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.


“Growing Missions, Shrinking Fleet” –USNI

The US Naval Institute has an argument in favor of funding National Security Cutter #12

The author talks about the shortage of ships both because of the failure of the crew rotation concept and because of the shortfall revealed in the Fleet Mix Study. This has been discussed in the Congressional Research Service report on Cutter Acquisition.

What I found new, was information about SOUTHCOM interceptions,

In congressional testimony last year, Admiral Craig Faller, Commander, U.S. Southern Command, noted: “The Coast Guard’s presence any given day is six to eight cutters. . . . But, keep in mind, we’re talking about covering areas the size of the United States—with from six to 10 ships. And so, the interdiction percentage with the current assets we have is about 6 percent of the detections. So, we need more ships.”

that is a lower interception rate than previously reported, and impact on jobs,

The NSC is an indispensable national asset. The economic impact of the NSC production line touches nearly 500 suppliers across 39 states. An additional ship order would help jumpstart the U.S. economy and have an immediate and profound effect on a host of U.S. suppliers, who stand ready to deliver. Moving forward with a 12th NSC is low risk.

If we had been further along with the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC), I would say, just build another OPC instead of a twelth NSC, but we were way behind in starting the OPC program and the difficulties at Eastern put us even further behind.

The OPC program is so far behind, that the Bertholf is likely to be 30 years old before the 25th OPC is ready for its first operational mission. Plus we really do need more than 36 large patrol cutters, but the fact we have not done a new Fleet Mix Study in almost ten years does not help our case.


“SECNAV Nominee Commits to Advancing Navy’s Arctic Presence” –Seapower

Kenneth J. Braithwaite, U.S. ambassador to Norway and the nominee to become the next Navy secretary, in 2018. During his Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing on May 7, Braithwaite spoke of the importance of the U.S. foothold in the Arctic to counter “Great Power Competitors” China and Russia. U.S Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Theron J. Godbold

The Navy League on-line magazine is reporting that the current nominee for Secretary of the Navy, a former Navy P-3 patrol plane commander, is saying that he will be a strong advocate for a Navy presence in the Arctic.

Braithwaite also told Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) that he would be a strong advocate for a strategic Arctic port large enough to handle destroyers and icebreakers. The nearest such port is Anchorage, Alaska, which is 1,500 miles from the Arctic Circle, Sullivan added.

“The great news is the United States Navy has been up there for many, many years,” Braithwaite said. “You may not see them, but they’re up there. As it begins to become more navigable on the surface, we also need to make sure that our presence is noted.”

“We continue to need to be vigilant,” he added. “We continue to need to be present. That requires an adequate-size Navy to be there.”

“It will be a priority of mine.”

We talked about Arctic port development earlier:


May the 4th Be With You

A typical day on the Imperial Star Destroyer Kimball. (stolen from Kimball’s Facebook page)


“This isn’t my laundry?!”

Touch and Goes

HIFR (Hot In Flight Refuel)

All hands qualified at the range, except for TK-0756 (…again)


TK-0756 on Messcook duty

“What is the password to unlock the Detention Block!?”

Main Control

“Conn, Lookout. Rebel X-wing fighters inbound!”

“Contact bears 115 degrees relative, position angle 2”

General Quarters!



“Austal Australia has been awarded contract to design and build Cape-class Patrol Boats for Australian Navy” –Navy Recognition

The six new Cape-class patrol boats will extend the fleet of ten ships currently operated by the Australian Border Force and Royal Australian Navy around Australia (Image: ADV Cape Inscription operating with the RAN)

NavyRecognition reports,

Austal Limited is pleased to announce that Austal Australia has been awarded an A$324 million contract to design and construct six evolved Cape-class Patrol Boats (CCPBs) for the Royal Australian Navy.

These “Cape Class” patrol vessels are a bit unusual in size, slotting between typical “inshore” and “offshore” patrol vessels. We talked about this class when Trinidad and Tobago ordered two of them.

This is the information we had on the class earlier, compared to the Webber class.

  • Displacement about twice as large: 700 tons vice 353
  • Length: 57.8 m (190 ft) vice 46.8 m (154 ft)
  • Beam: 10.3 m (34 ft) vice 8.11 m (26.6 ft)
  • Draft: 3 m (9.8 ft) vice 2.9 m (9.5 ft)
  • HP, less: 6,772 vice 11,600
  • Speed, slower: 25 vice 28
  • Crew, smaller: 18 vice 24
  • Boats: two on davits vice one in stern ramp
  • Range: greater, 4000 vice 2500 nautical miles
  • Endurance: greater, 28 vice 5 days

These new ships will have some upgrades including accommodation for 32.

I was a little surprised by this procurement. Not too long ago, Australian Navy’s patrol force consisted of only thirteen 300 ton Armidale class patrol boats. These are being replaced by twelve 80 meter OPVs. None of these larger vessels have been completed so far. In the interim they leased two of these Cape Class. Now they are getting six more, improved versions. Presumably they will retain these even after the larger OPVs are completed, giving them 20 vessels.

Two 140 meter (459 foot) Cutters for South Korean Coast Guard

Naval News reports that the Korea Coast Guard will be receiving two new cutters. These are reported to displace 4,200 tons full load, meaning they are slightly smaller, but considerably longer than the 418 foot 4500 ton National Security Cutters and 360 foot Offshore Patrol Cutters of similar displacement.

There is no indication of the speed of the new cutters, but the earlier similar sized cutters, hull numbers 3009, 3010, and 3011 were reportedly capable of 28 knots. Armament seems be being standardized at a twin 40mm mount and 20mm Sea Vulcan Gatling Guns, both locally produced.

The Korean Coast Guard currently has 36 cutters of more than 1500 tons full load, including two of 6,500 tons full load, only one of the 36 is over 26 years old. Their Exclusive Economic Zone is less than 2.7% that of the US, but it is complicated by the proximity of North Korea, China, Russia, and Japan.

“Elbit Systems Integrates Active Towed Array Sonar onboard its Seagull USV” –Naval News

Naval News is reporting that Israeli Defense Contractor Elbit has integrated the Canadian company Geospectrum’s Unmanned Surface Vessel version of their “Towed Reelable Active Passive Sonar” (TRAPS) with Elbit’s Seagull USV.

The Seagull is only 12 meters in length.

We have talked about TRAPS several times before, here, here, and here, but the video above is the clearest representation of how I works I have see so far. You can see the active element coming off the reel at time 23 to 25 seconds on this very short video.

It this works anything like it is claimed to (and the Canadian Navy has tested it), this could be a relatively easy route to reintroducing an ASW capability into the Coast Guard. It could also help detect low profile semi-submersible drug runners.

It might even find a home on the WPB replacement.


Battle of Amami-Ōshima

This December 2001 “battle,” described as a six hour firefight, between a small North Korea (NK) vessel and four Japanese Coast Guard cutters was unusual, but it is interesting for what it can tell us about the difficulties of dealing with a vessel that refuses to stop, as would probably be the case with a terrorist attack.

The incident happened outside Japanese territorial waters but inside their EEZ.

The NK vessel appeared to be a trawler, but this was no trawler. It was reportedly capable of 33 knots.

The Japanese went through the usual procedures trying to get the vessel to stop, flags, loud hailer, warning shots. When these were ignored, at least initially the Japanese apparently chose an aim point forward in the vessel where it was unlikely to hit crew members. Over 1000 shots were fired.

As appears to be standard procedure with the Japanese Coast Guard, it was not a single cutter, but a team of cutters that responded. In this case four. Japan Coast Guard aircraft were on scene, but apparently they had no airborne use of force capability.

Generally in the video, it appears that the cutters remained abaft the beam of the target vessel, minimizing the pursued vessels opportunity to ram a cutter and also insuring that friendly vessels were not in the line of fire.

Tsurugi class cutter PS202 Hotaka. From Wikipedia commons.

The Japanese cutters seen in the video appear to be Tsurugi class “high speed special patrol ships” specifically designed to intercept high speed North Korean vessels engaged in espionage or smuggling. They are longer but lighter than the Webber class, 50 meters (164 feet) in length with a 220 ton full load displacement and three diesels totaling

15,000 HP through three water jets. They are reportedly capable of 50 knots (other sources indicate 40 knots) and are armed with a JM61 20 mm Gatling gun, the Japanese version of the same gun that arms the Phalanx close in weapon system (CIWS). These might be thought of as similar to my proposal for a WPB replacement, Response boat, large–interceptor.

After the North Korean vessel was disabled the cutters came close aboard. The wisdom of this was questionable since the vessel had been firing at the cutters. In fact the nearby cutter was fired upon (time 6:50 on the video). Subsequently apparently the crew of the NK vessel detonated scuttling charges, which had they been larger, might have damaged a nearby cutter.

15 survivors were seen after the sinking, but the cutters were told to ignore the as there was fear they would respond to rescue attempts with suicidal violence. Cutter crews were relatively small. All were lost. Only three bodies were recovered.

Damage to at least one cutter is shown in the last 30 seconds of the video.

The North Korean vessel was small, 29.7 meters (97.4 feet) in length, but still the weapons used against it were found wanting. Due to the presence of heavy weapons like RPGs, recoilless rifles, and MANPADs on N. Korea spy vessels, the Japanese concluded that the 20mm Gatling gun was not adequate for their purposes and now expect to include vessels with 40mm guns in any similar future operation.

As I have noted before, I believe all Coast Guard vessels, WPB and larger, should be armed to forcibly stop any vessel regardless of size and have an effective range of at least 4,000 yards, so as to be outside the effective range of most potential improvised vessel weapon systems.

The North Korean vessel was subsequently raised to allow investigation of the incident. The vessel some of its contents are on display at the Japan Coast Guard museum in Yokohama (see below).

A steel helmet and parts of a Soviet B-10 recoilless rifle.

ZPU-2 14.5mm anti-aircraft gun found on the North Korean spy trawler sunk by the Japanese Coast Guard in 2001. Transferred from ja.Wikipedia; ja:Image:North-Korea spy-vessel 2.jpg, Author: Bakkai at Japanese Wikipedia

Weapons including RPGs and automatic weapons found when the North Korean vessel was raised. Author: Nomansland511 (a.k.a. nattou)

North-Korean Spy Vessel Rear View, showing boat hangar in stern. Author: nattou

North-Korean Spy Vessel in Japan Coast Guard Yokohama Base, Kanagawa, Japan. Author: nattou


“USCG Polar Security Cutter” –Maritime Reporter and Engineering News

Maritime Reporter and Engineering News has a brief, four page, report on the Coast Guard’s Polar Security Cutter (PSC) (heavy icebreaker) program written by marine consultant, lawyer, and retired USCG Captain Dennis L. Bryant, Academy class of 1968.

There is not a lot new here if you have been following this website, but it is a good summary.

While it is true that, The design of the PSC is based on that of the German polar research and supply icebreaker Polarstern II,” we now know that while Polarstern II was supposed to have been the parent design for the PSC, that project was cancelled and no contract for its construction was ever awarded.

Looking at the current plan for three heavy and three medium icebreakers, he suggests that the Coast Guard,

 “…consider the alternative of three heavy polar icebreakers utilizing the current design and then have three other heavy polar icebreakers constructed on the same hull and propulsion design, but with greater emphasis on oceanographic and atmospheric research in polar waters.  Utilizing the same hull and propulsion design will save time and money in the construction phase.”

Since the price has come down and should continue to do so with each successive ship, building more ships of basically the same configuration makes sense. There are already plans to provide space for science and research.

Presumably, at least the first two PSCs, and perhaps all three, will be assigned primarily to work in the Antarctic. The second class will probably work primarily in the Arctic. Operating frequently in the US EEZ, enforcing US laws and regulations, it makes sense to arm them more like other large cutters, like the NSC or OPC. In view of the apparent improvements being made to projectiles for the 57mm Mk110, a good fit might be two of these, one forward and one aft, to provide 360 defensive coverage. Using two of these weapons rather than one of 57mm and a second different weapon like the Phalanx, would minimize requirements for training and spares.

If things become confrontational in Antarctica, asI expect they will, these more heavily armed icebreakers could be used there as well.