Civil Air Patrol

Born Out of Crisis

Coastal Patrol's Impact on World War I

by Jennifer S. Kornegay

President Franklin D. Roosevelt presents the first two Air Medals ever awarded by the U.S. to CAP subchasers Maj. Hugh R. Sharp, center, and 1st. Lt. Edmund “Eddie” Edwards, second from right, for the heroic rescue of 1st. Lt. Henry Cross. Looking on is James M. Landis, wartime chief of the Office of Civilian Defense. By the end of World War II, CAP members had received 800 Air Medals.

After America entered World War II, German submarines began sinking ships, barges and oil tankers along the East and Gulf coasts almost at will, and the Navy and Army did not have the manpower to prevent the attacks. In one month alone, 52 ships were sunk.

In March 1942, CAP joined the war effort with formation of the Coastal Patrol, a fledgling group of volunteers led by pilots who flew their own planes at their own expense.

The men of the Coastal Patrol, the original subchasers,were an integral part of America’s defenses, flying more than 50 million miles spotting and even sinking German U-boats from Maine to Mexico and saving countless survivors of airplane crashes and disasters at sea. These unsung heroes, many now in their 90s, had an important job and they performed it well … so much so that a high-ranking German naval officer stated that the Nazi U-boats had been withdrawn from the Atlantic because of those “damned red and yellow (CAP) airplanes.”

Phipps prepares to fly a subchaser mission.

1ST. LT. HENRY “ED” PHIPPS was one of those brave volunteers, part of Coastal Patrol Base 2 in Rehoboth Beach, Del. He described a memorable anti-sub mission: “I was flying the number two ship on a three-hour mission to escort a tanker. When our time was up, we were coming back to refuel, but we ran into a solid fog and immediately had white-out conditions where you see nothing and have no reference. I made a 180-degree turn and got out of the fog, and we got permission to land at a nearby naval air station,” he said.

Phipps landed safely, but to this day he’s not sure how.

“Our total elapsed flight time was 4 hours, 10 minutes,” he said. “That’s interesting since the planes we flew only held 40 gallons, and we allowed 10 gallons of fuel per hour. We must have landed on fumes.”

1ST. LT. EDMUND “EDDIE” EDWARDS, also of Coastal Patrol Base 2, and his commanding officer, Maj. Hugh Sharp, received the first two Air Medals (given for valor in aerial flight) ever awarded by the U.S., and they were presented personally by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

World War II rivals met recently during a “Reenactment Weekend” held in Reading, Pa. CAP 1st Lt. Henry “Ed” Phipps, right, who flew subchaser missions out of Coastal Patrol Base 2 in Rehoboth Beach, Del., was greeted by a German U-boat commander, actually a re-enactor from Baltimore. The two are standing before a Fairchild 24 that was flown on Coastal Patrol missions.

The 93-year-old clearly remembers the daring rescue of 1st. Lt. Henry Cross that earned him the medal and subchaser fame.

“I got the call that one of our planes was down, and Maj. Hugh Sharp asked me to go with him,” Edwards said. “We had no trouble finding the crash site. We spotted a body, so we made an emergency landing and fished him out. He was alive, but we never found the other guy.”

The rescue required that Edwards and Sharp land their amphibious aircraft in high seas and, in the process, they crushed a pontoon. So, to get back to base, Edwards accomplished a daring feat by climbing out onto the right wing and using his weight to level the plane so they could taxi back in.

“I was ushered into the oval office and decorated by FDR,” said Edwards. “Of course, I was honored to receive the medal, but I was also so impressed with FDR.”

He was the first person to receive the Air Medal, but by the end of the war 800 had been presented to CAP members, he said.

Past, Present and Future
Former leaders, current leaders and cadets share in the Rehoboth Beach Historical Marker ceremony held recently in Delaware. The marker commemorates Civil Air Patrol volunteers and their efforts during World War II. Standing, back row, from left, are Brig. Gen. Richard Anderson, former CAP national commander; 1st Lts. Henry “Ed” Phipps and Edmund “Eddie” Edwards, World War II subchasers; Maj. Matthew Kimbler, Sussex Composite Squadron; and Col. Russell Opland, Delaware wing commander. Front row, from left, are cadets Raymond J. Herman, Nicholas P. Romano, Matthew J. Givens, Eric Nelson, Matthew T. Zdrojewski and Walter L. Vanaman III of the Sussex Composite Squadron.

Arthur “Tom”Worth attended a recent reunion of Coastal Patrol Base 2 volunteers in Rehoboth Beach, Del.

ARTHUR “TOM” WORTH, also with Coastal Patrol Base 2, knows the part he and others in Coastal Patrol played was significant.

“The German subs were awful. They went up and down the coast sinking anything they could,” he said. “Our military had practically no planes at that time, so the Coastal Patrol was organized. If we spotted a sub, we radioed it to base and they sent military planes out to hunt it.”

It wasn’t just pilots joining Coastal Patrol, he added. “Many people were willing to volunteer, younger guys like me, and older ones too, even in their ’60s,” Worth said. “There were also excellent mechanics who kept the planes in the air and radio operators.”

LT. COL. MARTIN MILLER wasn’t on sub patrol long, but believes he — and the program in general — made an impact. “I was a lieutenant in the Naval Air Force, and in 1942 I was home on leave from China for 30 days,” he said. “I had joined CAP at its founding in 1941, so while on leave, I flew sub patrol missions along the Atlantic Coast out of Flushing Airport in New York. I never spotted anything personally, but I know we were doing good.”

Miller reported back to the Navy and served on an aircraft carrier for six years. After the war, he attended medical school and is now the medical officer for the Arizona Wing.

Maj. Gen. Antonio J. Pineda, left, briefs Lt. Col. Buddy Harris for a mission flight on his 60th anniversary of service to CAP.

LT. COL. BUDDY HARRIS, having earned his pilot’s license at the age of 15, enlisted in the Army Air Corps at 17 and was accepted into pilot training. But a decision from Gen. Hap Arnold changed his fate.

“Arnold issued an order that no one under 18 was to go into pilot training. Instead, I was assigned to CAP’s Coastal Patrol,” he said.

As a member of the New York Wing, Harris flew missions along the Atlantic Coast for six months before being reassigned.

“The Nazis were right off our
shore, just lying in wait. It was
like a shooting gallery, absolute
havoc that cost us millions of
dollars ... and many lives.”
Lt. Col. Buddy Harris

“We did such a fabulous job of frightening the Nazi submarine wolf packs away, I started flying other missions, like searchlight detection flights and target towing for aerial gunnery training,” he said. “What we did during sub patrol was vital, though. The Nazis were right off our shore, just lying in wait. It was like a shooting gallery, absolute havoc that cost us millions of dollars of essential war supplies and many lives. But the thing that subs fear most is an airplane. They immediately dive and leave, and we frightened many away.”

Stephen “Steve” Patti, who served CAP at Coastal Patrol Base 12 in Texas, says his CAP service changed his life.

1ST. LT. STEPHEN “STEVE” PATTI, a part of Coastal Patrol Base 12 in Texas, began as a mechanic.

“I wanted to be a part of the war effort, so when I heard about the formation of the Civil Air Patrol, I signed up. All planes were grounded in California where I was, so they sent me to Texas, and we set up a base at Brownsville Municipal Airport.”

He explained how their sub patrol got off to an exciting start.

“The base was about 20 miles from the ocean, but two pilots flew down to look over the port. As a merchant ship was going out, they spotted a German sub,” he said.

The sub saw the plane too, and when it attempted to dive in the shallow water, it got stuck.

1st Lt. Harold Walling of Coastal Base 17 at Suffolk, Long Island, N.Y., stands on the shore in CAP Coastal Patrol gear. Walling was among many brave CAP pilots who risked their lives during World War II while flyer subchaser missions.

“The plane radioed back to the airport. We called the nearby Air Force training base, but they didn’t have any bombs. They called the Naval Air Station at Corpus Christi, and they didn’t have any bombs. By the time we found some, the sub had wiggled its way free, but at least it was scared off. Those pilots saved that merchant ship,” Patti said.

During the war years, Patti flew many times as an observer on convoy and border patrol missions and was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant. He said Coastal Patrol and CAP changed the course of his life.

“I joined the Air Force Reserve while still on CAP Coastal Patrol duty in Texas. I got my pilot’s license while in the Air Force, and after the war, I started flying. I’ve made a living in the aircraft industry as a flight instructor, and in 2001 I joined CAP again.”

“I’ve gotten so much from CAP, my livelihood even. It has meant so much to who I’ve become,” he said.

Editor’s note: CAP National Historian Col. Lenny Blascovich contributed to this story.



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© 2019 Civil Air Patrol National Headquarters. All rights reserved.