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Eagle, 1946

ex-Horst Wessel; WIX-327

A photo of USCGC Eagle under full sail in 1954

Eagle: Any of various large diurnal birds of prey of the family Accipitridae, including members of the genera Aquila and Haliaeetus, characterized by a powerful hooked bill, keen vision, long broad wings, and strong soaring flight.

Horst Wessel: A Nazi party member and SA Stormtrooper who was killed fighting German communists in 1930.  Some months before he died, Wessel had written the verses to what would become the "Horst Wessel Lied" but it first gained popular currency when a choir of Stormtroopers performed it at his funeral. It was later recorded, and in 1931 it became the official anthem of the Nazi Party, played alongside Deutschland über Alles at all official occasions.

Builder:  Blohm & Voss Shipyards, Hamburg, Germany

Commissioned:  1936 (German Navy); 15 May 1946 (U.S. Coast Guard)

Length:  295'

Beam:  39' 1"

Draft:  17' 6" full load (1965)
          16 feet (present)

Height of Mainmast: 147' 3"

Displacement:  1,784 tons full load (1965)
                       1,824 tons (present)

Powerplant:  1 x Maschinenfabrik-Augsburg-Nurnberg diesel direct reversible with reduction gear
                        producing 750 horsepower (as of 1965);
                   1 x Caterpillar D399 diesel engine (present); 1,000 hp

Sail Area: 22,300 square feet

Rigging: 6 miles (standing & running)

Fuel Oil: 23,402 gallons

Top speed:  17 knots (under sail) maximum
                  10 knots (diesel engine only) maximum;
                   7.5 knots cruising with 5,450 mile range under diesel power only.

Complement:  19 officers, 46 crew; 175 cadets and instructors (1965)
                       6 officers, 55 crew; 140 cadets or officer candidates, 20 temporary crew (present)
                     239 passengers & crew maximum 

Radar:  1 x AN/SPS-23; AN/SPA-4 (1965)

Sonar:  1 x AN/UQN-1D

Armament:  None

Cutter History:

The Eagle is a three-masted sailing barque with 21,350 square feet of sail.  It is home ported at the Coast Guard Academy, New London, Connecticut.  It is one of five such training barques in world.  Its surviving sister ships include the Mircea of Romania, Sagres II of Portugal, Gorch Fock of Germany, and Tovarich of Russia.

Today's Eagle, the seventh in a long line of proud cutters to bear the name, was built in 1936 by the Blohm & Voss Shipyard, Hamburg, Germany, as a training vessel for German Navy cadets.  It was commissioned Horst Wessel and served as a training ship for the Kriegsmarine throughout World War II.  Click here to read a translated-diary from a German naval cadet who trained aboard the Horst Wessel in 1937. 

Following World War II, the Horst Wessel, in the age-old custom of capture and seizure, was taken as a war prize by the United States.   Initially, the Soviet Union selected Horst Wessel during the division of Nazi vessels by the victorious Allies.  The four available sailing ships had been divided into three lots--two large merchant ships being grouped together.  The Soviets drew number 1, Great Britain number 2, and the U.S. number 3.  Before the results of the draw were officially announced, the U.S representative, through quiet diplomacy, convinced the Soviets to trade draws.

And so, on May 15, 1946, the German barque was commissioned into U.S. Coast Guard service as Eagle and sailed from Bremerhaven, Germany to New London, Connecticut.  On her voyage to the United States she followed Columbus's route across the mid-Atlantic.  Click here to read Momm2c Emil Babich's recollections of this voyage.  It rode out a hurricane during her trip and arrived in New London safely.  It weathered another hurricane in September 1954 while enroute to Bermuda.  It has hosted both Presidents Harry S. Truman and John F. KennedyEagle hosted OpSail in New York as part of the World's Fair in 1964.  Eagle again hosted OpSail in 1976 during the United States' Bicentennial celebration and hosted the centennial celebration for the Statue of Liberty in 1986 as well.

One of the major controversies regarding the cutter was generated when the Coast Guard decided to add the "racing stripe" to her otherwise unadorned hull in mid-1976.  Eagle was the last cutter so painted and many in the sailing community decried the new paint job.

Eagle continues to serve as a seagoing classroom for approximately 150 cadets and instructors from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.  Sailing in Eagle, cadets handle more than 20,000 square feet of sail and 5 miles of rigging. Over 200 lines must be coordinated during a major ship maneuver.  The sails can provide the equivalent of several thousand through-shaft horsepower. The ship readily takes to the task for which it was designed.  Eagle's hull is built of steel, four-tenths of an inch thick.  It has two full length steel decks with a platform deck below and a raised forecastle and quarterdeck.  The weather decks are three-inch-thick teak over steel.


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Commanding Officers


Further Information:



Eagle Cutter File, CG Historian's Office.

Eagle's Official Coast Guard Website.

Robert Scheina, Coast Guard Cutters and Craft, 1946-1990 (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1990), pp. 116-117.


Historical Bibliography

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Last Modified 1/12/2016