Icarus, 1932 (WPC-110)

Feb. 1, 2021

Icarus, 1932


Photo of Icarus

The cutter Icarus was named for the son of Daedalus in Greek mythology.  Icarus dared to fly too near the sun on wings of feathers and wax.  Daedalus had been imprisoned by King Minos of Crete within the walls of his own invention, the Labyrinth.  But the great craftsman's genius would not suffer captivity.  He made two pairs of wings by adhering feathers to a wooden frame with wax.  Giving one pair to his son, he cautioned him that flying too near the sun would cause the wax to melt.  But Icarus became ecstatic with the ability to fly and forgot his father's warning.  The feathers came loose and Icarus plunged to his death in the sea.

Builder: Bath Iron Works, Bath, Maine

Launched: 19 March 1932

Commissioned: 1 April 1932

Decommissioned: 21 October 1941

Disposition: Sold, 1 July 1948

Displacement: 1933: 337 tons full load
                        1945: 350 tons full load

                  Length: 165' oa
                  Beam: 25' 3"
                  Draft: 7' 8" (1933); 10' (1945)

Machinery: 2 x Winton Model 158 6-cylinder diesels; 1,340 bhp

Propellers: twin, 3-bladed

Performance: Maximum speed: 16.0 knots
                       Maximum sustained: 14.0 knots for 1,750 statute miles
                       Cruising: 11.0 knots for 3,000 statute miles
                       Economic: 6.0 knots for 6,417 statute miles

Complement: 1933: 5 officers, 39 men
                       1945: 7 officers, 68 men

Armament: 1933: 1 x 3"/23; 1 x 1-pounders;
                   1941: 1 x 3"/23; 1 x Y-gun; 2 x depth charge tracks;
                    1945: 2 x 3"/50 (single-mounts); 2 x 20mm/80 (single mounts); 2 x depth charge tracks; 2 x Y-guns; 2 x Mousetraps.

Electronics: 1933: none
                    1945: Radar: SF-1; Sonar: QCO 

Cost: $258,000

Class History:

The 165-foot "B" Class cutters, sometimes referred to as the Thetis-Class, were a follow on to the 125-foot cutters.  Both types of cutters were designed for the enforcement of Prohibition, but the 165-footers primary mission was to trail the mother ships that dispensed alcohol to smaller, faster vessels well beyond the territorial waters of the U.S.  Hence these cutters had to have excellent sea-keeping qualities, good accommodations for the crew, and long range.  Although Prohibition ended soon after most entered service, their design nevertheless proved to be adaptable to the many other missions of the Coast Guard.

An article written soon after they entered service noted that: "the new cutters are low and rakish, without excessive superstructure or freeboard.  A raking stem, well flared bow and cruiser stern give the appearance of speed as well as contribute to the seaworthiness of the vessels, a quality which has been demonstrated in actual service. . .The new ships are twin-screw driven by two 670 horse power Diesel engines, furnished by the Winton Engine Co. of Cleveland, Ohio.  The shafting and propellers are arranged and supported in a novel manner.  The ship is equipped with two overhanging rudders on a line with and just aft of the propellers.  The rudders are supported by a streamline rudder post at the forward end which is bossed out for a bearing to take a stub shaft which extends through the propeller.  This method of arranging the rudders has proved remarkably successful.  At full speed, the ships turn a complete circle in two minutes and eighteen seconds, and can be docked with ease under the most difficult conditions.  On trial runs, the Atalanta averaged 16.48 knots at 468 RPM with practically no vibration and the engine under no evident strain.  Due to the arduous service for which these vessels were built, only the finest materials available were used. . .It is interesting to note that genuine wrought iron pipe was used for practically all the services where resistance to corrosion, vibration, and strain was required.  The fuel oil, lubricating oil, and water service to the main engines and auxiliaries; the fire and bilge system; and the steam heating system were all installed with genuine wrought iron pipe.  At the Lake Union plant this pipe was furnished by the Reading Iron Company through the Crane Company's Seattle office and Bowles Company of Seattle.  The new ships are a distinct contribution to modern shipbuilding and should be of great value to the Coast Guard."*

They certainly did prove to be of great value to the Coast Guard.  Most saw service as coastal convoy escorts during World War II and two, the Icarus and the Thetis, each sank a U-boat.  Many saw service well into the 1960s and some still service as tour boats in New York City with the Circle Tour Line, testament to their sturdy and well-thought out design.

Cutter History:

The CGC Icarus was built by Bath Iron Works of Bath, Maine.  She was accepted by the Coast Guard on 29 March 1932 and was placed in commission on 1 April of that same year.  She departed that same day for a 10-day shakedown cruise and then reported for duty at Stapleton, New York.  She reported to the New York Division's Special Patrol Force, which conducted law enforcement patrols in support of the Coast Guard's war against rum-runners.  After the passage of the 23rd Amendment, she continued sailing out of Stapleton on law enforcement and search and rescue patrols.  In 1939 she was assigned to Neutrality patrols.  She conducted a cadet cruise with second-class cadets from the Coast Guard Academy, beginning on 9 July 1940.  She visited ports along the Atlantic seaboard and returned to New London, Connecticut, on 10 August 1940.

She was rearmed by the Merrill-Stevens Company of Jacksonville, Florida, in December 1941.  She was then assigned to patrol duty with the Eastern Sea Frontier and was based out of New York.  At 0900 on 8 May 1942 she departed Staten Island for Key West, Florida.  The next day at about 1620, while off the coast of North Carolina, Icarus' sonar operator picked up a "mushy" sound contact at a range of about 1,900 yards off the port bow.  The contact sharpened and at 1629 a torpedo was seen to explode about 200 yards off her port quarter.  At no time was a periscope sighted.  Reversing her course, the cutter steamed toward the contact which was now approaching the spot where the torpedo had exploded and propeller noises were now picked up for the first time on the listening gear.  The contact was lost at 180 yards and the Icarus, after a calculated interval, dropped five charges in the shape of a diamond with one charge in the center.  Reversing her course the cutter now established on her sound gear that the submarine was moving west and she moved to intercept the U-boat.  Two more charges were dropped in a "V" pattern at a point determined by applying a lead to the U-boat's apparent track and as the turmoil in the water subsided, large bubbles were observed coming to the surface.  The cutter once again reversed her course and dropped a single charge on the spot from which the air bubbles were seen to rise.  Six minutes later she dropped another charge to the right of this location.

At 1709, shortly after the last charge had been dropped, the submarine broke the water's surface, bow first and down by the stern, 1,000 yards distant from Icarus.  The cutter's gun crews opened fire with all machine guns that were able to bear on the target and as the course was changed to the right to ram, the 3"/23 main battery was also laid on the target.  The first round was short but ricocheted through the conning tower.  The second round was over.  The next twelve rounds were hits or near misses, seven definite hits being spotted.  In five minutes the submarine sank.  

Two minutes after the submarine surfaced, the crew began to abandon ship.  As the submarine the Icarus ceased firing, but continued to circle the spot and on establishing a contact and hearing propeller noises she dropped one more depth charge which brought a large air bubble to the surface.  This ended all further signs of the U-boat, except for 35 of its crew members swimming around in the water.  At 1750 operations were begun to pick up survivors and 33 German prisoners were taken from the water.  Four were wounded.  The least wounded man was placed with the other 29 prisoners under guard in the forward crews' compartment.  The U-boat's commanding officer, Kapitänleutnant Hellmut Rathke, was among the survivors.  The submarine was the U-352, and had a complement of 48.  Seven of the crew sank with the U-boat or died in the water after abandoning ship.

Several of the U-boat's crew spoke English and talked freely on personal matters but disclosed no information on military affairs.  Three of the cutter's crew spoke German and talked a great deal with the prisoners.  The Germans were anxious to know how much the Coast Guard crew received for sinking a submarine and if they were promoted for doing so, adding that the German sailors received bonuses and medals for sinking ships, the amount depending on the size and tonnage of the ship.  Four of the Germans had relatives living in the United States.  The prisoners exhibited high moral and remarkable discipline.  They had all expected to be machine-gunned while they were in the water and many cried "Don't  shoot us!"  They could not understand the good treatment they received on the Icarus.  By 1805 all survivors had been rescued and the cutter proceeded to Charleston Navy Yard as ordered, arriving there at 1130 on 10 May 1942, where the 32 surviving prisoners and the body of one who had died en route were delivered to the Commandant of the 6th Naval District.  The capture was not announced by the Navy until almost a year later on 1 May 1943, for security reasons, and in keeping with the policy of keeping the enemy in doubt as to what had become of submarines which failed to return to base. 

The cutter was ordered to the Norfolk Navy Yard for availability and rearmament on 26 May 1942, such conversion to be completed by 16 June 1942.  Afterwards she continued on her convoy escort work as well as conducting search and rescue and anti-submarine patrols.  On 15 May 1945 she was ordered to duty with the Air-Sea Rescue Service at the 3rd Naval District.  She was placed "in commission, in reserve" status in 18 October 1946 and was stored at the Coast Guard Moorings at Stapleton, Staten Island, New York when most of her crew were needed to fill out the complements of buoy tenders and explosive loading fireboats in New York Harbor.  She was decommissioned on 15 March 1948 and was stored at the Coast Guard  She was decommissioned on 8 October 1947 in preparation for her disposal.  She was sold to the Southeastern Terminal and Steamship Company on 1 July 1948.  She eventually became the Dominican Independencia.


Photo of Icarus

USS Icarus, CG arriving at Charleston Navy Yard after its epic battle with U-352, photo dated 10 May 1942.

Photo of Icarus

U-352 POWs disembark Icarus, 10 May 1942.


Cutter files, USCG Historian's Office.

Canney, Donald L. U.S. Coast Guard and Revenue Cutters, 1790-1935. (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1995).

*Nickum, W. C. "New 'Sisters' of the Coast Guard Patrol Go Into Service."  The Reading Puddle Ball 3, No. 11 (February 1935), pp. 6-7. 

Scheina, Robert L. U.S. Coast Guard Cutters and Craft in World War II. (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1982).

U.S. Coast Guard. Public Information Division. Historical Section. The Coast Guard at War: Transports and Escorts. (Vol. V, No. I). (Washington, DC: Public Information Division, U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters, 1949.