Saturday, December 9, 2017

Sand Pounders Part 1

December 7th is remembered as the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. December 8th is remembered for Franklin D Roosevelt's famous infamy speech that started out as this:
Yesterday, December 7th, 1941-a date which will live in infamy-the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

Prior to Pearl Harbor the USA was divided about getting involved or staying out of World War II. Pearl Harbor changed all of that, awakening and thrusting the United States into a two front war in the Pacific and Europe (Nazi Germany declared war on The United States on December 11, 1941).
War Time Poster: Doris Miller shot down fighter planes and helped move
crewmates during Pearl Harbor.  He was the first African American
 awarded The Navy Cross. 
A fear of the time was the potential for a coastal attack from the axis powers (Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany). This was cemented in the summer of 1942. During the span of WWII only one enemy face-to-face interaction occurred in the continental USA. 
That happened on June 13th in New York.  This is an interesting story.  It was a bit after midnight and John C Cullen was patrolling the beach. It was a particularly foggy night when he came upon three men that said they were run aground fishermen. It seemed like a believable story until one of the men yelled in German and the leader of the group asked Cullen if he had a father and mother that would grieve for him. The leader then proceeded to say, “I wouldn’t want to have to kill you.” Cullen realized that this was a good time to find a way out since he wasn’t carrying a weapon. Cullen was given 300$ to forget what had just happened and took the money (which was actually 260$). He immediately alerted authorities. 
When the fog cleared some of the items found buried in the sand were a Nazi swastika, bombs, and sabotage devices.  The plot was foiled when the leader of the group turned himself in and revealed what their plan was. 
Cross marked where explosives were

Sand Pounders

Since I've gone over a bit of the background info here’s where the horses come in. 
In September 1942 horses were authorized to be used in the beach patrol. They were from the US Army and the tack came from the Army Remount Service. The Coast Guard supplied the soldiers' uniforms. It was the first and last time the Coast Guard used horses.
Horses could cover more ground at a faster pace then men on foot and they could also carry more weight, like the 35 pound radio transmitter. Dogs were also brought in as well to help guard the beach. They became known as the “Sand Pounders.”
Photo Credit: US Coast Guard

The goal of the patrol wasn’t to take on the enemy. 
Coast Guard Historian, Chris Havern said, “While it was not their mission to repel an invasion from the sea, the Coast Guard beach patrols performed a vital function insofar as the morale of the America people was concerned. The beach patrols provided a presence that reassured the American home front that they were being protected by a vigilant armed force.” 
Photo credit: National Park Service 
The mounted unit needed riders so a call was put out. They ended up with riders from a varied background like cowboys, horse trainers, jockeys, polo players, and rodeo riders. The mounted unit ended up being the largest part of the patrol. Over 3000 horses were a part of it.
Photo Credit: US Coast Guard

Training took place at Elkins Park Training Station, PA and Hilton Head, Sc.  They didn’t patrol all of the beaches of the United States though. The New England beaches weren’t safe during the winter and other spots in the country didn’t have the supplies to house horses. From the US Coast Guard blog, the spots where the mounted patrol worked the best were the mid-Atlantic, Florida, Oregon, and Texas beaches.
Photo credit: US Coast Guard
Mounted teams required at least two riders. The riders each carried a pistol and rifle. One carried a radio too. From researching I couldn’t find any evidence that the Sand Pounders ever actually thwarted an attack. Or even saw any sign of enemy U-boats or ships. Which is a good thing, even if it meant the men rode and rode and rode without seeing anything. 
The Sand Pounders lasted for two years. It wrapped up in 1944 since the threat of Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan attacking the United States shorelines had decreased to where it was nonexistent. 
The Army Remount sold the horses at public auction at the end of the patrol. 
Photo Credit: US Coast Guard

When I first read up on this I thought how interesting it was. Mounted beach patrols during World War II? And nothing bad ultimately happened? Perfect. It's a very brief part of US history, but it's a unique slice that hasn't been repeated since. Next up I'll talk about how this can be done in model form!

John Cullen, Coast Guardsman Who Detected Spies, Dies at 90
Coast Guard Combat Veterans: Semper Paratus By James C. Bunch


  1. Oh this is awesome. I did not know. I'm all for beach-walking (during vacation) and my husband is an amateur war historian. This gives us food for thought.

    1. That’s awesome!
      I thought the whole story was very interesting. They played a huge role in helping the public feel safe even if they never uncovered any axis plots.

  2. My proud to be part of the same service.