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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
805 KIDDER BREESE SE -- WASHINGTON NAVY YARD
WASHINGTON DC 20374-5060

Northland

 

(WPG–49: dp. 2065; l 216’; b. 39’; dr. 15’; s. 11 k.; cpl. 105; a. 2 3”, 4 20mm., 1 seaplane)

 

The Coast Guard cutter Northland, a cruising class of gunboat especially designed for Arctic operations and built at Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Corp., Newport News, Va., launched 5 February 1927 and commissioned 7 May. She was originally fitted with auxiliary sails, but they were removed and her tall masts were trimmed in 1936.

 

Prior to World War II her homeports were alternately San Francisco, Oakland, and Seattle. She served primarily on the Bering Sea Patrol, where she performed “everything under the midnight sun.”

 

The cutters on Bering Sea Patrol were much more than symbols. They assisted in the performance of many governmental functions. For the Justice Department they enforced the law, apprehended criminals, and transported floating courts. They gathered military intelligence for the Navy Department, and carried mail for the Post Office Department. For the Interior Department the cutters carried teachers to their posts, conducted sanitation inspections, and guarded timber and game. They surveyed coastlines and regional industries for the Department of Commerce and carried Public Health Service personnel to isolated villages, otherwise without medical service.

 

Northland departed the West Coast in 1938 on her last Arctic cruise, after which she decommissioned. In June 1939, however, she recommissioned and transferred to Boston, Mass. to prepare for the second Byrd Antarctic Expedition. But with the eruption of war in Europe in September, she was withdrawn from the expedition and returned to Alameda, Calif.

 

In May 1940 Northland entered New York Navy Yard to be outfitted for special duty in Greenland. She embarked on her first Greenland Survey 20 August and visited harbors in order to determine the best location for patrol forces. The information that resulted contributed to the composition of a Greenland pilot volume as well as new charts. These were subsequently utilized in the formal organization of the Greenland Patrol, after an agreement between the United States and exiled rulers of Nazi-held Denmark was signed 9 April 1941. By that agreement Greenland was included in the United States’ system of cooperative defense of the Western Hemisphere.

 

Northland set out 7 April 1941 on a two month cruise to assist in the South Greenland Survey Expedition. While conducting this survey she searched for victims of ships sunk in the North Atlantic. While on one of her many mercy missions, she was involved in a near catastrope. Only six miles from the scene of battle between Bismarck and the Bristish ships that finally sank the giant German warship, Northland was mistaken by the British for an enemy ship and very nearly taken under fire.

 

The South Greenland Patrol was organized with cutters Modoc, Comanche, and Raritan and the former Coast and Geodetic survey ship Bowdoin. A month later the Northeast Greenland Patrol was organized with cutter Northland, former Interior Department ship North Star, and Bear, Capt. Edward H. Smith, USCG, in command.

 

A month before the consolidation of the two patrols, Northland sighted the German-controlled Norwegian sealer Buskoe 12 September and sent a boarding party to investigate. Buskoe was taken to Mackenzie Bay, on the Greenland coast, where she became the first American naval capture of the period of emergency that preceded U.S. entry into the war. It was believed that she had been sending weather reports and information on Allied shipping to the Germans. Her capture also led to the discovery of a German radio station about five hundred miles up the Greenland coast from Mackenzie Bay. A night raiding party from Northland captured three Nazis at Peter Bregt, with equipment and code, as well as German plans for other radio stations in the far north.

 

The two Greenland Patrols were consolidated 25 October under Smith, who became a Rear Admiral and received the nickname “Iceberg.” From the outset, Northland served as Admiral Smith’s flagship. By 1943 the force had grown to include thirty-seven vessels.

 

Cutter Northland sighted and attacked a submarine in Davis Strait 18 June 1942. The presence of oil and bubbles indicated possible hits from the cutter’s depth charges, but German records give no indication of a submarine sinking in this area.

 

In July 1944 Northland discovered a Nazi trawler, believed to be Coberg, which had been fired and completely gutted by her crew. This was one of the ships suspected of carrying three separate German expeditions to Greenland. A second Naxi craft was disposed of in September after Northland pursued her for seventy miles through ice floes off Great Koldewey Island. The Germans scuttled their ship and then surrendered and were taken on board Northland.

 

Northland returned to the Treasury Department 1 January 1946 and remained on weather patrol duty until she decommissioned 27 March. She was sold for scrap 3 January 1947.

 

Northland received two battle stars for World War II service.