Coast Guard manned destroyer escort USS Menges (DE-320) showing the effects of an acoustic homing torpedo hit on the stern.
It is entirely appropriate for Veteran’s Day weekend reading, but this post was prompted by a recent update of the list of “Top Ten Posts.” I found that the 2011 post “What Does It Take to Sink a Ship?” was not only the top post since I started writing, it is also the top post of 2016. That looked at Navy major surface combatant losses in WWII, but I realized I have never surveyed the Coast Guard’s WWII losses.
This began as another shameless attempt to get the Coast Guard to recognize that they need torpedoes to stop medium to large ships, but it grew into a more comprehensive look at CG losses in WII. I did find that six (or seven, Escanaba?) Coast Guard or CG manned vessels were hit by torpedoes and in every case the ship was either sunk (four or five?) or immobilized (two).
I found a couple of good sources. “The Coast Guard at War” is a series of monographs completed shortly after WWII (between 1045 and 1950) and most of the apparently 25 volumes are available in pdf format here, along with a lot of other WWII references. In particular I used The Coast Guard At War: Lost Cutters (Official History Series, Volume VIII, 1947). It lists the loss of 16 Coast Guard vessels and the loss of 12 Coast Guard manned Navy vessels, but two of these (one Navy and one CG) were actually after the war was over. My other source was “U. S. Coast Guard Ship Losses” by Jim Gill, on the US Coast Guard Light Ship Sailors Association International web site. This source identifies 40 losses beginning with the Tahoma in 1914 up to USCGC Mesquite (WLB-305), grounded in 1989. It included three losses not listed in the official history, all by torpedoes:
- (FS-255), a small Army freighter, 560 tons, torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine while anchored, 11 May 1945, with the loss of four men.
- USS Menges (DE-320), 1,590 tons, torpedoed while on convoy duty, 4 May, 1944, the ship survived severe damage to her stern, but there were 31 dead.
- USS Etamin (AK-93), 7,176 tons, which was hit by a hit by an air launched torpedo and damaged badly enough that it was decommissioned and was used subsequently as an unpowered floating warehouse. One dead.
Coast Guard Vessels Lost:
The Coast Guard lost 15 vessels during the course of WWII. Of those, three are believed to be the result of enemy action. Of the remaining 12, eight were a result of adverse weather. 214 Coast Guardsmen were killed in these 15 incidents.
The three ships presumed loss to enemy action included the three largest Coast Guard vessels lost during the war:
- USCGC Alexander Hamilton (WPG-34), 2,350 tons, torpedoed, 26 dead,
- USCGC Acacia (WAGL-200), 1,130 tons, shelled and sunk by U-boat, no fatalities,
- USCGC Escanaba (WPG-77), 1005 tons. explosion of unkown origin, 101 dead
CG 85006, 67 tons, was destroyed by an explosion, probably gasoline vapors, 27 Mar.’43, four dead.
CG 58012, 30 tons, was destroyed by fire, 2 May ’43, no fatalities.
CG 83421, 44 tons, was sunk in a collision, 30 June ’43, no fatalities.
USCGC Bodega (WYP-342), 588 tons, went aground attempting to assist another vessel, 20 Dec. ’43, no fatalities.
The eight vessels lost to foul weather were:
- USCGC Natsek, 225 tons, Dec. ’42, 24 dead, 23 CG
- USCGC EM Wilcox (WYP-333), 435 tons, 30 Sept. ’43, one dead
- USCGC EM Dow (WYP-353), 435 tons, 14 Oct. ’43, no fatalities.
- CG 83415 and CG 83477, both 44 tons, off the Normandy coast, 21 June, ’44, no fatalities.
- USCGC Bedloe (WSC-128) and Jackson (WSC-142), both 232 tons, plus the Vineyard Sound Lightship 73, 693 tons, 14 Sep. ’44, in the “The Great Atlantic Hurricane,” 59 dead on the three ships.
LV 73 on the Vineyard Sound station where she served from 1924 through 1944. On 14 September 1944 she was carried off station during a hurricane and sank with the loss of all hands.
It might be assumed that the non-combat casualties were not war related, but that might not be the case. The urgency of the missions, the diversion of more capable ships to escort duty, the influx of inexperienced personnel placed in responsible positions, and the use of vessels pressed into service for which they may have been ill-suited, were all a result of the war, and it led to crews being placed in more danger than would have been the case in peacetime.
Coast Guard Manned Navy Vessels Lost:
Of the eleven Coast Guard manned US Navy ships lost during WWII, seven were lost to enemy action, the others were:
- LST 203, 2,366 tons, was stranded after an intentional beaching, 1 Oct. ’43, no fatalities.
- LST-69, 2,366 tons, destroyed in the West Loch disaster, 21 May ’44, no fatalities.
- USS Serpens (AK-97), 14,250 tons, destroyed as a result of an apparent internal explosion of its cargo, 29 Jan. ’45, 196 CG fatalities. (Largest single loss of CG personnel)
- USS Sheepscot (AOG-24), 2,270 tons, driven ashore by adverse weather, 6 June ’45, no fatalities.
USS Serpens (AK-97) US Navy photo #NH 89186, from the collections of the US Naval Historical Center, courtesy William H Davis, 1997
USS Sheepscot (AOG-24) underway, August 1944, US Navy photo
Those lost to enemy action were:
- USS Muskeget, 1,827 tons, was torpedoed, 9 Sep. ’42, 121 dead, 116 CG.
- LST-167, 2,366 tons, bombed, 25/26 Sep. ’43, 15 dead, 8 CG.
- USS Leopold (DE-319), hit by an acoustic homing torpedo, 9 Mar. ’44, 171 dead
- Four LCI(L)s, #85, 91, 92, and 93, all 387 tons, four of 24 CG manned LCI(L)s that participated in the Normandy invasion, lost to a combination of obstacles, teller mine, and shore batteries. No information was available on the number of CG fatalities.
Photo: USCGC Muskeget, seen here before conversion to a weather ship. http://www.navsource.org/archives/09/49/49048.htm
“LST discharges supplies. . .”; no date (November, 1943?); Photo No. 3237; photographer unknown. The Coast Guard-manned LST-69 disembarks equipment during the Tarawa invasion.
USS Leopold (DE-319) being launched.
Normandy Invasion, June 1944 A convoy of Landing Craft Infantry (Large) sails across the English Channel toward the Normandy Invasion beaches on “D-Day”, 6 June 1944. Each of these landing craft is towing a barrage balloon for protection against low-flying German aircraft. Photograph from the U.S. Coast Guard Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Photo #: 26-G-2333
“SHE FELT THE NAZIS’ WRATH:” A U.S. Coast Guard infantry landing craft still flies its flag, though knocked out of the invasion, ripped and wounded on the beaches of France. Moving in for a landing, the LCI ran afoul of an underwater obstruction, which tore a gaping hole in her bow. Then as its cargo of troops piled ashore, Nazi shells battered her out of further action.”; no date; Photo No. 2395; photographer unknown.
It may be surprising that it appears the Coast Guard lost two and half to three times as many men in Coast Guard manned Navy vessels, as in Coast Guard vessels.
According to the Coast Guard history web site,
Two hundred and fourteen thousand two hundred and thirty-nine persons served in the Coast Guard during World War II. That number included 12,846 women. The Coast Guard lost a total of 1,917 persons during the war with 574 losing their life in action, “died of wounds” received in action, or perishing as a “Prisoner of War.”
These incidents account over 40% of all lives lost and a majority of lives lost as a result of enemy action.