Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Coast Guard Beach Patrols in World War II

On July 25, 1942, Coast Guard Headquarters issued a directive that all naval Districts adjacent to the coast were to organize a beach patrol system in all areas were the terrain would permit.

This directive was in direct response to the June 13, 1942 attempt of German saboteurs to come ashore on Long Island. On that evening, Seaman Second Class John Cullen of the Amagansett Coast Guard Station on Long Island, surprised a group of Germans that had just been dropped off by a U-boat and landed on the shore with the intent to destroy and cripple industrial and transportation facilities in the Northeast and Middle Atlantic states.

Four days later a similar group of Germans were put ashore in Florida with the same intentions.

While all the saboteurs were caught eventually, it was evident that an extended chain of coastal patrols was needed.

The formation and use of the patrols would not be intended to act as military protection for the coast but as a coastal monitoring system, keeping watch on the beaches for suspicious activities. The patrols would act as a part of Port Security.

A normal patrol would cover about two miles of beach and use two men for each patrol armed with rifles, sidearms and flairs. Special telephone boxes were set up along the patrol sectors allowing the men to communicate with patrol headquarters and relay activities. Of the ten Coast Guard Districts that operated patrols, about 24,000 officers and enlisted covered more than 3,700 miles of coastline.

Patrols were carried out no matter what the weather conditions, even if it meant patrolling at 20 below zero in February. But weather wasn’t the only hazardous factor with the patrols. Terrain was an important element also. Steep descents to beaches, darkness and the conditions of the coastal area itself made patrolling treacherous at times.

Because of this, jeeps trucks and boats were also used to transport patrolmen to and from their areas.

Dogs and Horse Patrols

During its creation the use of dogs and horses was recognized as necessary in the implementation of the patrols. Dogs with there keen sense of smell would help enhance the patrols and horses would help extend the range and speed of patrolmen.

The dogs were trained at facilities in Pennsylvania and South Carolina and were first being used in Brigantine Park New Jersey. Within a year the dogs had proved to be so useful that animals and their handlers eventually were on duty in all the districts. Eventually about 2,000 dogs were used for patrols nationwide.
Dog patrols were generally conducted at night and only were about a mile in length. They usually replaced the two-man patrols reducing personnel requirements. One of the benefits that was noticed was that a 50-75-pound snarling dog was a lot more frightening that a man with a pistol.

Horses also became an integral part of the patrols, using about 3,222 animals by the end of the mission. All of the horses were provided by the Army, and when the call went out for riders, the response was great. Polo players, cowboys, rodeo riders, stuntmen and many more applied to do their part. Man of the riders trained at Elkins Park and Hilton Head New Jersey before being assigned to a patrol station.

Patrols were usually conducted with two riders and in some cases dogs and horses patrolled an area together.

The use of horses also allowed patrols to carry radios into isolated areas and to cover ground quicker.

On February 18, 1944 The Commandant ordered a 50 percent reduction in beach patrol personnel for the West Coast releasing 2,500 men for duty at other locations. A gradual reduction of the patrols at all station followed. By July 1944 only the West Coast had an active patrol of only 800 men.

Eventually the Army returned to many of the West Coast beaches, especially in California. Throughout the remainder of the war, however, Coast Guardsmen continued to man beach lookouts and to carry traditional beach patrol activities.