The War in the Pacific


Gilbert Islands

Marshall Islands





Iwo Jima


Coast Guard

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 fight.

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
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 operation.

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.

USS Knoxville
Coast Guard-manned frigate USS Knoxville.

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.

USS Aquaries
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 10 minutes.

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 mid-October.

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 minutes.

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.

USS General William Mitchell
Coast Guard-manned USS General William Mitchell.

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 positions.

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 supplied.

assault transport
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 Leyte.

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 Guard crews.

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.