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The Hooligan Navy

In the early days of the war, the Navy was in desperate need of vessels to patrol the coastal waters to look for subs and rescue survivors from attacks. Alfred Stanford, of the Cruising Club of America, tried to convince the Navy that civilians could help them and offered several sailing yachts to the effort. On 4 May 1942, the Navy directed the Coast Guard Reserve to organize the Coastal Picket Patrol, also known as the Corsair Fleet. In Adm. Morison’s words, “Thus was born the Coastal Picket Patrol (by Cruising Club out of Coast Guard), COMINCH playing the somewhat unwilling role of midwife. The question, whether sailing yachts could be any use in antisubmarine warfare, was debated in the Navy and the press, in waterfront taverns and along yacht club bars, and wherever two or more amateur admirals collided.” Vessels had to be able to cruise in the open ocean for up to two days. They would carry machine guns, depth charges, and a radio. They were organized into six groups; Northern, Narragansett, New York, Delaware, Chesapeake, and Southern. The vessels’ owners stayed onboard as master and the crew was made up of almost anyone who could sail, including Boy Scouts, rumrunners, college kids, and beachcombers. Many came from the Auxiliary. With such a diversified clientele, the fleet began to be referred to as the Hooligan Navy. They were assigned to patrol the 50-fathom curve along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. Unfortunately (fortunately?) by the time enough boats were outfitted and crews trained, the u-boat threat along the coast was subsiding and the patrol never got the chance to truly prove itself.

On 13 August 1942, a flight of ten Army aircraft tested the air defense network along the Massachusetts coast. No military ship or shore station picked up the incoming, possibly hostile, flight. The only units that saw and reported them were four of the Picket Patrol craft. On 15 September 1942, Edlu II was patrolling south of Montauk Point when she saw a u-boat surfaced about 100 yards away. When she closed to engage with machine guns, the u-boat captain, unsure of the exact armament of the aggressive boat, crash dived and exited the area. Another German captain surfaced his boat right beside a picket boat, stepped out on deck, and, in perfect English, said, “Get the hell out of here, you guys! Do you want to get hurt? Now scram!” Another yacht, Zaida, was disabled in a winter gale off New England and drifted for three weeks before she was found and her crew rescued. Such was the life of the Hooligan Navy.

As fast as 83-foot patrol boats could be launched and manned, civilian yachts were released from service. On 1 October 1943, the Hooligan Navy was disestablished.

In these very early days of the war, the Coast Guard also purchased or leased several yachts form local boaters and fitted them with weapons and a Coast Guard crew. The service did not bother to rename the leased vessels. As a result, some very interesting names are recorded in the list of cutters. Probably the most notable would be a yacht purchased from a boater from Essington, PA. USCGC Bozo.

For an overview of cutters in the Hooligan Navy go to this Link