“Adaptability is synonymous with the operations of the United States Coast Guard. …. (the Coast Guard) sometimes lost its identity because it was grouped with the ‘Navy.’ …. recognition of the thousands upon thousands of Coast Guardsmen … is long overdue. …. I know of no instance wherein they did not acquit themselves in the highest traditions of their Service, or prove themselves worthy of their Service motto, ‘Semper Paratus’ — ‘Always Ready’.” C. W. Nimitz, Fleet Admiral, USN
The United States Coast Guard (USCG) was established by the United States (US) Congress on January 28, 1915. It became the fourth branch of the US military which then consisted of the US Army, the US Navy, and the US Marine Corps. The new military branch combined the US Revenue Cutter Service founded August 4, 1790 (which is considered the birthday of the USCG), with the US Life-Saving Service founded in 1878.
On July 1, 1939, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt merged the US Lighthouse Service, founded in 1789, with the USCG as part of his Reorganization Plan No 11.
The early mission of the newly formed USCG was dedicated to the safety of life at sea and enforcing the nation’s maritime laws. The mission, duties, and responsibilities of the USCG would greatly expand during WWII and took the USCG to locations around the world. The purview of the USCG was transferred from the Department of the Treasury to the Department of the Navy during WWII.
The book The U.S. Coast Guard in World War II by Malcolm F. Willoughby is a detailed account of the role of the USCG in WWII and its contribution to the war effort around the world.
These are a number of the roles, duties, and responsibilities of the US Coast Guard in WWII:
— provided operational support for every major amphibious landing in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Mediterranean during the war, often landing troops under fire on invasion beaches
— supported combat missions
— provided troop transport
— delivered thousands of tons of supplies to Allied military forces
— took part in convoy escort duty
— manned weather stations at sea collecting information for such operational planning as the Battle of the Atlantic
— hunted enemy submarines
— saved lives carrying out air and sea rescue
— manned US Navy ships and aided Navy personnel at times when Navy manpower was limited
— guarded the US coastline and beaches with dog and horse patrols
— protected newly captured enemy beachheads while also searching for hidden enemy snipers.
[A Greenland WWII historical overview. WWII began September 1, 1939, with the German attack on Poland. On April 9, 1940, Germany invaded Denmark. Greenland, a Danish colony, was subsequently under Nazi influence and posed a threat to Canada, Britain, and the US. Germany was interested in Greenland’s cryolite mine (a mineral used to process aluminum) and sought to establish weather stations on Greenland to provide information for Germany’s North Atlantic and Arctic Ocean submarine campaign and to predict weather in the WWII European Theater. Germany would continue to try to establish weather stations on Greenland between 1942 and 1944.
From 1941 to 1945 the US established weather stations, radio stations and beacons, ports and depots, search-and-rescue stations, and extensive facilities for air and sea traffic in Greenland. In WWII Greenland also played an important role in military planning for the routing of convoys and ships and as a stopping/refueling point for military aircraft flying between the US and England.
Meteorological intelligence was essentially a “weather war” between the Allies and Germany.]
The Buskoe Incident
The US had established a defensive treaty with Greenland before the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, US Territory of Hawaii, on December 7, 1941.
Almost three months before the attack on Pearl Harbor the United States Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) Northland (a fast, light coastal patrol boat) investigated a suspicious fishing vessel near the Greenland Franz Joseph Fjord on September 12, 1941. The boat was identified as the Norwegian trawler Buskoe which was servicing a radio station in Greenland and controlled by German interests.
The next day a Coast Guard landing party went ashore, found and captured the radio station, and seized papers that the Nazis were attempting to burn. The papers, of considerable value to the Coast Guard, were confidential instructions addressing Hitler’s plans to establish radio stations in the far north.
The trawler and the Buskoe crew and those arrested at the radio station were taken to Boston, Massachusetts, for internment.
The Coast Guard was credited with “the first naval capture by the United States during the period of emergency” before officially entering the war on December 8, 1941.
The USCG Cutter Muskeget
The United States Ship (USS) Muskeget (AG-48) was transferred to the USCG on June 30, 1942, for use as a weather ship the USCGC Muskeget (WAG-48). Boston, Massachusetts, was her home port with a duty assignment to the North Atlantic Weather Patrol. Weather ships gathered data on winds, temperatures, humidity, and pressure to make weather forecasts that supported Allied military operations. It was dangerous duty. A ship was at sea and cruising in a small radius with no naval protection for a month while evading enemy submarines and being caught in storms.
On August 24, 1942, Muskeget departed Boston on her second weather patrol to Weather Station No. 2 off the southern tip of Greenland. After issuing a weather report on September 9, 1942, the ship and its crew of 121 were not heard from again.
It later became known that German Navy submarine U-755 commanded by Kapitänleutnant Walter Göing fired two torpedoes at 2:54 pm on September 9, 1942, sinking the Muskeget. He would claim the ship had been misidentified as a merchant cruiser. The submarine surfaced after the initial sinking and found a life raft with survivors. U-755 departed the area but returned hours later finding eight men and two life rafts tied together. Göing would say he thought the survivors shouted they were from an American ship. No survivors were rescued.
The USCGC Muskeget was the only weather ship lost in WWII.
The Normandy Invasion, June 6, 1944
One of the major roles the USCG played on D-Day, June 6, 1944, in the Allied invasion of Normandy, France, was rescuing troops in the water along the invasion beaches.
Operation Overlord planners for the June 6 invasion knew rescue craft would be needed for those troops on sinking invasion craft and those needing a water rescue after being wounded or falling into the English Channel during the battle. Prior to the invasion 60 83-foot USCG cutters, patrolling along the East Coast of the US for enemy submarines, were transported to England piggy-back on freighters and modified for use as rescue craft.
The 60 cutters would be known as US Coast Guard Rescue Flotilla One [and the only flotilla] and nicknamed the “Matchbook Fleet.” Thirty of the rescue craft were assigned to the American invasion beach sectors of Utah and Omaha, and the other 30 were off the British and Canadian beaches of Gold, Juno, and Sword.
The USCG cutters followed the first Allied landing wave to the beaches on June 6. During the invasion they made 1,438 rescues from the English Channel.
A photograph taken by Coast Guard Chief Photographer’s Mate Robert R. Sargent on June 6, 1944, would come to represent the Normandy Invasion. He took the photograph, titled “Into the Jaws of Death,” from his landing craft around 7:40 am at the American Omaha Beach sector “Easy Red.”
USCG Medal of Honor Recipient Douglas A. Munro
Douglas Albert Munro was born in Canada on October 11, 1919, to an American father and British mother. The family moved to the small town of South Cle Elum in the State of Washington when he was a child.
Doug was attending the Central Washington College of Education when in the summer of 1939, aware that war might be imminent, he decided to enlist in the US Coast Guard. Doug worked hard to gain weight to meet the minimum enlistment requirement.
Doug told his sister, Patricia, that he chose the Coast Guard because its primary mission was to save lives.
While processing into the Coast Guard in Seattle, Washington, Munro met a fellow recruit, Raymond J. Evans, Jr. They became very good friends and were assigned to the same ships except for one assignment. Their shipmates gave them the nickname the “Gold Dust Twins.”
It was at the Battle of Guadalcanal that Signalman First Class Douglas A. Munro lost his life on September 27, 1942.
His bravery and sacrifice were recognized with the award of the Medal Of Honor (MOH). The MOH Citation:
“For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry in action above and beyond the call of duty as Petty Officer in Charge of a group of 24 Higgins boats, engaged in the evacuation of a battalion of marines trapped by enemy Japanese forces at Point Cruz Guadalcanal, on 27 September 1942. After making preliminary plans for the evacuation of nearly 500 beleaguered marines, Munro, under constant strafing by enemy machine guns on the island, and at great risk of his life, daringly led 5 of his small craft toward the shore. As he closed the beach, he signaled the others to land, and then in order to draw the enemy’s fire and protect the heavily loaded boats, he valiantly placed his craft with its 2 small guns as a shield between the beachhead and the Japanese. When the perilous task of evacuation was nearly completed, Munro was killed by enemy fire, but his crew, 2 of whom were wounded, carried on until the last boat had loaded and cleared the beach. By his outstanding leadership, expert planning, and dauntless devotion to duty, he and his courageous comrades undoubtedly saved the lives of many who otherwise would have perished. He gallantly gave his life for his country.”
It was his friend Ray Evans who would hear Munro’s dying words. According to Evans, Doug asked, “Did they (the Marines) get off?” Evans said that he nodded in the affirmative to Munro’s question, and then he was gone.
Munro was weeks away from his 23rd birthday.
Doug had achieved his purpose in joining the US Coast Guard in 1939. He had saved lives.
Douglas Munro was buried in a temporary cemetery on Guadalcanal on the next day, September 28th. US Marine Master Sergeant James Hurlbut in a letter to Doug’s father said Ray Evans had constructed the wooden cross marking his grave.
[Battle of Guadalcanal WWII brief historical overview. The battle was fought August 7, 1942 — February 9, 1943.
The Allied victory marked the transition from defensive to offensive operations against the Empire of Japan in the Pacific Theater of Operations.]
The Medal of Honor was presented to Doug’s parents, James and Edith Munro, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the White House on May 24, 1943.
Edith Munro, at her insistence, joined the USCG Women’s Reserve (SPARS — an acronym for “Semper Paratus—Always Ready”) at the age of 48 to serve her country and to honor her son’s legacy. She completed basic training with other Coast Guard recruits at her request and was commissioned a Lieutenant Junior Grade.
Douglas A. Munro’s remains were returned to the US in 1947 and interred in his hometown of Cle Elum, instead of Arlington National Cemetery, at his family’s request because they wanted to be able to visit his grave. His parents would eventually be buried on either side of him at Laurel Hill Memorial Park. Following her death in 1983, Edith was buried next to her son with full military honors. The Munro graves are designated a State of Washington Historical Site.
Raymond J. Evans, Jr. received the Navy Cross for his “extraordinary heroism” at Guadalcanal fighting alongside his good friend Doug Munro. He remained in the USCG after WWII, received a commission, and retired in 1962 at the rank of Commander. He died in 2013 at the age of 92.
Patricia Edith Munro, Doug’s sister, tried to join the USCG after Doug’s death but had the same problem her brother initially had when he tried to enlist; she couldn’t meet the minimum weight requirement. But later in life her son Douglas Sheehan (named after her brother) joined the USCG and retired in the rank of Commander.
The U.S. Coast Guard in World War II by Malcolm F. Willoughby gives an comprehensive, in-depth account of the role of the USCG in WWII.