July 7, 1798, The Quasi-War with France

Today marks the anniversary of the start of the Quasi-War with Republican France in 1798. As most of us know, the Navy was virtually non-existent. The first three frigates were being completed just as the war began. New cutters with more potential as warships were replacing the original ten and Cutters Pickering and Eagle proved particularly useful. Eagle captured or assisted in the capture of 22 vessels and Pickering captured or recaptured 18 including four privateers. Pickering’s capture of the l’Egypte Conquise was particularly notable because the French privateer was much more heavily armed and had a crew reported as large as 350 compared to Pickering’s crew of about 70. Ultimately Pickering was lost with all hands in a hurricane in  September 1800 that also sank the frigate Insurgent which had been captured by the Constellation and taken into US service.

The Coast Guard History web site has an excellent article (pdf), “Benjamin Hiller & the Cutter Pickering in the Quasi-War with France.” William Thiesen, Sea History 122 (Spring, 2008), pp. 24-27; published with the permission of the National Maritime Historical Society.

Perhaps it is time to have cutters named for Benjamin Hiller and the Revenue Cutter Pickering.

 

 

 

D-Day, 6 June 1944

File:1944 NormandyLST.jpg

A LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel) from the U.S. Coast Guard-manned USS Samuel Chase disembarks troops of the U.S. Army’s First Division on the morning of June 6, 1944 (D-Day) at Omaha Beach. USCG photograph

The Coast Guard historian has an excellent collection (broken link) of stories about the Coast Guard’s participation in the invasion. Virtually all the American made video footage you may see of the Normandy invasion was done by the Coast Guard. The Army Signal Corp lost their footage overboard.

Famous Film maker John Ford, who also filmed the attack on Midway, was in the Navy, but he landed on D-Day with Coast Guard Cameramen. The following is from: “We Shot D-Day on Omaha Beach (An Interview With John Ford)” by Pete Martin, the article first appeared in The American Legion Magazine, June 1964.

Ford was head of the Photographic Department of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) under General “Wild Bill” Donovan. The cameramen in his unit were attached to the Coast Guard and trained for every sort of action. They could drop by parachute, land with raiders, commandos, infantry. They knew about amphibious landings. All Ford had to do was name it. They could do it. He’d hand picked his group of helpers. They were a superb team. Ford was told to head that team up and get both color and black-and-white footage of the invasion of Omaha Beach from start to finish.

“I take my hat off to my Coast Guard kids. They were impressive. They went in first, not to fight, but to photograph. They went with the troops. They were the first ones ashore.”

A Tale of Two Harbor Defense Organizations–Part Two

This is the second in a series comparing two incidents from World War II in which ships tried to force entry into a hostile harbor. Part one looked at the bloody, but ultimately successful British assault on the fortified port of St Nazaire. This part will look a German attempt to force their way into Oslo, Battle of Drøbak Sound. Part three considers what these incidents can tell us about what it takes to stop a terrorist attack on an American port using a ship as a weapon.

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Early in World War II, After the invasion of Poland, but before the invasion of France, the Germans invaded Norway to secure their access to Swedish steel and Iron ore and deny it to the British. (Denmark was also invaded on the same day, to secure airfields to support the Norway invasion.) Unlike their other invasions, there was no direct land route into Norway, so the invasion had to came by sea. With the Royal Navy and their French ally dominate at sea, the transit would be risky, but resistance from the Norwegians was expected to be light. Norway was at peace. They had only a small Navy and standing Army. Their defense depended primarily on mobilizing reservists. If they could be defeated before they mobilized, it would be a quick and relatively inexpensive campaign.

Six separate task forces would seize critical facilities all along the Norwegian coast. Rather than a Normandy style assault, the invasion of Norway looked like several simultaneous Special Forces operations. Troops would be landed from warships that could make the transit quickly. It would all be over before the Norwegian military could react–or so they thought.

The Target:

The particular operation we will examine was to seize the seat of power in Norway. It was intended to capture the capital, Oslo, and with it, the King, the Norwegian cabinet, the Storting (Norwegian Parliament) and the national gold reserve.

Continue reading

First time ever–helicopter to the rescue

On January 18th the Navy celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of Naval Aviation. On the Commander, Naval Air Forces, official web site, among all the pictures of sleek and powerful jets, there is a photo of a crude machine that is nevertheless immediately recognizable as a helicopter sitting on two bulbous pontoons.  This was the Sikorsky HNS-1, it’s pilot was a pioneering Coast Guard aviator named Frank Erickson. He and the HNS-1 made the first helo rescue in history, Jan. 3, 1944. Flying the strange bird through a true “howling gale,” then LCdr., later Captain Erickson, delivered two cases of urgently needed plasma after a series of explosions on the destroyer USS Turner (DD-648) resulted in her capsizing and sinking while anchored off Ambrose Light, taking 138 crewman, about half the crew, with her. The plasma was credited with saving many of the survivors.

Erickson went on to invent many of the devices and techniques we now take for granted.

To all the Coast Guard aviators, thanks for what you do.

Two More Heroes for Two More Cutters

The Coast Guard Compass has continued to expand their coverage of the stories of the individuals the first 14 Fast Response Cutters are to be named for, adding two more since our last post on the subject.

Napier was a Life Saving Service Great Lakes station keeper in the late 19th century. William Trump was one of the many Coast Guardsmen involved in the Normandy invasion. You might also like to follow this link (also included in Trump’s story), that gives more detail about the Coast Guard and the Normandy invasion.

If you would like to catch up on stories previously published, they are linked here.

A footnote in CG history from 1935-38

Found a bit of history with a CG slant, that I was not aware of. It starts in 1935 and involves Guano, Amelia Earhart, politically connected Pan American Airways founder, Juan Trippe, and several Coast Guard cutters in an effort to grab islands on the air route from Hawaii to New Zealand before the British could claim them. In 1979 these islands were ceded to the newly formed nation of Kiribati.

USS Newcomb (DD-586)

After having read William R. Wells, II (Wells2)’s story of First Lieutenant (later Commodore), Frank H. Newcomb, USRCS’s, performance during the Spanish American War, in which Wells2 noted that the Navy had named a destroyer after Commodore Newcomb, and seeing reference to USS Newcomb on the Navy History and Heritage Foundation Facebook page (now a broken link–Chuck) in connection with with the first heavy Kamakaze attacks of the Okinawa Campaign, I had to find out more.

The ship had a very short but illustrious career. She sank at least one and maybe two Japanese subs, lead a torpedo attack that sank a battleship, and survived five kamakaze hits. You can read about it here. They did get some things wrong with regard to the Battle of Cardenas, and the ships anti-aircraft battery, but the rest of the information appears reliable, and some of the pictures of the damage to the ship are very impressive.

This gives us another reason to name a cutter after Newcomb. Not only would we be honoring one of our heroes. We would be honoring this brave ship and our ties with the Navy.