Pearl Harbor: 5 things you didn’t know about the Coast Guard that day

Coast Guard Cutter Kukui, moored in Honolulu prior to the attacks on Dec. 7, 1941.

Coast Guard Cutter Kukui, moored in Honolulu prior to the attacks on Dec. 7, 1941.

Written by Scott Price, Historian’s Office

While most know that Coast Guard Cutter Taney took part in the battle of Dec. 7, 1941, with the attacks on Pearl Harbor, many don’t realize that the Coast Guard had quite a number of units and personnel who took part in the U.S. defense of Hawaii on that Sunday.

Here are five things you may not have known about the Coast Guard’s involvement at Pearl Harbor:

1. Barbers Point Light Station “Battle”

Light Keeper John M. Sweeney, in charge of the Barbers Point Light Station, filed a report of what he witnessed during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor Dec 7, 1941. Sweeney saw two Japanese airmen who had parachuted out of their stricken bomber land “close to the station.” U.S. Army troops arrived and an on-going battle around the station went on through the night. Both Japanese airmen were killed and Keeper Sweeney survived unscathed.

2. Frank Erickson, Ford Island

Lt. Frank Erickson was assigned to Coast Guard Cutter Taney as the cutter’s aviation officer. Since Taney was moored in Honolulu, the Navy assigned Erickson, along with his aircraft, to Ford Island. He was the duty officer there when the first wave of the Japanese attack struck Pearl Harbor on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. He was relieved of his watch by the commanding officer and then ran to his duty station—that of assistant operations officer and he took charge of control tower on Ford Field and of a battery of machine guns set up on the roof of the operations building. He later wrote about his experiences:

Lt. Frank Erickson. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Lt. Frank Erickson. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

We had a grand stand view of the battle. We could see all of Ford Island and the Pearl Harbor area with the ships, the Navy Yard, Hickam, Wheeler and Eva Fields all of which were on fire. Practically all our combat planes were already lost on the ground. Most of the battleships moored along Ford Island were listing badly. The Oklahoma had already capsized. In the Pearl City channel the Utah had also disappeared from sight. The [Japanese] kept up a heavy pounding for about an hour then the bombing stopped. We had practically nothing but utility planes left to put in to the air. During this lull a few Grumman J2F and Sikorsky JRS amphibians got out to scout for the enemy. They were armed only with Springfields, shotguns, tommy guns or anything available to throw into the ships before they took off.

3. Coast Guard Cutter Kukui “Battle” of Ni’ihau Island (sometimes referred to as the Niihau Incident)

Coast Guard Cutter Kukui transported an Army combat squad to Niihau Island after receiving reports that a Japanese pilot, Shigenori Nishikaichi, had crash-landed his Zero fighter aircraft on the small island off Oahu and had taken control of that island. Locals eventually overcame and killed him before Kukui arrived on Dec. 14, 1941, but nevertheless Kukui’s radio operation, George Larsen, left as an account of the mission:

“While at Port Allen (Kaua’i) the Army requested us to help them recapture Niihau Island, as a Japanese fighter pilot had crashed on the Island and had taken control of the natives with the help of two Japanese workers. So we went over to Niihau Island arriving a little after dusk [13 December] with a squad of Army raider’s and four of the ships crew ready to jump ashore for the rescue, they were all armed to the teeth and ready to go. One of the men was my radio partner, an ex-Marine, I wisely volunteered to man the radio shack on board the ship. They came back about midnight [on the 14th] with the pilot’s belongings. They assembled in the radio shack, as this was the best quarters on the ship to discuss what they accomplished and to view what they found.

They told us that the pilot was dead (and) that he was killed by a Hawaiian during a fight with the Hawaiian, who started to grapple with the pilot, who was holding him at pistol point-blank range. The pilot fired his pistol three times hitting the native in the groin, thus enraging the Hawaiian who grabbed him around the waist and turned him upside down and smashed his head into the ground killing him instantly. The Hawaiian was a 6-foot 6-inch giant and the three shots to his groin apparently didn’t affect him that much. … We then got to inspect all the items they brought back with them. First there was the synchronized machine gun from the fighter plane, then the fish skin water proof wrapping that the pilot had wrapped around his waist … (containing) local maps, money and things necessary if he had to bail out over Oahu. The machine gun still had about twenty bullets hanging from the breach of the gun. I snapped one of the cartridges from the belt figuring it would be a easy souvenir to keep. I asked where was the pilot and they told me that the wounded Hawaiian they brought aboard had killed him and that the natives were going to bury him on the Island. They thought that the stuff they took from him would be enough to verify that he had been taken care of.”

The attakcs on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

The attakcs on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

4. Coast Guard Cutter Tiger

Coast Guard Cutter Tiger, a 125-foot “Buck and a Quarter” patrol boat under the command of Chief Warrant Officer William J. Mazzoni, was on patrol duty off Oahu on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. At 6:45 a.m. while on regular patrol, Tiger, intercepted a dispatch from the US Navy destroyer Ward that claimed the destruction of an enemy submarine. Thirty-five minutes later, Tiger detected an underwater object on its rudimentary sonar apparatus near Barber’s Point. Believing that this might also be a submarine, Tiger maneuvered to get a better position and stopped both engines to reduce sonar interference. Tiger, however, lost the object and resumed her patrol.

Tiger continued her patrol eastward toward the Pearl Harbor entrance. At around 8 a.m., to the surprise of the men on board the “buck and a quarter,” they came under fire. The fire came from an undetermined source and fell within 100 yards. Mazzoni called the crew to general quarters and observed Japanese planes heading southwest away from Pearl Harbor. Manning the anti-aircraft guns, he ordered no return fire because of the extreme range of the aircraft. The Tiger immediately headed for her designated wartime station off the entrance to Honolulu Harbor. For the remainder of the morning the patrol vessel lay at the entrance and observed the air attack, being out of range to help defend against either of the attacks. The Tiger maintained a patrol off the harbor entrance during the night. In the darkness overly anxious Army units along the shore fired on the cutter.

5. CG-8

The crew aboard CG-8, moored at Pier 4 in Honolulu Harbor, saw the first Japanese attack begin and they then prepared to get underway. The patrol boat, a former rum-runner captured and taken into service as a Coast Guard vessel, was under the command of Petty Officer 1st Class Boyd C. Maddox. It got underway under orders at 9 a.m. and was taken under attack by Japanese aircraft but survived unscathed. CG-8 carried out patrol duties for the rest of the day.

The lighthouse at Barber's Point, Hawaii. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

The lighthouse at Barber’s Point, Hawaii. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

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