Semper Paratus | Proceedings - August 2023 Vol. 149/8/1,446

While the U.S. Coast Guard is the oldest continuous seagoing service—tracing its lineage to the Revenue Cutter Service, established in 1790—its first author would not enter the pages of Proceedings until June 1917, when retired Captain David A. Hall wrote “The Wreck of the USS DeSoto” and “The Launching of the USS Monongahela.”

Lessons from World War I prompted Coast Guard Captain F. S. Van Boskerck in April 1919 to publish “The United States Coast Guard: Its Military Necessities.” He offered suggestions for increasing the military efficiency of the Coast Guard in preparation for operations with the Navy in time of war. A foreword to the article noted:

In the past the Navy and the Coast Guard have not gotten sufficiently close together, but it is thought that from the beneficial results attending present association, each service will have appreciated the worth of the officers of the other, to the mutual advantage of the two services and the public interests.

A seized rumrunner. Prohibition was the catalyst for the service’s largest peacetime fleet expansion in its history and the beginning of Coast Guard aviation. U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive 

With passage of the 18th Amendment, the Coast Guard would find itself involved in another type of “war”—against rumrunners attempting to circumvent Prohibition. In 1968, H. R. Kaplan wrote “A Toast to the ‘Rum Fleet’” as the last of the cutters associated with the “rum fleet” decommissioned.

The cutters’ most effective tactic was to stand by and keep the actions of the rumrunners under close surveillance. If any of the rum boats were foolhardy enough to make a break for the coast, the cutters would be able to move in quickly. . . . In Atlantic City, New Jersey, the increased difficulty in bringing in liquor caused a price increase of from $1.00 to $2.00 a case. This, however, was not enough of an obstacle to seriously slow down the roaring liquor traffic. . . .

With the repeal of the Amendment in 1933, the nightmare of law enforcement was over for the Coast Guard. On balance, it had done very well in the rum war. It had emerged as a larger service and with an enhanced public image. Persons who had not been aware of the Coast Guard had acquired a new respect for a service which for too long had worked in obscurity.

A U.S. Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules on an International Ice Patrol mission over the North Atlantic. After the sinking of the Titanic, the patrol was begun to locate icebergs and ice fields in the shipping lanes. U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive

In May 1929, Proceedings dedicated an entire issue to the Coast Guard, with multiple articles spanning issues from the work of the Coast Guard Academy and life-saving stations to armaments and gunnery, world war convoy work, the ice menace of the North Atlantic, and Coast Guard contributions to the development of Alaska.

Commander R. R. Waesche looked at “Armaments and Gunnery in the Coast Guard,” dividing his discussion into three periods: (1) 1790 through the Civil War, (2) the close of the Civil War until U.S. entry into World War I, and (3) entry into the war until 1929.

During the first of these periods vessels of the service were heavily armed and their fighting efficiency was high and increasing. . . . It is particularly noteworthy that no change was made, nor was any necessary, in the armament of the revenue cutters when they were temporarily relieved from carrying out their normal peacetime duties and assigned to duty with the Navy, and this condition was generally true throughout the history of the service prior to the close of the Civil War.

In the same issue, Captain R. B. Adams and Constructor F. A. Hunnewell offered a look at “Typical Vessels and Boats of the U.S. Coast Guard” in the late 1920s.

A typical first-class cruising cutter for the Coast Guard combines to an unusual degree seaworthiness, speed, and long steaming radius. . . .

For the design and construction of the hull and machinery the specifications consistently hold to a middle position between the best commercial vessel and the specialized naval craft, and this effort has met with good success. In recent years the attainment of this happy medium has been aided by the improving character of commercial practice and by the adoption on the part of the Navy of high-grade commercial standards where unusual requirements are not imperative.

Commissioned into the Coast Guard in 1946, the barque Eagle (WIX-327) provides Coast Guard Academy cadets and officer candidates unparalleled sail and leadership training. U.S. Coast Guard (Matthew Thieme)

In January 1933, Marine Colonel Harold C. Reisinger reviewed the birth, growth, and initial achievements of Coast Guard aviation and the early use of aircraft for at-sea search and rescue in “The Flying Lifeboat of the Coast Guard.”

Beginning in April 1930, funds became available for the purchase of seagoing planes of a type adapted for general coastal service and especially suited to the rescue of those in peril at sea—planes that could operate in rough waters, supply medical attention not otherwise available, or transport from ships at sea casualties requiring immediate hospitalization. . . . This step is one consistent with the history of the Coast Guard and of great importance to humanity.

Reisinger built on this report with his January 1936 Proceedings article, “Coast Guard Ambulance Flights.”

Annually there are many rescues made at sea and dozens of lives saved through the quick response to a call. Many of these rescue flights are more or less routine matters for the Coast Guard aviator. . . . It is only the exceptional cases that point to the heroism and skill of these men who go after the sick and injured at sea or in some isolated part of the country. . . . The flight record of the Coast Guard is filled with “sticking one’s neck out” in the interest of those whose peril is traceable to lack of foresight and knowledge of the sea and small craft.

In 1939, the Coast Guard would grow again, as Robert H. Macy outlined in his January 1940 Proceedings article “Consolidation of the Lighthouse Service with the Coast Guard.” The expanded responsibilities included lighthouses, lightships, and buoys, a fleet of tenders, and radio beacons and fog signals.

Macy, an MIT naval architecture and marine engineering graduate, followed in the May 1940 Proceedings with “Icebreakers,” on the evolution and use of cutters for icebreaking.

The necessity of keeping harbors and rivers open to navigation has required the use of nearly all the available types of coast guard vessels for icebreaking with, as might be expected, various degrees of success.

As the Coast Guard gained experience, new vessels were built with additional frames inside the hull for strengthening, heavier metal plating on the exterior, and more power.

Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, Oregon. In 1939, the U.S. Lighthouse Service was merged into the Coast Guard, which took over maintenance of all lighthouses and lightships. U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive

As a lieutenant (j.g.) in the Coast Guard Reserve, future Rhode Island Senator Claiborne Pell wrote “The Coast Guard in the War,” for the December 1942 Proceedings. Pell served during the war on Atlantic escort duty and in Mediterranean amphibious operations.

The special wartime duties of the Coast Guard usually mean direct participation by individual Coast Guard vessels and personnel in Navy task units. For instance, the half-dozen cutters of the 327-foot class are assigned to escort duty. These seaworthy vessels are especially useful in heavy weather when taking a tow or on long-legged convoy routes when destroyers and corvettes may eventually be unable to patrol their stations because of lack of fuel. The seagoing cutters of the 165- and 125-foot classes are practically all engaged with the Navy on coastal convoys and antisubmarine patrol. . . .

Some of the troop transports are Coast Guard officered and manned. And the coxswains that guide the landing barges ashore from any transport—whether Army or Navy—are often specially trained Coast Guardsmen. They have distinguished themselves especially during the landing operations in the Solomon Islands.

Continuing coverage of World War II, Coast Guard Reserve Lieutenant Commander R. T. Leary, who commanded a Coast Guard-manned landing ship, tank (LST) at Tarawa, described the difficulty crossing the island’s outlying bars and reefs and the rain of fire from Japanese defenders in “Semper Paratus” in 1944.

Marines were swarming in over the reefs of Tarawa. Cruisers, battleships, and destroyers were shelling; dive bombers zoomed down; strafing planes roared overhead. Clouds of smoke and dust rose from an inferno of battle such as the world has seldom seen. More and more Marines came in and fell face down on the reefs . . . more drove forward till slowly the inferno ceased and the ships moved forward to consolidate.

Once the beachhead had been taken, “craft of all description” turned to carrying in equipment, food, medicine, and other necessities to continue the push.

LSTs that had launched Alligators rolled slightly over on their sides and launched 108-foot LCTs from their decks. They too joined in the carrying of cargo. . . .

And as the small boats cleared from the reef, the guns, trucks, and heavy equipment came crawling in over the reef as the tide ebbed. . . . At the edge of the reef, with their jaws yawning wide and their ramps down were the LSTs. No boats were needed to unload them, they sailed to surrounding reef, stuck their bows up on the coral and discharged their cargoes. . . . When their bellies were unloaded a great elevator as on an aircraft carrier lifted trucks, jeeps, and trailers, drums of oil and gasoline, and other bits of cargo from these shore-ramming cargo ships, and that gear also rolled out of their bows and ran across the reefs to the shore.

A cutter is passed overhead by three flying life boats. Capable of at-sea rescues, the FLBs (or PJs) were the first aircraft designed from the start for Coast Guard service. U.S. Coast Guard

In May 1945, as part of a submarine hunter-killer group, the Coast Guard-manned frigate Moberly (PF-63) was credited with assisting in the destruction of the German submarine U-853 off the coast of Rhode Island. In “Last Chapter for U-853” in December 1960, Ensign D. M. Tollaksen wrote:

Atherton was credited with the kill of U-853 with Moberly assisting in the destruction. . . . Lieutenant Commander L. B. Tollaksen, USCG, commanding officer of Moberly, was awarded the Bronze Star with combat “V” for his original analysis of the situation and for setting up the search which located U-853.

The main interest of this article lies in the fact that this was the last German submarine to be sunk by U.S. forces in World War II.

In “Flotilla Flagship” in October 1945, Coast Guard Chief Electrician’s Mate Ira Jacobs penned an article based on the experiences of one of the Navy’s landing craft infantry (LCI) and her flotilla—the first of its kind to be crewed entirely by Coast Guard personnel.

She has been in so many air raids that it has been impossible to determine the exact number. She has been dive-bombed, had her decks strafed, has sailed through uncharted enemy mine fields, and has been shot at innumerable times by shore batteries. At least five direct air attacks have been attempted in the hope of sending her to the bottom. Her crew has shot down one German plane. She has participated in three major invasions and numerous minor operations.

After the invasions of Sicily and Salerno, the LCI and her flotilla were ordered to the Channel coast.

The crossing of the English Channel proved to be almost no problem at all. . . . Landing operations began on schedule. It was at this point that the almost unbelievable luck that had pursued the flotilla no longer held out. Three of the ships hit underwater obstacles as they approached the beach and very soon the shore batteries found the range and pounded them unceasingly. . . . The flagship suffered only minor damage, although she had many close calls. . . . Three weeks after the first of the landings, the flagship and the remainder of the flotilla returned to their base. The flagship had led her flotilla through the most important assignment of the war, and all had distinguished themselves under the most hazardous conditions.

Artist Bernard D’Andrea depicts Signalman First Class Douglas Munro—the Coast Guard’s only Medal of Honor recipient—leading his Higgins boats in to evacuate Marines under intense enemy fire at Guadalcanal. Munro was mortally wounded maneuvering his boat to shield another Higgins boat stranded on the reef. U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive

As the United States embarked on its major post–World War II Antarctic expeditions, the Coast Guard was there. In his September 1948 article, “The Antipodes,” Captain Charles W. Thomas described a journey of the cutter Northwind (WAGB-282):

The U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind labored heavily in a 60-knot blow that whipped up the sea to mountainous proportions. . . . She was bound from the Antarctic to New Zealand and because of heavy weather had been obliged to part company with the USS Mount Olympus, in which Rear Admirals [Richard] Byrd and [Richard] Cruzen were embarked.

When the Northwind reached Depot Anchorage in the Antipodes Islands, a landing party was organized, tasked in part with bringing home 54 penguins:

Like their Antarctic cousins, the docile Emperor and Adele penguins, these birds did not appear to fear men, so their capture would take only a matter of a few minutes—we thought. But we did not realize we were dealing with Rockhopper penguins, highly spirited, defiant, vicious birds whose sneering beaks closely resembled birds of prey. . . . Fully 20 minutes later, the patrol had managed to take nine penguins, but were so badly pecked that they were willing to call it quits. To transport the remaining 45 to the ship would take hours plus many lacerations.

In January 1950, Proceedings published a photo essay, “The Coast Guard in Northern Waters,” looking at operations in the Arctic.

In 1950, with the war five years behind, the Coast Guard is absorbed in peacetime duties. . . . The ships of the Bering Sea Patrol go as the bearers of the federal law and medical and dental aid to isolated Alaskan villages located on the coast of the Bering Sea and the Arctic ocean. The ships of the International Ice Patrol represent, in effect, the maritime nations of the world as they continue this service off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland . . . whereas the vessels of the International Ocean Station program operate not only as weather observers for the use of all nations but also provide navigational aids and search and rescue facilities for international aviation.

In his June 1959 article “Let’s Change the Rules*,” Lieutenant John E. Wesler argued for additional ways to prevent collisions at sea, including improved visibility.

Automobiles have recently sprouted a second pair of headlights and greatly enlarged taillights. Years ago, passenger aircraft donned attention-attracting red beacons. In both cases the demand for better visibility dictated the additions—better visibility to reduce the chance of collision. A similar improvement is due for shipping.

During the Vietnam War, Operation Market Time (March 1965–72) was begun to prevent the North Vietnamese from supplying enemy forces in South Vietnam by sea. U.S. Coast Guard cutters patrolled coastal waters and stopped and searched cargo vessels. In 1966–67, future Coast Guard Commandant Lieutenant (j.g.) James M. Loy was commanding officer of the 82-foot patrol boat Point Lomas (WPB-82321) operating off Danang and Vung Tau, Vietnam. In his Naval Institute oral history, he described a particularly memorable assignment:

It was just a hellacious storm going by. We were recalled from patrol because of weather. . . . And, just as we were putting the lines over, there was this report that a Jolly Green Giant full of Marines had gone down . . . near Spanish Beach—a piece of no-man’s land near the entrance of the massive Danang Harbor complex.

We sortied immediately to come to the aid of these Marines. There were about 30 on this bird. We got about 15 out of the water onto the Point Lomas. The other half went to the beach, with no support, nowhere to go, no means to protect themselves. Our challenge for the rest of the evening was to make it a place where, if there happened to be a bunch of VC, they would choose to avoid Spanish Beach. We actually had to call back and get another WPB to bring us more illumination ammunition, and we tried to keep it looking like daylight through the night. . . .

At first light, a land-based Marine contingent from III MEF came in and got them out of there.

The Cape Shoalwater (WPB-95324) departs St. Georges Harbor, Grenada. The cutter was conducting patrols and participating in civic actions following the 1983 invasion. U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive


Commander Paul A. Yost Jr., another future Coast Guard Commandant, also served in Vietnam. In an October 2004 excerpt from his oral history, he recalled leading a fast patrol craft (PCF) squadron making incursions with Vietnamese Marines in April 1969:

When we got to the point where we were supposed to insert them, one of the Marine majors came up to me and said, “I haven’t seen anything that even looks like a Viet Cong. . . . Do you have any problem with inserting us another mile or so up the river?” I said, “Major, my job is to insert you where you want to be inserted.”

. . . About ten minutes later, we got ambushed from both sides of the river. I thought the end of the world had come—B-40 rockets were exploding. All at once all nine boats had their .50 calibers chattering. . . .

I finally got the boats beached and got the Marines ashore. Then my skipper grabbed me and said, “Commodore, we’ve only got eight boats.”. . . We went back into the ambush site, and there was the ninth PCF, high and dry on the bank. The water intakes were out of the water, and the engines were running full speed. A B-40 rocket had gone through the pilot-house and killed the skipper. . . .

The next morning, I finally got the Vietnamese Marines to sweep up both banks. They never found any evidence of a battalion, although the Marine colonel said it was a very large force.

In January 1970, Commander L. A. White penned “The U.S. Coast Guard: Where Do We Go from Here?” In 1967, the service had been moved from Treasury to the new Department of Transportation. The government was now contemplating creating a “National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency,” of which the Coast Guard would be part.

For the members of the Coast Guard, there is the highly important question: does the Coast Guard want to be a part of NOAA?

The lure of NOAA is strong. It promises an exciting future in the oceans—and agencies which become a part of it can expect to grow as the U.S. commitment to the oceans grows. Those who climb aboard NOAA’s ark even before its launching can expect their future to be both dynamic and rewarding, both professionally and personally. The challenge is great. It is not for the timid or the traditionalist. Is it for the Coast Guard? It certainly could be.

In his November 1984 article “The Guard in Grenada,” Lieutenant Commander Dale L. Thompson described the Coast Guard’s contributions following the October 1983 operation.

Reassuring the Grenadians of their continued security was vital to creating a stable government and a functioning economy. . . .

As the nation’s seagoing police, [the Coast Guard] had developed great expertise in coastal surveillance and interdiction in the fight against illegal drug traffic. And its image as a humanitarian organization with a history of protecting lives and property at sea made its arrival less politically sensitive to both sender and recipient. . . .

For the first time in years, the Coast Guard deployed a squadron of cutters in a joint military operation outside the United States and unsupported by immediately available Navy logistics. The Coast Guard may have to do so again, probably on short notice, possibly farther away. If so, we should remember:

• The Coast Guard can deploy quickly, efficiently, and with good operational security and arrive ready to go to work.

• The expertise developed from many of our peacetime missions transfers well to related military missions and permits the Coast Guard to complement the Navy in certain roles. . . .

• The Coast Guard has proved that it can be an effective agent of this country’s foreign policy. The deployment to Grenada was successful because of the quality, effort, and flexibility shown by our people.

In December 1992’s “Answering the Call,” Captain Carmond C. Fitzgerald and John R. Olson reported on the reserve-manned port security units activated for Desert Shield/Desert Storm.

The effectiveness of Coast Guard and Navy port security and harbor defense operations . . . can be seen in the summary of operations for 20 September 1990–1 April 1991. During that time:

• 25,000 vessels were monitored and tracked.

• 1,500 vessels were intercepted.

• 400 vessels were boarded.

• 40 vessels were seized.

. . . While many lessons learned will aid in training future Port Security Units, per-haps the most important lesson was that Coast Guard Reservists could mobilize quickly, deploy rapidly, and perform an assigned mission with expertise.

In 1997, in “Steaming with the Russians,” Commandant Admiral Robert Kramek and Commander Russell Wilson trained their glasses northward. The Soviet Union had collapsed in 1991, and the United States had new cooperative programs with the Russian Federation.

The U.S. Coast Guard has shifted into high gear in its operations with the Russian Federal Border Service, the primary agency responsible for the protection of Russian marine resources. Over the past few years, we have graduated from familiarization and relationship building to developing a Combined Operations Manual and conducing multiservice exercises. A historic memorandum of understanding . . .  provided the framework for greater cooperation in such humanitarian missions as search and rescue and maritime law enforcement.

Since March 1973, when the USCGC Dauntless (WMEC-624) made the Coast Guard’s first seizure of a marijuana smuggler, tactics have evolved on both sides of the drug war. In his October 1999 prize-winning essay “Coast Guard Helos: A Call to Arms,” for example, Commander Mike Emerson supported a policy change permitting the use of force from aircraft to stop drug smugglers.

Armed with innovative vessel-stopping technologies and traditional weapons, specially trained crews will employ the minimum force necessary to stop suspects using “go-fast” boats that can outrun the majority of existing interdiction platforms. The use of non-deadly force, up to and including warning shots and disabling fire, will be authorized. . . .

There is little doubt that the mission will be hard. But it can be accomplished, and the aviation community is being asked to assume a pivotal role in endgame law enforcement. . . . Aviators must embrace this new initiative as an opportunity to continue the Coast Guard mission.

Crew and science team members from the polar icebreaker Healy (WAGB-20) at the North Pole. In addition to research activities, the Healy can support search-and-rescue, ship escort, environmental protection, and other polar missions. U.S. Coast Guard (Roy Mesen Scott)

Two months after the 2001 terrorist attacks, retired Coast Guard Captain Joe Conroy highlighted the service’s response in “Coast Guard Answers 9/11 Call.”

Even as most Americans were just learning of the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, the men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard already were springing into action, conducting rescue operations and protecting our ports and waterways infrastructure from further attack. . . .

Immediately, Coast Guard Air Stations at Cape Cod and Atlantic City launched four helicopters to support local officials with medical evacuations. Additional helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft were placed on immediate standby. The Coast Guard dispatched a mobile command, control, and communication van to the New York area from Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and cutters as large as the 270-foot Tahoma (WMEC-908) and as small as 110-foot Island-class patrol boats sped toward the scene to defend New York harbor and facilitate communications.

The Coast Guard patrols the harbor after the collapse of the World Trade Center in New York. Coast Guard units and personnel were some of the first military responders, providing communications and security, evacuating civilians by water, and assisting those in need. U.S. Coast Guard (Tom Sperduto)

In August 2005, when Hurricane Katrina barreled into the Gulf Coast, the Coast Guard was ready. In October, the jointly authored “Katrina: What’s Going Right” chronicled rescue and relief efforts.

More than one-third of the service’s aircraft were operating in the disaster area, along with a vast array of its disaster and major incident response teams. The service must still maintain sufficient capability to conduct other search-and-rescue, maritime security, counterdrug, and alien migration operations while ensuring that the Eighth District receives everything it needs to save lives and restore the maritime transportation system so vital not only to the nation’s economy, but also to moving large volumes of relief supplies and evacuees. . . .

At the peak of the rescue effort, the Coast Guard was transporting 750 victims per hour by boat and 100 victims per hour by air.

Recognizing the rising importance of the Arctic, Navy Lieutenant Commander Rachael Gosnell authored “Keep a Weather Eye on the Arctic” in July 2019. Among other recommendations, she called for greater U.S. presence in the region, including new icebreakers.

The United States must improve its ability to operate in the Arctic, whether for emergency response or to protect its strategic interests. To do this requires procurement of new icebreakers. While funding has been allocated to begin construction of the first polar security cutter, fiscal constraints demand an examination of options, such as a leasing agreement or public-private partnerships to provide interim capabilities. Canada’s recent acquisition of the CCGS Captain Molly Kool, a medium icebreaker purchased from Norway and converted by Quebec’s Davie shipyard, is a model for an interim icebreaker acquisition.

In October 2018, a next-generation Coast Guardsman explained how social media was used to aid a crucial life-saving mission. In his prize-winning essay “Hurricane Ready,” Cadet Evan Twarog wrote:

Until [Hurricane] Harvey, the Coast Guard could not “listen” to social media calls for help. This began to change as incident command leaders noticed the amount of emergency traffic originating from social media and quickly recognized the need to follow what was unfolding on Facebook and Twitter. . . .

During the response to Hurricane Harvey, volunteers from the digital humanitarian organizations Humanity Road and Standby Task Force collected calls for help while Coast Guard Academy cadets created maps for first responders to use in directing rescue efforts. The volunteers used hashtag and keyword searches to sift through millions of posts without using any intrusive software. By the conclusion of rescue operations, volunteers had collected data on more than 1,000 rescue cases involving more than 5,200 storm survivors.

Crew from the Oliver Henry (WPC-1140) approach a fishing vessel during a patrol supporting the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency’s efforts to stop illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. U.S. Coast Guard (Sara Muir)

In the South China Sea, conflict over Taiwan is not the only issue. In “Fishing for Trouble: Chinese IUU Fishing and the Risk of Escalation” in February 2023, Commander Jennifer Runion raised the specter of conflict over Chinese illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.

While much of the world’s attention is on great power competition, IUU fishing is pushing the Indo-Pacific region toward conflict. To counter this threat without violence, the United States and its Quad+ allies should act now to enable regional partners to defend their own maritime sovereignty through an expansion of shiprider programs and bilateral and information-sharing agreements. By doing so, they can help their Indo-Pacific partners strengthen their resistance to harmful maritime practices, sustaining the rules-based international system—and the region’s resources—for future generations.

It might be cliché to say the Coast Guard consistently punches above its weight class, but the smallest of the Sea Services has always had a big impact. Proceedings is proud to give voice to its members.

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