Submarine Duty in the U.S. Coast Guard

By Donald H. Ward


When I was stationed on the CG-63003 out of Portland. Maine. we were assigned the duty of taking harbor pilots to ships coming and going in the harbor. The pilot boat was in dry dock for some minor repairs and replacement of engines.

The pilots were given honorary commissions in the Coast Guard but without pay—they were paid by the shipping firms. Nor did the Coast Guard have to feed them, but we were told if we needed food for them, we could go to a ship chandlers store at the end of the wharf and get whatever we needed. What a deal; we never took advantage of them and bought only what was needed.

The pilots were from Maine, old salts from way back, and they loved the dishes the cook prepared. Most of them liked good fish chowder, especially on cool or chilly days. “It keeps a man warm,” Capt. Martin told us.

The crew could go ashore whenever we wanted, but had to remain close by for duty at all times. There were a few gin mills on Commercial Street, which abutted the waterfront and docks. One joint was called Big Ann’s, another was the Blue Moon.(*)

The Navy sailors hung out at the Blue Moon and many a fight was took place there between the Navy and Coast Guard. The Shore Patrol had their hands full every time the fleet was in.

Ships of all sizes and shapes were anchored in the harbor, from battleships to submarines. I recall that there must have been over a hundred ships in this harbor, the liberty boats transiting back and forth with sailors coming ashore and others returning drunker than skunks, or being brought back for fighting. No one was locked up or put in jail, just returned to the ship. Sometimes a Captain’s Mast would be held and restrictions would be meted out, or extra duty was awarded. Those were the days of real sailors and easygoing officers.

Casco Bay was full of ships and the shipyards were in full swing. Every thirty days one would slide down the ways, sent to the outfitting pier and assigned a crew. Loaded, off they went to meet some convoy off the coast of New Foundland or Nova Scotia. Our base was walking distance from the yards and some of the Coast Guard people would work there for extra money on the days they had liberty.

We had a call to go out and wait for a ship which was coming in from what the pilots called “the blue.” which meant it would be coming from overseas and running alone. We left port and headed out toward the lightship and hove to close by. We sat around drinking coffee, working on little jobs that had to be done, or playing cribbage or checkers. The pilots liked to play cards but did’nt gamble.

About 1500 hours we heard a gun shot from inshore—there were shore batteries the Army had along the coast mounted on the islands of Casco Back. Some of these guns were sixteen inches and could reach out to sea for quite a few miles. We heard another shot and were surprised to learn we were being shot at by the Army coastal artillery post. Some jerk took us for a submarine.

I’ll admit we did look like a submarine; the boat was built close to the water and the cabin looked like a conning tower on a sub. We hauled tail out of there and got in behind the lightship. The pilot broke radio silence and called the Captain of the Port and chewed them out. In just a few words he hauled the Army Officer over the coals and let them know that he was a Commander in the Coast Guard. There was no more gunfire after that.

The ship we were waiting for came in and we did our job, but on the return trip to shore we stayed as close to another ship that was headed also into harbor.

I asked one of the Captains if we were eligible for Submarine Pay. “Not just yet,” he replied, “but don’t count on not getting shot at again in the near future from some jerk in the Army.”

Just another day and no sea pay for doing a job well.


(*) Portland CGC Acushnet and Weather Wagon Sailors will all remember the "Moon." This was the pre-muster station for all ships going on patrol and the first stop for many of the Coasties coming off of patrol particularly if they were in the duty section.


Return To Coast Guard Stories