The U.S. La Guardia de la Costa—Not Navy
Captain Earle L. Sullivan, U.S. Coast Guard (Retired)
I greatly enjoyed Jack Sweetman’s April article about U.S. forces landing in Veracruz and the engagement that led to running the city for seven months ("'Take Veracruz at Once'"). Of note to me was the resistance by midshipmen at the Mexican Naval Academy.
In 1969, I personally experienced the author’s sentiment that the event “soured Mexican-American relations for decades.” I was commanding the USCGC Comanche (WMEC-202), a cutter that patrolled Mexican and American waters in the Gulf monitoring illegal shrimping. During one deployment, arrangements allowed for a port visit for R&R and good will in Veracruz, and I made a courtesy call on the superintendent of the Mexican Naval Academy.
On arrival, the admiral met me with noticeable stiffness. He disclosed a long-held grudge: U.S. Navy forces had shelled the academy in 1914, resulting in damage and casualties. But I was not apologetic of the U.S. Navy. My response was something like, “El Comandante, this is the U.S. La Guardia de la Costa.” His demeanor completely changed, and we had a meaningful visit as professional sailors. The commandant welcomed my ship and crew, and wished us a pleasant visit to Veracruz.
Prominent Shipbuilders Produced Privateers
James G. Brown
While researching a biography of New York shipbuilders Adam and Noah Brown, I became particularly interested in Kevin D. McCranie’s article, “Obstinate and Audacious” (April), about the Prince de Neufchatel, and Lieutenant Commander Benjamin Armstrong’s piece, “A Daring Defense in the Azores” (April), about the General Armstrong. Both vessels were built in the Browns’ shipyards along the East River in lower Manhattan.
The Browns were prolific shipbuilders during the war years of 1812–15. Including the work they did for the Navy on Lake Erie and Lake Champlain, they built at least 28 vessels during this time. At least eight were privateers: the Paul Jones, Saratoga, General Armstrong, Yorktown, Prince de Neufchatel, Chauncey, Warrior, and Zebra. All were schooners or brigs except the Yorktown, which was the Brown-built ship Chinese cut down for service as a privateer.
As a group, the A. & N. Brown privateers were extremely successful. Six of the eight privateers captured a total of 89 prizes during the war. (The Zebra was a blockade-runner and the Chauncey was a cartel vessel.) The total number of privateers active during the war was about 517, so the eight A. & N. Brown vessels represent about 1.6 percent of the active privateers.
According to Edgar Stanton Maclay in A History of American Privateers, the total number of prizes taken by all the American privateers during the war was 1,345. The 89 prizes taken by the Brown privateers represent about 6.6 percent of the total. As this statistic suggests, the private armed-vessel business model was imperfect and random. It was very much “boom or bust.”
American privateers took vessels and cargoes worth over $39 million in prize money during the War of 1812. It was said that the Prince de Neufchatel alone earned $3 million. If this statement is true, and if this amount is subtracted from the total and the number of prizes taken by the Prince de Neufchatel are also removed, the average prize total per vessel taken is about $27,000. The total amount for the remaining 71 prizes taken by A. & N. Brown privateers would be about $1.9 million.
Granted, this analysis is somewhat simplistic, but assuming a builders’ share of each vessel, as the Browns were the major owner of the Warrior, they must have been handsomely rewarded for building such a group of fast and successful ships.
A Controversial Cartoon
Chief Photographer’s Mate Lou Behrmann, U.S. Navy (Retired)
Alan P. Rems’ February article (“Two Birds with One Hailstone”) reminded me of events on board the USS Essex (CV-9) during World War II. J. B. Strack, a talented cartoonist who held the rank of photographer’s mate, second class petty officer, worked in the photo lab. Many of his cartoons appeared in the ship’s newspaper, The Buccaneer, and one in particular nearly put the entire photo crew in irons.
Scuttlebutt always runs rampant on a ship, so the subject of the carrier strike on Truk was floating around. Carter and O’Neil, two pilots from Air Group 9, frequented the photo lab. With Strack, they came up with the enclosed cartoon, except that the word “TRUK” figured prominently. After much deliberation this censored version of the cartoon was approved, but the photographers were held in suspicion for some time. After the war, Strack operated a photography business in Indianapolis, his hometown.
What About Ted Williams?
Paul Stillwell’s April “Looking Back” column (p. 6) contains several errors. His second paragraph cites Jerry Coleman as the only major leaguer to see combat service in both World War II and Korea. However, Ted Williams served with Marine Air from 1943 to 1945 and was then called back to active duty in Korea for 1952 to 1953. That placed him in a combat zone. I don’t know if he actually shot at the enemy or dropped bombs, but being in the theater and flying aircraft would certainly qualify him as having the same credentials as Coleman.
Mr. Stillwell goes on to state that Coleman, at 19, was too young to get a drink at a bar. However, the minimum age for drinking wasn’t raised nationwide to 21 until 1984, although some states did have the minimum set at 21 in 1945. And some localities were completely dry.
Mr. Stillwell responds:
Ted Williams entered the Navy’s V-5 flight training program in May 1942. In May 1944 he earned his wings as a naval aviator and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps Reserve. He then served as a flight instructor before undergoing operational training in the F4U Corsair. He did not reach the war zone and did not fly in combat. He was in California when hostilities ended in mid-August 1945.
Jerry Coleman was interviewed for the book When Baseball Went to War (Triumph Books, 2008), edited by Todd Anton and Bill Nowlin. The book quotes Coleman as saying: “As I look back at World War II, we were patriots. I was 20. I remember we picked up some nurses and told some lie that I was 22. We walked into a bar, four of us with our dates, and they threw me out. Too young for beer. It was embarrassing. I never lied again.”
Men Killed in ‘Peacetime’ Patrols Deserve Recognition
Captain James A. Metcalfe, U.S. Naval Reserve (Retired)
While I was intrigued by Robert C. Stern’s April article on Convoy WS-12X (“From Halifax to Singapore”), which carried British soldiers on U.S. vessels and was escorted by U.S. combat ships, the story it told was not completely surprising to me. My father, Lieutenant Commander E. C. Metcalfe, was the navigator of the heavy cruiser USS Quincy (CA-39) on that voyage.
I believe damage from the storm mentioned in the article caused the Quincy to be in a Navy shipyard for extensive repairs after the cruise. My mother often spoke of the obvious damage she observed when we went aboard the Quincy in the yard. Apparently great efforts had been made to cover the damage with tarps, and the cruiser’s actual mission was considered secret. My mother was convinced the ship had suffered combat damage but that it was being kept secret because it was an obvious violation of the Neutrality Act. I gather she was close to the truth.
Mr. Stern’s article refers to the “news” of the Pearl Harbor attack as arriving “late the next day” which would have been 7 December. That suggests that there was a delay in transmitting the information worldwide. I have reviewed the logs of the Quincy during that period, and my recollection is that the ships received the reports in the clear on HF radio virtually as the attacks were happening. There are about 11 hours difference between Hawaii and the Cape. It would have been about 2000 off the Cape when the first reports of the attack came in; they were immediately recorded in the ship’s navigation log. Later the entries were all checked by my father and signed off. Thereafter the escorts departed. The Quincy and the Vincennes (CA-44) joined the Pacific Fleet and took part in the Guadalcanal landings on 7 August 1942 and were sunk together with the Astoria (CA-34) and the HMAS Canberra in the terrible night battle of Savo Island.
Mr. Stern’s article covers an important but little-recognized part of our participation in support of the British before Pearl Harbor. Our many actions in violation or evasion of the Neutrality Act no doubt prevented a much longer and more damaging war. This article is just a microcosm of the big picture.
I hope someday there will be a really comprehensive history of our neutrality patrols. It is a little-known era in which Americans fought the Nazi menace and were killed in “peacetime” for which they received little recognition.
Tallapoosa’s Solemn Task
Commander Tyrone G. Martin, U.S. Navy (Retired)
Here is another story that relates to Robert J. Cressman’s February “Historic Fleets” column about the USS Tallapoosa (“‘May Her Career Be Triumphant’”). In the latter part of November 1881, she was ordered to Rhode Island for a towing assignment. On her arrival at Newport, there was no mistaking her tow: an old sailing ship, looking bedraggled with all her top hamper sent down. (Unseen below were the iron strongbacks that had been installed athwartship to keep her sides from sagging outward.)
The tow was quickly made up, and the pair proceeded west up Long Island Sound, then through Hell Gate and down the East River to a berth at the New York Navy Yard. In the late afternoon of a drizzly 14 December, the old ship’s commissioning pennant was hauled down and her remnant crew marched off into the gloom. The USS Constitution’s 84-year career had come to an end.
Because of an editing error, Robert C. Stern’s article “From Halifax to Singapore” (April) incorrectly stated which of Convoy WS-12X’s troopships were manned by Coast Guardmen. In addition to the Wakefield, Coast Guardsmen served on board the Leonard Wood and Joseph T. Dickman.
Groundbreaking for the Coast Guard Museum in New London, Connecticut (“Naval History News,” April), is expected to take place in May; as of press time, it is tentatively scheduled to open in the Spring of 2017.