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Beach Patrol

The sudden appearance of German u-boats off the East Coast raised a specter just as frightening as the flaming ships off the coast; flaming ports devastated by German agents landed by those u-boats. Japanese i-boats had already shelled coastal cities in California and Oregon. To counter this threat, the Coast Guard organized a Beach Patrol.

Planning had begun in February 1941. Coastal areas were organized into defensive divisions called Naval Coastal Frontiers, later, Sea Frontiers. The Army was responsible for defending against invasion. The Navy was charged with inshore and offshore patrols. With naval resources stretched thin, the Coast Guard did most of the actual patrolling. CG Headquarters defined the duties of the Patrol narrowly; “The beach patrols are not intended as a military protection of our coastline. The beach patrols are more in the nature of outposts to report activities along the coastline.” The patrols functioned as a rescue agency and policed restricted coastal areas. The local Captain of the Port Offices were responsible for organizing and staffing the patrols. Early patrols consisted of one man armed with a flashlight and flares. For many, Beach Patrol was not taken seriously.

On 13 June, U-202 surfaced off Long Island near Amagansett. Sailors rowed saboteurs ashore. Seaman 2nd/C John Cullen was on patrol from Station Amagansett. He challenged the Germans. One said they were fishermen who had run aground. A second shouted something in a foreign language. Cullen ordered the men to come with him to the station. They refused, threatening to kill him. Then they offered him $300 to forget the incident. Cullen accepted the money, returned to the station, and told BM1 Carl Jenette, the duty officer. Jenette reported the incident to CWO Warren Bains, the station OIC. Jenette took an armed party back to the beach and saw U-202 sailing off. A morning search found explosives and incendiary devices. The Coast Guard notified the FBI. Within two weeks the Germans had been arrested. Six were executed and two, because they cooperated with the FBI, were given life sentences. Cullen received a Legion of Merit and a promotion to BM2. The Beach Patrol was now taken seriously.

On 25 July, two-man, armed Patrols were established with communications gear. The patrol varied by area. In some areas, they were done only at night. Some areas had telephones installed, others used radios, others relied on flares. At its peak, about 24,000 Coastguardsmen patrolled about 3,700 miles of coastline. In 1942, the Coast Guard added about 2,000 dogs to the patrol. Teams then consisted of a dog and a handler. In September 1942, about 3,000 horses joined the patrol. Generally dogs accompanied the horsemen. Isolated areas were often patrolled by truck or jeep. Small boats were used in swampy areas. In some areas, towers were built on the beach and manned full time.

True to Coast Guard tradition, the Beach Patrol earned their pay in search and rescue. The crew of Station Grand Cheniere. LA rescued so many downed flyers they became known as the “Swamp Angels”. When the Russian freighter Lamut grounded between two 270-foot headlands with 53 people aboard, crews from Stations Quillayute and Lapush climbed the headlands, but had no rope long enough to reach down to the ship. They tied their shoestrings and bandages together to form a line that they passed down to the ship. The ship’s crew bent a heavier line onto the shoestrings and passed it back up the cliff. With the line secured at the top, the men climbed to safety.

By 1944, there was a pressing need for men at sea and the possibility of invasion from the sea became remote. On 18 February 1944, the Beach Patrol was cut almost in half. By late 1944, only 800 men patrolled the West Coast.

It will never be known if saboteurs eluded the patrols and slipped ashore. In drills, the patrols always detected the “enemy”. But it was certainly reassuring to a nervous population to see armed Coastguardsmen patrolling the beaches.

For a more in depth look at this forgotten mission go to this Link.

From a modeling perspective, a diorama of a mounted Coastie with his German Shepard would be a suggestion. See this Link.