The mounted beach patrol

By Roger S. Durham, Army Heritage MuseumJuly 6, 2009

McClellan saddle.
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

In the summer of 1942 the United States was at war. While all eyes were cast across the oceans at Europe and Asia, the war was closer to the country than many people realized. German U-boats were active off the Atlantic coast. Shipping was often torpedoed and sunk within sight of the coast, and wreckage frequently washed up on the beaches. On the coast of Georgia, shrimpers often spotted U-boats, but since shrimp boats did not have radios, they had no means of reporting these sightings. The shrimpers became more concerned when the U-boats began surfacing next to their boats, sending boarding parties to confiscate diesel fuel from them. These actions led to radios being placed on the shrimp boats, so U-boat sightings could be promptly reported.

There was concern about landing parties or agents being put ashore from these submarines. The entire Atlantic coast was vulnerable, and guarding it a daunting prospect. In July 1942, the U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters issued directives establishing a beach patrol system along coastal areas. On the Georgia coast the military combined National Guard Soldiers with Coast Guardsmen to create a force whose mission was to patrol the island beaches and watch the coast. One of the barrier islands on the Georgia coast was St. CatherineAca,!a,,cs Island, about thirteen miles long and five miles wide. With the establishment of the Mounted Beach Patrol concept, a contingent of Army and Coast Guard personnel was sent to St. CatherineAca,!a,,cs. These men were to perform mounted patrols, so the Army sent sixteen horses to the island for this purpose. However, these horses came straight from wild herds and had never been ridden or broken to a saddle; thus the men had to break their own mounts prior to performing their mission. This was a daunting task since the most of these men had never ridden a horse. Fortunately there were two men in the group from Oklahoma and Texas, and with their assistance the men managed to break the horses, although not without a few bruises and broken bones.

The patrols were sent out daily and nightly. The men were housed in renovated slave cabins from the pre-Civil War era, and later a barracks was built on the south end of the island to house those who patrolled that area. Eventually this force was augmented by the addition of seven patrol dogs, and several Jeeps were brought to the island to assist with transportation and communication. The unit maintained contact with the mainland by radio.

At the end of the war the men went home, and the horses were sold off. In 1975 one of the unitAca,!a,,cs McClellan saddles still remained in the old stable on the island and it was acquired by a collector. Recently this saddle and the wall mounted rack to hold the saddle were donated to the US Army Heritage and Education Center, bringing this small piece of history to light once again.

ABOUT THIS STORY: Many of the sources presented in this article are among 400,000 books, 1.7 million photos and 12.5 million manuscripts available for study through the U.S. Army Military History Institute (MHI). The artifacts shown are among nearly 50,000 items of the Army Heritage Museum (AHM) collections. MHI and AHM are part of the: Army Heritage and Education Center, 950 Soldiers Drive, Carlisle, PA, 17013-5021.