipment, the image was likely snapped in the winter months of 1942. 

Further, it doesn’t seem that Benson remained in the USCG for “the duration,” and he soon shipped off with the Navy as a chap since a 2013 obituary lists him as, “A retired United Methodist Church Minister and United States Navy Chaplain with the rank of Commander, serving on a ship in the Pacific Theatre during WWII, active duty during Korean conflict and the Vietnam era.”

As a side note, Manitowoc Shipbuilding built 36 LCT (5) landing ships and 28 Gato and Balao-class fleet submarines during the war, with 13 additional submarines canceled Post VJ Day.

Classic Maritime Imagery

If you don’t think this is beautiful, what are you even doing here?

Official caption: “The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf (WMSL 750) sails under the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge while returning to Coast Guard Base Alameda, Calif., following a 77-day counter-narcotics patrol in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, Dec. 3, 2022.”

(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew West)

Bertholf, one of four new and advanced frigate-sized Ingalls-built 418-foot Legend-class national security cutters homeported in Alameda capable of extended, worldwide deployment, performed multiple boardings of suspected drug-smuggling vessels while patrolling international waters off the coasts of Central and South America while coordinated by JIATF-S, which led to the detainment of multiple suspected drug smugglers and the interdiction of more than 1,050 pounds of cocaine.

The largest interdiction during the patrol was a joint effort between the Bertholf and the El Salvadorian Coast Guard. The crews worked together to interdict a 60-foot low-profile vessel (LPV), aka “narco sub.” 

A U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf (WMSL 750) boarding team approach a low-profile vessel after conducting law enforcement operations in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, Oct. 18, 2022. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Oliver Fernander).

A crew from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf (WMSL 750) inspect a low-profile vessel while conducting law enforcement operations in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, Oct. 18, 2022. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Oliver Fernander).

While underway, for the first time in two years, Bertholf’s crew conducted a fueling at sea (FAS) off the coast of San Diego with the U.S. Navy. She also supported fast-roping qualifications for the Coast Guard’s Maritime Security Response Team-West (MSRT-W) personnel, an elite counter-terrorism unit that does lots of cool guy stuff.

Many Hands Make Light Work

An important milestone occurred this weekend across 45 minutes on a humid and foggy Saturday morning for the Biloxi National Cemetery. The unit, which honors well over 17,000 of the nation’s veterans (going back to the war with Mexico) and their spouses, celebrated its 10th annual Christmas wreath drive.

Sadly, the number of wreaths grows each season. Total number of wreaths this year pushed the 25,000 mark

In an effort that costs the government or the VA nothing, a core of volunteers– heavy with youth groups such as Scouts and JROTC– covered the grounds with donated wreaths, making sure every gravesite had one.

Of course, the background work included local businesses donating funds for wreaths and new bows (replaced yearly) and further smaller teams of volunteers who worked all day Thursday unloading and Friday staging the wreaths/affixing new bows, but the work went cheerfully.

I am glad to have participated in this mission for the past several years with my family. 

I try to say a little piece and acknowledge the individual Veteran on each of the wreaths I install, in addition to taking it upon myself to cover the graves of those I knew personally.

A pole/broomstick/piece of PVC pipe (and a buddy to carry the other end) helps greatly.

Of course, the crowds of volunteers will be smaller on Jan. 7th when we go to pick them back up but, that’s part of the job!

If you have a national cemetery in your area that doesn’t do something similar, please think about starting such an effort.

If they already do, please join in the effort. Every pair of hands helps!

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