On the alert: watchful.
TYPE/RIG/CLASS: Active Class Patrol Boat
BUILDER: American Brown Boveri Electric Corp., Camden, NJ
COMMISSIONED: 3 May 1927
LAUNCHED: 25 April 1927
DECOMMISSIONED: 9 November 1954 and sold 3 January 1956.
DISPLACEMENT: 232 tons
PROPULSION: 2 x 6-cylinder, 300 hp engines
LENGTH: 125 feet
BEAM: 23 feet, 6 inches
DRAFT: 7 feet, 6 inches
COMPLEMENT: 3 officers, 17 men
ARMAMENT: 1 3"/27 (1927); in WWII two dc racks were added
This class of vessels was one of the most useful and long- lasting in Coast Guard service with 16 cutters still in use in the 1960ís. The last to be decommissioned from active service was the Morris in 1970; the last in actual service was the Cuyahoga, which sank after an accidental collision in 1978. They were designed for trailing the "mother ships" along the outer line of patrol during Prohibition. They were constructed at a cost of $63,173 each. They gained a reputation for durability that was only enhanced by their re-engining in the late 1930ís; their original 6-cylinder diesels were replaced by significantly more powerful 8-cylinder units that used the original engine beds and gave the vessels 3 additional knots. All served in World War II, but two, the Jackson and Bedloe, were lost in a storm in 1944. Ten were refitted as buoy tenders during the war and reverted to patrol work afterward.
The fourth cutter named Vigilant, a 125-foot, steel-hulled, twin-screw, diesel-powered Coast Guard cutter, was completed in 1927 at Camden, N.J., by the American Brown Boveri Electric Corp. and was placed in service at Camden on 3 March 1927, under the command of Boatswain's Mate J. F. Morin.
After operating out of the Coast Guard base at Stapleton, N.J., into the spring of 1933, Vigilant shifted to Norfolk on 6 June, and, in 1935, to Ft. Pierce, Fla. The Navy took over Coast Guard vessels in the summer of 1941 for duty during the national emergency, but the Coast Guard cutter was still based at Ft. Pierce at the time of the Japanese attack against Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941.
Fitted to service navigational aids, Vigilant--classified WPC-154--patrolled out of Ft. Pierce into early 1942. At 1350 on 19 February 1942, the cutter received a radio message reporting the torpedoing (later found out to have been committed by U--128) of the tanker SS Pan Massachusetts. While the warship steamed to the area, SS Elizabeth Massey rescued the tanker's survivors and radioed that no assistance was necessary. Nonetheless, Vigilant remained in the area.
While off Melbourne, Fla., at 0555 on 22 February, the cutter sighted a flare and altered her course to close. She soon found the burning tanker SS Republic which had been torpedoed an hour earlier by U--504.
At 0800, as Vigilant drew nearer, she discovered an overturned lifeboat alongside the blazing Republic with a man swimming nearby. She quickly maneuvered to within 50 feet of the man in the water. Suddenly, Republic blew up, enveloping the unfortunate man in flames and spraying oil on the rescuers. Vigilant remained perilously close to the raging flames and picked up two survivors, whom she later transferred to Riddle (DD--151) which had arrived on the scene. Eventually, Vigilant recovered six bodies and transferred them to Biddle before turning over the search to the destroyer.
Vigilant subsequently pursued a submarine contact on 9 May, believing it to be a U-boat thought to have been damaged earlier and seeking to escape by heading in a northerly direction from Miami. Joined by Nike (WPC--112), Vigilant conducted a fruitless search for the enemy submersible.
Vigilant's extant World War II diary entries end, for some reason, in 1942. It is known, however, that the vessel continued in service with the Coast Guard after World War II and was later stationed at Corpus Christi, Tex. The ship was reclassified a medium endurance cutter in the 1960's. She was decommissioned and sold in 1966.
Cutter History File. USCG Historian's Office, USCG HQ, Washington, D.C.
Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Washington, DC: USGPO.
Robert Scheina. U.S. Coast Guard Cutters & Craft of World War II. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1982.
Robert Scheina. U.S. Coast Guard Cutters & Craft, 1946-1990. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1990.