The USCGC Eagle (WIX-327) (ex-Horst Wessel) is a 295-foot (90 m) barque used as a training cutter for future officers of the United States Coast Guard. She is the only active commissioned sailing vessel in American government service. She is the seventh U.S. Navy or Coast Guard ship to bear the name in a line dating back to 1792. Each summer, Eagle conducts cruises with cadets from the United States Coast Guard Academy and candidates from the Officer Candidate School for periods ranging from a week to two months. These cruises fulfill multiple roles; the primary mission is training the cadets and officer candidates, but the ship also performs a public relations role. Often, Eagle makes calls at foreign ports as a goodwill ambassador.
Segelschulschiff Horst Wessel
The ship was built in 1936 as the second of three similar vessels (Gorch Fock class) at the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg, Germany and used to train recruits for service in the Kriegsmarine. (At a later date, two further copies of this design were completed.) She was launched on 13 June 1936 and named for the well-known member of the Nazi Party, Horst Wessel. Commissioned by Adolf Hitler himself as a school ship for the German Navy (Reichsmarine) on 17 September 1936, she was homeported in Kiel on the Baltic Sea.
Segelschulschiff Horst WesselUnder the Treaty of Versailles, Germany could not be militarized. Hitler ordered the creation of this sailing ship and her sister ships to train Navy cadets, but the ships were constructed with identical engine room setup and frame as U-boats. By the time World War II began, the Navy had already trained many of its U-boat machinists and officers.
In the three years before World War II, she undertook numerous training cruises in European waters, but also visited the Caribbean. In 1941 she was converted to a cargo ship, transporting men and supplies throughout the Baltic Sea, but continued to perform training missions as well. Equipped with two antiaircraft guns on the bridge wings, Horst Wessel is said to have downed three Soviet aircraft and one "friendly" German aircraft in combat. The crew had realized the German aircraft they had shot down was "friendly" while it was spiraling into the sea, and set about rescuing the pilot. When he set foot on the ship, he was furious and demanded an explanation. Upon review of the logs and radio personnel, it was determined that the pilot had been using the wrong codes for the battle group, showing the now embarrassed pilot that it was actually his fault.
At the end of World War II, the four vessels then extant were distributed to various nations as war reparations (Gorch Fock I went to the USSR as the Tovarishch, Albert Leo Schlageter went to Portugal as Sagres III, and the Mircea was completed and sold to Romania). Later, West Germany constructed a fifth vessel of the class, Gorch Fock II for its own use.
Horst Wessel was taken as a war prize by the United States. She was first sent to Wilhelmshaven, Germany, for repairs and modification, and was commissioned into the United States Coast Guard as the Coast Guard Cutter Eagle on 15 May 1946. In June 1946 a U.S. Coast Guard crew, assisted by the German captain and crew still aboard, sailed her from Bremerhaven, through a hurricane, to her new home port of New London, Connecticut.
"America's Tall Ship"
USCGC Eagle leading a parade of ships, New York, July 4, 2000.The Eagle has a standing crew of six officers and 56 enlisted; on training missions, she carries on the average a complement of 12 officers, 68 crew, and up to 150 cadets. Each year, she takes one long training cruise to the Caribbean, the Pacific Coast, or Europe, and two shorter cruises along the U.S. East Coast.
During her many years of service, Eagle has traveled to ports throughout the United States and overseas. Among her various cruises, Eagle has participated in various Tall Ship races and events including the various incarnations of Operation Sail, most notably the American Bicentennial OpSail '76.
In September 1987, she undertook a yearlong cruise to Australia from her home at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. During this cruise Academy instructors were embarked to conduct the cadets' courses while underway. In 2005, as part of the Trafalgar 200 International Fleet Review in the Solent off Southern England, Eagle was one of a number of tall ships from several nations to be reviewed by Queen Elizabeth II, along with the U.S. Navy warship USS Saipan (LHA-2)Template:WP Ships USS instances. Later that Summer, Eagle returned to Bremerhaven for the first time since World War II, to an enthusiastic welcome.
In March 1998 Eagle trained her first and only enlisted members of the Coast Guard otherwise known as November-152 bootcamp company. The members flew from Cape May, NJ to Roosevelt Rhodes, Air Force base in Puerto Rico. After just 3 days of training Eagle headed out to Fort de France, Martinique, LaGuerra, Venezuala, Cartegena, Columbia then finally returned home to New London for bootcamp graduation.
Izak J H Hough
Member of The Nautical Research Guild