The Coast Guard At War
Transports and Escorts
Historical Section, Public Information Division
U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters
May 1, 1949
CGC Icarus (WPC-110)
Commissioning and Description
The CGC Icarus was built at Bath, Maine, in 1932 and on July 1, 1941 her permanent station was Stapleton, Staten Island, New York. She was 165 feet long, with a 25 foot 3 inch beam and drew 9 feet 6 inches of water. Her displacement was 334 tons. She had a el hull and a speed of 16 knots. She was powered with a 1340 HP diesel oil burning twin screw motor.
The Icarus was on coastal anti-submarine patrol duty, early in 1942 when on January 18, 1942, she departed Ambrose Sea Buoy at 0745 on the report of nearby submarine activity. At 1725 she had established a sound contact on which she fired her "Y" gun and one depth charge which failed to explode. Next day at 0827, while cruising in the same spot, an explosion occurred about 300 yards off her starboard bow, believed to be the unexploded depth charge released the previous day. On the 22nd the cutter made sound contact in the vicinity of Ambrose Channel entrance and observed a slick spot on the surface of the water. The contact was lost at 0730, but the search was continued and calls were exchanged with a Navy blimp, requesting it to search the area. Again on the 31st, a submarine was reported in the vicinity and a passing tanker gave the position of the sub as bearing 10° pgc, distance four miles. The Icarus proceeded to search, established several contacts with her sound equipment and dropped five depth charges, after which satisfactory contact was lost.
Brings Up Cork and Oil
Proceeding to a position 131/2 miles SEXS of Atlantic City on March 7, 142, the Icarus investigated a report of a submarine at that position and at 1525 made a contact, dropping one depth charge from the rack and firing two "Y" guns 14 minutes later. Three minutes later she stopped engines at the point of attack, 39°14'20" N, 74°06'45" W, and ten minutes afterward dropped two depth charges from the racks. Large quantities of cork and oil were observed. Next day she located an oil slick at 0920 an made contact, attacking with two depth charges at 1030, picking up samples of oil and debris. Again on the 11th, at 0815, she dropped three charges with negative results. On March 15, 1942, a Navy blimp dropped smoke flares and the Icarus made contact at 1200 yards at 1150. Forty-five minutes later she dropped two depth charges, followed by two more 15 minutes later. Two more were dropped at 1305, two at 1310 and two at 1325. At 1400, the Icarus stood by the scene as oil bubbles were coming to the surface.
On May 9, 1943, while proceeding southward from New York on a routine run, at about 1620 Icarus picked up a "mushy" sound contact at a range of about 1900 yards he port bow. The contact sharpened, and at 1620 a torpedo was seen and heard to explode 200 yards off the port quarter. At no time was the periscope sighted. Reversing her course, the Icarus steamed toward the contact which was approaching the spot where the torpedo had exploded and propeller noises were now picked up for the first time on the listening gear. The contact was lost at 180 yards and the Icarus, after a calculated interval, dropped five charges in the shape of a diamond with one charge in the center. Reversing her course, the Icarus now established on her sound gear that the submarine was moving west and she moved to intercept the U-boat. The charges were dropped in a V pattern at a point determined by applying a load to the U-boa apparent track and as the turmoil of the water subsided, large bubbles were observed coming to the surface. The Icarus once again reversed her course and dropped a single charge on the spot from which the air bubbles were seen to rise. Six minutes later she dropped another charge to the right of this location.
Sub Surfaces -- Icarus Opens Fire
At 1709, shortly after the last charge had been dropped, the submarine broke the surface, bow first and down at the stern, 1000 yards from the Icarus. The gun crew of the Icarus immediately opened fire with all machine guns able to bear on the target and as the course was changed to the right to ram, the three inch gun was also laid on the target. The first round was short but ricocheted through the conning tower. The second round was over. The next twelve rounds were hits or near misses, seven definite hits being spotted. In five minutes the submarine sank in position 34°12.5' N, 76°35' W.
Two minutes after the submarine had surfaced, the crew abandoned ship. This was done rapidly with clock-like precision as though its members expected an internal explosion, for as soon as they hit the water, all tried to swim away from the submarine as rapidly as possible. As the sub sank, the Icarus ceased firing but continued to circle the spot and, on establishing a contact and hearing propeller noises, dropped one more depth charge which brought a large air bubble to the surface. This ended all further signs of the U-boat, except for 35 of its crew members swimming around in the water. At 1750, operations were begun to pick up survivors and 33 German prisoners were taken from the water. Four were wounded. One had lost his left leg and died shortly thereafter. The least wounded man was placed with the other 29 prisoners under guard in the forward crew's compartment. The commanding officer, Kapt-Leutnant Helmuth Rathke, was among the survivors. The submarine was a 500-ton vessel, the U-352, and had a complement of 4 officers and 41 men. Seven of the crew sank with the sub and died in the water after abandoning ship.
How the Attack Was Received by the U-Boat
The U-boat had been in the vicinity four days waiting for a convoy to pass, and the Icarus was believed to be the lead ship, hence the torpedo was fired. In some manner this was believed to have misfired. The sub submerged and a hail of depth charges followed, one of which destroyed the periscope and killed the conning tower officer. next, the electric motor failed. There followed a second hail of depth charges, the engineering officer was killed and the diving mechanism disabled. At this point, the CO decided to scuttle the boat and ordered all hands into life jackets and diving lungs. The tanks were blown and, as the boat surfaced, the command was given to abandon ship. The accurate fire from the Icarus prevented manning the deck guns.
Captives Taken to Charleston
Several of the crew spoke English and talked very freely on personal matters, but disclosed no information on military affairs. Three of the Icarus crew spoke German and talked a great deal with the prisoners. The Germans were anxious to know how much the Coast Guard crew received for sinking a submarine and if they were promoted for doing so, adding that the German sailors received bonuses and medals for sinking ships, the amount depending on the size and tonnage of the ship. Four of the Germans had relatives living in the United States. The prisoners exhibited high morale and remarkable discipline. They had expected to be machine gunned in the water after abandoning the submarine and many cried "Don't shoot us" as they were being rescued. They could not understand the good treatment they received on the Icarus. By 1805 all survivors had been rescued and the Icarus proceeded, arriving at Charleston Navy Yard at 1130 on May 10, 1942, where the 32 prisoners and the body of the one who had died en route were delivered to the Commandant of the 6th Naval District. The capture was not announced by the Navy until almost a year later, on May 1, 1943, for security reasons, and in keeping with the policy of keeping the enemy in doubt as to what had become of submarines which failed to return to base. According to enemy records uncovered and released by the Navy June 27, 1946, the sinking of the U-352 by the Icarus was the second German sub sunk by a United States war vessel after we entered the war. The first had been the U-85, sunk by the USS Roper on April 14, 1942 at 35°55' N, 75°13' W. The first enemy submarine to be sunk by our armed forces in World War II was the Japanese I-170 sunk at 23°45' N, 155°35' W by aircraft from the USS enterprise on December 10, 1941, according to these sources. (No further war diaries on the Icarus are available.)
[Icarus was decommissioned 21 October 1946 and sold 1 July 1948.]
Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation