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U.S. Coast Guard Rescues
SS Pendleton - SS Fort Mercer
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In the winter of 1952, New England was battered by the most brutal nor'easter in years. In the early hours of February 18, the men at Coast Guard Lifeboat Station Chatham manned the radios in anticipation of distress calls sure to come. Two tankers, the Pendleton and the Fort Mercer, built with low quality steel, found themselves 10 to 20 miles offshore in the same horrifying predicament.
Soon both tankers soon split in two, leaving the men on board utterly at the Atlantic's mercy. The men held out little hope. But the Coast Guard soon responded, dispatching cutters, and motor lifeboats CG-36383 and CG-36500 at Station Chatham made preparations to respond. These small but sturdy wooden boats were dwarfed by the enormous sixty-foot seas and seventy knot winds, which far exceeded the boats’ design.
By noon, BMC Donald Bangs, with his crew EN1 Emory Haynes, BM3 (P) Antonio Ballerini, and SN Richard Ciccone, left Stage Harbor in the CG-36383 and headed for the Fort Mercer’s last known position. BM1 Bernard Webber and his crew, EN3 Andrew Fitzgerald, SN Richard Livesey and SN Irving Maske, also left in the CG-36500 powered only by its 90 horsepower gasoline engine. The men were aware that they were embarking on a possible suicide mission.
As the CG-36500 approached Chatham’s treacherous outer bar, she was smashed by mountainous waves and thrown high in the air. From Coast Guard accounts, the boat landed on its side, recovered, and was struck again. Tons of seawater crashed over the boat breaking its windshield and compass and flattening coxswain Webber. Shown are survivors of the tanker Fort Mercer following their rescue, arriving in Boston on the cutter Acushnet.
Webber struggled to regain control and steer into the towering waves to bring CG-36500 across the bar. Engineer Fitzgerald worked in the cramped compartment to keep the engine running as the weather and visibility worsened. Miraculously, the searchlight soon revealed a mass of twisted metal – the PENDELTON, heaving high in the air with each massive wave. Shown are 5 survivors with Coast Guard CWO Daniel W. Cluff.
Soon, a Jacob’s ladder was lowered over the side, and unbelievably, men clamored down the ladder!” Coxswain Webber skillfully maneuvered the CG-36500 along the Pendleton and, one by one, the survivors either jumped and crashed on the tiny boat’s bow or fell into the sea, where Webber’s crew assisted them onboard at great personal risk. After multiple approaches and 20 survivors safely recovered, the CG-36500 began to handle sluggishly, but there was no turning back. It was all or nothing. And, so it went as Webber and his crew “stuffed” their human cargo aboard and risked life and limb again and again. Finally, 32 of 33 survivors were onboard the CG-36500. There remained only one giant of a man, George (Tiny) Myers, left on board. But before the CG-36500 had maneuvered under the Jacob’s ladder, Myers jumped too soon and was swallowed up by the sea. There was now nothing left to do but return - dangerously overloaded, lost, with no compass to steer by and in zero visibility.
Coxswain Webber decided to put the wind and seas on the boat’s stern and let them force the vessel ashore. In time, a red flashing light appeared! The boat’s searchlight soon revealed the buoy that marked the entrance to Chatham and safe water! Although not all of the eighty-four men caught at sea that night survived, it is a testament to the Coast Guard crews that any came home at all.
To this day, the rescue of 32 men by the crew of the CG-36500 remains the greatest small boat rescue in Coast Guard history! The rescue made international headlines and for their heroism, the four stubborn Coast Guardsmen would receive the Congressional gold life-saving medal. In 1968 CG-36500 was retired. She languished in the bushes on Cape Cod for thirteen years until she was acquired by the Orleans Historical Society.
Today CG-36500 has been lovingly restored by area volunteers and is again seaworthy. She is on exhibit as a floating museum dedicated to the memory of the life-savers of Cape Cod.
A few years ago I was fortunate to have been aboard CG-36500 as she again approached that dreaded Chatham Bar in a light wind and rain, bringing to mind that time sixty years ago. For me it was a thrill indeed, bringing to me a heightened sense of respect for the Coast Guard crews that day that I will never forget.
(Information taken from US Coast Guard accounts.)
This summer Walt Disney Pictures is developing a long awaited film on these Coast Guard crews, to star Chris Pine, based on the book The Finest Hours (available below) by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman. They will be filming at studios in Quincy, Mass. and in Chatham on Cape Cod. We have been working to obtain items and uniforms for the production and we will keep you posted on the progress.
Update: The movie is complete and will be released in Chatham on January 28, 2016 and worldwide the following day.
Read of that day from Coxswain Webber himself:
20209. Webber, Bernard C., CHATHAM
Special numbered edition with actual wood piece from MLB CG-36500. $59.95.
20209f. Bernard C., CHATHAM “The
20209g. Bernard C., CHATHAM
Just Arrived: DVD The Finest Hours
Images Copyright Walt Disney Studio Pictures
1686. (DVD) The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard's Most Daring Sea Rescue. DVD. Run time 114 min. PG-13. Based on the extraordinary true story of the greatest smallboat rescue in Coast Guard history, THE FINEST HOURS is a tale of courage, loyalty and honor in the face of overwhelming odds. When a massive storm strikes off the coast of Cape Cod, it rips a T-2 oil tanker in half, trapping more than 30 sailors on its rapidly sinking stern. As BM1 Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) and his crew set out in the station 36-foot motor lifeboat to save them, Chief Engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) struggles to buy his men more time. Packed with heroic larger-than-life action and driven by the men's faith in their mission, themselves and one another, THE FINEST HOURS is a triumph. The Finest Hours has incredible and astonishing true-to-life heroism and action-packed rescue scenes. This marvelous and terrifying yarn ( Los Angeles Times ) deserves a place as a classic of survival at sea ( The Boston Globe). In the days following the ordeal, twenty-one Coast Guardsmen involved in multiple rescue missions would be decorated. Movie is based upon the original 1985 account by Coxswain BM1 Bernard Webber. $29.95. (x)
1646. (postcard) U.S. Coast Guard Motor Lifeboat CG-36500. William P. Quinn photo. Difficult to find color postcard features an image of the Coast Guard motor lifeboat CG-36500 known best for the 1952 rescue of 32 sailors from the broken and foundering tanker SS Pendleton off Chatham, Cape Cod. A portion of the procedes from these cards goes to the Orleans Historical Society for the continued preservation of CG-36500. New. $1 each.
29185-mv. Tougias, Michael and Casey Sherman. The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard's Most Daring Sea Rescue. 2015. Simon & Schuster. 311+p. Soft wraps. The true story behind the major motion picture from Disney starring Chris Pine, Eric Bana, and Casey Affleck written by a recognized master of the genre a blockbuster account of tragedy at sea (The Providence Journal ). It s the winter of 1952 and a ferocious Nor'easter is pounding New England with howling winds and seventy-foot seas. Two oil tankers get caught in the violent storm off Cape Cod, its fury splitting the massive ships in two. Back on shore, four young Coast Guardsmen (BM1 Bernard Webber, Andrew Fitzgerald, Richard Livesey and Irving Maske) are issued a near impossible mission: save the lives of the stranded seamen. Sailing a tiny lifeboat into the teeth of the killer storm, the rescue crew soon loses all navigation. With no idea where the stranded seaman are nor how to get back home, the crew continues, soon coming upon the SS Pendleton in the darkness. Thirty three hopeful men appear at the wounded ship’s railings. Can the tiny lifeboat save them all? Dripping with suspense and high-stakes human drama, The Finest Hours has incredible and astonishing true-to-life heroism and action-packed rescue scenes. This marvelous and terrifying yarn ( Los Angeles Times ) deserves a place as a classic of survival at sea ( The Boston Globe). In the days following the ordeal, twenty-one Coast Guardsmen involved in multiple rescue missions would be decorated. Based upon the original 1985 account by Coxswain BM1 Bernard Webber. (M). $9.99. (x)
Just in time for the movie release The Finest Hours:
1602. Webber, Bernie. Into a Raging Sea : My Life and the Pendleton Rescue. 2016. On Cape Publications. 172p. Soft wraps. Into A Raging Sea features the riveting, firsthand account of what is widely regarded as the greatest small-boat rescue in Coast Guard history, told by BM1 Bernie Webber. Webber and his crew were awarded the prestigious Gold Lifesaving medal for the miraculous rescue of thirty-two men off the stern of the SS Pendletonwith a thirty-six-foot motor lifeboat, in nighttime blizzard conditions, with seas surpassing sixty feet. Made more famous in the recently released book and movie The Finest Hours, the rescue of 32 sailors from the sinking ship caught in a ferocious winter storm is a dramatic tale, but what made this mission so special is that the boat Webber skippered that terrible night was a mere 36 feet in length and the waves were almost twice that size! In Into A Raging Sea, Bernie tells that story, but the book is so much more than that. In these pages you'll read about rescue attempts that did not turn out well, stories of fishermen from a time long past, rescues done with the by-gone technique of the "breeches buoy," humorous anecdotes, and what Cape Cod and its people meant to Bernie. Into a Raging Sea is a story of sacrifice, bravery, disappointment, and challenges. And in the background of Bernie's journey is one constant, the sea. Forward by Michael J. Tougias. (M). $15.95.
1613. Webber, Bernie. Lightships, Lighthouses, and Lifeboat Stations: A Memoir and History. 2015. Universal Publishers. 192p. Soft wraps. Lightships, Lighthouses and Lifeboat Stations is part history book, part memoir, written by Bernie Webber, recipient of the Coast Guard's highest award, the Gold Life-saving Medal, and one of the heros of the Disney movie The Finest Hours (released January 29, 2016). The manuscript for this book was written by Webber but not published before he passed away. Now his daughter with the help of writer Michael Tougias have published this his second book. While the public will recognize Webber's name from the movie and the bestselling book by the same name, few people know that during his lengthy Coast Guard career he served on lightships in addition to lifeboat stations (small boat rescue stations) and lighthouses. Webber poses the following question: "How did the lightship men cope with the isolation, constant loneliness, boredom, fear, or just sheer terror? All were part of life on board a lightship. Rough seas tossed the ship about, rearing up and down on the anchor chain. This was a world of isolation, noise from operating machinery, and blasts from the powerful foghorn that went on for hours, sometimes days, at a time." Webber answers that question in this book, drawing on a combination of personal experience and meticulous historical research. Discussions of men going mad, lightships being run down by larger ships, anchor chains breaking, and lightships cast upon shoals are offset by humorous stories and the author's reflections on his best days at sea. Webber also explains some of the heroic actions of a few lightship men over the years, and points out that they received no recognition at the time. The isolation these men faced was intense, but they learned to make do with what they had. Fourteen historic photos are included, as well as a Foreword by Michael Tougias. A most interesting and deserved further look into Bernie Webber’s life and career. (M). $25.95.
Note: I particularly enjoyed Webber’s accounts of life as a young Coast Guardsman, working with the Keepers from the old Lighthouse Service at Highland and Gay Head lights, and at Nauset and Gay Head Lifeboat Stations.
1625. (burgee - pennant) U.S. Coast Guard Motor Lifeboat CG-36500. Professionally made burgee (“A small distinguishing pennant flown by a yacht, usually representing the yacht’s home club.”) features an image of the Coast Guard motor lifeboat CG-36500 known best for the 1952 rescue of 32 sailors from the broken and foundering tanker SS Pendleton off Chatham, Cape Cod. This burgee professionally made, with brass grommets and heavy stitching and seams and can be flown. After more than two decades of meritorious Coast Guard service, the CG-36500 was decommissioned in 1968 and sat neglected and nearly forgotten for years. The Orleans Historical Society acquired the boat in 1981, and it has been carefully rebuilt and maintained by many dedicated volunteers with the support of generous grants and individual donations. A portion of the procedes from these pennants goes to the Orleans Historical Society for the continued preservation of CG-36500. Measures 12”h x 18”w. (M). $49.95. (x)
20212. na. RESCUE CG36500. Orleans. 1985. Soft wraps. 48p. Illustrated with over 40 photographs. A collection of stories, photographs and illustrations detailing the career of CG36500 and the famous rescue of thirty-two men from a broken tanker on the night of February 8, 1952 off Chatham, Massachusetts. The information is gleaned from official Coast Guard reports, local news stories and the men who braved the seas that night themselves. Thirty years after the rescue, the boat was saved from oblivion and completely restored by volunteers of the Orleans Historical Society and still proudly plies Cape Cod waters as a museum dedicated to the memory of life-savers of the United States Coast Guard. (M). $19.95.
Disney's THE FINEST HOURS - a movie based on the extraordinary true story of the Coast Guard's greatest small boat rescue in history is coming to a movie theater near you early in 2016.
A heroic action-thriller, “The Finest Hours” is the remarkable true story of the greatest small boat rescue in Coast Guard history off Chatham, Mass.
Watch the movie trailer at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQmllwTKtqU
Image Copyright Walt Disney Studio Pictures
DVD. Disney's THE FINEST HOURS - a movie based on the extraordinary true story of the Coast Guard's greatest small boat rescue in history is coming to a movie theater near you in January 2016. We will have the DVDs available of this thrilling account as soon as they are available.
13324. Coast Guard's Greatest Lifeboat Rescue. Wooden Boat Magazine. #212 January/February 2010. Excellent detailed article contains 11 detailed photos and seven pages chronicle the single greatest small-boat rescue in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard, and the fate of the CG-36500 in the years following. Includes many details of the rescues of 32 men that February day as well as the work in the following years finding and acquitting the motor lifeboat and the years of restoration work that followed. Well done. Full issue with many interesting articles. (VG+). $24.
11397. (wood model kit) U.S. Coast Guard 36' Motor Lifeboat CG-36500, 1/16th scale by Dumas Products, "The Model Boat People". This is an all wood kit featuring plank on frame balsa strip construction with die-cut parts for the superstructure. The kit includes cast fittings, mounting stand and Coast Guard insignia and decals. Finished model is 27" long with a 8" beam. The CG 36500 is famous for the rescue of 32 men from the tanker S. S. Pendleton, which broke in half during a winter storm off Chatham Bar, the elbow of Cape Cod (also known as New England's graveyard of ships). On Feb. 18, 1952, Bernard Webber, Andrew Fitzgerald, Richard Livesey and Irving Maske from Life Boat Station Chatham, Mass., braved 60-foot seas aboard the Motor Life Boat CG36500 to rescue the crew of the S.S. Pendleton that had broken in half during a winter storm off the coast of Cape Cod. At the end of the mission, the crew of CG36500 had saved 32 of Pendleton’s 33 crewmembers. To this day, the saving of the Pendleton crew remains the single greatest small-boat rescue in the history of the United States Coast Guard. The crew received the Gold Life Saving Medal for their efforts during this almost impossible rescue. Also available separately is the Dumas Running Hardware kit (DUM2371) to make this an RC Boat! This is a BRAND NEW factory sealed kit. Just released. (M). $188.
Tougias, Michael J and Casey Sherman. The Finest Hours
- The True Story of the
2999. Frump, Robert. Two Tankers Down: The Greatest Small-Boat Rescue in U.S. Coast Guard History. The Lyons Press. 2008, 212p. In the tradition of The Perfect Storm, this is a too rarely told, riveting story of a legendary rescue at sea. Two Tankers Down is an improbable true story of men against the sea. In a fierce nor’easter offshore Cape Cod on Feb. 18, 1952, two tankers broke in half. The two ill-fated tankers, SS Pendleton and SS Fort Mercer, were T-2s, a ship type mass produced during World War II when the United States had to build a bridge across two oceans. The U.S. Coast Guard rescued 70 of the crew amid deadly dangers. Noted maritime author Bob Frump has rescued this all but forgotten story that should be told as long as men go down to the sea in ships. Bernie Webber was the least likely candidate to execute the greatest small-boat rescue in American history. The trouble-prone son of a Baptist minister, he’d been well on his way to becoming a juvenile delinquent - until he went to sea. And then, on the night of February 18, 1952, in a raging blizzard off the coast of Cape Cod, Webber, now a young lifeboat coxswain with the U.S. Coast Guard, and his crew performed a miracle. Two big oil tankers had split in two in raging seas, and nothing—not a big cutter, not a sea plane, not a chopper—could reach them in time. Only Webber and his crew of three men, had a chance. He knew they would probably die on this mission. They were, after all, in an unassuming thirty-six-foot rescue boat that didn’t even have a name but for the “CG 36500” on its side. But he loved this boat—and he knew the inauspicious Coast Guard motto: “You have to go out. You don’t have to come back.” Webber and his crew took the CG 36500 out in sixty-foot waves and saved thirty lives. He and his men won the rarely bestowed Coast Guard Gold Medal for Valor and a place in history that shapes the Coast Guard culture to this day. Two Tankers Down tells their story, capturing the full drama of one of the most gripping sea rescue stories of all time. (M). $16.95
Barbo, Theresa M., John J. Galluzo and W. Russell Webster. THE
PENDLETON DISASTER OFF CAPE COD: THE GREATEST SMALL BOAT RESCUE IN COAST GUARD
HISTORY. History Press. 2007. 128p. Soft wraps. Late in February
1952, a northeaster swept
Numerous original photos available - please inquire...
with early images, many from private collections and never before
about the heroic 1952 rescue of the crews from the SS Pendleton and SS
Fort Mercer, still considered today the most heroic small-boat rescues in
Coast Guard history
about the lightship crews and their dangerous missions, guarding the
shoals and coastline of Cape Cod
about the Momomoy Disaster, in which seven life-savers perished while
attempting to rescue the crew of the barge Wadena.
about Nauset’s famous “Three Sisters” lighthouses, the only such
lighthouse configuration in the country, why they were built and what
became of them.
about the Chatham lights and why they were moved so often.
about the Old Harbor Life-Saving Station, who’s crew rescued 34 persons
in the first five years of operation.
about the many changes at Race Point Light Station and its renewed
1443. Claflin, James W. Lighthouses and Life-Saving Along Cape Cod. Arcadia. 2014. 128p. Soft wraps. With over 200 vintage photographs, this is the fourth volume in a series of photographic histories of lighthouses and lifesaving along the coasts of the United States by the author. For centuries, heroic men and women have guarded the treacherous yet beloved Cape Cod coastlines. From Provincetown to Chatham, Sandwich to Cuttyhunk, and many towns in between, residents have relied on the Atlantic for employment and nourishment. But Cape Cod has always been plagued with a shifting coastline that consistently defies mariners’ efforts to pass through Massachusetts waters. In 1792, as shipping increased, mariners petitioned for a sorely needed lighthouse. It was not until 1797 that the first lighthouse on Cape Cod was built at the Highlands in North Truro. More lights and rescue stations would follow as the seas claimed their toll. Many lightship stations were also established from Chatham through Nantucket Sound to mark the constantly changing sandbars submerged offshore—more than in any other spot along the US coastline. Today, as sea levels change and sands continue to shift, some of these historic stations have been lost or moved, while still others are preserved only in such photographs as these. This compact volume features over 200 early photographs dating from the 1870’s through the 1960’s, drawn from the author’s and other private collections, most never before published, and traces the history of these services through photos and text. (M). $21.99. (x)
13424. Barbo, Theresa Mitchell, Captain W. Russell Webster (ret) and Julia Marshall. The Daring Coast Guard Rescue of the Pendleton Crew. Charleston. 2013. 124p. Stiff wraps. Jack Nickerson and his faithful lab, Sinbad, wake early one snowy Cape Cod morning, ready for winter fun. Meanwhile, miles away in the ocean, the crew of a cargo tanker ship called the Pendleton is in serious trouble. The waves and wind of a raging nor’easter rip the tanker in two, leaving the people to cling for their lives in the wicked, cold storm. There’s no time to waste—the Coast Guard, including Jack’s friend Bernie Webber, leave Chatham Harbor in search of the Pendleton crew. They don’t yet know that Jack and Sinbad have snuck aboard the rescue boat as stowaways. Join the young duo in the front-row seat for the greatest small-boat rescue in American history. Well done, with wonderful illustrations that add flavor to the story. The Daring Coast Guard Rescue of the Pendleton has well-written and well-paced action that keeps youth interested, wanting to read page after page. Historically, the Coast Guard action is correct. Jack’s story is fiction, used to bring children into the story. Sinbad, the black lab always by Jack’s side, was a real dog that hung around the Coast Guard Station Chatham and was loved by the crews. (M). $14.99. (x)
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James W. Claflin . 05/25/2017
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