The Coast Guard
During World War II
In April 1944, MacArthur decided to push 250 miles to the northwest
of Finschafen, and seize the coastal area at Hollandia and Aitape. At
dawn April 22, amphibious forces landed on the shores of Humbolt Bay and
Tanahmerah Bay with little or no opposition. The Coast Guard had 21
manned or partially manned LSTs, transports and frigates attached to the
invasion forces. These landings completely surprised the Japanese who
fled into the interior and lost towns and airfields with little or no
On the night of April 21, 1944, the Coast Guard-manned cargo ship
Etamin (AK-93), sailed as part of a 161-vessel task force,
including 20 other Coast Guard vessels, organized to make landings at
Hollandia, Tanahmerah Bay and Aitape. At 5:45 a.m. the vessel entered
the harbor with the rest of the Eastern Attack Group.
On the night of April 27, Japanese torpedo planes attacked the
amphibious vessels at anchor. At 11 p.m. one swung in low off the
starboard side of the Etamin and released a torpedo. It struck the
starboard side about 10 feet above the keel in the number-five hold and
ruptured the shell plating and the shaft alley. The blast sprayed
gasoline over the after part of the ship, but the gas did not
immediately catch fire.
Anti-aircraft gunners on board the
amphibious flagship Bibb prepare to fire.
As the hold and the engine room flooded, gas fumes came in contact
with the boilers and ignited. The engine room exploded in flames and all
hands fought the fire as the stern rapidly settled. The crew abandoned
ship with the loss of only two of the ship's complement of 200 Coast
Guardsmen and 150 Army troops. Fortunately, this was the only serious
damage suffered by any of the naval vessels during the Hollandia
In May, naval units approached Wakde Island, 115 miles west of
Hollandia. On May 17, American and Australian warships bombarded the
island before the Naval and Coast Guard LSTs amphibious units landed
their men. There was no opposition to the landing and by evening the
Allies established an eight-mile beachhead. The Americans had to kill
the Japanese to the man before finally securing the island and its
airfield on the evening of May 19.
On July 2, several weeks after the Normandy invasion and with a great
amphibious force striking the Marianas, the Coast Guard participated in
the landings at the island of Noemfoor which lies between Biak Island
and New Guinea. Here eight Coast Guard-manned LSTs landed troops. At the
edge of the reef that lay around the island, cargoes had to be
transferred from the LSTs into smaller and more shallow-draft LCIs. The
Coast Guard-manned frigates El Paso, Orange and San
Pedro also served to screen the landing operations from enemy
submarines and aircraft, and provided close fire support.
On July 2, the landings went off as planned and the island and its
three airfields were in Allied hands within four days. Mopping-up
actions lasted until the end of August.
Coast Guard-manned frigate USS
At the end of July, MacArthur sent an amphibious expeditionary force
to Cape Sansapor, New Guinea. By doing so he made a 200-mile jump from
his previous most advanced position.
For all purposes this would finish his amphibious operations in New
Guinea and he would be ready to strike the Philippines and fulfill his
earlier promise to the Philippine people to return. The Coast
Guard-manned LSTs 18, 22, 26, 66, 67,
68, 170, 202, 204 and 206 all took
part in the landings and the follow-up activity. The Coast Guard-manned
frigates Bisbee, Coronado, Eugene, Gallup,
Glendale, Long Beach, San Pedro and Van
Buren performed offshore patrols during the landings.
The conquest of the Marianas and New Guinea cleared the approaches to
the Philippines except for two groups of islands. Before proceeding, the
Allies needed to capture the Caroline group that included Peleliu,
Angaur, Ngesbus, Ulithi and Ngulu, and the islands of Morotai and
Halmahera in the Moluccas.
The island of Morotai in the Moluccas lies 500 miles southwest of the
Palaus islands. Cruisers, destroyers and aircraft bombarded Japanese
positions to secure the beaches for the nearly 17,000 Army troops poised
to land. Nineteen Coast Guard vessels including 11 LSTs and eight
frigates participated in the landings. At 8:30 a.m. Sept. 15, the first
men landed on Pitoe Beach on the east side of the island. Coral heads
and uncharted beaches hampered some of the landing operations. The
Japanese did not contest the landings and most of the small enemy force
fled the island. The Allies quickly captured an airfield on the island
and within weeks landed 45,000 troops.
Landings on Peleliu in the Palau Islands, the westernmost islands in
the Caroline chain, on the same day, were a different story.
The immense amphibious forces attacking the Carolines comprised about
800 vessels, carrying nearly 20,000 soldiers and more than 28,000
Marines. The Coast Guard-manned vessels at Peleliu were the
Aquarius, Centaurus, LST-19 and LST-23. The
transports Crescent City, Fuller and Stringham,
with partial Coast Guard crews, also participated. The transports of the
task force arrived off the beachhead at 5 a.m. Sept. 15. With
determination, the Japanese contested the landing and inflicted about
200 casualties at the beachhead.
Coast Guard-manned USS
Aquarius, a veteran of the Pacific Theatre.
Peleliu did not differ from many of the other Pacific Islands - reefs
surrounded the island complicating the landings and the support of the
operations. Coral heads and boulders obstructed the landings for even
the smallest landing craft. Once again only smallboats and the tracked
LVTs could be used to get directly to the beach. The large LSTs
approached the beach as close as they could and then the smaller craft
travelled back and forth to land troops and supplies. The Coast
Guard-manned LSTs were as efficient as usual. LST-19 lowered its
ramp at 7:18 a.m. and all the LVTs were out and heading for the beach in
During the first two days of the operation the Japanese kept the
beach under mortar and light artillery fire. This, however, did not halt
the steady flow of supplies to the beach. The LSTs provided the critical
logistical support to sustain the offensive. By Sept. 26 the Americans
had surrounded the enemy but the fight did not end until
Just two days after the landings on Peleliu the Coast Guard-manned
transports disembarked troops on Angaur Island. Angaur, the southernmost
of the Palaus, lies only six miles south of Peleliu. After subjecting
the island to an intense bombardment from sea and air, the
Callaway and Leonard Wood landed men on the northeast and
eastern side of the island against light opposition.
The Leonard Wood served as the flagship of Commander Transport
Division 20 for the landings. Carrying more than 1,800 officers and men
of eight different Army units, the Wood's task group made a feint 30
miles northeast on the eastern shore of Babelthaup Island before
steaming to Angaur to disembark troops. The Callaway served as
the flagship for another task unit. Assault troops went ashore at 8:30
a.m. using almost every type of amphibious craft. The troops on the
Wood loaded into their landing craft and cleared the ship in 19
The troops established two beachheads within 30 minutes of landing
and pushed into the interior. The Japanese garrison, probably numbering
about 1,600, fled inland to better defensive positions. The cost of
rooting the Japanese out of caves and brush was heavy, and the medical
staffs aboard the two Coast Guard transports treated nearly 400
casualties during the operation. Even though the Japanese were
completely overwhelmed, the Army did not secure this island until 10
months later and, remarkably, some Japanese held out in caves for more
than a year after the Allies stormed ashore.
The capture of the Caroline Islands cleared the last obstacle for the
advance on the Philippine Islands. The Coast Guard played a significant
role in the invasion of the Philippines. The Coast Guard cutters and
Coast Guard-manned ships participated in nearly all amphibious actions
in the Philippine Islands and suffered through the kamikaze attacks with
the rest of the fleet. Nearly 30 Coast Guard amphibious ships landed
Marines and Army garrison troops. The Philippine Islands consist of 10
major islands and more than 7,000 smaller islands. The Allies chose to
invade Leyte Island in part because they considered the gradually
sloping beaches would facilitate easy landings. In Allied hands they
could then build it into an air and logistical base to attack the island
of Luzon and other Japanese strong points.
Coast Guard-manned USS General
Code named King-Two, the operation comprised 738 vessels and a
landing force of more than 193,000 troops. Converging from many bases in
the Pacific, they formed off the islands. In this tremendous fleet were
35 Coast Guard vessels and seven others with partial Coast Guard crews.
The Coast Guard ships included five large transports, two attack cargo
vessels, 10 frigates and 12 LSTs.
On the night of Oct. 19, the invasion flotilla approached Leyte Gulf
in the darkness. Once inside the gulf they steamed to their assigned
areas at two landing sites. The Northern Force landed at two beaches
near San Ricardo and the Southern Force went ashore on two beaches off
Dulag. At dawn the naval ships on either sides of the beaches began
laying down an intense and deafening bombardment against enemy
The crew of the Leonard Wood, flagship of Commander Transport
Division 20, went to General Quarters at 7 a.m. Just over an hour later
the Wood reached the transport area. At 8:16 a.m. the men lowered
boats and the nearly 2,500 troops aboard began debarking at 9:15 a.m.
The other Coast Guard transports, veterans of many campaigns had their
men in the water in a timely fashion. The Aquarius put an LCVP
over the side for an advanced beach party of four men. These four Coast
Guardsmen were the first men to land on Leyte after the bombardment. The
Japanese did not vigorously contest the landing as predicted. Some
mortar fire fell close to the Coast Guard ships but none suffered any
damage. Air opposition did not develop until later, but when it did it
was in the form of the "Divine Wind" or kamikazes.
The Coast Guard-manned LSTs sailed with both Northern and Southern
Forces. Among the first ships to hit the beach they unloaded their
cargoes of vehicles, troops, and critical supplies by pontoon causeways
fitted to the vessels. Once unloaded, these ships plied back and forth
from the staging areas to the invasion beaches to keep the troops
Coast Guardsmen are shown here on
board their assault transport talking with paratroopers wounded during
the assault on Noemfoor Island.
In November, on one of these trips, the LST-66 was attacked by
a Japanese suicide plane. It beached on Dulag Beach Nov. 12, and began
unloading vehicles and cargo. At 5:18 p.m. an enemy aircraft crash-dived
into the after starboard 40mm and 20mm gun mounts.
The plane's fuselage passed through the splinter shield of the 40mm
gun mount and disintegrated. Unbelievably the plane did not explode but
did shower the entire length of the vessel with gasoline and aircraft
parts. No serious fire started but the crash killed eight and wounded 14
Coast Guard and Army men.
The Coast Guard-manned frigates also played an important role in the
operations. Most performed screening, fire support and escort duty
during the landings and resupply activities. The Bisbee and
Gallup were both involved in landing troops of the 6th Ranger
Battalion on Homonhon Island two days before the landings on Leyte.
The frigate's role of escorting convoys from the staging areas to the
invasion sites likewise was crucial. In late November, the
Coronado and San Pedro left Humbolt Bay, to steam the
1,250 miles to escort a convoy of ships bringing supplies and men to
The next objective was Luzon, the largest island in the Philippine
group. The capture of this island would deny the Japanese access to the
South China Sea and give the Allies the capital city of Manila and the
best port in the Far East - Manila Bay. The Coast Guard-manned ships
that participated were the Arthur Middleton, Aquarius,
Cambria, Callaway, Leonard Wood, Cavalier,
and 10 Coast Guard-manned LSTs. Seven other ships had partial Coast
On Jan. 8, 1945, the Callaway steamed with the task force
toward the landing beaches. About 35 miles from shore, Japanese kamikaze
aircraft began attacking the convoy. The gunners aboard the
Callaway shot down two diving planes, but a third flew through
the hail of gunfire and plowed into the superstructure. Flames leapt up
the starboard side and engulfed men at their stations. Firefighting
parties quickly put the fire out, but the flames killed 29 men and
wounded 20 more. None of the troops aboard were injured and the damage
to the ship was slight, so the Callaway continued on course to
the invasion beach.
Coast Guard-manned LST-168
prepares to unload its cargo during the Philippine assault.
At 7:15 a.m. Jan. 9, the transports began debarking troops in LVTs
and other amphibious craft. The first waves of landing craft went in
under the protection of a heavy bombardment and reached the beach at
9:30 a.m. The Leonard Wood debarked more than 1,000 men and 457
tons of cargo.
At the beach the transports met some mortar and artillery fire 30
minutes after arriving, but supplies went to the beachhead in LVTs,
DUKWs (an amphibious vehicle), and self-propelled pontoon barges.
Despite the attacks, the amphibious forces maintained an incredible
schedule to get men and supplies to the beach. By the end of the first
day of the invasion, the Allies had established a beachhead 15 miles
wide and four miles deep. They landed 68,000 troops with equipment and
supplies that equaled an incredible seven tons per man.
Troops and supplies arrived daily as the Allies drove toward the
capital of Manila. On Jan. 31, the Secretary-class cutter
Spencer, converted into an amphibious-force flagship, helped to
direct landings south of the entrance to Manila Bay. The Allies drove
toward Manila and captured the capital city Feb. 6, but several
strongpoints still remained in Japanese hands.
One of these, the strongly fortified island of Corregidor, had to be
taken. The Spencer's sister ship, the Ingham, served as
flagship for this task force - the only Coast Guard vessel that
participated. On Feb. 16 the Ingham steamed to within 3,500 yards
of San Jose Beach, south of Corregidor, to facilitate the landings.
Within three days the troops had captured most of the important points
on the island, returning the American flag to the fort on the island,
the scene of the United States' 1942 capitulation.
Coast Guard-manned LST-18
unloads at Leyte.