Following graduation from the Coast Guard Academy in 1928, future Captain Walter C. Capron reported to the USCGC Conyngham (CG-2), a recommissioned Navy destroyer (DD-58) that had been transferred to the Coast Guard to carry out antismuggling missions during Prohibition. As Capron recalled in these edited excerpts from his oral history:
We were never enforcing Prohibition. We were enforcing the smuggling laws, which said you could not introduce liquor into the United States without going through Customs. The fact that another law said Customs wouldn’t pass it through didn’t alter this. I don’t think too many of us believed in Prohibition, but it was a question of smuggling.
Between April 1924 and April 1926, the Navy transferred 25 destroyers (6 more would follow later) to the Treasury Department for service on “Rum Patrol.” Capron explained:
These were 25 of the first 60-some destroyers the Navy ever had, broken-deckers, raised foc’sle, and just after the bridge a drop down of eight feet, then flush deck from there aft. They had been laid up in Philadelphia from 1919 until 1924. Our people got to pick the ones they thought were in the best shape. They had not been mothballed; that term did not yet exist. Cosmoline grease had been put on everything they possibly could and covers on the guns. The machinery was fairly good. The boilers and condensers were lousy.
We had one 4-inch gun, three 50-caliber broadside guns, several .30-caliber machine guns, a one pounder, and the usual small arms for a 40–50 man landing force. We were bound by regulations on the use of the guns. They were on board as part of the wartime armament. The one pounder and the machine guns were for law enforcement.
Our destroyers were capable of 22 to 24 knots on one fire room and 27 to 29 on two fire rooms. We normally used only one. We were much more powerful than any of the cutters. The Conyngham was in the neighborhood of 27,000 horsepower. The cutters might range anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 horsepower. Our normal cruising speed would be 15 to 18 knots, down to about 7 at night. At night we ran completely dark. The mission was high-speed scouting and offshore searches. We were working from Nova Scotia down to the waters off Delaware Bay.
The rummies at that time were using foreign vessels—most under the British flag but some under the French. They ranged from 100- to 150-feet long. Usually the offshore diesel fisherman type had capacity for roughly 3,000 cases of liquor or alcohol, all done up in sacks. They would load out of a Canadian port, quite often St. Pierre Miquelon, or down in the West Indies. Barbados sticks in my memory. They would then run to the off-coast United States, where they would drift anywhere from 15, to 30, to 40 miles offshore.
Under cover of darkness, they would come fairly close to shore, in many cases in right close to the beach, and rendezvous with high-speed motorboats operated by Americans. The high-speeders would take their limit of cargo, possibly 500 cases, and then run it into whatever port or small harbor had been arranged.
In searching for the delivery-boat rummies, we knew the accuracy of their navigation was extremely important. They were making contact at night with a speedboat coming from shore, no lights. They would like to get in some position where they could get good radio bearings from lightships and lighthouses, and these were the areas where you were apt to find the rummies.
It was necessary for us to operate without lights to stay close enough to this rummie so he couldn’t run off. That said, he had a turning circle of 20–30 yards. Ours was 600 yards. He’d get us turning, shoot down our side, and be gone.
I mentioned guns. In the very early destroyer days, a destroyer did shoot a rummie-American with his big gun and hit him. Inasmuch as all our projectiles were either explosive or star shell, when the destroyer gunner hit him he just blew him all to pieces. After that, we were forbidden to use the large gun for law enforcement.