The Coast Guard
During World War II
The Coast Guard's first major participation in the Pacific war was at
Guadalcanal and Tulagi, the first major Allied offensive of the war.
Here the service played an important part in the island landings.
Nineteen of the 23 naval transports attached to the campaign's task
force were either manned by the Coast Guard or carried Coast Guard
members. The Coast Guard's primary role at Guadalcanal, and in almost
every subsequent campaign, was to facilitate the landing of troops and
Coast Guardsmen and Marines unload
supplies from the Coast Guard manned attack transport Hunter
Liggett in the shadow of the battered Japanese freighter
The Coast Guard continued its supporting role as the Allies moved
north and west from Guadalcanal. In June and July 1943, the Army and
Marines made landings at several points on Rendova, New Georgia, and
Vangunu islands. Five transports with partial Coast Guard crews
participated in the month-long operation.
Vella Lavella, just 40 miles from New Georgia, was the next link in
the chain to be attacked. It lay on the other side of the fortified and
well-garrisoned island of Kolombangara. In a tactic repeated throughout
the war, the Americans bypassed Kolombangara and landed on Vella
Coast Guard landing craft and barges
deliver supplies to a Guadalcanal beach in late-1942.
On Aug. 15, the partially-manned Coast Guard LST-334 and the
fully-manned LST-167 participated in the landings. For weeks both
assisted with the supply of the troops ashore.
Two near misses splash close aboard a
Coast Guard manned LST on its way to the invasion of New Britain.
On Sept. 24, LST-167 departed Guadalcanal and beached at
Ruravai, Vella Lavella. Three Japanese dive bombers appeared as the last
piece of equipment rolled off the ship. The LST's twenty anti-aircraft
guns blazed away at the three planes as they rolled into their attack.
The planes released their bombs and as they pulled out of their dive,
one burst into flame and another began trailing smoke.
Despite the accurate and intense anti-aircraft fire, two bombs struck
the LST. One penetrated the main deck, exploded, and the blast blew
through the side of the ship. A second also went through the main deck
and exploded on the tank deck, setting fire to 1,000 gallons of gasoline
and 250 drums of oil that had yet to be unloaded.
The explosions caused an intense and lethal fire and forced most of
the crew to abandon ship. Two officers and eight men died in the attack
and an additional five men were listed as missing.
It took a week for American and New Zealand troops to secure Vella
Lavella. Meanwhile GEN Douglas MacArthur began to attack New Guinea,
located about 500 miles west of the Soloman Islands. Amphibious landings
during a three-day period put 14,000 troops ashore without a casualty.
Four Coast Guard LSTs took part in the landings at Finschafen Sept. 22.
The Coast Guard-manned LSTs beached, Australian troops aboard stormed
ashore, and the LSTs retracted without serious incident. Finschafen fell
into Allied hands in only 10 days.
The invasion of Bouganville commences.
Bouganville Island, 75 miles northwest of Vella Lavella and the most
northwestern of the Solomon Island chain, was the Allies' next
objective. The goal was to secure a portion of the island and build a
base to strike at the Japanese stronghold of Rabaul. On Oct. 31, the
amphibious forces assembled off Guadalcanal. Nine of the 11 transports
attached to the operation had Coast Guardsmen aboard. The initial
landing force consisted of more than 14,000 men.
The Coast Guard-manned Hunter Liggett (APA-14) served as the
flagship of the amphibious forces and carried more than 1,800 men. On
Nov. 1, the invasion force arrived off the island and the boats of the
transports went into the water with incredible efficiency.
The Hunter Liggett led the transport column and opened fire on
Cape Torokina with its 3-inch guns. With virtually no confusion, the
first wave hit the beach about 40 minutes after the transports
In Empress Augusta Bay nearly 8,000 Marines went ashore in the first
wave. Against light opposition, the men landed on 12 predetermined
beaches that stretched for more than four miles. The steep beaches,
combined with moderate surf, caused nearly 90 landing craft to broach or
swamp. Over a period of a couple of weeks more than 33,000 men landed
and 23,000 tons of supplies went ashore. Coast Guard-manned LSTs helped
move supplies ashore and evacuate the wounded. By the end of the year
the island was virtually in Allied hands.