The Coast Guard’s first major participation in the Pacific war was at Tulagi and Guadalcanal. Of the 23 naval transports attached to the amphibious force, 19 were manned or partially manned by the Coast Guard. Most of the LCVPs that took the Marines ashore were manned by Coastguardsmen or Navy personnel who had Coast Guard training. Coastguardsmen also worked ashore as beachmasters. Their duty was to supervise the offloading of supplies, stockpiling them, and moving them inland to the troops. They also supervised the evacuation of wounded. The Coast Guard continued its support role as the allies moved on from Guadalcanal. In June and July of 1943, the Army and Marines made several landings on Rendova, New Georgia, and Vangunu islands. Five Coast Guard-manned transports supported these operations.
On 15 August, Coast Guard-manned LSTs landed Marines on Vella Lavella. On 24 September, LST-167 brought supplies from Guadalcanal to Vella Lavella. As she was unloading, three Japanese planes attacked. LST-167 shot down two of them, but two bombs hit her causing a series of explosions and fires that destroyed the ship and killed two officers and eight enlisted men. An additional five men were listed as missing and presumed dead. Four Coast Guard-manned LSTs participated in the attack on New Guinea. They landed Australian troops at Finschafen.
The next major objective was Bouganville, the most northwestern of the Solomons. From Bouganville, air attacks could be launched on the major Japanese base at Rabaul. On 31 October, the amphibious force assembled at Guadalcanal. Of the 11 transports, nine were Coast Guard-manned. The Coast Guard-manned Hunter Ligget (APA-14) was the amphibious force flagship. On 1 November, Hunter Ligget led the amphibious force into Empress Augusta Bay and opened fire on Japanese positions on Cape Torokina. A portion of the island was secured and an airfield built, but fighting continued on Bouganville for the rest of the war, and for the rest of the war, Coast Guard-manned LSTs delivered supplies and evacuated wounded.
While the Solomons were being secured, the Adm. Chester Nimitz began to plan his island hopping campaign through the Central Pacific to Japan. The first objective was the Gilbert Island chain, specifically, Tarawa and Makin, in November 1943. The Coast Guard was well represented in the 200-ship amphibious force. At Makin, the landing craft got hung up on the coral reef at low tide and the soldiers had to wade ashore. Fortunately, the Japanese had chosen to defend the interior of the island rather than the beach and casualties were few. Tarawa saw the introduction of a new type of landing craft, the tracked landing vehicle. These LVTs were indigenous Marine units. But, just as the Navy provided the Marines with corpsmen and heavy engineering support, the Coast Guard provided the Marines with coxswains. The follow-on waves came ashore in LCVPs and, as at Makin, got hung up on the reef. Unlike Makin, the Japanese inflicted severe losses on the Marines wading ashore at Tarawa. After the initial landings, Coast Guard crews continued running supplies to shore and evacuating the wounded. The boat crews worked three days straight, with food being lowered to them from the transports. They caught naps when they could. Three Coast Guard officers and 43 enlisted men from Arthur Middleton came ashore to supervise the offloading of cargo and the evacuation of wounded.
The next steppingstone was the Marshall Island group, Enewetak, Kwajalein, and Majuro, in February 1944. The flagship of the 300-ship amphibious force was Coast Guard-manned Cambria (APA-36). The plan was to secure Majuro and Kwajalein, consolidate positions and assault Enewetak three months later. Textbook amphibious operations allowed soldiers and Marines to secure the Marshalls by 22 February, three months ahead of schedule.
Meanwhile, in the Southeastern Pacific, McArthur was moving from Finschafen to the coastal area of Hollandia and Aitape. On 21 April 1944, 21 Coast Guard-manned transports put the assault troops ashore at Humbolt Bay and Tanahmerah Bay. On 27 April, Japanese aircraft attacked the anchored fleet. A torpedo hit Etamin (AK-93) causing an explosion in the engine room that sank the ship. Only two of the crew of 200 Coastguardsmen and 150 Army troops were lost. In May, Coast Guard-manned LSTs landed troops on Wakde Island, 115 miles west of Hollandia. In July, the Coast Guard participated in amphibious operations against Noemfoor and Cape Sansapor. Coast Guard transports included ten LSTs and the frigates Bisbee, Coronado, Eugene, Gallup, Glendale, Long Beach, San Pedro, and Van Buren. These landings closed the New Guinea operations and cleared the way to the Philippines.
In the Central Pacific, Nimitz had set his sights on the Marianna island group, Saipan, Tinian, and Guam, in the summer of 1944. An amphibious force of 535 ships was assembled. The Marshalls brought a new tactic. Landing craft would bring the Marines from the transports to the edge of the reef. The Marines would then transfer to Marine-operated LVTs for the final race to the beach. As the battle raged, supplies were not reaching the Marines quickly enough and the main assault on the port town of Charan-Kanoa ground to a halt. Marines clung to a narrow beachhead with limited ammunition and supplies. The decision was made to bring larger landing craft directly to the beach. A Coast Guard LVCP probed the reef until a four-foot-deep, 150-foot-wide opening was found that allowed a steady stream of LCVPs to deliver supplies directly to the Marines. At Guam, Arthur Middleton made a diversionary landing to draw Japanese attention away from the real thing. She put her boats ashore without troops and immediately retracted them. The assault on Tinian was conducted by boats leaving from Saipan. The boats met Cambria and Cavalier, which brought the Marines. Later in the afternoon, Cambria evacuated 293 Marine casualties from Tinian by breeches buoy.
By September, McArthur was ready to move against the Philippines. First, he had to secure his flanks. Nineteen Coast Guard-manned ships participated in the unopposed assault and capture of the Molucca Island group. On 15 September, 800 ships brought 20,000 soldiers and 28,000 Marines to Peleliu and the Palaus. Leonard Wood was the flagship. Peleliu was one of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific and Coast Guard LSTs brought supplies and evacuated wounded throughout the month-long slugfest.
Operation Kingpin consisted of 738 ships and brought over 190,000 troops to the Philippines. Coastguardsmen manned 35 of these ships and partially manned another seven. Leonard Wood again was the flagship. At 0700 20 October 1944, Leonard Wood went to General Quarters. Aquarious put an LCVP over the side for an advance beach party of four men. These four Coastguardsmen were the first men to land on Leyte Island. The Coast Guard participated in every landing during the Philippine campaign.
On 19 February 1945, 900 ships brought over 70,000 Marines to Iwo Jima. Once again, the Coast Guard was well represented in the amphibious force. Though Iwo Jima had no reefs, the surf broke directly on the beach, and most of the LVTs were broached and destroyed, fouling the beach for following waves of LCVPs. Soon, only LCIs were allowed to approach the beach until salvage tugs could clear the wreckage. The Coast Guard crew of LST-758 provided the flag for the first flag raising on Mount Suribachi.
The Coast Guard’s final major amphibious action was at Okinawa. A total of 53 Coast Guard-manned ships were in the amphibious force. Taney was the amphibious task force flagship. During landing operations, a Kamikaze smashed into LST-884, killing 24 men and seriously damaging the ship. Ashore, the beachmasters had only a few hours around high tide to unloaded landing craft. They moved supplies inland at low tide.
The final action of the Coast Guard in the Pacific was Operation Magic Carpet, transporting thousands of troops back home.
For a complete list of naval amphibious vessels manned by the Coast Guard go to this Link.