TIFO - The USCG Cutter Eagle is a Nazi Ship!

The Coast Guard Cutter Eagle is the only active duty tall ship in the U.S. fleet, and the flagship of the U.S. Coast Guard.


"Horst Wessel" 1938 - Courtesy of USCG


Today, I found out she started life as a Nazi training ship. Originally named the "Horst Wessel",

Adolf Hitler himself was at her commissioning and has walked her decks.

Designed by Blohm & Voss Shipbuilding and built in 1936 at the same Hamburg shipyard that made the legendary battleship Bismarck, the Horst Wessel was one of four ships used to train German sailors for the Kriegsmarine ("war navy") during World War II.  The Horst Wessel was, and the Eagle still is, considered a barque, a term given to ships of a particular sail-plan of three or more masts. She is 7m (23ft) longer than the first ship of the same Gorch Fock class design. This class of ship's design was focused on safety and specifically commissioned in response to the loss of previous training ships due to capsizing. With 300 tons of steel ballast in her keel, the designers intended she be capable of staying upright after a nearly 90 degree roll, even as the main mast towers 45m (147ft) above the deck,  This is a feat I would almost have to see to believe, having experienced a 35 degree roll on a modern cutter myself.  With 2,071 square meters (22,300 square feet) of sail, the 90m (295 ft) long, 12m (39 ft) wide ship of steel, displacing over 1800 tons, can reach a maximum speed of 17 knots (about 20mph).

For three years she trained sailors until the actual breaking out of war in 1939 when the Horst Wessel was decommissioned, remaining in port in Kiel Germany to house Hitler youth. In 1942 she was refitted with two 20mm anti-aircraft guns on the bridge wings, another two on the foredeck, and two 20mm Flakvierling quad mounts amidship and placed back into service.  She was ordered to patrol in the Baltic Sea where she is recorded to have downed three Soviet aircraft and one German aircraft (in a friendly fire incident) before the end of the war.  Can you imagine a pilot having to admit to being shot down by a sailing ship? A dubious distinction for a pilot, but it does make the Eagle a veteran ship of war.


The nautical figurehead of an eagle, on the prow of the ship to this day, was the Nazi Party's eagle, the Parteiadler ("Party's Eagle") and where it once clutched a swastika, it now clings to the shield of the U.S. Coast Guard.
To the victor goes the spoils. It's a tradition going back to the earliest times of naval warfare to repurpose captured vessels to the needs of the victorious navy and the Horst Wessel was no exception. The U.S. specifically wanted the Horst Wessel while her four remaining sister ships were dispersed to the allies Russia, Portugal, and Romania, with Germany eventually repatriating the "Gorch Fock I" for which this class of ship was named.

On May 15th, 1946 the Horst Wessel was commissioned into the U.S. Coast Guard as the U.S.Coast Guard Cutter "Eagle", the seventh cutter to bear the name, where she continues to serve as a seagoing training tool for cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and as ambassador to the sea for our nation.


1961 USCG - Notice anything missing? The Eagle didn't get her signature racing strip until the mid-70s under much protest.
Here's a great article from 2015 by the BBC with a first hand account from someone who sailed on her before she was the "Eagle".

Here is a translated log book (pdf) from one of the sailors on the Horst Wessel

Personal Note: I got a chance to see the Eagle in New York City in the early 80's while stationed at USCG Governor's Island during electronics school.  A more beautiful ship, I have never seen.