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WPGs & WHECs: 1945-2010

The Coast Guard Cutter Rockaway at sea

Historic Photo Gallery

The Designations of the Cutter Fleet:

The Revenue Cutter Service designated its cutters and craft based on "classes."  From about 1890 through the formation of the Coast Guard in 1915, the largest cutters were referred to as vessels of the 'First Class."  The smaller coastal cutters and larger tugs were vessels of the "Second Class," and the smaller tugs and cutters were designated as vessels of the "Third Class."  Finally, the small harbor craft were referred to as "Launches."

In 1915, the newly-formed Coast Guard began referring to all of its larger cutters as "Cruising Cutters."  At that time, most of the smaller vessels fell under the classification of "Harbor Cutter" and the smallest craft were known as a "Launches."  This changed in 1920 when the Coast Guard divided the "Cruising Cutter" designation into "Cruising Cutters" for the largest sea-going cutters and "Inshore Patrol Cutters" for those that were primarily coastal vessels.

In 1925, the designation changed once again.  Now the largest cutters were known as "Cruising Cutters, First Class," while the coastal cutters were "Cruising Cutters, Second Class."  With Prohibition enforcement becoming a major mission, the Coast Guard began adding numerous smaller patrol craft and these were grouped together under the classification of "Patrol Boats."  The service also acquired a large number of Navy destroyers to augment the fleet and these were known as, simply, "Coast Guard Destroyers."

In February of 1942, the Coast Guard adopted the Navy's ship classification system whereby a vessel was designated with a two-letter abbreviation (based on the type of ship) and its hull number.  Thus, the large, sea-going cruising cutters of the first class became gunboats, or "PG."  To differentiate them from their Navy counterparts, all Coast Guard cutters were given the prefix "W" at that same time.  (The W was an unused letter on the Navy's designation alphabet and was arbitrarily assigned to designate a "Coast Guard cutter"--it does not stand for any particular word.)  The Coast Guard also began assigning an exclusive hull number to each cutter.

After the end of the war and the Coast Guard's transfer back to the control of the Treasury Department, the Coast Guard continued to use the Navy's system.  The large, sea-going cutters were classified primarily as "WPG," "WDE", and "WAVP" (Coast Guard gunboats; Coast Guard destroyer escorts; and Coast Guard seaplane tenders).  This changed in 1965 when the service adopted its own designation system and these large cutters were then referred to as Coast Guard High Endurance Cutters or "WHEC."  The coastal cutters once known as "Cruising cutters, Second Class" and then "WPC" (Coast Guard patrol craft) under the Navy system were now Coast Guard Medium Endurance Cutters, or "WMEC."  Patrol boats continued to be referred to by their Coast Guard/Navy designation, i.e. "WPB. "

Regardless of their changing designations, the largest cutters in the fleet have always been ocean-going vessels capable of handling a multitude of missions in any weather.  They have demonstrated the remarkable ability to answer successfully the nation's call in a variety of crises, many times on the spur of the moment, a testament to their designers, their builders, and their crews.  All have been long-lived as well.  

This is not meant to be a complete history of high endurance cutters nor is every individual high endurance cutter represented.  Rather, this page is a visual history of the differing types of ships the Coast Guard has designated "high endurance" and the changes these cutters underwent over the years between World War II and the Millennium.  We hope you enjoy this historic photo gallery of our largest vessels, the Coast Guard's high endurance cutters.  

Unless otherwise noted, the following are official U.S. Coast Guard photographs.

[Click on the image to see in full-size]
Original photo caption; description (if any):
A photo of a Coast Guard cutter "USCGC  Owasco, 18 July 1945 off San Pedro," CA; Photo No. SP-9944; US Navy photo.

Unlike the majority of previous cutters built before World War II, the 255-foot cutters, launched and commissioned between 1944 and 1946, were constructed as heavily armed warships.  The Owasco carried two twin 5"/38 dual purpose guns as her main battery and a heavy anti-aircraft armament consisting of two quad 40mm/60 cannons and four 20mm/80 cannons.  Her anti-submarine armament consisted of 2 depth charge tracks, six "Y" guns and a hedgehog.  Their displacement was similar to a Fletcher Class destroyer but were 122 feet shorter and three feet wider.  

A photo of a Coast Guard cutter "USCGC Pontchartrain on her first underway trial;" 3 August 1945; Photo No. 853; photo by Davis.

These cutters were designed to carry out a variety of duties that included escort of convoys, hence the heavy anti-submarine and anti-aircraft weaponry.  Although they were designed primarily as warships, they never saw combat during World War II.  One historian noted that their appearance was "tubby," leading to machinery design that "was compact and innovative, but overly complex. . .Many demands were placed on this design and, as a result, these cutters were uncomfortable sea boats."  The majority of their armament was removed shortly after the end of World War II but due to their built in adaptability as multi-mission cutters, most remained in service until the mid-1970's and some did see service in Vietnam.

A photo of a Coast Guard cutter USCGC Ingham, circa 1945 (?); no caption/number; photographer/date unknown.

The 327-foot Treasury Class cutters were arguably the most famous cutters of the twentieth century.  Built in the mid-1930's, several of the class saw service into the 1980's.  Their adaptability, good sea keeping qualities, and sleek design endeared them to generations of Coast Guardsmen.  Here the Ingham appears after her wartime armament was removed.

 USCGC Cook Inlet underwayUSCGC Cook Inlet; no caption/number; photographer/date unknown.

The Cook Inlet was one of the eighteen 311-foot seaplane tenders transferred from the Navy to the Coast Guard after World War II.  They proved to be excellent Coast Guard cutters with good habitability and sea-keeping qualities.  The primary post-war duty of the large cutters was that of ocean station patrols and these 311-footers were ideally suited for that task.  With the addition of these cutters, the post-war "large cutter" fleet was quite melange of vessel types, consisting of 250-foot Lake Class cutters, 255-foot Owasco Class cutters, 311-foot Casco Class cutters, 327-foot Treasury Class cutters, and during the Korean Conflict, the service even acquired World War II-era Edsall Class destroyer escorts!

A photo of a Coast Guard cutter USCGC Durant (WDE-489); no caption/number; photographer/date unknown.

With the outbreak of the Korean War and a consequent increase in the numbers of ocean stations set up in the North Pacific, the Coast Guard looked for a way to augment quickly the existing limited cutter fleet, considerably downsized during the post-war demobilization mania.  The Navy's extensive mothball fleet proved to be a good source of readily available warships and the Coast Guard duly accepted twelve destroyer escorts of World War II vintage.  Unlike the destroyer escorts manned by Coast Guard crews during World War II, these were painted white and commissioned as Coast Guard cutters.  They were decommissioned in the mid-1950's.

A photo of a Coast Guard cutter "USCGC Campbell underway;" no number; "20 August 1963 off New York Harbor;" photo by PHC Borzage.

The intrepid Treasury Class cutters continued to sail on patrols in both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans throughout the post-war era and well into the 1980's.  At a cost of just over 2.5 million dollars each, they proved to be quite a bargain to the U.S. taxpayer. 


A photo of the Eagle USCGB Eagle, no caption/number; 1954 cadet cruise, photographer unknown.

The Eagle is included here as another example of a large vessel acquired by the Coast Guard for a specific task.  In this case, she carries on the duty she was originally constructed for by Germany in 1936: training cadets.  Originally launched as the Horst Wessel, the Coast Guard acquired her in 1946 as a "spoil of war."  Her sister ships serve in the Portuguese, Romanian, and Russian navies.

A photo of a Coast Guard cutter USCGC Yakutat (WAVP-380; WHEC-380); no caption/number; photographer/date unknown.

The clean lines of the 311-foot cutters are apparent in this photograph.  They proved to be excellent high endurance cutters, "fine sea boats" in the words of one historian, and served the Coast Guard well.  The Yakutat was in Coast Guard commission from 1948 through 1969 when, after duty in Vietnam, she was transferred to the South Vietnamese Navy.  With the fall of South Vietnam, she fled to the Philippines where she was used for spare parts for the other South Vietnamese 311's that escaped the Communist takeover and "joined" the Philippine Navy.

A photo of a Coast Guard cutter USCGC Campbell (WPG-32; WHEC-32); no caption/number; photographer/date unknown.

The Campbell remained in service from 1936 to 1982 and at the end of her career she earned the honor of painting her hull numbers in gold lettering, signifying the fact that she was the oldest cutter in the Coast Guard fleet.  After her distinguished career, she was turned over to the Navy and sunk as a target in 1984.

A photo of a Coast Guard cutter USCGC Humboldt; no caption/number; photographer/date unknown.

The Humboldt was in Coast Guard service from 1949 through September, 1969.  She was first stationed in Boston and ended her career sailing out of Portland, ME.  Her primary mission was ocean station duty.

A photo of a Coast Guard cutter USCGC Escanaba (WPG-64; WHEC-64); no caption/number; photographer/date unknown.

A photo showing a 255-foot cutter at the end of her service life; compare her profile here with the first photo of this gallery.  The Escanaba, named after a cutter lost during World War II, served from 1946 to 1974.  She served on both coasts, participated in a number of famous rescues, and like most of the high endurance cutters, sailed on ocean station patrols throughout her service life.

The USCGC Androscoggin USCGC Androscoggin (WPG-68; WHEC-68); no caption/number; photographer/date unknown.

Provided courtesy of former Androscoggin crewman William C. Bishop. He noted: “I believe this picture was taken after we left the ship yard in 66 or 67 steaming through the Chesapeake Bay after the midship superstructure was added before our deployment to Viet Nam in 67.”

A photo of a Coast Guard cutter USCGC Bibb (WPG-31; WHEC-31); no caption/number; photographer/date unknown.

The Bibb served her country from 1937 to 1985.  One of her more celebrated exploits occurred in 1947 when her crew, during a gale, rescued all of the passengers and crew of the commercial airliner Bermuda Sky Queen after it ditched in the mid-Atlantic.  When the last Treasury Class cutter in service, the Ingham, and the final 311-foot, the Unimak, were decommissioned in 1988, the only high endurance cutters left in the Coast Guard inventory were the 378-foot Hamilton Class cutters--the first time in history that only one type of ship made up the "large" cutter fleet.  [Excluding, of course, the Coast Guard icebreakers which are designated as WAGBs]

A photo of the CGC Bering Strait in Vietnam "South China Sea, the USCGC Bering Strait (WHEC-382) underway off the coast of Subic Bay, Philippines."; U.S. Navy Photo; Y0885-10-70; 4 October 1970; photo by PH2 Chandler, USN.

In this photograph the Bering Strait sports a unique paint scheme.  Her gray hull includes the now famous Coast Guard racing stripe.  This novel paint scheme was used prior to her transfer to the South Vietnamese Navy in 1971.  There she served as the Tran Quang Khai until she fled to the Philippines at the fall of South Vietnam.  She was then commissioned into the Philippine Navy as the Diego Silang and served until 1985.  

A photo of a Coast Guard cutter "The 255-ft. U.S. Coast Guard Cutter ESCANABA, based at New Bedford, Massachusetts, takes a salty shower bath in rough North Atlantic weather on ocean station 'Delta', 650 miles southeast of Newfoundland and east of Nova Scotia.  This scene was photographed by Robert A. Small, Chief Quartermaster (Signalman), USCG, from the Coast Guard Cutter OWASCO as he watched the ESCANABA being relieved of ocean station patrol by the Coast Guard Cutter MENDOTA."; 17 February 1965; photo number Rel. No. 6105; photo by QMC Robert A. Small.

The ocean station patrols were an important, sometimes dangerous, and always arduous duty for the cutters.  Nevertheless, the existence of large sea-going cutters and the need for replacement vessels primarily to keep these patrols going led to the new 378-foot cutter construction program.

A painting of the cutter Hamilton

"Artist's concept of the 378-foot USCGC HAMILTON (WHEC-715)."  photo no. 11-26-65; 26 November 1965; artist/photographer unknown.

Thirty-six of the new 378-foot cutters were envisioned but budget realities and the reduction of the ocean station program cut down the total number constructed to twelve.  Nevertheless these multi-mission cutters have been a great bargain to the taxpayers as each is still in commission after 30 years. 

A photo of a Coast Guard cutter USCGC Hamilton (WPG-715; WHEC-715); no caption; photo no. API-01-23-67 (01); number; 23 January 1967; photographer unknown.

The Hamilton prepares to undergo her pre-acceptance trials in early 1967.  Note her incomplete paint scheme.  All of the cutters were built by the Avondale Shipyards in New Orleans between 1965 and 1972.

The cutters' main propulsion consisted of two 3600-horsepower Fairbanks Morse twelve-cylinder diesel engines, two 18,000-horsepower FT4A Pratt & Whitney gas turbine engines, two reduction gears by Philadelphia Gear Corporation and two controllable pitch propellers by Propulsion Systems, Inc.  The turbines were capable of driving the cutter up to speeds of 29 knots.  Under diesel propulsion only, they could cruise at speeds of up to 19 knots. 

A photo of a Coast Guard cutter USCGC Morgenthau (WHEC-722); no caption/number; photographer/date unknown.

The Morgenthau was stationed in New York until 1977 and conducted one war patrol in Vietnam.  She shifted operations after 1977 to the west coast.  Over her career she has seized numerous foreign vessels for fisheries and narcotic smuggling violations, served on ocean stations, participated in rescues, and even served as an escort for the British royal yacht Britannia.  Note the World Trade Center under construction in the left-center background.  

A photo of a Coast Guard cutter "NAVAL GUNFIRE SUPPORT"; Coast Guard Cutter Rush Vietnam Cruise Book [1970-1971], page 20.

The Rush was commissioned in July, 1969 and was stationed at Alameda.  She was sent to Vietnam in October, 1970 and served on combat patrol with Coast Guard Squadron Three until July, 1971.  During her tour of duty she assisted in the destruction of two enemy trawlers.  Here she is firing her main battery at an enemy target.

A photo of a Coast Guard cutter USCGC Morgenthau (WHEC-722); no caption/number; photographer/date unknown.

Morgenthau, commissioned in February, 1969, served in Vietnam from December, 1970 until July, 1971 and assisted in the destruction of an enemy trawler.

A photo of a Coast Guard cutter USCGC Morgenthau (WHEC-722); "The flight deck of the Cutter MORGENTHAU looks small as the crew of this HH-52A prepares to rendezvous with it during a helo-operation outside New York Harbor."; no photo number; photo dated 1971; photographer unknown.

Note the landing platform and grid device designed to "trap" helicopters quickly upon landing.  Combined cutter and aviation activities were of paramount concern for the new 378-foot high endurance cutters.  The hanger shown here was actually a "balloon shelter" that could, when needed, serve as a "nose hanger" for a helicopter.  The rest of the helicopter would be exposed to the weather.

A photo of a Coast Guard cutter USCGC Gallatin (WPG-721; WHEC-721); "The 378-ft. Coast Guard cutter USCGC GALLATIN (WHEC-721), based at Governors Island, New York, is seen here from a sister cutter crossing the Atlantic while acting as one of the three modern high endurance cutters that accompanied the Coast Guard Academy training barque USCGC EAGLE on the Cadet Practice Squadron Cruise to Europe, summer of 1977."; photo no. G-BPA-06-31-77 (02); June 1977; photo by PA2 Kirby.
A photo of a Coast Guard cutter USCGC Chase (WPG-718; WHEC-718); no caption/number; photographer/date unknown.

The Chase was commissioned on 1 March 1968.  She served in Vietnam from December 1969 through May 1970.  She has also served on ocean station patrols, assisted mariners, made numerous drug busts, and rescued hundreds of migrants during her career to-date, just like each of her sister 378's.

A photo of a Coast Guard cutter

USCGC Boutwell (WPG-719; WHEC-719) in foreground; then directly starboard of Boutwell is the USCGC Jarvis (WHEC-725) which is moored ahead of the USCGC Munro (WHEC-724).  Munro is astern of Jarvis and inboard of the Morgenthau (WHEC-722)--note the Harpoon launchers on Morgenthau directly behind her main battery; and finally the USCGC Sherman (WPG-720; WHEC-720) is directly astern of the Munro; USCG PACAREA photo; photo no. #PA 051892(01)-34A; May, 1992; photo by PAC R. L. Woods.

Beginning in the 1980s and ending in 1992, each 378 was modernized through a three-year "Fleet Renovation and Modernization program" otherwise known as FRAM.  The work involved the replacement of the cutters' armament, installation of new electronic systems, some structural alterations and habitability enhancements as well as a complete overhaul of all propulsion systems.

A photo of a Coast Guard cutter USCGC Mellon; no caption/number; January, 1990; photographer unknown.

Under Commandant Paul Yost's orders, tests were conducted to upgrade the combat capabilities of the high endurance cutters.  Here is a test firing of a Harpoon anti-ship missile off the cutter Mellon in January of 1990.  The Harpoons and all of her anti-submarine warfare equipment were removed "due to budget constraints" soon thereafter.

A photo of a Coast Guard cutter USCGC Munro (WHEC-724) moored at Kodiak, Alaska; no caption/number; photo by BMC Timothy E. Lee; April, 2002. 

The Munro was commissioned in 1971.  Like all of her sister cutters, she has stood watch on ocean station, performed search and rescue, trained with Navy task groups, and conducted law enforcement operations.

A photo of a Coast Guard high endurance cutter. "SAINT PAUL ISLAND, Alaska (Feb. 9) -- The Coast Guard Cutter Mellon (WHEC 717) makes way through the Bering Sea while acting as search and rescue standby cutter for the Bering Sea Opilio Crab fishery Feb. 9."; Photo no. 010209-C-6130A-500; 9 February 2001; photo by PA1 Keith Alholm.

The USCGC Mellon was commissioned on 22 December 1967.  She has spent her Coast Guard career in Pacific waters.  This photo provides a good overhead view of a 378', showing all of the modifications made for their service into the twenty-first century.


CGC Rush Helicopter refuel (For Release [2007])

Juneau, ALASKA - A Coast Guard HH60 helicopter receives fuel in flight from the Coast Guard Cutter Rush on December 26, 2007. Rapid in flight refueling can increase the time crews remain in the air during operations. (Official Coast Guard photo courtesy Air Station Sitka)

A photo of a Coast Guard cutter An artist's rendition of a possible future Coast Guard high endurance cutter.
The CGC Bertholf The "new" High Endurance Cutter, now designated a National Security Cutter: the CGC Bertholf.

"Bertholf Steams Home (FOR RELEASE)

LOS ANGELES -- Aerial photo of the new National Security Cutter Bertholf taken from an HH-65C helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station Los Angeles off the California Coast Tuesday, July 22, 2008. (US Coast Guard Photo by Chief Warrant Officer Brian Carlton)."

Last Modified 9/15/2016