On 1 June, Peter Stinson asked “Can we build a shared experience for all Guardians?” We were not able to reach any consensus except that we needed a better appreciation of our history.
Thinking about this, I tried to come up with 10 things every Coast Guardsman should know about the history of the service. Actually this was a lot harder than I thought it would be. Mining the Coast Guard historians official site I found myself in a bit of a quandary. Too many details. Maybe too much history to distill into only ten line items. There were organizational milestones, individual achievements, innovations, desperate fights won and lost, new missions and missions that have disappeared.
I’m still working on my list, but I thought I would throw it out for your comment. What should every Coast Guardsman know about our history?
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Rather than look for specific items of Coast Guard history, look for themes. Look for what the Coast Guard (since the official site is being used as the guide) is telling people their is and what it means.
Then look for currency. Just how current is the history being used? What sources are used? What is the bias of the author? If new work, has the author used rehashed material or has there been original research? Is what is being told on the official level “the truth” or is it simple convenience? I know there are no historiographers doing anything of the Coast Guard. Does the Coast Guard need someone to study its history?
The larger question is, should Coast Guard history be only public affairs material? If so, that would limit to what should be known.
who can relate the details of the greatest small-boat rescue in USCG history – the Pendelton disaster off Cape Cod on 2/18/1952? if not, why not?
The greatest small boat rescue was in 1884. The rescue of the passengers and crew of the City of Columbus by the boats of the Revenue Cutter Dexter and the men in pulling boats from Gay Head Station. The latter were known as “Gay Head Indians,” and unlike Pea Island Station, they did not receive medals.
Have you read the book “Disaster on Devil’s Bridge” and if so, did this influence your remarks in any way? I read this publication twenty plus years ago and I found the rescue of the few survivors very worthy of a place in sea rescue history. I’m surprised more folk are not familiar with this incident.
I do have a copy. It is a good monograph of the incident. Also the press in that era made much of the heroism. True, many were lost aboard the City of Columbus but considering she ran on the rocks the saving of any was a miracle.
People forget the rescues were done by pulling boats from the LSS station and Dexter. Not an easy task.
It is not known because there is no one to push it. I would think this is a one of the more perfect examples of the One Coast Guard concept today.
Actually, I have started orgainizing my own thoughts along the line of themes. But the question remains, Bill, what do you think were the important events/moments/people in CG history? I know you are going to have some opinions.
Every honest history will find some villains, incompetents, and failures. Any of those, inform the serving Coasties important lessons?
I’m not restricting myself to the historians web site, but is is a pretty good source and has reminded me of incidents I had forgotten, identified the players, and filled in details.
I do not believe the simple enumeration of just ten events could, or should, tell the Coast Guard’s history.
History is much to complicated a topic to make a list and leave it at that but this is exactly what the Coast Guard attempts to do currently and has done in the past. It wrongly takes such lists and these become the entire scheme of the Coast Guard’s history program. It is easier this way. There oft complicating details only cause confusion. I continue to see the Coast Guard claiming that Hopley Yeaton was the first commissioned officer but there is no evidence this is true. However, comprehensive study would show the contrary.
There are numerous examples of list-history in the Coast Guard.
THIS INSTRUCTION FROM HAMILTON IS A MUST FOR EVERY GUARDIAN:
“They will always keep in mind that their countrymen are freemen, and, as such, are impatient of everything that bears the least mark of a domineering spirit. They will, therefore, refrain, with the most guarded circumspection, from whatever has the semblance of haughtiness, rudeness, or insult. If obstacles occur, they will remember that they are under the particular protection of the laws and that they can meet with nothing disagreeable in the execution of their duty which these will not severely reprehend. This reflection, and a regard to the good of the service, will prevent, at all times a spirit of irritation or resentment. They will endeavor to overcome difficulties, if any are experienced, by a cool and temperate perseverance in their duty–by address and moderation, rather than by vehemence or violence.” – Alexander Hamilton, Letter of Instructions to the Commanding Officers of the Revenue Cutters, 4 June 1791
Dear Captain Bleakley,
Thank you for your kind letter regarding Two Tankers Down. I was in the middle of replying to you when my notorious sense of organization went south — and I cannot find your letter. If you receive this, could you please drop me a line at email@example.com
Bob Frump, author Two Tankers Down
Vincent, Since the first of the new fast Response Cutters is being named after Webber, a lot more people will know about it.
The simplest answer I’d offer to your question, “What should every Coast Guardsman know about our history?” is “We should know what’s in Pub 1.” Many of the key events that shaped our history are described in Coast Guard Publication 1. You can find it at http://www.uscg.mil/top/about/pub1.asp.
Pub 1 does provide a good overview.
ALCOAST 047/02 proclaimed the existence of CG PUB 1.
The stated purpose of the publication, “it is the first doctrinal publication to synthesize who we are, what we do, and how we do things. Publication 1 contains our history, ethos, values and reason for existence.”
Nice words. However, the comment should have noted it was selective history and that to enforce the ideals of the last part of the second sentence.
The publication was hoped to be “used by the Service to shape the thinking of current and future leaders,” and will be used for “service indoctrination.”
Of course, Publication 1 became the co-authored book Character in Action published by the USNI in 2003. Co-authored means Donald T. Phillips wrote it. He also wrote Publication 1. He has written several other books–all on the same formula. http://www.donaldtphillips.com/books/Books.htm
(He really liked Abraham Lincoln).
Publication 1 was revised in May 2009. I suppose there were flaws in the indoctrination.
I am troubled when an official publication comes out and states this is all you’ll need. There is irony in the publication. They ignored Captain Horatio Smith who Robert Johnson, Irving King and others have so quickly copied. Alex Larzelere’s book on Vietnam is used but not Paul Scotti’s. The latter has virtually the same material but from an enlisted perspective and is less rigid in style. Although Sloan Wilson’s WWII fiction provides the best insight on the Coast Guard in the WWII Pacific, none are used.
Coast Guard history is a long repetition of what has been done before and largely without analysis. It is popular history and much of it would not pass the “knowing” test. This is one reason books about the Coast Guard are farmed out for review to those who know little or nothing about the service. The reviews then become a matter of style not substance.
I would not take Pub 1 to heart. It is a “management” book disguised as history with a few Freudianisms thrown in to boot.
The USCG currently has a program similar to the US Navy’s Professional Reading Program: http://www.uscg.mil/leadership/reading/ . I do feel that additional titles could be added, such as “Ocean Station”, by CDR Michael Adams or “The Perfect Storm” by Sebastian Junger would be good reading, highlighting the USCG’s history. It appears recommendations can be made via the above web site link provided.
I forgot to add a comment about the question, “What Should Every Coast Guardsman Know About Our History?”
What they should know is the truth. I realize this is a very broad statement. The problem remains how does someone who has read little or nothing of the Coast Guard, and its past, knows when the truth is being told. In reality, they cannot. The casual reader may pick up one or two books on the way through their careers. Only a small minority will take the time to study and fewer will look at the original documentation–even if they knew where to look.
The question about the truth remains. One method people use to ascertain “truth” is by a recommendation or that it is “certified” by some official source. The trilogy of books by Irving King got official sanction because he taught history at the CGA and this gave him the in to raise his books beyond the level of creditability they deserve.
The official sanction provides a greater degree of creditability. Once, many years ago, I informed a popular Coast Guard web site (mostly sea stories) that the Coast Guard’s official stance on the tale of “Black Maria” is a myth. He said fine, but the Coast Guard said it was true and he’d stay with it.
How many people today will take a piece of information as the truth based solely on some official (and unknowing) comment?
Many years ago, I transcribed some 3000 pages (from microfilm) over six volumes of the RCS officer registers from 1789 to 1915. There is some great information contained there and the study of them provided a novel and insightful look at the officer corps as an organization and a culture. While going through them, I jotted down the special notes–mostly negative comments–because, just like today, doing your job does not bring special attention. What came of the notes is a list of “firsts.” Yep, firsts among the officer corps. See: http://www.aug.edu/~libwrw/First_Officer/First_Officer_To.html
I have noticed the Official CG Historian’s web site has not linked this page but portions of the list have been used in other pages (without attribution). The “truth” here is the official records. However, these registers were not begun until about 1880 and all previous records were reconstructed from the records remaining at the various collectors of customs offices. There is also the work of the clerks. In later volumes, the work became less exacting and complete.
The Coast Guard has periodic hic-ups of historical revelation. One of the most predominant is Captain Mike Healy. The Coast Guard discovered him again nearly a hundred years after he died. The Coast Guard raised him up to a level undeserved during his own period and never asked the question of why he had not been acknowledged before. The party line was, and is, that it was racism. However, Mike Healy never claimed to being anything other than Irish. It was the Coast Guard (and the Department of Transportation) that re-introduced the “one drop” theory and made Mike Healy black. The truth is that his mother was an octoroon or greater racial mix–no one really knows for sure. Just recently, the archdiocese of Chicago stripped the Healy family of their black status. What remains interesting is, will the Coast Guard follow suit? We’ll see.
The truth of Coast Guard history will only come when the Coast Guard learns to accept the truth. To date, it continues to create myth which by official association will become the Service’s history.
Bill, I’ll bite, Without increasing its size too much, how would you change the history in CG Pub 1 to make it honest and balanced? What did you find incorrect or false?
There’s the rub in the pub. Size. Or better. Should it exist at all?
Pub 1 continues the series of Coast Guard publications and does not do as well.
CG-213 (Coast Guard History),
CG-215 (The Story of Coast Guard Aviation),
CG-381 (The U. S. Coast Guard and the Civil War),
CG-232 (Historically Famous Lighthouses,
CG-255 (Ocean Station Vessels),
CG-171 (International Ice Patrol),
CG-214 (Ships Planes and Stations)
CG-211 (It’s Your Coast Guard: What Every Coast Guardsman Should Know!)
“U. S. Coast Guard: A Study of its origin, responsibilities, relationships, and direction” (ca 1962).
If combined, the pages of the above would outnumber the total 106 of Pub 1.
One of the things that is missed in the early history is Hamilton’s drive to create a Navy. He thought one necessary and since there was huge opposition in the Congress his small creation was a back door navy. The Coast Guard Officer corps constantly beats the “nicer sense of honor” drum that Hamilton mentioned as an excuse for granting commissions but the line about these commissions being “Navy” is completely skipped. The officers of the RCS would have had some sort of commissions anyway–all government employees did depending on the job. The cutters taken by the Navy (some were kept) for the Quasi-war were a stop-gap measure. They had no active ships, especially small ones, and were forced to use the revenue cutters. However, when the USN got enough the cutters were sent home as being unsuitable. However, a few of the galleys remained in the RCS but these came from the Army.
Pub 1 notes, “Thus began a tradition of assistance to life and property that today is one of the Coast Guard’s most widely acclaimed missions.” This came after the so-called 1832 “experiment” of winter cruising. What I would like to see is the real reason published for the start of winter cruising. There was no real need for it. All rescues were happenstance anyway and the reason was not so much for saving life but saving property. Customs duties could not be accessed on sunken goods and having the cutters out there helped reduce insurance rates (not unlike having a volunteer fire department). Also, it was not a free service. The merchantmen were charged for anything provided during the “assistance.” All in all, winter cruising was more about politics than humanitarian services. The majority of the RCS officer hated it.
Pub 1 is also incorrect about enforcement of the Anti-Slave importation Act and the “war” on piracy. Both began well before 1820 and there is no mention of the cutters enforcing the Fugitive Slave
Act at the same time. The best reason the cutters were so diligent for capturing slaving vessels was they got a piece of the action. They could claim salvage. This is the sole reason the USN officers took the infamous schooner Amistad to Connecticut instead of New York. Slavery was still legal in Connecticut and they could and did, there, claim salvage.
There is much more. That said, Pub 1 is skip-rock history at best.
One thing is the service motto. The Coast Guard, under Admiral Loy, has transmuted the philosophy of the phrase to mean a collective effort. An idea and concept implemented (with the help of the brother of his aide) by Charles F. Shoemaker was that it a far more personal guide. It is not about unit readiness but individual readiness.
The Coast Guard does not need another pamphlet that will be forgotten as the others. It needs comprehensive history–warts and all. So much material has been dismissed, overlooked or deemed not suitable because it does not fit the heroic or romantic model. I like the story of one RCS captain who kept his Third Lieutenant on constant duty so the captain could carry on a affair with the 3rd Lt’s wife. It just shows that people are human.
That there were individual cases of incompetence, malfeasance, greed, lust, or mixed motives or that brilliance went unrewarded while the uninvolved were celebrated and promoted shouldn’t surprise anyone. That’s not history, its current events, but it doesn’t change the general direction the service has moved, which is what Pub 1 is all about. Before you get into the details you have to give people context and I thought Pub 1 did a reasonable job of that.
Incidentally, I got orders earlier than expected because, I was sent to replace an officer whose wife was having an affair with a the CO of another ship. Seemed the most scandalous thing was that the husband didn’t seem to care. But that is not so much history as gossip.
Maybe we ought to talk about specific incidences including some where we failed or were less than fully successful.
Reading your list of firsts, Charles F. Shoemaker, sounds like an interesting and influential character, I had not heard much about.
True about the general infamous behavior of individuals but, at times, that behavior was wide spread and incompetence was a norm. This is one reason the RCS rewrote its regulations to align with those of the Navy. However, they also instituted the examination process not only for promotion but continuance in the Service. This was a radical change from the political interference and influence that abounded in the RCS. It also curtailed nepotism.
My point about Pub 1 is that one small publication cannot provide direction or, as you noted, context. It is just rock skipping. The Coast Guard has been doing this same thing since the nineteen teens and it has not had a lasting effect on the Service. I doubt that many people have read Pub 1 or its latest revision. The Coast Guard got the idea from the self-serving publications of Sumner Kimball who hired a professional writer or writers to construct his annual reports as well as long series of newspaper stories–some took up the whole sheet. It was more romanticism than history, but certainly politics.
Context will only come with a greater number of well written and better research books–and people read them. As it stands now, there area only a handful of books and most are out of date–some were out of date when they were published. Of course, the problem is, as Dennis Noble brings up all the time, who will publish them? Research ain’t cheap and is very labor intensive. Then there is the factor of the Coast Guard not being very free with information.
Yes, Charles F. Shoemaker is an interesting character. He is the first truly military “Chief” of the RCS Bureau. He was influential before his promotion to Captain that came at the death of Captain Shepard. Unlike Shepard, who attempted some reforms, Shoemaker was more bold and took many risks on the political level. His list of achievements in reorganizing the RCS is long and set the pace for the 20th century. He even made sure that some of the civilians he trained were still the RCS well into the Coast Guard years.
If I had to choose one vital element that Shoemaker gave was respect. He gained respect for the RCS and taught the RCS to respect itself. He created a better officer corps by insisting on proper conduct both in personal and professional affairs. He was not afraid to use power. He once mentioned about a captain who whined and complained about being sent to sea again. Shoemaker had slated this officer for a command near his home in New York, but once the complaints began he sent him to Portland, Me. Other officers were treated worse and sent to places like Mobile, Al, Key West, Pensacola, FL or Galveston, TX. Hot, sticky places of pestilence and death. The Coast Guard will not name a cutter for him. It is a shame. He is one of the two great commandants from 1895 to 2010.
Pub 1 reminds me of the slick survey history text books used in high school and college. Long on graphics but very short on information. Will Pub 1 provide the kick start needed for further inquiry? I doubt it. Since the Pub 1 is the choice of some commandants the reading will be to say they did it but no more.
Alakazaaminofrmaiotn found, problem solved, thanks!
Bill Wells’s comment of 6/20/10 regarding CAPT Mike Healy is well taken. Healy never claimed to be black and his Jesuit priest-brother who became president of Georgetown also didn’t appear to be black in period photos. Once someone ridiculed Healy’s Irish heritage and he became indignant. Healy was courtmartialed and that case was quite interesting as it involved a future Commandant as the prosecutor. Healy was cleared as I recall. Healy mertis being studied for his leadership and career in Alaska, but to make him a racial pioneer is unsupported by fact.
With the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War at hand, the role of the RCS in the War deserves atention, starting with the mission to relieve Ft. Sumter which prompted the Confederate attack, the role of HARRIET LANE thru her capture, the Confederate Navy’s capture of the CALEB CUSHING in Maine & the RCS response, etc. The fact that many RCS offficers went South will probably be concealed as an inconvenient truth.
I graduated from the US Naval Academy in ’78. We took a year long course entitled “Seapower” that looked mostly at the US Navy, but considered others in some depth. In talking w/ USCGA grads was surprised that there was no course taught on USCG history. Perhaps Seapower has disappeared at USNA, but it or its successor should include some aspects of USCG history. In 20 years of naval service I rarely thought about the USCG and knew almost nothing of its military role in the Quasi-War and up to the present day.
Perhaps the history should consider each of the current 11 missions and below each include significant highlights and briefly explain why they made a lasting impact.
Mike to address one of your specific points, CG Pub 1 doesn’t talk about the Civil War much, but it does note that like officers in the other services some of the Revenue cutter service officers went with the South.
One thing I have noticed about the way the CG does it’s history; it follows the Revenue Cutter Service and largely neglects what was happening in the Light House Service.
The LHS’s history and the lack of it in the Coast Guard is probably because of its 1939 inclusion into the Coast Guard. It was not an actual part of the RCS, as the LSS, except for some occasional surveys and maintenance. Nevertheless, there is plenty of history about the LHS. More than on the RCS.
About one-third of the RCS officer corps “went South.” I know of one officer from Pennsylvania who went to the Southern Cause and one Virginian who stayed north (he was kicked out after the war). As I noted in the below post, the Civil War had a huge impact on the internal culture of the RCS.
The relatively late addition of the LHS to the CG shouldn’t be a reason for not including them in our history. About the only reference you ever see is to the female light house keepers. when I did the little bit on the Coast Guard in the Spanish American War, http://cgblog.org/2010/04/25/the-coast-guard-in-the-spanish-american-war/, I was surprised to find that LHS ships were involved too and that one of their crew had done some remarkable service.
One of my constant drum beats is about the lack, the dismissal, of teaching Coast Guard history at the CGA. I realize the CGA uses the blind leading the blind principle on this topic where upper classmen “teach” the lower groups the Service’s history. This only perpetuates the various myths about the Coast Guard and RCS because there are no instructors at the CGA versed in Coast Guard history. Say what? Yep, they know what they know from the various texts in print and have never questioned these books?
Questioning is the core of history. The whole idea of historical research and publication is to create foundations on which to build more history. If the foundation is a weak and shaky as the Coast Guard’s is at present then whatever comes afterward will only cause the pile to teeter. This is why, in my work, I got back to the original sources and start over. Theodore Roosevelt recommended this in the introduction to his wonderful and, now classic, work on the War of 1812. However, he recognized that as time passes more information will become available. There are discoveries all the time that illuminate some of the shadowy places in history. This is why I went back to the original documents, including traveling to England, in my piece on the cutters captured by the Brits in the War of 1812. The Coast Guard has always made too much of the heroics and let the details, the essence of history and knowing, flounder.
The Service and the Civil War is another matter. Little has been done, with the largest by Florence Kern. This Coast Guard sponsored and printed book is regularly dismissed or ignored entirely. However, the book follows H. D. Smith’s heroic model. What is missed is the fact the RCS was never formally detailed to the Navy for that War. This created later problems for the RCS. More work needs to be done why Gideon Welles did not want, or need, the cutters. I know at the beginning of the war he could have used them. The real issue of the Civil War is the impact it had on the late 19th century RCS and, consequently, on the 20th century Coast Guard.
Mike Healy is also an issue for more study. Old friend, Dennis Noble and his co-author Trowbridge have spent over 30 years writing about Healy. I would recommend finding and reading all his works previous to his latest book on the topic. Dennis’ best work was his book on Alaska and the RCS. Much of what he wrote in that book and earlier articles shows up in the book on Healy. Dennis does give in his Healy book a tip-of-the-hat to some psychoanalysis on Healy’s character but it comes off as an apology for Healy’s actions. Charles Shoemaker, and his son William Rawle, referred to Healy in a satirical tone, “Gentle Mike.” Healy was brought to trial three times in his career. The last trial, that Dennis says Healy was rail-roaded, was the straw that broke the back. Healy may have been a partial victim of discontented junior officers but he also gave them much ammunition with which to work. He was convicted and suspended from service for four years. This brings up the much latter day difficulty that Healy did and does not fit the Coast Guard’s Core Values–yet they named a ship for him. I’ve inquired and there is no statute of limitation on violations of the Core Values even if these values did not exist at the time of the infraction.
What Healy did give us, as Dennis has noted many times, is a continuing debate. His aberrant behavior did help force more control on the officer corps and was part of the instrument to craft the service’s motto–Semper Paratus. (See: http://www.aug.edu/~libwrw/Articles/Semper%20Paratus_The%20Meaning.pdf )
History is very much the daughter of time. I am not very conversant in the broader aspects of CG history, only the family’s involvement. The last two years my recreational reading has revolved around Ben Franklin. I’ve read most of his writings and about a dozen books about him. I was going to spend 2 years on him, then move on to another of the FF’s. Much of what I have read is in direct contradiction to the previous piece, I have decided I need a 3rd year for Franklin just to sort out fact from fiction. History really is written by the winners.
It sounds as if you have run into the dilemma of historiography. It may be better to look when the book was written and by whom. I’d leave the non-academic works alone or leave them to the last. Just as with some books about the Coast Guard, there are some well meaning people who do not understand the process. If the book has no notes, bibliography or lacks original research be wary. As an experienced reader, I am sure you pay close attention to the introduction. I know I do. That provides the author’s outline. At times, the introduction is the best part of the book.
According to some historians, the period from 1920 to about 1965 was the age of “consensus” history. I believe it extends backwards to the 1890s at the beginning of history as an academic discipline. The purpose of this type of history was to create a common set of morals and values to counter the wave of socialist and communist movements in post-WWI America. These historians essentially used the socialist idea of class struggle to create a consensus of history. This is the style the Coast Guard has used since 1880 and you’ll find no real hills or valleys in that history.
About 1965, the “consensus” historians were reaching the end of their publication lives and were no longer a force. The newer historians moved forward in the “New Left” movement and created what we know today as social history. However, the same scheme of teaching history has not changed. Once I used John Fiske’s 1894 American History to teach a class and it followed current texts near exactly except for the pervading amount of social history.
This New Left group also took on the classic works and revised former stances on history; some not kindly. However, in the passage of time the “New Left” has become the consensus. I am interested to see what comes next.
You may be in the vortex of historiography. I bet if you look at some of the newer works you’ll see some Freudian/Marxist psychoanalytical context. I bet Franklin would have been on the side of the New Left.
Most of the really good stuff on Franklin was written in the 18th century. Isaakson’s piece is interesting but kind of lighweight. Franklin was a fiscal conservative of the first order, but a social liberal in many ways.
In his opinion on welfare was we have a social obligation to take care of the poor, but not make them comfortable. Help them to the extent they can dig themselves out of poverty, but a bit of suffering is good inspiration. A very complex brilliant man, his mapping of the Gulf Stream is a fascinating read.
Franklin’s outlook on social welfare is probably adopted from the many Quakers he knew. He may have also been influenced by the Elizabethan Poor Laws. During Elizabeth (I) reign each county took care of its own and no one could “transfer” those benefits to another county. This way the burden for support or removal from support, usually by way of employment, was the responsibility of the people of one county. There is some merit to this concept.
In a former occupation I uncovered a woman drawing welfare from three states using stolen social security numbers.
I’ve been thinking – I know a dangerous enterprise.
I am beginning to believe the wrong question has been asked. Not what CG history every Coast Guardsman should know? But rather, “What history does every Coast Guardsman expect?”
What is the level of expectation in “telling the Coast Guard story” as was expressed in a 1950 meeting of all the new Coast Guard journalists and photographers?
Do Coast Guardsmen expect weighty thoughtful history? Or do they expect the light and airy type of history? Or more simple yet, the “listory” mentioned by Chuck Hill?
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It is good to find popular history works.
This article will help anyone who wants to built their own 165-foot cutter.
These 350 ton 165B class ships (there was also a class of 1,050 ton 165As), same size as the new fast response cutters, were very successful as ASW vessels. The eleven ships sank two U-boats, both early in the war when it was very difficult. To put this into perspective, all US surface ships during WWII sank only 38 U-boats.
When it happened, they weren’t really properly equipped either. In at least one of those cases (probably both) the cutter did not have its depth charges in racks, they were lashed to the life rails and were cut loose when they attacked.
The depth of explosion and speed of vessel used to be a SWE question. The more shallow the depth the faster the vessel had to be moving. Also no real depths more shallow than 50 feet and a minimum of ten knots or the shaft and or rudder packings were toast–in an old chemo brain has it correct. This is why the K and Y guns were better but took longer to load.
Another SWE question was at what position was the pistol set for Abandon ship. Believe it or not there were people who got it wrong.