Using horses to assist in the patrol of the United States beaches began as early as 1871. The beach patrols were normally done on foot and at that time were operated by the Life Saving Service, a predecessor of the modern Coast Guard.
The inspections were done with foot patrols who watched the coastlines for ships in distress. Horses were used to haul boats from storage sheds to the launching point to rescue crews from ships run aground.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Coast Guard put into action a wartime beach patrol. In 1942, the Coast Guard officially saddled up.
Horses were now the authorized means of patrolling the U.S. beaches. This allowed far more territory to be covered faster and more easily than men on foot.
The U.S. Army provided the horses and the Army Remount Service supplied the riding gear. It was the Coast Guard that provided the uniforms for each rider.
The word was quickly sent out that the Coast Guard was looking for men who knew how to ride and handle horses.
Applicants answering the call to duty ran the gamut of experienced equestrians. This included polo players, cowboys, jockeys, rodeo riders, stunt men, horse trainers, Army Reserve cavalrymen and more.
During World War II, there was great concern about enemy vessels nearing U.S. shores, allowing adversarial forces to invade the nation.
The beach patrols gained increased importance as security forces. There were three basic functions: to look for and report on any suspicious vessels operating in the area; to report and prevent attempts of landings by the enemy; and to prevent communication between persons on shore and the enemy at sea.
The mounted units soon became the largest segment of the entire beach patrol. Within one year after the Coast Guard authorized the use of horses, there were nearly 3,000 horses called to duty.
The use of horses allowed patrolmen to carry radios, rifles and sidearms when astride. Being on horseback further provided an advantage in the event a patrol had to run down a suspect or block an escape.
Mounted patrol teams required at least two riders. In some cases dogs worked alongside the horses. The use of these animals added to the patrol’s ability to detect persons or situations that might not be observed by the patrolmen.
“While it was not their mission to repel an invasion from the sea, the Coast Guard beach patrols performed a vital function insofar as the morale of the America people was concerned,” said Chris Havern, a Coast Guard historian. “The beach patrols provided a presence that re-assured the American homefront that they were being protected by a vigilant armed force.”
The work of beach patrols – either on foot, in vehicles or on horseback – could be very difficult. However, these were strong, highly motivated men dedicated to do their part for the war effort. A declassified report about the beach patrol from 1945 provides a glimpse into the morale of these men:
“Despite the many difficulties encountered and overcome, the morale of the men was universally high…Where horses and dogs were used, consideration of the animals was often more important than the comfort of the men. Upon them, as much as upon the welfare of the handlers, depended the sustained vigilance of the patrols…The methodical tramp tramp of weary feet plodding their beats back and forth, amid fair weather and foul, stood as a constant reminder that the military duties on the home front are often as essential to victory as the more exciting activities to the far-flung battle line.”
After World War II, the Coast Guard never again used mounted patrols. But this unusual part of the service’s history illustrates its unending flexibility and adaptability.
It is a shining example of how the Coast Guard lives up to its motto of Semper Paratus: Always Ready.
Source: The Coast Guard Compass
Photo: U.S. Coast Guard