Tag Archives: Coast Guard

Dutch Harbor: Fast Forward 80 Years

Earlier this month, USCGC Kimball (WMSL-756), a shiny new 420-foot Legend-class National Security Cutter (named in honor of the organizer of the United States Life-Saving Service and the General Superintendent of the Life-Saving Service from 1878–1915), along with sistership Berthoff, kept a close eye on a four-ship Chinese Navy task force that came within 43 miles of the Alaskan coast. 

Last week, Kimball made another international connection along the shores of the 49th State when, in a less tense interaction, she steamed alongside JS Kashima (TV-3508), an officer training ship of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. A 4,050-ton vessel, the 469-foot Kashima is about the size of a frigate and is a good mirror to Kimball, armed with a single 76mm OTO and a set of ASW torpedo tubes.

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Kimball and the Japan Naval Training Vessel Kashima transit together during a maritime exercise near Dutch Harbor, Alaska, on Sept. 20, 2021. (USCG photo)

Via U.S. Coast Guard 17th District Alaska:

The Kimball crew and the JMSDF crew, aboard the Naval Training Vessel Kashima, operated alongside one another in the Aleutian Island chain to exchange visual communications, followed by honors, as their respective crews lined their ship’s rails for a uniform salute.

This display of maritime cooperation and mutual respect emphasizes both the United States’ and Japan’s continued commitment to one another and to partnership at sea.

“The Kimball crew welcomed the opportunity to meet the Kashima and conduct a professional exercise at sea,” said Capt. Thomas D’Arcy, the Kimball’s commanding officer. “Seeing the crews aboard the Kimball and the Kashima line the rails for the passing of honors illustrates the spirit of collaboration between the U.S. Coast Guard and Japan’s maritime forces. The exercise, movements and communications between our vessels were expertly executed and the salutes exchanged exemplify the strength of our relationship with Japan as a key partner.”

Over the past year, the U.S. and Japan have increasingly strengthened their relationship in the maritime domain through the shared mission set of the JMSDF and the U.S. Coast Guard. This includes search and rescue collaboration with the 14th Coast Guard District in Hawaii and the Japanese Coast Guard Training Ship Kajima, as well as exercises between the Japanese Coast Guard and the Coast Guard Cutters Kimball, Munro and Bertholf near the Ogasawara Islands and in the North Pacific, respectively.

The first joint exercise between the Kashima crew and a Coast Guard crew occurred in the Bering Sea last September in the form of a personnel exchange with the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley.

The Kashima is one of four training ships that belong to the JMSDF and is used to train new officers. About 110 newly-commissioned officers and more than 300 crewmembers are aboard the ship for its nearly two-month journey from Hiroshima to Alaska, up to the Arctic and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, then back to Japan.

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Kimball and the Japan Naval Training Vessel Kashima transit together during a maritime exercise near Dutch Harbor, Alaska, on Sept. 20, 2021. (USCG photo)

Of course, June 2022, only about nine months from now, will be the 80th anniversary of the Japanese push against Dutch Harbor as a sideshow to the Battle of Midway, which shows just how much things can change in that amount of time. In another irony, of course, sharp naval historians will recognize that a previous “Kashima” on the Japanese naval list was a Katori-class light cruiser of WWII fame that also spent some time steaming under U.S. escort. 

National Security Cutters Get Chance to Flex National Security Muscle

Via the U.S. Coast Guard 17th District Alaska (emphasis mine):

During a routine maritime patrol in the Bering Sea and Arctic region, U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf (WMSL-750), spotted and established radio contact with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) task force in international waters within the U.S. exclusive economic zone, Aug. 30, 2021. All interactions between the U.S. Coast Guard and PLAN were in accordance with international laws and norms. At no point did the PLAN task force enter U.S. territorial waters. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Ensign Bridget Boyle.

U.S. Coast Guard photo by Ensign Bridget Boyle.

The U.S. Coast Guard demonstrated its commitment to the Bering Sea and Arctic region with deployments of national security cutters Bertholf (WMSL-750), and Kimball (WMSL-756), and a U.S. Arctic patrol by icebreaker Healy.

“Security in the Bering Sea and the Arctic is homeland security,” said Vice Adm. Michael McAllister, commander Coast Guard Pacific Area. “The U.S. Coast Guard is continuously present in this important region to uphold American interests and protect U.S. economic prosperity.”

Crews interacted with local, national and international vessels throughout the Arctic. During the deployment, Bertholf and Kimball observed four ships from the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) operating as close as 46 miles off the Aleutian Island coast. While the ships were within the U.S. exclusive economic zone, they followed international laws and norms and at no point entered U.S. territorial waters.

The PLAN task force included a guided missile cruiser, a guided missile destroyer, a general intelligence vessel, and an auxiliary vessel. The Chinese vessels conducted military and surveillance operations during their deployment to the Bering Sea and North Pacific Ocean.

All interactions between the U.S. Coast Guard and PLAN were in accordance with international standards set forth in the Western Pacific Naval Symposium’s Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea and Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea.

While the PLAN doesn’t “officially” have any cruisers, the brand new Type 55 DDGs (NATO designation Renhai-class) are big ships, running to 13,000-tons, and having a 112-vell VLS launcher installed with missiles cued by a phased array radar. In other words, a bigger, newer version of a Tico. They are the largest and most advanced Chinese surface combatant. 

PLAN’s Nanchang (DDG-101) Type 55, from a Japanese MOD intel picture/press release earlier this year. Look at all those VLS cells…

Bertholf. At 4,500-tons and armed with a 57 mm gun, a 20mm Close-In Weapons System, four .50-caliber machine guns, two M240B 7.62mm GPMGs, and space for two helicopters, along with passive EW and SRBOC systems, it is about as heavily armed as current US Coast Guard cutters get. Of course, I’d like to see a few Harpoons/NSSMs, Mk 32 Torpedo tubes, and maybe a RAM missile system on her, but that’s just me.

Facing off against this, the pair of 4,500-ton Legend-class National Security cutters combined had two 57mm Bofors, two CIWS, and some mounted machine guns.

In all seriousness, such interactions, coupled with the use by the Navy of the same class of white hulls to cruise through the contested South China Sea on Freedom of Navigation Patrols, point to the USCG’s larger cutters at a minimum getting an armament upgrade to swap out CIWS for C-RAM and pick up a few Naval Strike Missiles to at least put them on-par with the admittedly under-armed littoral combat ships. 

If you act like a frigate, no matter the color of your hull, you better be able to back it up. 

September 2021, Royal Australian Navy fleet oiler HMAS Sirius (AO-266) conducts a dual replenishment at sea with the amphibious assault dock HMAS Canberra (LHD-2) and USCGC Munro (WMSL-755), during Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2021. (RAN Photo by LSIS Leo Baumgartner)

Manning the Oerlikon

Official caption: “Five steward’s mates stand at their battle stations, as a gun crew aboard a Coast Guard-manned frigate in the southwest Pacific.”

Note the gunner is missing his left shoe but doesn’t seem that affected by it, as there is a pile of 20mm brass in the gun tub. NARA 26-G-3797 https://catalog.archives.gov/id/513214

“On call to general quarters, these Coast Guardsmen man a 20mm AA gun. They are, left to right, James L. Wesley, standing with a clip of shells; L. S. Haywood, firing; William Watson, reporting to bridge by phone from his gun captain’s post; William Morton, loading a full clip, assisted by Odis Lane, facing camera across gun barrel.”

Besides their own vessels, the Coast Guard manned a myriad of ships on the Navy List to include LSTs, LCIs, and transports. Notably, of the 96 Tacoma-class patrol frigates built during the war, the USCG ran 75 (the balance had gone as Lend-Lease to Russia and Britain). Of those 75, most were detailed to convoy duty in the Atlantic but 18 that were built on the West Coast were dispatched in a squadron to the Pacific where they gave a good account of themselves in ASW patrols, landing Rangers and Marines on isolated atolls, and providing NGFS for invasion forces throughout the Philippine littoral.

Action at Sea!

This image has it all, and you can almost smell the saltwater and burnt propellant. Note the assorted seagoing tattoos, Dixie cup hats, total lack of eye and ear pro, and the assistant gunner with his burning stogie.

USCG Photo 26-G-508. National Archives Identifier: 205572937

Original caption: On the target are these alert, fighting Coast Guardsmen aboard a Coast Guard ‘Sub-Buster’ somewhere on the Atlantic. Discharged shells fall to the deck from their spitting gun.

From the looks of that bronze one-piece deckhouse and the water-cooled .50 cal, the vessel in question is one of the early 83 footer “Jeep of the Deep” patrol boats used by the Coast Guard in WWII.

Warship Wednesday, August 4, 2021: The Grand Old Lady of the North

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, August 4, 2021: The Grand Old Lady of the North

USCG Photo, National Archives & Record # 26-G-5608

As today is the 231st birthday of the founding of what today is known as the U.S. Coast Guard, you knew this was coming! Here we see the floating football that is the Wind-class Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind (WAG/WAGB-282) mustering up all available power from her six engines to penetrate a pressure ridge in the Bearing Sea during the winter season, July 1953. Note her twin 5″/38 mount forward and her Hedgehog ASW system at the platform under the bridge. Pretty stout armament for an iceboat, but we’ll get into that.

How the “Winds” came to blow

When World War II started, the U.S. Navy was up to the proverbial frozen creek as far as icebreaking went. While some foreign powers (the Soviets) really liked the specialized ships, Uncle Sam did not share the same opinion. However, this soon changed in 1941 when the U.S., even before Pearl Harbor, accepted Greenland and Iceland to their list of protected areas. Now, tasked with having to keep the Nazis out of the frozen extreme North Atlantic/Arctic and the Japanese out of the equally chilly North Pac/Arctic region (anyone heard of the Aleutians?), the Navy needed ice-capable ships yesterday.

The old (read= broken down) 6,000-ton British-built Soviet icebreaker Krassin was studied in Bremerton Washington by the Navy and Coast Guard. Although dating back to the Tsar, she was still at the time the most powerful icebreaker in the world. After looking at this ship and the Swedish icebreaker Ymer, the U.S. began work on the Wind-class, the first U.S. ships designed and built specifically as icebreakers.

Set up with an extremely thick (over an inch and a half) steel hull, these ships could endure repeated ramming against hard pack ice. Just in case the hull did break, there were 15-inches of cork behind it, followed by a second inner hull. Now that is serious business. These ships were so hardy that one, USCGC Westwind (WAGB 281), almost 30 years after she joined the fleet, was heavily damaged by ice in the Antarctic’s Weddell Sea. About 120 feet of the port-side hull was gashed when brash ice forced the ship against a 100-foot sheer ice shelf. The gash was two to three feet wide and was six feet above the waterline. The crew patched the side, there were no injuries, and the breaker returned home under her own power.

At over 6,000-tons, these ships were bulky for their short, 269-foot hulls. They were also bathtub-shaped, with a 63-foot beam. For those following along at home, that’s a 1:4 length to beam ratio. Power came from a half-dozen mammoth Fairbanks-Morse 10-cylinder diesel engines that both gave the ship a lot of power on demand, but also an almost unmatched 32,000-mile range (not a misprint, that is 32-thousand). For an idea of how much that is, a Wind-class icebreaker could sail at an economical 11-knots from New York to Antarctica, and back, on the same load of diesel…twice.

A photo of USCGC Eastwind, circa 1944. Note how beamy these ships were. The twin 5-inch mounts on such a short hull make her seem extremely well-armed. USCG Photo

To help them break the ice, the ship had a complicated system of water ballasting, capable of moving hundreds of tons of water from one side of the ship to the other in seconds, which could rock the vessel from side to side in addition to her thick hull and powerful engines. A bow-mounted propeller helped chew up loose ice and pull the ship along if needed.

With a war being on, they just weren’t about murdering ice, but being able to take the fight to polar-bound Axis ships and weather detachments as well. For this, they were given a pair of twin 5″/38 turrets, a dozen 40mm Bofors AAA guns, a half dozen 20mm Oerlikons, as well as depth charge racks and various projectors, plus the newfangled Hedgehog device to slay U-boats and His Imperial Japanese Majesty’s I-boats. Weight and space were also reserved for a catapult-launched and crane-recovered seaplane. Space for an extensive small arms locker, to equip landing parties engaged in searching remote frozen islands and fjords for radio stations and observation posts, rounded out the design.

Two of the class, Eastwind and Southwind, operated against teams of German scientists and military personnel who attempted to establish weather stations in remote areas of Greenland late in the war.

As noted by the USCG Historian’s Office on this chapter of “The Weather War,”:

On 4 October 1944 Eastwind captured a German weather station on Little Koldewey Island and 12 German personnel. On 15 October 1944 Eastwind captured the German trawler Externsteine and took 17 prisoners. The trawler was renamed East Breeze and a prize crew sailed her to Boston.

Our Wind

Northwind was ordered from Western Pipe & Steel Co., Los Angeles, (Builder’s Number CG-184) for $9,880,037 and her keel was laid 10 July 1944, the same week the Allies were fighting for Saint-Lo in France and Saipan in the Pacific. Impressively, she was finished in 54 weeks, commissioning 28 July 1945, just a fortnight before the Japanese threw in the towel. As such, her war service was negligible.

However, she was soon on the cutting edge of modern polar operations. Stationed in Boston, she landed her aft 5-inch mount to clear her decks for a large helicopter platform to accommodate a primitive HNS helicopter of the type the  Coast Guard had pioneered the use of in 1944-45.

Original caption: Preparing for Arctic Cruise, 1946. Especially rigged and outfitted for its arctic cruise, the Coast Guard Icebreaker Northwind, is shown in New York Harbor before she sailed last spring. The helicopter, which is proving valuable in the work in hand, needs only a small “platform” on which to take off or land and both operations can be carried on while the vessel is steaming at full speed. NARA 26-G-4936

Shown here just before leaving to participate in the Navy expedition to the North Pole, the Coast Guard Cutter Northwind lies at anchor in New York’s harbor, June 26, 1946. Note the NYC skyline to include the Empire State Building. NARA 26-G-4937

Then came a deployment in the form of Operation Nanook, under the command of Captain Richard Cruzen. The destination: Greenland and the Canadian Arctic, where Northwind would field the first helicopter seen in that part of the world.

As detailed by the Coast Guard Aviation Association

The task force was made up of two Navy AK transports modified for sub-zero operations, fully equipped to construct the stations. In addition, the Seaplane tender USS Norton Sound, with two PBM seaplanes, was part of the Taskforce as was the submarine Atule which conducted tests and carried out operations under the ice in Baffin Bay and to the north. The wooden-hulled net tender Whitewood was used as a survey ship. The Coast Guard ice breaker Northwind joined the group north of the arctic circle providing escort and navigation through the ice fields. The Northwind had on board an HNS helicopter piloted by Coast Guard Aviation Pilot 1/c John Olsen. This was a precursor of things to come in polar operations.

Sikorsky HNS-1 helicopter, CGNR 39047, lifts off from the deck of USCGC Northwind on 1 September 1946, during Operation Nanook. Note insignia of what appears to be an Eskimo girl seated astride a polar bear, with the words “Arctic Annie.” Photograph by Photographer’s Mate Second Class P.R. Zimmerman, USN. 80-G-636441

Inset of the Sikorsky’s insignia.

In November 1946, Capt. Charles Ward Thomas, the famed skipper of her sistership USCGC Eastwind during the Weather War with the Germans, assumed command of Northwind. During the Thomas years, Northwind would participate in Operation High Jump, the fourth Byrd expedition to the Antarctic, and subject of the Academy Award-winning motion picture, “The Secret Land.”

Highjump and the follow-on Windmill operation in 1947-48 to this day were the largest naval task forces to operate in Antarctica, consisting of 13 ships including an aircraft carrier and 33 aircraft. Many crackpot legends hold it was to scout out possible secret Nazi bases in the region where Hitler, who was still thought missing at the time, may have escaped to via U-boat.

Northwind spearhead of the expedition, clearing the way through the Ross Sea ice pack for Navy cargo ships. For the mission, she carried both a Grumman J2F Duck floatplane and a whirlybird.

Original caption: Coast Guard ‘Copter Scouts for Leads. From the deck of the Coast Guard Icebreaker Northwind, the ship’s helicopter takes off, to look for the “leads” in the ice packs, into which the super ice crusher can smash her way, opening a passage for the thin-hulled vessels of the Byrd Antarctic Expedition. Here the Northwind is followed by the Merrick, Yancey, and the Mt. Olympus. The ‘copter proved of special value, being able to hover and study ice conditions for the benefit of the Northwind’s skipper.” 1/1/1947 NARA 26-G-5024

Sikorsky HNS-1 helicopter, CGNR 39043, landing on the deck of USS Northwind (WAG-282) on 2 January 1947. 80-G-612006

It was during Highjump that Northwind successfully completed the first major rescue mission involving a submarine, freeing USS Sennet (SS-408) along with the supply ships Yance and Merrick, who were stuck in a thick ice flow in the Antarctic Circle.

7 January 1947- Operation Highjump, Coast Guard icebreaker NORTHWIND completed the first rescue mission involving a submarine. USS Sennet (SS-408) supply ships Yance and Merrick

Original caption: “The Northwind Hits It! The Antarctic. The World of Ice. With her diesel-electric motors, with power ranging up to 10,000, going full blast, the Coast Guard’s icebreaker Northwind charges the ice pack at top speed. Following the terrific crash, the Northwind rides half a ship’s length up onto the ice before she is stopped. She backs away and charges again and again until the area is broken up and ready for the thin-hulled vessels which follow her. This arduous duty of the Northwind was a day after day routine, as her part of the work of the Byrd Expedition to the Antarctic. This photo was taken from the Northwind’s helicopter, which proved so valuable in scouting out loads in the ice, far in advance of the ships.” 1/5/1947. Note the J2F Duck on her deck. NARA 26-G-03-18-47(7)

On 15 January 1947, Northwind’s chopper made the first helicopter flight to the base “Little America” in Antarctica. The pilot was LT James A. Cornish, USCG and he carried Chief Photographer’s Mate Everett Mashburn as his observer.

Icebreaker USS Northwind (AGB-5) cuts across the bow of USS Mount Olympus (AGC-8) to clear a path for her, through pack ice off the Ross Sea, Antarctica 1947-02-28 L45-209.06.01.

Original caption: Cargo being transferred from the USS Philippine Sea to the Coast Guard Ice-Breaking Cutter Northwind, on Operation Highjump, the Navy’s venture of exploration to the Antarctic. The Coast Guard Ice-Breaker has the task of opening lanes through heavy ice when other vessels with thinner plating could not force their way through. NARA 26-G-5062

Stationed in Seattle from 1947 to 1973, she fell into a cycle of polar ice operations, alternating trips from the Arctic to the Antarctic. In 1948, with the Northwind, Captain Thomas re-established the annual Bering Sea Patrol, which had been discontinued during the war, conducting the first such patrol in eight years, and compiled an oceanographic report of the waters navigated in the Bering Sea and the Arctic Ocean.

Northwind’s crew, by nature of the cutter’s work, saw some amazing things.

Original caption: “The Antarctic. The World of Ice. Desert of Death. Seldom indeed has the eye of man looked at this bleak desert of ice. This is a tiny portion of the limitless icepack that stands guard around the Antarctic continent. The Coast Guard’s icebreaker Northwind smashes its way into the virgin ice, making a passage for the thin-hulled vessels which made up the central group of the Byrd Expedition to the Antarctic.” 1/11/1947. NARA 26-G-03-18-47(11)

Original caption: “Bering Sea Patrol, its scenery on the grand scale for the Northwind as she roses into an Alaskan fjord. Views rivaling the ethereal beauty of the Alps, are typical of the stale and abound fringed coasts of Alaska.” 11/14/1948 NARA 26-G-5300

Original caption: The Artist is Mother Nature – On a refueling mission in Alaskan waters, the U.S. Coast Guard Icebreaker Northwind (WAGB-282) passes snow-capped Mt. Shishaldin in this picturesque scene, taken on the Bering Sea side of the Aleutian Islands. Mt. Shishaldin is one of 80 active volcanoes in the Aleutians. 11/26/1950 NARA 26-G-5477

Her Cold War career (see what I did there) consisted largely of a series of Operation Deep Freeze resupply missions to the Antarctic, alternating with Bering Sea patrols with the latter including missions to install and support the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line.

Original caption: Postman Artic Style. Swooping down over the ice, a Coast Guard PBY from the Air Detachment at Kodiak, Alaska, makes an aerial pick-up of the Northwind’s mail. Note the plane’s tailhook, poised to snatch the line. The postman had to ring only once. On the first attempt, he hooked the line from which the mailbag was suspended. Members of the Northwind’s crew crouch on the ice as they steady the vertical poles which hold the line. 7/12/1953. NARA 26-G-5613

Northwind and USS Glacier (AGB-4), the Navy’s last icebreaker, working ice during the winter 1953 Bearing Sea Expedition. Original caption: “In this solid field of ice in the Bering Sea, the two icebreakers try a tandem method of breaking ice. Ramming, backing, and ramming again, the vessels try forcing their wayside by side in a parallel line.” NARA 26-G-5609

McClure Strait and CGC Northwind. 13 August 1954 – The USCGC Northwind breaks the west-to-east entrance to previously impassable McClure Strait, the ice-locked western entrance to the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic. Pushing along the southern edge of the Strait, the icebreaker heads toward Mercy Bay, about halfway to Banks Island. The U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind, commanded by Captain William L. Maloney, USCG, made the first passage through McClure Strait from west to east between August 13 – 21, 1954. The Navy icebreaker USS Burton Island, commanded by Comdr. Everett Trickey, USN, executed the first passage through the Strait from east to west between August 11 – 16. Both ships accomplished the historical fete while conducting oceanographic and hydrographic surveys in the Beaufort Sea and McClure Strait areas on a Joint U.S. – Canadian Expedition participated in by scientists from both countries. The U.S. ships were the first to push through McClure Strait, connecting the Arctic Ocean and Viscount Melville Sound. McClure Strait was the only link left unconquered by explorers who for more than 450 years sought the famed Northwest Passage route between the Atlantic and the Pacific. The ships left San Diego on July 12 and returned to Seattle on September 29, 1954. NARA 26-G-5676

The 269-foot cutter also performed standard Alaska patrol tasks, such as holding “floating courts” that roamed from port to port and providing a modicum of military presence in far-away towns as needed.

Original caption: “This is the main street of the far northern little frontier-like town of Nome, Alaska, on the 4th of July 1955. Natives and Servicemen watch a parade that shows a group of sailors from the Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind marching. The icebreaker was at Nome from July 1 to 6, en route to the Arctic with a Navy Pacific Task Force on last summer’s Military Sea Transportation Service’s sealift operations for the “Dew Line” (Distance Early Warning) radar stations. Leaving Seattle July 16 this year for the summer “Dew Line” operations, the Northwind’s crew will not be at Nome to participate in holiday celebrations.” NARA 26-G-5732

USCGC Northwind in Antarctic waters, 16 December 1956. K-21429.

USCGC Northwind and USS Glacier (AGB-4) in Antarctic waters, 26 December 1956. K-21428.

Crew members from U.S. Coast Guard Icebreaker Northwind (WAGB-282) hold the first pistol tournament ever held in the Antarctic (January 10, 1957). Chilled thumbs pulled the triggers at targets lined up at McMurdo Sound. During the tournament, a light breeze blew down some of the targets. USNS Private John R. Towle (T-AK-240), a U.S. Navy cargo ship, lies to the back. Operation Deep Freeze was from December 1956 to April 1957. Official U.S. Coast Guard Photograph.

Original caption: “A closeup view from the stern of the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind shows all four sections and the weatherproof door of her new telescopic helicopter hanger. The aluminum hanger is 67 ft. long, 23 ft. wide, and 21 ft. high. These measurements are gauged with the size of the Coast Guard’s largest helicopter in use – the gas turbine HH-52A “flying boat” helicopter. The icebreaker Northwind which is based in Seattle and works in the frigid Arctic region most of her time is the first American ship to carry this type of hangar. It was previously developed and used by the Canadian Ministry of Transport, however, here, the Northwind is carrying the hangar on an extended mission into the Bering Sea and the Arctic where it will undergo initial cold weather experiments.” 6/17/1963. NARA 26-G-6034

Original caption: “A starboard broadside view of the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind shows her newly installed telescopic helicopter hanger in the closed extended position. The icebreaker is seen here en-route to the Bering Sea and the Arctic on an extended mission which will keep her away from her homeport in Seattle for a few months. During that time the hanger will receive initial experience in colder weather operations.” 6/17/1963 NARA 26-G-6033 

In 1965, Northwind pulled another “first.” That July, she conducted an oceanographic survey between Greenland, Iceland, and Scotland and was the first Western vessel to operate in the Kara Sea off the Soviet Union.

Between 1966 and 1989, Northwind hosted a series of Icebreaker Support Section (IBSEC) deployments, each consisting of a pair of Sikorsky HH-52A Seaguards, which picked up a red (officially orange) paint scheme.

USCGC Northwind (WAGB-282) in the ice, circa 1967. Note her retracted hangar with an HH-52 tail poking out. The second Sea Guardian is likey the aircraft taking the photo. Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson, 1977. NH 85275.

USCGC Northwind (WAGB-282) nighttime photo, in the ice, circa 1967. Note her extended hangar. Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson. NH 85274.

Between 9 June and 22 September 1969, Northwind transited 14,000 miles from the Bering Sea through the Northwest Passage then made it back to Seattle via the same route, the first vessel to conduct both a West-to-East and East-to-West transit of the Northwest Passage in a single season.

From 1973 to 1975 Northwind underwent extensive machinery modernization and electronic modification at the Coast Guard Yard at Curtis Bay, Maryland, which included landing the rest of her WWII-era heavy armament (she still had a small arms locker and four stowed .50 cal M2s) and picking up the familiar red-hull seen on today’s American icebreakers.

USCGC Northwind breaking ice at Winter Quarters Bay January 1977 via Antarctica New Zealand.

From 1978 to 1989, Northwind was stationed at Wilmington, North Carolina, and used for general ice-breaking, including in the Great Lakes, which her lack of fixed gun mounts kept her under Canadian treaty restrictions. Rather than Bering Sea cruises, she alternated Deep Freeze trips with Arctic East cruises, sailing in Baffin Bay and supporting Thule AFB in Greenland with side trips to Iceland and Norway.

Operation Deep Freeze 80. Antarctica. From left to right, the icebreakers USCGC Glacier (WAGB 4), Northwind (WAGB 282), and Polar Sea (WAGB 11) moored in the ice below Mount Erebus. Photographed by PH2 Jeff Hilton. January 5, 1980. 428-GX-K-129186.

Northwind, 1982, Inglefield Bredning, Greenland Tracy Glacier in the background

Clocking in on the war on drugs at a time when the service was hull poor, on 4 November 1984 Northwind seized the P/C Alexi I off Jamaica for carrying 20 tons of marijuana, becoming the first icebreaker to make a large narcotics seizure.

USCGC Northwind in Baffin Bay on 10 July 1986. USCG Photo.

It was during her 1986 cruise that Northwind assisted in a joint Denmark-U.S. relocation operation, shuttling arctic musk ox around Greenland via her Sea Guards, likely another first.

Seamen move a crated musk ox into position aboard the US Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind (WAGB 282) during a joint Denmark-US relocation operation, 7/10/1986. Note her WWII-era wooden decks and the sex orientation markings on the crates. TSgt Jose Hernandez. DFST8708199

An HH-52A Sea Guard helicopter from the US Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind (WAGB 282) airlifts a crated musk ox to its new habitat during a joint Denmark-US relocation operation, 7/10/1986. TSgt Jose Hernandez. DFST8708196

Northwind outlived her seven sisters. Weather War vets Eastwind and Southwind/Atka, along with the former Navy-owned Staten Island, Burton Island, and Edisto were all scrapped in the 1970s. In the Frozen North, the Canadian Coast Guard’s CCGS Labrador lingered until 1987. Only USCGC Westwind (WAGB-281), who had served the Soviets for six years under Lend-Lease as Severni Polius (North pole), endured, surviving another decade on the salvaged parts of her sisters.

Northwind, “The Grand Old Lady of the North,” was decommissioned on 20 January 1989, just shy of 44 years with the service and 11 months after Westwind was taken out of service. She had no less than 27 skippers and never saw a period of mothballs until she was shipped off in 1990.

After a decade floating in the James River, ex-Northwind was scrapped at International Shipbreakers, Port of Brownsville, Texas in 1999.

Epilogue

Like Northwind, the other members of her class pulled down several “firsts.” For instance, USCGC Eastwind (WAGB-279) was the first Coast Guard cutter of any type to circumnavigate the globe after departing Boston on 25 October 1960 bound for Antarctica and arriving back in Boston 5 May 1961. This was followed up by a similar Antarctic summer cruise by her sistership, USCGC Southwind (WAGB-280) [ex-USS Atka (AGB-3)] in 1968-1969.

While all eight Winds have long been scrapped, their unarmed half-sister, USCGC Mackinaw, which broke ice on the Great Lakes for six decades, is a floating museum in Michigan, and her grandfather, the old now 98-year old Krassin, is preserved at Saint Petersburg.

A bell from Cutter Northwind, perhaps from our icebreaker, is on display behind the Highland County Historical Society building in Hillsboro, Ohio, a town that made such bells for the Navy and Coast Guard.

The bulkhead on Northwind where various IBSEC avdets chronicled their cruises among the icebergs from 1966 to 1989 was removed after the cutter was decommissioned and restored by ATC Mobile personnel (where the IBSEC was stationed) in 1991. The bulkhead art is on display at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola. 

There is also a public FB group on the ship. 

She is remembered in maritime art in the USCG’s collection. 
 

“Northwind” by David Rosenthal. The icebreaker Northwind breaks a pressure ridge in the permanent polar ice pack on its last mission before decommissioning. The mission was to break a path through the ice for the research vessel “PolarBjorn” as far north as possible.

“Arctic Cutter” by Ellen Leelike. The Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind is shown at work doing its specialty.

With the Coast Guard building a new class of Polar Security Cutters, basically modernized and better-armed icebreakers, it would be nice if they brought the old “Wind” names back. 

Specs:

Winds, 1946 Jane’s entry

Winds, 1973 Jane’s entry

Displacement: 6,515 tons (1945)
Length: 269 ft oa
Beam: 63 ft 6 in
Draft: 25 ft 9 in max
Installed power (1945): 6 × Fairbanks-Morse model 8-1/8OP, 10-cylinder opposed-piston engines at 2,000 shp (1,500 kW), each driving a Westinghouse DC electric generator.
Propulsion: (1945) 2 × Westinghouse Electric DC electric motors driving the 2 aft propellers, 1 × 3,000 shp (2,200 kW) Westinghouse DC electric motor driving the detachable and seldom-used bow propeller.
Propulsion (1973): Four 3,000 horsepower DeLaval diesel engines, two GE electric motors
Speed: Top speed: 13.4 knots (1967)
Economic speed: 11.6 knots
Range: 32,485 nautical miles
Complement:
21 officers, 295 men (1944)
13 officers, 2 warrants, 160 men (Post-1967 USCG service)
14 officers, 137 crew + room for 12 scientists and 14 AvDet personnel (Post 1975)
Sensors and processing systems:
Radar:
SA-2, SL-1 (1944, removed 1949)
SPS-10B; SPS-53A; SPS-6C (1967)
Sonar: QCJ-8 (1944-45)
Armament:

(1946)
4 × 5″/38 (twin mounts)
12 × 40mm/60 (3 quad mounts)
6 × 20mm/80 (single mounts)
2 × depth charge tracks
6 × “K” guns
1 Hedgehog
M2 Browning machine guns and small arms (1944)
Aircraft carried: 1 Grumman J2F Seaplane, later two helicopters in telescoping hangar

(1967)
1 x5″/38 single mount
20mm Mk 16 cannons (singles)

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Eagle Among the Volcanos

USCGC Eagle (WIX 327), “America’s Tall Ship,” arrives in Reykjavik, Iceland, on June 9, 2021. Eagle is currently conducting summer U.S. Coast Guard Academy cadet training in at-sea leadership and professional development. Their first port call was Portugal in late May. Eagle has served as a classroom at sea to future Coast Guard officers since 1946, offering an at-sea leadership and professional development experience as part of the Coast Guard Academy curriculum. (Photo courtesy U.S. Embassy Reykjavik, Kristjan Petersson)

The Gorch Fock-class training barque USCGC Eagle (WIX-327), America’s only active-duty square-rigger (and past Warship Wednesday alum), recently commemorated the loss of the USCGC Hamilton in Icelandic waters during WWII, just before she arrived in Reykjavik to celebrate U.S.-Icelandic ties.

Via USCG PAO:

Aboard Eagle moored in the harbor, Vice Adm. Steven Poulin, commander U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area, joined by Jonathan Moore, principal deputy assistant secretary, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, met with Commadore Asgrimur Asgrimsson of the Icelandic coast guard, Chargé d’Affaires Harry Kamian, and Byrndis Kjartansdottir, director of security and defense directorate in the Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“I congratulate Iceland on a successful Arctic Council and Arctic Coast Guard Forum chairmanship, and I thank them for their persistent and reliable partnership in the Arctic Council and Arctic Coast Guard Forum. Maintaining a strong, rules-based order in the Arctic remains a top priority, both for my command and the U.S. Coast Guard. Steadfast partners like Iceland enable and enforce this,” said Vice Adm. Steven Poulin. “It was a great pleasure to discuss the challenges we share with such dedicated colleagues learning more about our partner agencies and their operations.”

The United States was the first country to recognize Iceland’s independence in 1944. In addition to being founding members of NATO, the United States and Iceland signed a bilateral defense agreement in 1951. Cooperation and mutual support are the foundation of the U.S.-Icelandic relationship. Visits such as Eagle’s allow opportunities to further effective partnerships, collaboration, and interoperability for various issues that can occur in the Arctic.
For more than a century, the U.S. Coast Guard has been the visible U.S. surface presence in the Arctic, ensuring adherence to the rules-based order. We work with High North nations to safeguard and enable the uninterrupted flow of maritime commerce throughout the entire Marine Transportation System, including the burgeoning Arctic and ensure responsible stewardship of its resources. Allies and partners like Iceland are integral to protecting the United States’ enduring interests, preserving our mutual interests, and upholding the rules-based international order supporting good maritime governance.

On approach to Iceland, Eagle’s crew conducted a wreath-laying in memory of the Treasury-class USCGC Hamilton (WPG 34), torpedoed by German submarine U-132 on January 30, 1942, patrolling the Icelandic coast near Reykjavík. Hamilton capsized and sank 28 miles (45 km) from the Icelandic coast on January 30, at the cost of 26 of the ship’s 221-person crew. In 2009, divers discovered the wreck in over 300 feet of water, and in 2013, a memorial plaque was placed in honor of those lost.

On approach to Iceland on June 6, 2021, the USCGC Eagle (WIX 3287) crew conducted a wreath-laying in memory of the Treasury-class USCGC Hamilton (WPG 34), torpedoed by German submarine U-132 in 1942 while patrolling the Icelandic coast near Reykjavík. Of the 221 person crew, 26 members were lost. (U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy Ensign Elena Calese)

Eagle is currently conducting summer U.S. Coast Guard Academy cadet training in at-sea leadership and professional development. Their first port call was Portugal in late May. Eagle has served as a classroom at sea to future Coast Guard officers since 1946, offering an at-sea leadership and professional development experience as part of the Coast Guard Academy curriculum.

Eagle is a three-masted barque with more than 6,797 square meters (22,300 square feet) of sail and 9.7 kilometers (6 miles) of rigging. At 90 meters (295 feet) in length, Eagle is the largest tall ship flying the stars and stripes and the only active square-rigger in United States government service.

Bollinger Looks to Get a Slice of that Sweet, Sweet OPC Pie

With as many as 25 of the Coast Guard’s 4,500-ton/360-foot new Heritage-class Offshore Patrol Cutter/Maritime Security Cutter, Medium set to be built (don’t be surprised if the number of hulls increases) a big name in the USCG build game is trying to get in on the action.

New Orleans-based Bollinger and the Coasties go way back, delivering 170 vessels in the last three decades, all of which have had a long and (mostly) successful history. This includes the 110-foot Island-class (49 delivered), the 87-foot Marine Protector class (77 delivered), and now the 158-foot Sentinel-class (44 of 64 delivered to date). The yard also built the Navy’s Cyclone-class patrol ships (14 delivered) in the 1990s and is building the 5,100-ton/263-foot Navajo-class rescue and salvage ships (7 building) as well.

Now, the yard wants to step up to the larger cutters and has submitted a package to get in on the second flight of 11 OPCs, vying against Eastern Shipbuilding in Panama City, a largely commercial tug/supply boat company, that is building at least the first two of the initial flight of 11. The ships are projected for a rapid build-out with the Coast Guard expecting the first 22 by the early-to-mid 2030s, which sounds far away but really isn’t.

They will be replacing the 30-to-50-year-old 1,300-ton, 210-foot Reliance-class and 1,800-ton, 270-foot Famous-class medium-endurance cutters, which, along with the circa 1967 former Navy Edenton-class rescue ship which has been serving as USCGC Alex Haley (WMEC-39), amount to some 30 hulls.

“Bollinger is the right shipyard at the right time to build the Offshore Patrol Cutter program for the U.S. Coast Guard,” said Ben Bordelon, Bollinger President and CEO. “Our long history building for the Coast Guard is unparalleled and has shown time and time again that Bollinger can successfully deliver the highest quality vessels on an aggressive production schedule.”

Bollinger was a contender in every step of the U.S. Coast Guard’s OPC acquisition process, including the execution of the Stage 1 Preliminary and Contract Design, where the company was included in the final three shipyards, as well as execution of the OPC Stage 2 Industry Study.

The OPCs are essentially a scaled-down light frigate, with lots of commonality sensor and weapon-wise with the Navy’s LCS and planned new Constellation-class FFGs, as well as the Coast Guard’s larger National Security program cutters.

This includes the BAE Mk110 (Bofors’ 57Mk3, which uses an interesting Mk295 3P fuzed ammo), an SPS-77 (Saab Sea Giraffe) 3D radar with gun cueing so that the 57mm can be used for AAA/anti-missile defense, a stabilized Mk 38 25mm gun (that can be upgraded to a 30mm or 50mm barrel on the same mount), two stabilized .50 cals and four good old M2s. Northrop Grumman was just named the systems integrator for C5ISR and control systems. They can interface with the fleet via Link 22 and have IFF/TACAN systems.

There is also weight and space available for anti-ship missiles and a CIWS and they can carry an HH-60-sized helicopter which means, in a pinch, they can support an Oceanhawk/Seahawk and a UAV at the same time due to a large hangar. 

The Sea Giraffe AMB has proved successful on the Independence-class LCS (the variant that seems to be having fewer issues) as well as the Swedish Visby class corvettes, Canadian Halifax-class frigates, Singapore’s Victory-class corvettes et. al. while the Bofors gun is used both far and wide overseas and the Navy is looking to up the lethality of that program as well since they are installing it on the Constellations.

Pascagoula, Miss. (Feb. 11, 2008)- The MK 110 57mm gun was fired off the bow of the Coast Guard’s first National Security Cutter, Bertholf, on Feb. 11 during sea trials (Northrop Grumman photo)

The 57mm’s 13-pound 3P Mk 295 Mod 0 cartridge projectile section delivers over 8,000 pre-formed tungsten fragments in reaction to 420 grams of PBX-explosive. It has a range of “at least” nine nm. (BAE)

The OPC also has lots of soft kills such as a newer version of the Slick 32, Nulka, and other countermeasures.

The program should prove interesting and could contrast well against the LCS debacle.

News of Cutters Past and Present

Lots of interesting Coast Guard news lately.

The frigate-sized National Security Cutter USCGC Hamilton (WMSL 753), with an embarked MH-65 Dolphin helicopter, has been on a European cruise in the U.S. Sixth Fleet area of operations to include a stint in the Black Sea, the first time a cutter has been in that ancient body of water since USCGC Dallas (WMEC 716) visited in 2008. Hamilton has been working closely with U.S. allies who share the littoral with Russia and Ukraine to include the Turks and Georgians.

Hamilton and an unidentified marine mammal, who probably wasn’t sent by the Russian Navy. Probably. (Photo: Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia)

BLACK SEA (April 30, 2021) U.S. Coast Guard members conduct boat and flight procedures on the USCGC Hamilton (WMSL 753) with Turkish naval members aboard the TCG Turgutreis (F 241) in the Black Sea, April 30, 2021

210502-G-G0108-1335 BLACK SEA (May 2, 2021) USCGC Hamilton (WMSL 753) and Georgian coast guard vessels Ochamchire (P 23) and Dioskuria (P 25) conduct underway maneuvers in the Black Sea, May 2, 2021. (U.S. Coast Guard courtesy photo)

Those with a sharp eye will note the Georgian boats are former U.S.-built 110-foot Island-class cutters, USCGC Staten Island (WPB-1345) and USCGC Jefferson Island (WPB-1340), respectively, which had been transferred in 2014 after they were retired from American service.

Notably, the Georgian Islands are carrying an M2 .50 cal forward rather than the MK 38 25mm chain gun which had been mounted there in Coast Guard service.

Adak Update

Speaking of Island-class cutters, the story of the USCGC Adak (WPB-1333), a veteran of the “American Dunkirk” of Sept. 11th and the past 18 years of tough duty in the Persian Gulf, has thickened. Slated to be sold to Indonesia later this summer as she completes her service, the USCGC Adak Historical Society, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that wants to bring her back from overseas and install her as a museum ship in Tampa Bay, where she would also help with a youth program.

So far, a few lawmakers have signed on to help, writing the Coast Guard and State Department, and VADM Aan Kurnia, the head of the Indonesia Maritime Security Agency, has gone on record saying he didn’t want the aging patrol boat.

We shall see.

Morris saved

In related news, the 125-foot “Buck and a Quarter” Active-class patrol craft/sub chaser USCGC Morris (WSC/WMEC-147), who saw service during Prohibition and WWII in her 43-year career with the Coast Guard, has been bopping around the West Coast in a series of uses since then the 1970s include as a training ship with the Sea Scouts and as a working museum ship in Sacramento.

USCGC Morris (WPC-147/WSC-147/WMEC-147) late in her career. Note her 40mm Bofors forward, which was fitted in 1942. (USCG photo)

We wrote how she was for sale on Craigslist for $90K in 2019, in decent shape.

Now, she has been saved, again.

The Vietnam War Flight Museum in Galveston, Texas, announced on Thursday that they have officially taken the title of the historic ship with an aim to continue her operations.

Warship Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021: The Jeep of The Deep

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021: The Jeep of The Deep

U.S. Navy Museum 26-G-4078

Here we see USCG-6, one of the hardy members of the skull-and-crossbones emblazoned Coast Guard “Match Box Fleet” that rode shotgun in the shallows off Normandy during the Neptune/Overlord landings in June 1944. Unlikely– and quite frankly very dangerous– vessels, these 83-foot patrol boats provided unsung service not only during WWII but for generations after.

The Coast Guard’s first modern 20th Century mid-sized offshore vessels, the massive 203-vessel 75-foot “six-bitter” patrol boats, were a child of the Prohibition-era crackdown on rumrunners and bootleggers. However, these cabin cruiser-style all-wooden boats were some of the slowest boats in the sea. Equipped with two 6-cylinder gasoline engines, they could make 15.7 knots– on a calm sea and with a light load.

A 75-foot Coast Guard boat, CG-242, at Boston in 1928, looking like it is wide open. Boston Public Library Leslie Jones Collection

By the 1930s and with the rapid expansion in the number of powerboats in consumers’ hands, the Coast Guard ordered 19 so-called “400 series” patrol boats with speed as a requirement. These craft, built by five different yards in four different types, were an important evolutionary step, not only for the USCG but also for the Navy, who about the same time was looking to get into the PT boat game. Shallow-draft wooden-hulled boats with streamlined cabins, they were packed with multiple high-octane engines below deck with the goal of breaking 20+ knots with ease.

CG 441, one of the two experimental “400 series” 72 footers built by the service in the 1930s. “New Coast Guard boat capable of 35 miles an hour. Washington, D.C., May 17, 1937. One of the fastest things afloat, the new U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat #441 was put thru its paces on the Potomac River today for the benefit of treasury officials. The cruiser, which is one of eight to placed in law enforcement and life-saving service of the Coast Guard, is powered with four 1,600 horsepower motors and is capable of doing 35 miles an hour.” This craft, built by Chance Marine Construction in Annapolis, would serve on the sea frontier in WWII and be sold in 1947 for scrap. Photo. LOC LC-DIG-hec-22721

By 1941, the Coast Guard had settled on a new design following lessons learned by the “400 series.”

The original 83 footer plan

Designed to use a pair of large, supped-up gasoline engines, the agency ordered 40 of these new 83-foot crafts on 19 March 1941 from Wheeler Shipyard in Brooklyn. Powered by two 600hp Hall Scott Defenders, it was expected they could make 20.6 knots at delivery. Armament was slight, just a manually loaded 1-pounder (37mm) gun forward, and a pair of .30-06 Lewis guns on the wheelhouse wings.

With a plywood interior separated by three bulkheads sandwiched between a Cedar/Oak hull and a wood deck, the crew spaces on an 83 were described by one former crewman as “a dog kennel almost big enough for 14 men.”

The first boats of the series, as it turned out, were very different from what the class would soon evolve to become. Designed to use a smooth prefabricated Everdur bronze wheelhouse, as wartime material crunches came to play just 135 hulls would have these, the rest making do with a flat and angular plywood affair. In a below-deck change, after the first five hulls, the powerplant changed to a pair of the Sterling Engine Company’s TCG-8 “Viking II” engine, a beast referred to by Engine Labs today as the “World’s Largest Inline Gasoline Engine.”

Via Engine Labs:

The TCG-8 was an inline-eight-cylinder, four-stroke engine, which consumed gasoline… and lots of it. An undersquare design, the engine featured an 8.00-inch bore and 9.00-inch stroke, for a total displacement of 3,619.1 cubic inches, or 59.3 liters, making it one of, if not the largest inline gasoline engine in the world.

The engine itself was relatively compact, at 12 feet, 2-9/16 inches long and only 44-9/16 inches wide, which allowed the two engines to fit comfortably side-by-side in the 83-footer’s hull. Housed in a gray-iron block, the crankshaft was a forged chromoly steel piece, with separately attached counterweights, which were affixed to the crankshaft via a dovetail and bolts. There were nine traditional babbit-style bearings, 4.00 inches in diameter, which measured 2.75 inches in width on eight journals, with the thrust bearing measuring a beefy 3.437 inches wide

The Sterling TCG-8 Viking.

Sterling was known among cabin cruiser builders in the 1930s and the Viking II was sold to power 60- and 70-footers of the day. The USCG’s 83 footers used two such engines, the same setup used in the 95-foot MV Passing Jack in the above ad.

Working on a Viking below the deck of an 83 in 1942. William Vandivert/LIFE

In all, 230 of these boats would be constructed for the Coast Guard and another 12 for overseas allies (19 units originally delivered to the USCG were also transferred). The initial 1941 contract was for $42,450 per hull, a cost that would rise to $62,534 by 1944 due to the increasing sensor and armament load.

By the end of the war, these boats were carrying depth charges aft, Mousetrap ASW projectors forward, and a 20mm Oerlikon as well as a SO-2 radar and QBE sonar when fully equipped. That’s a lot for an officer and a 13-man crew to take care of.

The  general wartime plan, extracted from U.S. Coast Guard Cutters & Crafts of World War II by Robert Scheina

All were numbered 83300 through 83529, with corresponding (and confusing) hull numbers CG 450 through CG 634, although boats after 83384 apparently did not get said overly complicated hull numbers.

A great shot of CG 83301 with a lifeboat astern. Note the four twin can depth charge racks. The second 83 completed in 1941, she spent four years as a harbor defense boat in NYC before shipping out for the 7th Fleet in June 1945. She was lost at Buckner Bay, Okinawa 9 October 1945 to a typhoon

Aboard an 83 in 1942 during a coastal convoy, photo by William Vandivert from the archives of Life Magazine. Note the riveted bronze wheelhouse and searchlights

This example has an M1917 water-cooled Browning forward. William Vandivert/LIFE

And two Lewis guns on the bridge wings. Note the smooth lines of the bronze superstructure. William Vandivert/LIFE

Note the older ratings and the loaded Lewis magazine. William Vandivert/LIFE

William Vandivert/LIFE

Note the two can gravity depth charge racks port and starboard. Two more racks were over the stern. William Vandivert/LIFE

Stern racks. William Vandivert/LIFE

William Vandivert/LIFE

Arming Mark VI depth charges. William Vandivert/LIFE

Note the Chief and the Navy blimp. William Vandivert/LIFE

William Vandivert/LIFE

Coast Guard 83 with her water-cooled 50 cal on full-wow. Note the lit cigar and assorted seagoing tattoos NARA 26-G-508USCG Photo 26-G-508. National Archives Identifier: 205572937

CGC 624 in pristine early war condition. Note the 20mm/80 on her quarterdeck and the depth charge racks off her stern. This craft would later become one of the Matchbox Fleet as USCG 14 and would go on to serve post-war as WPB-83373. Photo released on 29 October 1942, No. 105197F, by Morris Rosenfeld, New York (USCG photo)

Riding A “Jeep of The Deep”. These two SPAR cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, New London, Connecticut, take a lively interest in their trip aboard a “jeep of the deep”, an 83-foot Coast Guard patrol craft. The two future SPAR officers are Leila Leverett, left, and Helen D. Darland. U.S. Coast Guard Photograph. Of note, over 10,000 women volunteered for the SPARs during WWII, the Coast Guard’s version of the WAVES

“Due to their low silhouette and slight wake, these craft are often mistaken for submarines,” notes the Sept 1943 ONI 56 on the Coast Guard 83 foot cutters as sub busters. 

The most significant combat “kills” attributed to the 83s came from a Cuban-manned boat, Caza Submarino 13 (CS-13). One of 10 delivered to the Cubans at Miami, CS-13 splashed U-176, a Type IXC on 15 May 1943 in the Florida Straits north-east of Havana. 

CS13, the smallest U-boat killer.

Lifesavers

Deployed far and wide, the 83s in USCG service were often the first on the scene to pick up wrecked mariners after a U-boat slipped back under the sea, especially during 1942’s Operation Drumbeat offensive.

83305– Rescued 11 from the freighter City of New York.
83309– Pulled nine survivors of the schooner Cheerio from the water.
83310– Rescued 25 from the tanker C.O Stillman and another 50 from the tanker William Rockefeller.
83322– Rescued 14 from the freighter Santore.

In the lead-up to Overlord/Neptune, a group of 60 83s along with 840 Coasties were assembled on the eastern coast of England, under the suggestion of FDR himself. Dubbed Rescue Flotilla One under the command of LCDR Alexander V. Stewart, Jr., they would accompany the waves of LCIs and other landing craft into the beaches and, using their 5-foot draft, close in with sinking vessels to recover survivors and floaters.

To keep things easy, the craft were renumbered USCG 1 through USCG 60 and given a large white star on their wheelhouse for aerial recognition.

They landed most of their armament and trained in triage and lifesaving– ready to lower rescue swimmers over the side with a rope if need be.

A superb reference for the “Matchbox Fleet” at Normandy is the 1946 Coast Guard at War: The Landings in France which covers the operation of the flotilla across some 30 pages. Drawn from that is this page on the prep on these “Sea Going Saint Bernards”: 

US Coast Guard Cutter 16 at Poole, England in 1944. Notice USCG 10 to the left. CG 16, under LT (j.g.) R.V. McPhail, achieved the Flotilla’s rescue record, picking up 126 survivors and one cadaver on D-Day from three landing craft stricken within a half-mile of the beach, all handled in less than six hours. UA 555.03

Two U.S. Coast Guard 83-foot patrol boats operating off the Normandy beaches as rescue craft, in June 1944. They are USCG-20 (83401) and USCG-21 (83402). 26-G-3743

As noted by the Coast Guard Historian’s Office:

They earned the nickname “Matchbox Fleet” due to their wooden hulls and two Sterling-Viking gasoline engines — one incendiary shell hitting a cutter could easily turn it into a “fireball.”

They were assigned to each of the invasion areas, with 30 serving off the British and Canadian sectors and 30 serving off the American sectors. During Operation Neptune/Overlord these cutters and their crews carried out the Coast Guard’s time-honored task of saving lives, albeit under enemy fire on a shoreline thousands of miles from home. The cutters of Rescue Flotilla One saved more than 400 men on D-Day alone and by the time the unit was decommissioned in December 1944, they had saved 1,438 souls.

“Normandy Landings, June 1944. Coast Guard Invasion Rescue Flotilla Men on Alert. They wear the Death’s-Head emblem of skull and crossbones on their helmets, these Coast Guard invasion veterans, but theirs is an errand of mercy. Here, members of an 83-foot Coast Guard rescue cutter, part of the famous flotilla which rescued hundreds of men from the cold channel waters off France, keep alert while on patrol.” 26-G-2388

The 83-foot Coast Guard cutter USCG 1 (83300) off Omaha Beach on the morning of 6 June 1944, tied up to an LCT and the Samuel Chase. Escorting the first waves into Omaha her crew pulled 28 survivors from a sunken landing craft before 0700 on D-Day. 

Do not get it confused, the Coasties weren’t just there as sort of a seagoing ambulance service, untargeted by enemy bullets. They took fire of all sorts all day. McPhail’s CG 16 for instance “nosed in among the struggling groups of men floundering in diesel oil and debris. Although shells were splashing around it and mines were detonating, the cutter’s crew calmly went about the rescue work. With 90 casualties as its first load, the cutter sped to the Coast Guard transport Dickman.”

“Normandy Invasion, June 1944. Coast Guard Rescue Craft Shelled by Nazis. Twin spouts boil close off the stern of a U.S. Coast Guard invasion rescue craft in the English Channel as Nazi shore batteries pour shellfire into the mighty Allied liberation fleet.” 26-G-2374

The boats of the Matchbox Fleet remained offshore for days, dodging gunfire from marauding E-boat raids, magnesium flares dropped by German planes at night and bumping up against parachute mines.

“Normandy Invasion, June 1944. Towed back from Death. Torn by German shells, the landing barge was sinking. American soldiers aboard appeared lost as the little craft settled in the English Channel waters. Along came a Coast Guard Rescue Cutter poking boldly into the shoal waters. A line was cast and made fast.” 26-G-06-24-44(2)

“Sub Busters in Invasion Role. The U.S. Coast Guard’s famous 83 footers, sub-busters in the Battle of the Atlantic, and to their laurels as a rescue craft in the D-Day sweep across the English Channel to the French Coast. These swift, little, intrepid crafts are the Coast Guard boats that have been mentioned over and over again in radio and news dispatches for their gallant rescue role during the initial smash on France.”

Coast Guard 83-foot rescue boat CGC-16 unloading wounded troops off Normandy France June 6, 1944, to USS Joseph T. Dickman APA-13 0930 hrs morning of D-Day LIFE Archives Ralph Morse Photographer

Casualties are transferred from a U.S. Coast Guard 83-foot rescue boat to a larger ship, for evacuation from the combat zone, June 1944. Note the name Miss Fury on the boat’s superstructure as well as the large white star for aircraft recognition and the radar on the mast. 26-G-2346

USCG 20 was driven ashore in Normandy during the storm that destroyed the artificial Mulberry harbors in June 1944. She was later repaired and transferred to the Royal Navy.

There were many other USCG-manned and operated craft off Normandy for Overlord/Neptune. 

Many also performed yeoman service that day.

“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.”

Post-Overlord

In the days immediately after the landings, six 83 footers of the Matchbox Flotilla were detailed to operate a rush cross-channel courier service, making four crossings a day carrying mail and urgent Army dispatches to France every six hours. While the Army had originally planned to use planes for the task, it was found that the boats could get there more reliably, even if they had to maneuver around floating mines and unmarked wrecks in the process.

U.S. Navy motor torpedo boats (PT) and U.S. Coast Guard 83-foot patrol boats use the waterfront as a temporary base while operating out of Cherbourg, 30 August 1944. CG 5, with her depth charge racks refitted, is closest to the camera. The PT boat at left is PT-199, a 78-foot Higgins that famously carried ADM Harold R. Stark to Allied invasion beachhead at Normandy. Note the depth charges on the sterns of the USCG patrol boats in the foreground. 80-G-256074

The Pacific

Meanwhile, the 83s were involved in the push towards Tokyo as well. In January 1945, 30 boats were formed into USCG PTC Flotilla One and sent to Manicani Island in the Leyte Gulf, where the U.S. was busy rooting out Japanese holdouts in the quest to liberate the Philippines. Some eight miles west of Guiuan, Manicani would become a major destroyer repair base and a ship repair unit. Another 24 boats were dispatched late in the war to operate with the 7th Fleet at Okinawa, Saipan, Guam, Eniwetok, and elsewhere to serve as harbor defense vessels, on guard against Japanese suicide attacks and frogmen.

Speaking of which, one such vessel, USCGC 83525, was dispatched with Navy RADM M.R. Greer (COMMFLTAIRWING 18) from Tinian to remote Aguijan Island in the Northern Marianas on 4 September 1945 to accept the surrender of the tiny garrison from 2nd LT Kinichi Yamada of the Imperial Army. The Coastie was sent as a larger vessel could not negotiate the shallows of the island.

As detailed by one of the attendees of the event:

When Yamada climbed aboard from a landing craft, his greenish pallor matched the color of his faded uniform. He looked even smaller than he had at our first meeting, encumbered as he was with an outsized dispatch case. The confined deck space on the slender vessel posed a problem: where to place the surrender documents for the signing. Finally, the skipper of the Coast Guard boat suggested using the cover of a ventilator just behind the wheelhouse, and that was where the parties arrayed themselves, the Americans on one side and the three Japanese on the other. Nobody invited me to be part of the U.S. contingent, so I positioned myself directly behind Yamada.

Further, the 83s were influential to the war effort in a quiet way, as they were a big feature on period recruiting posters for the Coast Guard. Of course, less than 3,000 of the service’s 170,000 men at its wartime peak were assigned to these hardy boats at any given time, but you got to get the kids off the farm somehow.

USCG Combat Artist BMC Hunter Wood, a skilled maritime artist, spent some time among the 83s in the New York and New England area during the war and left a series of beautiful sketches of them at work. 

Protector of the Convoy! 83 Footer, CGC# 485, 6/7/1943, screens a freighter on a coastal convoy. By Coast Guard Artist Hunter Wood NARA

Ahoy, Old-Timer! Here’s My Spray, 5/14/1943. This image depicts artwork of A United States Coast Guard 83-footer zipping across the bow of the training ship Joseph Conrad as the craft meet offshore. Conrad spent the war training merchant marine cadets. Artwork by BMC Hunter Wood. NARA 205575840

Ash Cans Away! 83 Footer Attacking Sub. By Coast Guard Artist Hunter Wood. NARA 205575791

Raking the Raider! 83 Footer Attacking Sub, 6/17/1943. Hunter Wood. NARA 205575796

Post-war

Their wartime service was largely forgotten, the 83s earned no battlestars and unit citations. Those sent overseas were largely left there, either to rot or to be transferred to overseas allies. Several were lost during the war: 83301 and 83306 to a 1945 typhoon in Okinawa; 83415/CG 27 and 83471/CG 47 sank in a storm off Normandy two weeks after D-Day, their hulls were torn open on submerged wreckage, and 83421 was lost due to a midnight collision with a subchaser while on a blackout convoy. Others were soon disposed of in the inevitable postwar constriction of funds.

These wooden boats, after several years of hard work, were overloaded, stressed, and could typically by 1945 just plod along at about 12 knots, sustained. By 1946, around 100 remained in Coast Guard custody, with many of those laid up. The Navy picked up a handful for such miscellaneous use as range control boats, yard boats, and torpedo retrievers.

Some were upgraded with Cummings diesel engines and all-white peacetime schemes and continued in Coast Guard service through the 1950s. Notably, their armament in peacetime seems to have solidified with a single 20mm Oerlikon over the stern, four abbreviated two-can depth charge racks clustered around the gun, and two mousetraps forward although the latter feature was not always mounted.

CG 83464 in 1949. Delivered in July 1943 from Wheeler, she served out of Charleston before joining the D-Day fleet as CG 43. She was decommissioned in 1961 and sold.

CG 83499 at Biloxi’s annual blessing of the fleet. Note the canvassed 20mm on her stern under an awning. This boat spent WWII as a training ship at Coast Guard HQ and was disposed of in 1959.

CGC 83499 in Pascagoula, MS circa late 1950s

With the service gaining new and improved patrol boats of the Cape and Point classes, the days of the old 83s were fading. In the early 1960s, the remaining 44 hulls still holding on were liquidated, with many being disposed of by fire or scuttling post decommissioning. The last on the USCG’s rolls was CG 83506, disposed of by sinking on 22 March 1966. 

Vessels in overseas service remained around for a few more years. The type was used by Cuba (12), the Dominican Republic (3). Haiti (1) Venezuela (4), Colombia (2), Peru (6), and Mexico (3).

Notably, four transferred to Turkey in 1953 were noted in Janes as late as 1995, still with their mousetraps.

Survivors

Some remaining vessels were converted into yachts, or fishing boats, dive charter vessels, or workboats and ultimately faded into history.

Others had more pedestrian fates.

CGC 83499, the old ghost of the Mississippi Sound shown in the two above photos, was ashore as Pandoras steak house in Destin until 2005. 

Stripped 83s for sale in the Tacoma area in the 1960s, as-is, how-is, where-is

CG-83527, which served on anti-submarine duties in the Gulf of Mexico in WWII, ended her career in Tacoma, Washington in 1962. She was saved in 2003 and restored slowly and extensively over the course of a decade to roughly her 1950 appearance. Its operators have an extensive website with many resources on the class including a full set of plans.

Another of the class, 83366/D-Day CG 11, was purchased by a Seattle couple in terrible condition for $100 and they are in the process of returning her its 1944 arrangement.

Notably, CG 83366 still has her bronze pilothouse.

LT Linwood A. “Tick” Thumm, one of the last of the wartime 83 skippers, passed at age 105 last year.

Speaking of vets, the 83-Footer Sailor portal, long maintained by Al Readdy, seems to be offline but can still be found via archives. Meanwhile, those interested in Coast Guard patrol boat history, in general, should check out HMC James T. Flynn, Jr., USNR(ret)’s excellent 61-page essay.

Today, the USCG Museum has a panel dedicated to the work of the Matchbox Fleet in their D-Day exhibit.

Specs: (extracted from U.S. Coast Guard Cutters & Crafts of World War II by Robert Scheina)

A wartime 83 by Jack Read

Displacement: 76 tons fully loaded
Length: 83 ft
Beam: 16 ft
Draft: 5 ft. 4″
Main Engines: 83343 through 83348: 2 Hall Scott Defenders, 1.200 rpm; all others: 2 Sterling Viking II SHP All units: 1,200
2 Propellers: 34″Dia X 27° Pitch (Pitch varied with the mission)
2 Kohler Generators 120/240 VAC 60 cycle
Max Speed 15.2 kts, 215 mi radius (1945); 23.5 statute mi (trials,1946)
Max Sustained 12.0 kts. 375 mi radius (1945)
Cruising 10.0 kts, 475 mi radius (1945)
Economic 8.2 kts, 575 mi radius (1945)
Gasoline (95%) 1,900 gal
Complement 1 officer, 13 men (1945)
Electronics (1945)
Detection Radar SO-2 (most units)
Sonar QBE series (none on 83339. 83367-83369, 83427, 83476-83480)
Armament
1941 1 1-pounder. 2 .30cal mg
1945 1 20mm/80,4 dc racks with 8 Mark VI depth charges. 2 Mousetraps; none on 8330
83312, 83335, 83342, 83367, 83387, 83388, 83392, 83427, 83470, 83475. 83491. 83492. 83494,
83501, 83507, 83512, 83515, 83516, 83518-83521, 83529

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Reverting back to Treasury, 75 Years ago Today

At the time of its inception in January of 1915, the U.S. Coast Guard was composed of approximately 1,800 officers and men from the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service and approximately 2,200 from the U.S. Life-Saving Service. That number is good to keep in mind when compared to what the agency would muster just 30 years later.

As occurred during the Great War, on 1 November 1941, President Franking D. Roosevelt signed an executive order reassigning the service’s duties from the Treasury Department to the Navy for another world war.

Coast Guard Cutter Cuyahoga ready to depart from the Coast Guard Yard in Curtis Bay, Md., Feb. 11, 1945. U.S. Coast Guard photo. Note her 40mm Bofors and Mousetraps crowding her bow.

In all, 214,000 personnel served in the Coast Guard during WWII, of whom 92 percent were in the USCGR, with an additional 125,000 personnel serving in the Temporary Reserve, the latter manning the myriad “Corsair Fleet” of 2,998 converted motor and sail craft used for local patrol that had been acquired through purchase, charter or gift, principally to combat the submarine menace along the coasts.

The USCG was very much in the cold-weather schooner biz in the 1940s, manning almost 3,000 small craft of all kinds to patrol the U.S. coastline. 

At its strongest, on 1 September 1945, the Coast Guard totaled 170,480, including 9,624 uniformed women serving in the SPARS.

1943- U.S. Coast Guard SPAR packing an M1903 Springfield rifle at the Cleveland Armory 

To patrol 3,700 miles of American beaches for saboteurs landing from the sea, a scratch force of 24,000 officers and men, assisted by over 2,000 sentry dogs and nearly 3,000 horses, was built from the ground up almost overnight.

A patrol somewhere along the Atlantic coast shown in the new uniform of the U.S. Coast Guard Mounted Beach Patrol, circa 1943

In addition to the 1,677 Coast Guard-flagged craft in active service at the end of the FY1945, Coast Guard personnel on 1 August 1945 were manning 326 Navy craft– including 76 LSTs, 21 cargo and attack-cargo ships, 75 frigates, and 31 transports– as well as 254 Army vessels, with about 50,000 Coastguard men serving on Navy and 6,000 on Army craft.

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

The Coast Guard maintained nine air stations along the coasts of the United States, under the operational control of the various sea frontiers, with a total of 165 planes, including armed PBYs and J2Fs. These served as task units in the conduct of air-sea rescue. Assistance was rendered in 686 plane crashes and 786 lives were saved during FY1945 alone.

USCG PBY-5 Catalina over San Diego Bay. October 22, 1940

Some 28 USCG-manned vessels were lost during WWII, including three large cutters– Alexander Hamilton, Acacia, and Escanaba— adding 572 Coast Guardsmen to the massive butcher’s bill of the conflict.

On this day in 1945, the agency switched back to the Treasury Department, where it remained until 1972 when it moved to the Department of Transportation, and today it is in DHS, one of the inaugural agencies that started it in 2002.

For more on the USCG in WWII, check out the Coast Guard Historian’s portal on the subject.

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