The Coast Guard in the WWII Battle of the Atlantic

A look back at Coast Guard participation in the Battle of the Atlantic, with a short excursion into the Mediterranean.

USCGC Alexander Hamilton (WPG-34)

January 29, 1942, Shortly after dropping the tow of a disabled merchant ship, USCGC Alexander Hamilton was torpedoed on the starboard side by the German submarine U-132, which had been patrolling the Icelandic coast near Reykjavík. The explosion killed twenty men instantly and the total death toll was 26. Hamilton capsized and sank Jan. 30. U-132 would sink 10 ships (39,496 tons) and damage one (6,690 tons). The U-boat would destroyed by the explosion of her last victim, 4 Nov. 1942, with the loss of all 47 aboard.

USCGC Icarus (WPC-110) arriving at Charleston Navy Yard with prisoners of war from the U-boat U-352, 10 May 1942, US Navy photo

May 9, 1942, USCGC Icarus sank U-352 south of Cape Hatteras, 15 dead and 33 survivors. The Navy did an extensive intelligence report on the U-352 and its sinking which is still available on line.

USCGC Thetis (WPC-115)

June 13, 1942, USCGC Thetis, Icarus’ sister ship, sank U-157 in the Gulf of Mexico north of Havana, Cuba with all hands. 52 dead. U-157 had sunk one ship, an American Tanker named Hagen, two officers and four crewmen were lost and three more injured.

Dec. 17, 1942 USCGC Ingham was credited with sinking U-626, but that now seems unlikely. U-626 went missing 14 December 1942 in the North Atlantic south of Iceland. There is no explanation for its loss. 47 dead (all hands lost). She had been underway a total of only 14 fruitless days.

Escanaba rescuing survivors from USAT Dorchester. USCG Image.

Feb. 3, 1943 The Army Transport Dorchester being escorted by the 240 foot Tampa (WPG-48) and two 165 foot “A” class cutters, Escanaba (WPG-77) and Comanche (WPG-76), is torpedoed and sunk by U-223. Despite extraordinary effort by the escorts, of the 904 aboard, there were 675 dead and only 229 survivors.  And U-223? She would sink for otherwise destroy two more merchant vessels, a Canadian frigate, and, on the last day of her existence, sink a Royal Navy destroyer, HMS Loferey, using an acoustic homing torpedo (189 dead). U-223 was

Sunk on 30 March 1944 in the Mediterranean Sea north-east of Palermo, in position 38.48N, 14.10E, by depth charges from the British destroyers HMS Laforey and HMS Tumult and the British escort destroyers HMS Hambledon and HMS Blencathra. 23 dead and 27 survivors.

Polish destroyer en:ORP Burza in 1940 in Great Britain. Republic of Poland, Polish Government in Exile.Ministry of Information War Photo Service, London 1940. Press released by Polish Government 1940. Source: Jerzy Pertek Morze w ogniu 1939-1945 : na frontach i za kulisami wojny morskiej T. 1-2. 2nd Edition Poznań 1975

Feb. 22, 1943, Polish destroyer ORP Burza depth charged and force to the surface U-606. USCGC Campbell rammed U-606 sinking the sub in the North Atlantic east of Newfoundland. Campbell was damaged when a diving plane pierced the hull at the engineroom, leaving her dead in the water. Burza protected her until she was taken in tow. U-606, 36 dead and 11 survivors.

USCGC Campbell (WPG-32) heading to port at Norfolk Navy Yard. 26 July 1943. US National Archives, photo 80-G-76569

Mar. 8, 1943, USCGC Spencer sank U-633 in the North Atlantic south-west of Iceland. All hands (43) were lost with the U-boat.  U-633 had only one war patrol and had sunk one ship, the British merchant steamer Guido of 3,921 tons.

At 08.55 hours on 8 March 1943 the Guido was torpedoed and sunk by U-633 about 450 miles east-southeast of Cape Farewell. The vessel was a romper (it had left the convoy and running ahead–Chuck) 10 miles off the starboard bow of convoy SC-121. Eight crew members and two gunners were lost. The master, 28 crew members and six gunners were picked up by USCGC Spencer (WPG 36) and landed at Londonderry.

USCGC Spencer (WPG-36) in 1942 or 1943. Spencer sank U-175 with assistance of USCGC Duane, on April 17, 1943.

April 17, 1943, USCGC Spencer sank U-175 in the North Atlantic south-west of Ireland. The U-boat suffered 13 dead and had 41 survivors. U-175 had had three war patrols and had sunk 10 ships, total tonnage 40,619 GRT, including four US flag and two US owned of Panamanian registry. 65 crewmember or armed guard died in these ten sinkings.

USCGC Escanaba is explodes and sinks off Ivigtut, Greenland, probably as a result of a torpedo. There were only two survivors out of a crew of 103 rescued by the USCGC Raritan.

Jan. 12, 1944 USCGC Duane goes into yard for conversion to an Amphibious Force Flagship, all the remaining 327s will soon follow, ending their career as anti-submarine escorts.

Mar. 9,1944, Coast Guard manned Destroyer Escort, USS Leopold (DE-319) is torpedoed and sunk by an acoustic homing torpedo (GNAT–German Navy Acoustic Torpedo) launched by U-255. U-255 survived the war, having completed 15 war patrols and sinking 12 ships totaling 56,031 tons including seven American merchant ships in addition to USS Leopold.

On 9 March 1944 the US Coast Guard manned USS Leopold (Cmdr. Kenneth Coy Phillips, USCG) was on her second voyage and escorting the convoy CU-16, when she got an acoustic contact about 400 miles south of Iceland and turned to investigate it. But before the destroyer escort reached the U-boat, she was hit at 22.00 hours by a Gnat from U-255 and was abandoned. The vessel broke in two and remained afloat, but both parts sank early the next morning in position 58º44’N, 25º50’W. 172 died which includes all 13 officers and only 28 ratings survived who were picked up by USS Joyce (DE 317).

Apr. 16, 1944, USS Gandy (DE-764) and Coast Guard manned Destroyer Escorts USS Joyce (DE-317) and USS Peterson (DE-152) sank U-550, 70 miles south of Nantucket, Mass, 44 dead and 12 survivors. Some two hours after the attack USS Joyce and USS Peterson together pick up 56 survivors from the American tanker Pan Pennsylvania that was the first and only ship sunk by U-550. 25 were lost with Pan Pennsylvania.

Coast Guard manned Destroyer Escort USS Menges, victim of a German Acoustic Homing Torpedo, May, 1944

May 3, 1944, Coast Guard manned Destroyer Escort, USS Menges is torpedoed off the Mediterranean coast of North Africa, by U-371 using a GNAT but survived. 31 were killed and 25 wounded. A 95′-long section of the stern portion of Navy manned sister ship USS Holders hull was used to repair USS Menges

USS Pride DE-323

USS Pride (DE-323), Coast Guard manned destroyer escort

May 4, 1944 U-371 is sunk by Coast Guard manned Destroyer Escort, USS Pride USS Pride and USS Joseph E. Campbell, the French destroyer escort Sénégalais and the British escort destroyer HMS Blankney sank U-371 (3 dead and 49 survivors) in the Mediterranean Sea north-east of Bougie but not before U-371 also put a torpedo (GNAT)  into the Free French Destroyer Escort Sénégalais (built as USS Corbesier (DE-106) damaging her as well. U-371 had made 19 war patrols and sank or damaged 19 ships.

USS Lowe (DE-325) as USCGC Lowe (WDE-425)

USS Lowe (DE-325) in its later guise as USCGC Lowe (WDE-425)

March 18, 1945, Coast Guard manned Destroyer Escorts Menges, Pride, Mosley, and Lowe sank U-866 South East of Halifax, 55 dead (all hands lost). U-866 spent a total of 50 days at sea and had not damaged any allied shipping.

On 18 Mar 1945, U-866 was sunk by the only hunter-killer group in the North Atlantic manned completely by US Coast Guard personnel, consisting of four destroyer escorts, USS Pride (DE 323), USS Mosley (DE 321), USS Lowe (DE 325) and USS Menges (DE 320).

USS Moberly (PF-63) Off San Francisco, CA in early 1946.
Naval Historical Center photo NH 79077

May 7, 1945, USS Atherton (DE-169) and Coast Guard manned Frigate USS Moberly (PF-63) sank U-853 in the North Atlantic south-east of New London. 55 were lost with U-853. The U-boat had sunk two ships, totaling 5,783 tons. 61 died on the two ships sunk by U-853.


Overall the Germans lost 768 U-boats (reported losses vary). Some were lost to accidents or mine, but in general about 200 were lost to US aircraft, about 200 to allied aircraft, and about 200 to allied surface vessels. US surface vessels sank 38 (last I heard). US surface ships also, of course, sank a large number of Japanese and some Italian submarines.

In terms of human lives, 28,000 German U-boat crew of the total 40,900 men recruited into the service lost their lives and 5,000 were taken prisoners of war. Some 30,000 men of the allied merchant service died, in addition to an unknown number of Allied naval personnel.

You may have heard that a Coast Guard aircraft had sunk a U-boat. This was U-166, previously credited to a J4F-1 Grumman Goose (USCG V-212/Y). When the wreck was found, it was determined that it had been destroyed by depth charges from the US patrol craft USS PC-566. 52 dead (all hands lost).

In this short retelling of selected engagements, I cannot help but notice five escort vessels fell victim to German Navy Acoustic Torpedoes (GNATs). Two sank, one total constructive loss. and two badly damaged, but repaired.


7 thoughts on “The Coast Guard in the WWII Battle of the Atlantic

  1. In the ’80s, the Soviets updated the German acoustic wake torpedo concept with an upward-looking sonar to detect a ship’s wake, the torpedo zigzags from one side of the wake to the other until it reaches its target. Evasive action by ship has no effect because wherever it goes, its wake follows and as the torpedo is not tracking the ship’s noise so it won’t be diverted by ship launched acoustic decoy.

    To protect the CVNs Navy funded development Surface Ship Torpedo Defense (SSTD) System with a Torpedo Warning System (TWS) using a towed body to pick up sound of attacking torpedo and the ship launched hard kill mini anti-torpedo-torpedo (less than half size and weight of a LWT), the Countermeasure Anti-Torpedo (CAT), the combined TWS and CAT called Anti-Torpedo Torpedo Defensive System (ATTDS) and was fitted it to five CVNs, but in September 2018 the Navy suspended the program for whatever reason, maybe towed body sonar sensor unable to pick out torpedo signature from the very noisy enviroment created by ships propellers or the CAT for whatever reason not accurate/effective?, Navy removed all kit from the CVNs.

  2. Should have included this. USCGC Acacia (WAGL-200) sunk by gunfire from the German submarine U-161 south of Haiti, 15 March 1942. From Wikipedia. On 15 March 1942, from 11:37 until 12:11, while en route alone from Curaçao, Netherlands West Indies to Antigua, British West Indies, Acacia was sunk by gunfire from the German submarine U-161 as part of Operation Neuland approximately 150 mi (130 nmi; 240 km) south of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The U-boat opened fire on the unarmed tender with 68 rounds from her 10.5-centimetre (4.1 in)/45 caliber deck gun, 92 rounds from her 3.7-centimetre (1.5 in)/83 caliber anti-aircraft (AA) gun, and 70 rounds from her 2-centimetre (0.8 in)/65 caliber AA gun. Acacia caught fire and the entire crew of Acacia abandoned ship before she sank by the stern. The survivors were located by a PBY “Catalina” and picked up by Overton. They were landed at San Juan 16 March 1942. She was the only U.S. buoy tender sunk by enemy action during the war.

  3. Pingback: The Coast Guard in the WWII Battle of the Atlantic — Chuck Hill’s CG Blog – battleoftheatlantic19391945

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