Lighthouses at the Start of World War II

Scott Prices’s recent post “Pearl Harbor: 5 things you didn’t know about the Coast Guard that day” starting me thinking about what I had in my research files about lighthouses around the beginning of World War II.

Makapuu logbook

The log for the Makapuu Lighthouse, on Oahu not far from Honolulu, shows that watches were increased in the week after the Pearl Harbor attack.

As you all know, the U.S. Coast Guard became part of the U.S. Navy during the war.  On December 12, 1941, a confidential memorandum from U.S. Coast Guard Commandant R.R. Waesche discussed “Coast Guard National Defense Functions”:

While all reports received at Headquarters and the Navy Department have shown that the duties performed by Coast Guard officers and men have been very satisfactory, and in many cases deserving of commendation, I believe it desirable to call attention of our Senior Officers and to Captains of the Port, the following matters:

In addition to the duties being performed by Coast Guard officers and men at sea, there are two National Defense functions of paramount importance now being performed by the Coast Guard organization. I refer to the blacking out of aids to navigation on short notice, and the prevention of sabotage in our ports. . . . No organized plan of sabotage has as yet broken out in our seaports, but it is to be expected any time that such an organized effort may occur.

Senior Coast Guard Officers of the Naval District are also directly responsible to see that adequate and efficient plans are made for quickly extinguishing navigation lights. Some plans received at Headquarters require from two to three hours to black out a harbor. I believe by this time that this period has been greatly reduced.  Among the various measures that may be taken to accomplish the general purpose are the following:

a) Replacing lighted aids with unlighted aids for the duration of the war.

b) Reducing the candle power of various lighted aids to navigation.

c) Removal of all radio beacon buoys.

d) Taking measures to prevent lighted aids to navigation from being seen from the air while still visible from a surface vessel.

e) The feasibility of withdrawing lightships from their stations and replacing them if necessary, with other types of aids to navigation

f) The elimination of radio beacons either on lightships or on shore stations.

g) Limitation or elimination of fog signals

h) Elimination or limitation of lighted aids to navigation.

(Source: National Archives Record Group 26, Entry 82C)

This memo found in National Archives, RG 26, Entry 82c, indicates that an incident such as the Pearl Harbor attack was not unanticipated.

This memo found in National Archives, RG 26, Entry 82c, indicates that an incident such as the Pearl Harbor attack was not unanticipated.

It is interesting to note that a memo regarding “Coastal Lookouts at lighthouse stations, etc.” dated December 5, 1941, was issued before the attack. It begins:

In two districts the matter of establishing coastal lookouts at light stations to be manned by Coast Guard personnel has been considered and is being approved. These are located at prominent salients along the coast where continuous watches from lifeboat stations are not available. In some cases, at least, such lookouts would be provided with search light facilities for signaling or for challenging and communication with passing ships. . . .

(Source: National Archives Record Group 26, Entry 82C)

Makapuu Point Lighthouse. National Archives photo

Makapuu Point Lighthouse. National Archives photo

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