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The White Ones
1947 – 2000

On a national level, the most recognized cutters in the Coast Guard Fleet are the “Big White Ones”, the ocean-going cutters. After the war, the Coast Guard divided these cutters into three classes, open-ocean, coastal patrol, and patrol boats.

Open Ocean

The open-ocean cutters were six 327s that survived the war and 13 255s commissioned in 1945, too late to serve in the war. The DEs and PFs were returned to the Navy. With the growing demand for Ocean Weather Stations, the Navy gave 18 311’ Barnegat-class seaplane tenders to the Coast Guard. The 311s were a boon. With aviation fuel tanks converted to ships’ service fuel, they could cruise 20,000 miles. The crew enjoyed living spaces that were designed for twice their number. And the ships had excellent sea keeping ability. The first three ships were given outright to the Coast Guard and so were renamed after historical cutters. The other 15 were “loaned” to the Coast Guard and retained their Navy names, which were bays and inlets. All of them served over 20 years with their new owners. The Coast Guard temporarily acquired USS Charleston, an Erie-class PG, to replace the lost Alexander Hamilton. The Coast Guard still used the Navy classification system. The 327s and 255s were WPGs. The 311s were WAVPs.

The main mission of these cutters, aside from SAR, was ocean weather station duty. By 1945, American ships manned 13 Atlantic stations and 24 Pacific stations. European nations combined to man another nine in the Atlantic. By 1946, the number had been reduced to two in the Pacific and one in the Atlantic. A 1946 conference strongly recommended the re-establishment of the stations. Other nations balked at supplying ships and questioned the real need.

On 14 October 1947, Bibb was manning Station Charlie, midway between Ireland and Newfoundland. A full gale was blowing. Bermuda Sky Queen, enroute to New York with 69 souls on board, ran out of fuel and was forced to ditch in 20-foot seas. She homed in on Bibb’s radio beacon while Bibb spread oil to calm the seas. The aircraft made a perfect ditch landing and surfboats from Bibb rescued all on board. The need for the weather stations had been demonstrated. Eventually nine permanent stations were established in the Atlantic. Originally, five permanent stations and one manned during typhoon season were established in the Pacific, but this number was gradually reduced to three permanent stations. The Coast Guard manned five Atlantic and all Pacific stations. France, England, Canada, and the Netherlands manned the others.

Station Sugar was a typical station in the Pacific Ocean. The typical itinerary for manning the station had a cutter sail from a West Coast port to Sugar, from Sugar to Japan for R&R, from Japan to Sugar, and from Sugar back to home port. This was a three-month evolution. Oceanographic observations were recommended for weather ships almost from the start. Beginning in 1945 and continuing to the end, cutters made bathythermograph (B/T) observations that today constitute the largest B/T archive in existence. Many specific, short-term programs were carried out with oceanographers frequently riding the ships.

On 16 October 1956, Pontchartrain was manning November when she received a call from Pan American Clipper 10943. The aircraft had lost an engine and would have to ditch. Pontch laid fire-fighting foam to calm the seas. It was said that a female passenger looking out the window saw Pontch below and said to the person next to her, “There they are, God bless them.” The pilot made a textbook ditch, but the aircraft broke in half. Surfboats immediately began transferring passengers and crew to the cutter. Within 20 minutes of ditching, the aircraft had sunk. But before she did, every soul on board was safe aboard Pontch.

Of course, sometimes the rescuers needed rescuing. On 23 July 1947, Bibb and her 150-man crew were assigned to Ocean Station Charlie, when a crewmember, Seaman Joseph Johns of Helena, Georgia, became seriously ill with a ruptured appendix. The ship did not carry a doctor, and the pharmacist mates on board believed Johns’ condition was beyond their capabilities to help. The captain considered steaming for Argentia (Arj), Newfoundland, but the situation dictated that Johns needed to be airlifted immediately to medical help. The Coast Guard Air Detachment based at the U.S Naval Air Station at Argentia dispatched a PBY-5A on the mission. The pilots and aircrew for this mercy mission were Patrol Plane Commander (PPC) LT. William Morrill, First Pilot (PP1P) Aviation Pilot First Class Clayton. Roll, PP2P and navigator, Chief Aviation Pilot Kenneth Franke, and crew members Aviation Machinist Mate First Class (AMM 1/C) John Pallam, AMM 2/C J. C. Entrekin, and Aviation Radio Man First Class (ARM 1/C) Walter Corbett. This aircraft and crew made a 1,300-mile round trip and an open sea landing and take off to bring Johns to a hospital in St. Johns, Newfoundland.


The coastal patrol cutters were the 125s. These were also classified as WPGs. The 240s and 165As and Bs were sold for scrap soon after the war as part of the demobilization process. The Coast Guard acquired two Navy PCEs to replace Bedloe and Jackson, both lost to storms. Neither ship served very long in Coast Guard livery. The Navy also provided 70 110-foot SC-497-class sub chasers for SAR use. A lack of crews caused these vessels to lay idle until decommissioned.

Their main mission, other than SAR, was maritime law enforcement. This mission traditionally involved patrolling the coast to prevent smuggling, but in the post-war years it expanded to include the enforcement of laws and treaties within U.S territorial waters. A major treaty involved the protection of the Atlantic fisheries grounds. Vessel inspections started in 1952, and expanded in 1964. But the 125s were really inadequate to the task. The Coast Guard needed ocean-going cutters that were smaller than the 327s but with the endurance to stay at sea for up to two or three weeks. Again, help came from the Navy. This time it was in the form of four 205’ Apache-class ocean-going salvage tugs (ATF), two 213’ Diver-class salvage ship (ARS), and one Sotoyoma-class tugs (ATR). These cutters were transferred to the Coast Guard between 1946 and 1956 as CGCs Avoyel, Cherokee, Chilula, Tamaroa, Yocona, Comanche, and Modoc. Under the Navy system, these ships became WATs.

Patrol Boats

The patrol boat concept had its origins in Prohibition. The Coast Guard needed fast, shallow draft boats to follow the rum runners into bays and rivers. In WWII, patrol boats were used for near-shore rescue missions that were beyond the capability of the surfboats and lifeboats. The Coast Guard fought the war with 230 83’ patrol boat, which were built to serve as escort vessels for coastal convoys. They saw action in combat theaters, including 60 that served off the coast of Normandy during the D-Day invasion, as well as in U.S waters. These wooden-hulled, gasoline powered, open bridge vessels more than met the existing requirements for a coastal patrol boat after the war. Joining the 83s were the 95’ steel-hull boats. Designed for anti-submarine warfare, they were more suited to sea keeping missions than the 83s. The 95s had a larger power plant, enclosed bridge and larger fuel capacity. They too distinguished themselves offshore and in shallow waters.

1960 - 2000

By 1960, the Big White Ones were showing their age. The 311s and 255s would serve through Vietnam, but would then be decommissioned. Morris, the last 125 in active service, was decommissioned in 1970. In 1978, Cuyahoga was sunk in a collision in the York River. The 83s were slowly being retired. Taking their place were 12 cutters of the 378’ Hamilton-class WHEC, the 14 cutters of the 210’ Reliance-class WMEC, and the 79 cutters of the 82' Point-class. These were commissioned between 1964 and 1972. In 1964, Coos Bay rescued the crew of the foundering British ship Ambassador while manning Station Echo. Rockaway rescued the crew of Smith Voyager. There are several other instances of ocean station ships coming to the assistance of aircraft or ships in distress. These are the most well known. But by 1970, new jet aircraft were coming to rely less on ocean stations, and satellites were beginning to provide weather data. In 1974, the Coast Guard announced plans to terminate the U.S stations. In 1977, Taney was the last cutter to man an American station. The program ended when the last Dutch ship departed Station Mike in 1981. With the demise of ocean stations, the MECs and HECs began doing the same missions, search and rescue and enforcement of laws and treaties. The thrust of the patrols would be either fisheries enforcement or drug interdiction with weather data and marine mammal data collected on the side. Also, with the demise of oceanography as a result of the establishment of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the three research vessels were eventually reclassified as WMECs and began doing the same duties as other MECs.

By 1980, it was finally time to retire the remaining 327s. The chosen replacement design was to be the 270-foot Famous-class, named for historically well-known cutters. The first would be Bear, delivered in 1983, two years behind schedule. Because of the delay in delivering the new class, once again the Coast Guard went to the Navy and borrowed two more 205s, Ute, and Lipan, and another 213, Escape, all pushing 40. With the eventual delivery of the 270s in the late 1980s, the 327s were finally sent to pasture, along with many of the borrowed 213s and 205s. The 270s were a marvel of modernization, requiring a crew of only 96, but they could only make 19.7 knots, had limited endurance, and relied heavily on “black box” technology. The design team finally admitted that the cutters were designed only to patrol the 200-mile economic zone. Not quite sure how to classify them the Service initially called them high medium endurance cutters (HEC/MECs). So, the cutter that replaced the most multi-faceted design the Coast Guard ever had, was designed for a single mission. Nevertheless, the 270s performed all duties assigned by the Coast Guard to the apparent satisfaction of the Service.

By 1990, the last 205s and 213s were scheduled for decommissioning after 50 years of service. In 1991, Tam was involved with the “No Name Storm of Halloween, 1991”. The event, and the cutter, would be immortalized in the book and movie Perfect Storm. It is interesting that in the movie the cutter was generated by computer graphics, but the graphics artist chose to ignore the fact that she was an old tugboat and made her into a sleek, modern-looking vessel complete with flight deck. The last of the 95s, Cape Hatteras, retired in 1991.

Alex Haley was born in Ithica, NY in 1921. In 1939, he enlisted in the Coast Guard as a mess attendant. Serving as a ship’s cook in the Pacific in WWII, he began writing stories. In 1944, he was assigned to edit “Our Post” the official Coast Guard publication. In 1945, he was transferred to Headquarters where he served as assistant public relations officer until 1959. In 1952, the Coast Guard recognized his talent by creating the Journalist Rate and appointing him the first one. His trademark was his ability to turn research into informative, interesting narrative. After 20 years of service, Haley retired as Chief Journalist in 1959, having served through WWII and Korea. He continued to write. Along with numerous magazine articles, he wrote the best seller “Roots: The Saga of an American Family” which was translated into 37 languages, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1977, and was made into a TV miniseries. Commandant ADM Bender and Academy Superintendent RADM John Thompson presented him with the Distinguished Public Service Award. He worked to promote literacy, and every year eight students are supported from freshman year through graduate school on Haley Scholarships. On 18 November 1997, the Coast Guard made its final major surface fleet acquisition on the 20th Century. The former Navy salvage ship Edenton, commissioned in the Navy in 1967, was transferred to the Coast Guard as USCGC Alex Haley. She is stationed in Alaska.

In 1991, the Coast Guard began commissioning 49 Island-Class coastal patrol boats. These 110’ patrol boats carry a crew of 16, two officers and 14 enlisted personnel, cruise in excess of 26 knots and have a range of 1,800 miles. They are a Coast Guard modification of a highly successful British-designed patrol boat. The newly designed 87-foot' Coastal Patrol Boat has several enhancements over the old 82s, including improved mission sea keeping abilities, significantly upgraded habitability, and compliance with all current and projected environmental protection laws. It also employs an innovative stern launch and recovery system using an aluminum hulled inboard diesel powered waterjet small boat. They began entering service in 1998. The last 82, Point Brower, retired in 2003.


So the Coast Guard closed the century with three main classes of open-ocean cutters (the 378-foot WHECs, the 270-foot HEC/MECs, and 210-foot WMECs) and two classes of patrol boats (the 110s and the 87s). The 210s and 378s were pushing 30 years old and were in need of updating. Alex Haley was a one-of-a-kind MEC contemporary with the 378s and 210s. However, the moldy oldies could not be ignored. Acushnet was the second oldest cutter still in operation. She was commissioned into the Navy on 5 February 1944. While both sister ships had been decommissioned, Acushnet continued to serve as a medium endurance cutter in the Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea. Previous plans would have brought all of the 213s out of service by the mid 1990's, but Coast Guard policy reviews continued to extend the service-life of Acushnet, as suitable replacements had not been constructed to meet the demanding operating environment of Alaska and the Bering Sea. The oldest cutter still in active service was Storis. Commissioned 30 September 1942, she was the Queen of the Fleet and was authorized to wear gold hull numbers. Beating them all, commissioned in 1936 and still going strong, was Eagle.

For a complete list of white hulls that served from 1947 to 2000 go to this Link.