Guardians of the Sea: The History of the United States Coast Guard

Guardians of the Sea: The History of the United States Coast Guard

Robert Erwin Johnson

Jacket painting (at right): To the Rescue by Anton Otto Fischer. (Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)


Based on years of extensive research, this comprehensive history of the U.S. Coast Guard—the first to be written—benefits both from the author's firsthand knowledge of the service and his training as a historian. Robert Erwin Johnson served five years in the Coast Guard during World War II and is now a respected writer and teacher of maritime history.

In this book, Professor Johnson has taken a dual approach to his subject. He offers an operational history that describes the Coast Guard's active participation in two world wars and other military engagements and its equally important, constantly expanding peacetime duties.

He also provides an organizational history that focuses on the service's evolution from its formal creation in 1915 right up to the present. Yet, despite his thorough documentation of facts and figures, Johnson is so lucid a writer and the Coast Guard's story so filled with fascinating details that Guardians of the Sea will appeal to a broad audience.

Here the reader finds a clear picture of a service built on apparent contradictions. One of the nation's armed forces, the Coast Guard, has never come under the jurisdiction of the Department of Defense, and most of its ships and aircraft remain unarmed.

Though its name implies a close affinity to the coastal regions of the United States, its personnel regularly serve on the high seas and the inland waterways as well as in the Arctic and Antarctic.

In examining all aspects of the Coast Guard's dramatic history, Johnson deals with a remarkable range of topics. From sensational tales of search-and-rescue missions to technical explanations of cutter designs, he tells the story with skill and understanding. Several of the illustrations that accompany the text have never before been published.


  • Preface ix


  1. The United States Revenue-Cutter Service
  2. The Last Years of the Revenue-Cutter and Life-Saving Services
  3. The United States Coast Guard, 1915-17
  4. The Coast Guard in World War I
  5. The Fight for Survival, 1919-23
  6. Operations during the Lean Years, 1919-24
  7. Prohibition Enforcement—Means and Methods
  8. Some Incidents of the Prohibition Era
  9. The Coast Guard during the Billard Years
  10. Depression, Danger, and Development, 1932-36
  11. Years of Expansion, 1936-40
  12. The Approach to War, 1936-41
  13. Wartime Expansion: Personnel and Duties
  14. "To Europe and the Far East"
  15. Postwar Planning and Reality, 1943-50
  16. The Korean War and After, 1950-54
  17. The Richmond Years, 1954-62
  18. The Last Years under the Treasury Department, 1962-67
  19. The Coast Guard since 1967
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

From the Back Cover

"Guardians of the Sea is a comprehensive, fascinating history of our nation's fifth armed force. Professor Johnson's lively injection of stories about people and events emphasizes the complexity of the Coast Guard's mission and its awesome responsibilities in peace and war."

ADMIRAL JOHN B. HAYES, USCG (Re Commandant, 1978-1982

"For people who are interested in the history of the Coast Guard, this book reads like a novel!"

ADMIRAL OWEN &LER, USCG (Ret.) Commandant, 1974-1978

"Guardians of the Sea is not only a thoroughly researched and documented definitive history of the Coast Guard, but it's also an adventure story, inhabited by real people with very human reactions to stress, it is a treat to read:.'

Captain John M. Wates, USCG (Ret.)
Author of Bloody Winter

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Johnson, Robert Erwin. Guardians of the sea.
Bibliography: p.
Includes index.
1. United States. Coast Guard—History-20th century. I. Title.
VG53.J64 1987 359.9'7'0973 87-11193
ISBN 0-87021-720-8
With the following exceptions, all illustrations are official
United States Coast Guard or United States Navy photographs.

  • Page 75. Photograph in author's possession.
  • Page 112. Drawing made for the author by Ms. B. A. Peterson
  • Page 134. Photograph in author's possession.
  • Page 137. Joe Williamson photograph. Reproduced from James A. Gibbs, Jr., Pacific Graveyard (Portland, Ore.: Binfords and Mort, Publishers, 1950).
  • Page 163. Photograph in author's possession.
  • Page 216. Reproduced from R. S. Crenshaw, Jr., Naval Shiphandling (Annapolis, Md.: U.S. Naval Institute, 1955).

Book design by Moira Megargee Printed in the United States of America

Copyright © 1987 by the United States Naval Institute Annapolis, Maryland

Library of Congress Catalog Listing

  • LC Control No.: 87011193
  • Type of Material: Book (Print, Microform, Electronic, etc.)
  • Personal Name: Johnson, Robert Erwin.
  • Main Title: Guardians of the sea: history of the United States Coast Guard, 1915 to the present / by Robert Erwin Johnson.
  • Published/Created: Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, c1987.
  • Description: x, 412 p. : ill.; 26 cm.
  • ISBN: 0870217208 : $23.95
  • Notes: Continues: The United States Coast Guard, 1790-1915 / Stephan Hadley Evans. 1949. Includes index. Bibliography: p. [392]-400.
  • Subjects: United States. Coast Guard --History --20th century.
  • LC Classification: VG53 .J64 1987
  • Dewey Class No.: 359.9/7/0973 19
  • Geographic Area Code: n-us---
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