Remembering SM1 Douglas Munro

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US Coast Guard photograph

Today is the 70th anniversary of the death of SM1 Douglas Munro, who died saving 250 Marines from almost certain death, on an isolated beach, on an infamous killing ground called Guadalcanal.

Most all of us who have served in the Coast Guard have heard the story. For background there is also the story of the unit he was part of, NOB Cactus.

I find myself asking again, will there be a Cutter Munro? It was to have been the seventh National Security Cutter, but it has been deferred indefinitely. I still feel, naming the first OPC for our Medal of Honor winner, and giving his name to the entire class, would be most appropriate.

The Battle for Convoy ON-166, 25 February 1943

The Navy History Center is featuring a short narrative and photos from this classic convoy battle between eight escorts lead by Coast Guard Cutters Spencer and Campbell and 19 U-boats during the critical winter months of 1943.

For more information on the Coast Guard’s battles against the U-boats, there are a series of extensively captioned photos of 327s here, an accounting of “U.S. Coast Guard Combat Victories of World War II” which also lists significant losses is here, and a twenty page pdf on the Battle of the North Atlantic is here.

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

 

A Tale of Two Harbor Defense Organizations–Part One

This is the start of a three part series, the story of two harbor defense organizations, how one, already at war, well trained and well armed, failed to stop a small force, while another, ostensibly at peace, facing a vastly stronger force, and in many ways poorly prepared, managed to stop their enemy.

I’ll put both stories in context, but what I found most interesting and most relevant to current Coast Guard missions was the means employed and the relative success of each in stopping a hostile ship from reaching its objective inside a port. The third part will talk about implications for the Coast Guard.

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First, the St Nazaire raid. This is normally told from the prospective of the heroic British sailors and commandos who successfully ran a small ship (about the size of a 210) into the gates of the only dry dock on the Atlantic coast of occupied Europe where major German warships, including the Battleship Tirpitz, could be serviced. There the four and a half tons of explosive packed into the bow of the ship, exploded, wrecking the dry dock gates and disabling it for the remainder of the war. Continue reading

A Tale of Two Harbor Defense Organizations–Part One

This is the start of a three part series, the story of two harbor defense organizations, how one, already at war, well trained and well armed, failed to stop a small force, while another, ostensibly at peace, facing a vastly stronger force, and in many ways poorly prepared, managed to stop their enemy.

I’ll put both stories in context, but what I found most interesting and most relevant to current Coast Guard missions was the means employed and the relative success of each in stopping a hostile ship from reaching its objective inside a port. The third part will talk about implications for the Coast Guard.

File:Saint Nazaire Harbour 1942.png
First, the St Nazaire raid. This is normally told from the prospective of the heroic British sailors and commandos who successfully ran a small ship (about the size of a 210) into the gates of the only dry dock on the Atlantic coast of occupied Europe where major German warships, including the Battleship Tirpitz, could be serviced. There the four and a half tons of explosive packed into the bow of the ship, exploded, wrecking the dry dock gates and disabling it for the remainder of the war. Continue reading

Integration in World War II

Monday I found this on my facebook:

“On 27 Dec 1990, the first female commanding officer of a U.S. Navy vessel, Lcdr Darlene Iskra reported for duty on board USS Opportune (ARS-41) at Naples, Italy, serving until 1993. After retiring in 2000 and completing a Ph.D seven years later, Darlene Iskra is now a professor and an author of numerous publications about Women in the Armed Forces.”

I couldn’t help but comment, “In April 1979, LTJG Beverly Kelley became the first woman to command a Coast Guard cutter, the USCGC Cape Newhagen.”

and referenced this: http://www.womensmemorial.org/H&C/History/kelley_bucci.html

The link above had a throw away line, “Just as had been the case when the Coast Guard set up its first racially integrated ships’ companies during World War II, the “mixed crews” quietly settled into a working routine and went about their business with little commotion.”

This was the first I had heard of truly racially integrated ship in WWII. The Navy had none. They did man a destroyer escort and a sub-chaser with all black enlisted and all white officers, adding a few black officers later.

“…in early 1944 the Bureau of Naval Personnel assigned 196 black enlisted men and 44 white officers and petty officers to the USS Mason, a newly commissioned destroyer escort, with the understanding that all enlisted billets would be filled by Negroes as soon as those qualified to fill them had been trained. It also assigned 53 black rated seamen and 14 white officers and noncommissioned officers to a patrol craft, the PC 1264. Both ships eventually replaced their white petty officers and some of their officers with Negroes. Among the latter was Ens. Samuel Gravely, who was to become the Navy’s first black admiral.”

Near the end of the war they did add a token number of African-Americans to some auxiliaries in rating other than messmen but it was a long way from full integration.

The Coast Guard apparently handled it much differently. And as is frequently the case one man made all the difference. Enter Carlton Skinner, USCGR and the SEA CLOUD.

The USS Sea Cloud, CG

From December 1943 until she was decommissioned in November 1944, without fanfare or publicity, she functioned as a fully integrated ship with all ranks and ratings open to African Americans. When she was decommissioned Skinner went on to captain a Coast Guard manned destroyer escort which was also integrated.

It had been Skinner’s idea, not as a means of redressing social ills, but simply with the objective of making the best use of manpower possible. He formed the idea while serving as XO on the NORTHLAND (including the period when she captured a German weather trawler) influenced by the performance of a messman who wanted to be a motor-machinist’s mate, later CWO Oliver T. Henry, USCG.

“The proposal had to be and was based solely on military and naval effectiveness.  This was because, first, that was the origin of the idea; second, because I was sure that it was the only legitimate basis for considering a plan for racial integration of the armed forces during wartime.”

The Coast Guard experience may have influenced the Navy as well.

“I had hoped it would be copied.  To the best of my knowledge it was not copied, as such.  However, in February of 1945, the Navy issued revised regulations permitting up to 10 per cent of general ratings in non-combat naval ships to be Negroes.  I think my experiment was helpful in producing this change.  I had worked before the war with Eugene Duffield who was a wartime assistant to Secretary of the Navy [James V.] Forrestal.  On a trip through Washington in the winter of 1944, after the Sea Cloud was decommissioned, I visited Duffield and told him the whole story, how it started, how it worked and my convictions on the military necessity of integration aboard ship to get the maximum use of manpower skills in the population.  Duffield later sent me a copy of the revised Navy procedure on this.”

A final note, the Navy has decided to allow female officers on selected submarines.

68 Years Ago Today, Douglas Munro Earned His Medal of Honor

Just a reminder that today was the 68th anniversary of the death of the Coast Guard’s most famous  hero. If he had lived, he would be 90 now, a grand father and probably great grand father. Instead, he and those with him saved 250 Marines. Presumably there are a lot of grand children and great grand children because of their heroism.

End of WWII–65 Years Ago Today

We shouldn’t let the day pass without recognizing that WWII ended 65 years ago today with the formal surrender of Japan on the deck of the battleship Missouri. Acceptance of terms of surrender had been announced on August 15. The boys and girls who entered the services to defeat the enemies of mankind are old or dead today, but we salute them.

Thank you, for all you did.

Operation Dragoon, the Invasion of Southern France, 15 Aug. 1944

The Naval History and Heritage Command reminded those who follow it, that, today is the anniversary of Operation Dragoon, the invasion of Southern France. They featured USS Samuel Chase (APA-56), a Coast Guard manned attack transport. USS Samuel Chase also participated in the invasion of North Africa (8 Nov. 1942), the invasion of Sicily (10 July 1943), the invasion of Italy at Salerno (9 Sept. 1943), and the Normandy invasion (6 June 1944). She also managed to spend some time off Okinawa after the invasion while kamikazes were still a danger (24 July-10 Aug. 1945). She was also used for Operation “Magic Carpet” the return of American service men to US.

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8 new photos

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There were probably a number of other Coast Guard and Coast Guard manned ships involved in Operation Dragoon as well. One, the 327, USCGC Duane (WPG-33/WAGC-6/WHEC-33) (my old ship) served as flag ship of one of the six Naval Task Forces.

More on Operation Dragoon here.

USCGC Spencer (WPG/WAGC/WHEC-36) Legacy

Nice piece about the current Spencer (WMEC- 905) honoring a sailor from the previous Spencer (WPG/WAGC/WHEC-36).

The earlier Spencer was unique in Coast Guard history, in that she is believed to have sunk at least two U-boats.

For some excellent photos of all seven of the 327s, from construction through the end of World War II, the Coast Guard Historian has a nice collection of photos with commentary showing their changing configuration.

Coast Guard Manned Frigates in WWII

Here is a little article (unfortunately this link is now broken) about an ordinary Coastie’s experience in WWII that, in addition to having a cute dog story, includes reference to a little remembered program that resulted in the Coast Guard manning 75 Tacoma Class Patrol frigates (PFs), beginning in October 1943. These ships were adaptations of the British “River” Class, a design similar in purpose to Destroyer Escorts, but built to merchant standards by the Maritime Commission.

The ships were 2238 tons full load, 304 feet in length, with a 36’6′ beam and 12’8″ draft. They were steam powered and used triple expansion reciprocating engines for 5,500 HP and a speed of 20 knots. They had a range of 9500 nmi at 12 knots. The ships were typically armed with three 3″/50s, two twin 40mms, nine 20mms, a “hedgehog” multiple ASW mortar, depth charges, and eight depth charge projectors (K-Guns).

Twenty-three of the class were converted to serve as weather ships with the aft 3″/50 replaced by a balloon shelter and the crew reduced from 190 to 176. They replaced Coast Guard manned merchant ships that had been providing the service previously.

The battle, with subsequent rescue, referred to in the article, was the Battle off Samar, an inspiring story, worth a look if you are not familiar with it.