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Flotilla 81 History




We modern Auxiliarists, in our day-to-day activities, are often not fully cognizant of the history of this unique organization of which we are members, or of the special part played by our Ocean City Flotilla 81 in the Auxilliary's formative years. This writing will review the birth of the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary as correlated with national and Coast Guard needs at the time and the evolution of what is now Flotilla 81 of the Fifth Northern District. The glorious role the Flotilla played in World War II will be emphasized.

Flotilla 81 of Ocean City has the honor of being the oldest Flotilla in New Jersey and of being one of the first five flotillas formed in the country. This year (2015) will be the anniversary of seventy five years of continuous service.



The Coast Guard of the Thirties was the only branch of the armed services without a Reserve component. The war in Europe showed signs of spreading to involve the United States. As it is today, the Coast Guard was charged with multiple tasks, and, as is occurring today, these tasks were progressively increasing in both number and quantity. Among these duties, the USCG has the responsibility of maintaining the safety of small boats, including recreational craft. This task, despite the Depression, was increasing steadily ... in 1938 there were 300,000 registered motor boats and 4,000 auxiliary yachts sailing our waters, and the Coast Guard responded to 14,000 assistance calls and 8,600 "in peril" rescues.

In an address to a U.S. Power Squadron in early 1939, a visionary Coast Guard chief, Rear Admiral Thomas Malloy developed the theme of "Safety for Small Boats". He described small boat seamanship as the "ability to go from one place to another with safety and without outside help... to foresee possible emergency... and to provide therefore". The need for Coast Guard assistance was usually due to a lack of seamanship and ignorance of the law, and that non-restrictive solutions were preferable to heavy fines and increased rescue facilities. Recalling the service of the Power Squadron during World War I, and appreciating the worsening global crisis, he predicted that the time would shortly arise when a similar involvement of the recreational boating world would be needed.



Aided in part by the persuasion of a retired Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander, Malcolm S. Boylan, who was serving as Commodore of the Pacific Writers Yacht Club, the Coast Guard Commandant, Admiral Russell R. Waesche then took up the cause of creating a civilian branch of the Coast Guard to assist it, the branch being composed of small boat owners. As a result, a bill was sent to Congress, the Coast Guard Reserve Bill. Passed in June of 1939, it created a cadre to be filled by boat owners who would, without expense to the government, enlarge the ability of the Coast Guard to promote safety at sea and on our waterways. Since, until this time, the Coast Guard was the only branch of the armed services without a reserve, this non-military branch was termed the United States Coast Guard Reserve. Only boat owners could be full members; joining non-owners were granted only Associate status. Yachtsmen reacted favorably and growth began so that in 1940 the membership consisted of 210 Facility-Owning members. The basic unit, the flotilla, consisted of ten or more owners of power boats or yachts plus the associate members. There were three flotilla elected officers: a Commander, a Vice Commander, and a Junior Commander.



The first Flotilla formed in the country was S-l founded at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City on November 9, 1939. The second began at the Atlantic City Tuna Club on March 19, 1940 as Flotilla S-2. The Quaker City (S-3) and Essington (S-4) units followed shortly thereafter. In 1941 Stone Harbor was chartered, in 1942 Wildwood and Maurice River, and Cape May in 1943.

The Ocean City flotilla was organized in June 1940 from a group of fairly wealthy yachtsmen from the Delaware Valley who had summer houses in Ocean City and who cruised both the Atlantic and Delaware River waters. Most of these men had been taking the POW81 Squadron courses in Philadelphia and deriving its benefits during the spring and summer months. The original chartering meeting was held at the Ocean City Yacht Club on June 1, 1940. Since what became the Auxiliary was still called the Coast Guard Reserve, the flotilla was designated Reserve Unit S-5, indicating it was the fifth flotilla established in the United States. To these men we owe endless praise because they encouraged others to take the various courses which have proved valuable in the work we have been assigned in the Coast Guard. Two of our members held national records for boat racing in their class and another won the Eastern Championship for his class.

An avid boater, Richard W. Helms was enlisted by Peter D. Mills, Lt. (JG) USCG, the District Director, to organize flotillas in the southern areas of the District. After initiating the formation of the Atlantic City and Quaker City flotillas, the Ocean City was formed by Helms and his friends. The originating members of the flotilla that eventually became Flotilla 81 were:

Richard W. Helms, FC Dr. Jules J. KIain, VFC Kendall Reed, JC
Theodore B. Seidel Dr. O. F. Barthmaier Jerome Hurley
Henry J. Hood, Jr. Harry Vandegrift Brooks Diver
  Edward Fay  

Mr. Helms went on to become a District Commodore. Dr. Klain, with the aid of his wife, a nurse, and Dr. Barthmaier, founded the Auxiliary Emergency Hospital.

With the progression of our involvement in the war, another branch of the Coast Guard, similar to the military reserve components of the other Services, was established by the Coast Guard Auxiliary and Reserve Act of 1941. The term Coast Guard Reserve was properly transferred to this branch with the non-military boat-owner branch being renamed the Coast Guard Auxiliary. Choice of this name was controversial. Opponents opined that naming this branch "the Auxiliary" would cause some to consider the organization to be similar to a hospital or social club auxiliary.



In the dark days of 1941, realizing that war was imminent, our Flotilla began preparing for emergencies which might arise. The unforgettable day of Pearl Harbor came and shortly thereafter we were called by the District Office of the Coast Guard to get our boats and men ready for further orders. On May 11, 1942, we started on the Off-Shore Rescue and Observation Patrol along the Jersey Coast. As the log will show from that day until December 6, 1942, our flotilla never failed to have two boats a day completely manned covering the designated course and properly carrying out orders as given. We exceeded all other Flotillas in mileage by covering over eight thousand miles.

After we entered War, the Coast Guard Auxiliary and Reserve Act was amended to allow formation of another class of Reservists, Temporary Reservists, which Auxiliarists could join. These members were allowed to partake in military functions. Another benefit was that, since. a large number of yachtsmen could serve on a part-time basis, the manpower and facility pool was enlarged. There was no ago limit and the physical standards were not as stringent as those of the regular branches. Temporary Reservists were uniformed when on duty. As they qualified, ratings and even commissions were granted. The Reservists (T) were given $145.40 uniform allowance but no pay.

By December 6, 1942, the Navy and Coast Guard had built up manpower, boats and planes to a point where they could take over the hazardous duties we had been fulfilling. Admiral Rosendahl of the Navy, showed his appreciation for our cooperation with him and work we had done while on Off-Shore Rescue and Observation Patrol by sending the Flotilla a very nice letter of appreciation. On January 27, 1945, the flotilla placed men on guard duty at the various buildings at the Radio School in Atlantic City. This likewise continued until June 30, 1945, when we were placed on inactive status.

Our next assignment was checking commercial fishing boats and their crews upon arriving and departing from the docks at Wildwood, Two Mile, and Cape May, New Jersey; also manning watch towers at Ocean City and Pecks Beach. In addition to this the flotilla supplied men at Essington Coast Guard Base and on the Upper and Lower Anchorage Patrol of the Delaware River. Dock patrol terminated November 24. 1944; the other duties continued until June 30, 1945. For almost three years members of the Auxiliary repeatedly sacrificed personal pleasures to serve their country and provide 24 watches every day. Many members gave considerably more time than the Coast Guard had asked for.

The Ocean City Flotilla dedicated on July 4, 1942, what we believe was the first and only Auxiliary Emergency Hospital on the Eastern Sea Front. It was located on Bay Avenue. It was complete in every detail and competently manned by five physicians -and one dentist, all members of the Flotilla doing other assignments as well. Most complete first-aid kits and other equipment were placed on all of our patrol boats before leaving the docks. Captain Coffin and his staff officers from the District Office attended the dedication and boat review. The Flotilla made a good showing in SPAR Recruiting and has always stood high in the various bond drives.

Ocean City Flotilla statistics for Eastern Sea Frontier Patrols conducted from May 14, 1942 to November 29, 1942 are:

No. of
No. of
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These operations occurred throughout the whole District without accident and added materially to its anti-submarine warfare activities. District assistance reports included 36 lives saved, 23 vessels towed, 6 bodies recovered and 23 wrecks buoyed. In December of 1942, Auxiliary on-the-water activity lost its military aspects but continued in the area of survivor search.

During the Hurricane of 1945, the Flotilla played a major role in the rescue and preservation of lives and property. Over 3,980 man hours were served during this three day period.

Flotilla membership peaked at 174 during this period. Some 25 were in the full-time armed services, of these 19 were in the Coast Guard. The Reserve (T) complement was 114, 37 were assigned to Tower Watch and 77 to Dock Patrol. Fifty nine were Facility Boat Owners, The activity was such that in January 1944 some 672 man hours were devoted to Tower Watch and some 1,848 to Dock Patrol.

With the end of the war in 1945, the Temporary Reserve was terminated. Its members were increased one rank and honorably dis-enrolled. They were allowed a burial flag, could wear the American Campaign Medal and the Victory Medal, but were not conferred veterans status.



With changed regulations creating a military Coast Guard Reserve and a non-military Auxiliary, Ocean City became Flotilla 1605 in the Auxiliary. During World War II, Ocean City was placed in the Third District, but in its Southern area. Each Flotilla became a Temporary Reserve Unit. Those able to serve actively became unpaid Reservists; those unable remained in the Auxiliary. The Temporary Reservists participated in military aspects such as "Rescue and Observation" patrols, anchorage patrols, port and dock security, inspection and guard duties. Those remaining in the Auxiliary served by conducting' war bond sales, blood donations, and by the recruiting and training of reserve candidates.

After World War II there was a drastic decrease in membership. This was in part due to a general post-war "let down" and in part due to there being no plans for the use of an Auxiliary. By 1952, the District membership had fallen to 726. On the positive side, Public Education and Vessel Examinations had begun.

With peacetime, interest and enrollment decreased markedly. By 1953 the Stone Harbor and Maurice River had been disestablished for inactivity and Wildwood was in the process of being disestablished.

Later Ocean City was transferred to the Fourth Naval District as Flotilla 31. Finally, in 1961, it became Flotilla 81 of the Fifth District. In 1987, another reorganization placed the Flotilla in the Fifth District, Northern Region.


The mission of the Coast Guard has been expanded. Not only has it been intimately involved in drug-runner interdiction but it expanding its environment protection. All of' this is occurring at a time when Federal funds are limited, the booming economy hampers recruitment, and equipment needed replacement and modernization. At the same time, changes are causing a review of' the role of the Auxiliary, especially in boating safety education. The Wave Runner is here to stay with its operators needing safety instruction but little in the way of seamanship knowledge. The Internet is entering the fray as an educational resource as are electronic modalities. Our traditional classes are meeting resistance. Only a small percentage of the recreational boaters seek education in seamanship or safety checks.

There are changes on the positive side. Women are playing a major role in Auxiliary life. Congress is allowing the Auxiliary more responsibility and the Coast Guard is increasing their training and our duties. Over the past several years, we in Flotilla 81 have enjoyed outstanding cooperation from Stations Great Egg, Atlantic City and Cape May, and from the Director's Office. We feel needed. A true "Team Coast Guard" is in place.

Thus, Flotilla 81 of Ocean City has the honors of being a pre-war flotilla, of being the oldest Flotilla in New Jersey, and of being one of the first five flotillas formed in the country. It has served for almost seventy continuous years.


Suggested Reading:

History of the United States Navy in the Second World War, Volume 1" The Battle of the Atlantic 1939 - 1943, Amateurs and Auxiliaries, Chapter XI. Samuel Eliot Morrison

Rescue Warriors - The U.S. Coast Guard, America's Forgotten Heroes, David Helvarg

History of the Strathmere, NJ Coast Guard Station