This blog is part of a series honoring the long blue line of Coast Guard men and women who served before us. Stay tuned as we highlight the customs, traditions, history and heritage of the Coast Guard.
Written by William H. Thiesen, Ph.D.
Atlantic Area Historian
EDITOR’S NOTE – This is a continuation of last week’s Long Blue Line about Coast Guard Cutter Campbell. We left off just after the engine room took on water after a glancing blow from a Nazi-manned U-boat during WWII.
While Coast Guard Cutter Campbell’s gun crews dueled with Nazi-manned U-606, the rest of the crew raced against time as the engine room filled with salt water. The water finally reached Campbell’s electrical system shorting the circuits and dowsing the searchlights. Luckily, the U-boat had been rendered defenseless at the same time the cutter lost power. The U-boat commander ordered U-606 abandoned and Campbell’s guns ceased fire. The disabled cutter lowered its boats and rescued five of the Nazi submariners.
After the battle, Campbell’s crew continued to fight only this time it was for the very survival of their cutter. Cmdr. James Hirshfield believed he could lose his ship, so after offloading his prisoners he transferred to another ship the 50 rescued merchant mariners and all non-essential crewmembers. The cutter sat powerless in the open ocean while the convoy pressed on to its destination. Meanwhile, a skeleton crew jury-rigged a patch they placed over the gash in Campbell’s hull stemming the flow of water into the engine room. Finally, after wallowing in the North Atlantic for four days, the cutter received a tow to St. John’s, Newfoundland. For his actions during and after the Battle of Convoy ON-166, Hirshfield was awarded the Navy Cross Medal, one of only a handful awarded to Coast Guardsmen during the war. He later became a vice admiral and two-term assistant commandant of the Coast Guard.
Later, Campbell was fully repaired and re-gained its place of pride within the convoy escort fleet. It was during this wartime service that a furry member of the crew, the dog “Sinbad,” became one of the most famous mascots in the history of the U.S. military. The subject of film, magazine stories, advertising and a book, Sinbad enlisted a year after Campbell’s commissioning and served loyally throughout the cutter’s wartime career remaining aboard Campbell even when many of its crew were evacuated after battling U-606. Sinbad served in the Coast Guard until his death in 1951 achieving the rate of K9C, Chief Petty Officer, Dog. He had served aboard Campbell for nearly a dozen years.
Campbell continued to serve in the North Atlantic until Germany’s surrender in the spring of 1945. After that, the Navy transferred the ship to the Pacific Theater to serve as an amphibious flagship. After World War II, the cutter returned to peacetime duties under the Department of Treasury. Campbell was called up for combat action again for the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam. In Korea the cutter and its crew performed search and rescue operations and ocean station duty and, in Vietnam, provided naval gunfire support and patrolled Vietnam’s coastal waters. During Operation “Market Time,” Campbell destroyed or damaged 105 Viet Cong structures and steamed over 32,000 miles in the Vietnamese War Zone.
After the war, Campbell returned home and performed search and rescue, law enforcement, military readiness and maritime interdiction duties. The cutter was homeported in New York City until 1969 before morning to Portland, Maine. In 1974, the cutter changed homeports again, this time to Port Angeles, Washington. There the ship continued its peacetime duties until decommissioning in 1982. At the time of its decommissioning, Campbell was the oldest vessel in the active-duty U.S. fleet. After decommissioning, the Coast Guard turned over Campbell to the U.S. Navy for use as a target. The Navy sank the vessel on Nov. 29, 1984, during a fleet readiness exercise in the waters off Hawaii.
The Treasury-class cutters proved very dependable, versatile and long-lived warships, most serving for over 40 years. Retired Coast Guard captain and book author, John Waters would write about Campbell and its sister cutters, “Built for only $2.5 million each, in terms of cost effectiveness we may never see the likes of these cutters again.” Campbell’s illustrious 46-year career spanned World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars, and many more productive years. The cutter was one of hundreds that have served the long blue line.