Every Coast Guard officer begins their career on this former Nazi sailing vessel

The U.S. Coast Guard is involved in a variety of missions since it began service in 1790 as the Revenue-Marine. It has destroyed pirate forts, landed Marines on beaches around the world, and recently captured over $1 billion dollars in cocaine. It requires a lot from its members.

And, for nearly 70 years, the U.S. Coast Guard has trained all of its academy cadets on a 295-foot sailing vessel commissioned by the Nazis, ridden on by Adolf Hitler, and originally named for the man who wrote the Nazi Party anthem.

US Coast Guard Cutter Eagle former Nazi vessel Horst Wessel at sea

Photo: US Coast Guard Petty Officer Telfair Brown

The ship, now called the USCGC Eagle, has an amazing history.

Launched in 1936 as the SSS Horst Wessel, the vessel was always destined to be a training ship. The Nazis made her the flagship of the training fleet of the Kriegsmarine, the navy.

US Coast Guard Cutter Eagle former Nazi vessel Horst Wessel before being launched

Photo: US Coast Guard Archives

Hitler is believed to have rode on her only one time, but legends persist in the Coast Guard about where Hitler may have napped while on board. A sailor on the Horst Wessel in World War II, Tido Holtkamp said in a BBC interview that Hitler’s boots had nails that scratched the deck, but everyone was too afraid to say anything.

Hitler aboard the US Coast Guard Cutter Eagle former Nazi vessel Horst Wessel

Photo: US Coast Guard Archives

She served in this role for three years, but was sidelined at the start of World War II in 1939. For a few years, she was a dormitory for Hitler Youth. In 1942, the ship was pressed back into service with a complement of anti-air guns but they weren’t very effective. Hotkamp remembers an American bomber attempting to destroy the ship, but it only survived because the bombs missed.

US Coast Guard Cutter Eagle former Nazi vessel Horst Wessel

Photo: US Coast Guard Archives

The ship was captured by the British in 1945. In 1946, Allied commanders splitting up the captured spoils of war reportedly pulled the names of captured ships from a hat. A Russian commander pulled the Horst Wessel, but a U.S. officer eager to bring home the tall ship convinced him to trade it.

The ship was sailed across the Atlantic by a mixed crew of Germans and Americans. In American, she was rechristened the USCGC Eagle. It is the sixth cutter to bear the name.

US Coast Guard Cutter Eagle former Nazi vessel Horst Wessel's wheel

Photo: US Coast Guard

When the Revenue Cutter Service — a prelude to the modern U.S. Coast Guard — began training cadets, it had no physical building to train them in. Instead, it took it’s first class of nine cadets and trained them on the USRC Dobbin, a cutter. In 1932 the academy received a permanent shore facility, but it has continued to use a sailing ship as a major part of the training process for potential officers. Since 1946, the vessel cadets have trained on has been the USCGC Eagle.

An Officer Candidate leads a group of future Boatswain Mate's in handling a line on the USCGC Eagle's Mizzen Mast.

Photo: US Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Cory Mendenhall

Training for emergencies is important when taking a nearly 80-year-old ship across the ocean.

US Coast Guard Cutter Eagle former Nazi vessel Horst Wessel at sea

Photo: US Coast Guard

Today, the training vessel also operates as a goodwill ambassador for the U.S., visiting friendly ports in the U.S. and around the world.

US Coast Guard Cutter Eagle former Nazi vessel Horst Wessel at sea

Photo: US Coast Guard Petty Officer Sherri Eng

It has visited Kiel, its original homeport, a few times throughout history. She’s due to return next year to celebrate the 70th anniversary of her trip to America.

US Coast Guard Cutter Eagle former Nazi vessel Horst Wessel at sea

Photo: US Coast Guard Public Affairs Specialist Bobby Nash

A few presidents have been photographed on board the Eagle. The first was President Harry Truman.

Harry truman on the US Coast Guard Cutter Eagle former Nazi vessel Horst Wessel

Photo: US Coast Guard Archives

President John F. Kennedy toured her and later gave a speech on deck.

President John Kennedy climbs aboard the US Coast Guard Cutter Eagle former Nazi vessel Horst Wessel

Photo: US Coast Guard Archives

Future president Lyndon B. Johnson was there for the speech by Kennedy.

Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson appraoches the US Coast Guard Cutter Eagle former Nazi vessel Horst Wessel

Photo: US Coast Guard Archives

More historical photos of the Eagle can be seen at the Coast Guard’s website. To keep up with the USCGC Eagle today, like the ship’s Facebook page.

NOW: That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history >

OR: 24 historic photos made even more amazing with color >

TOP ARTICLES
This is the latest version of the M9 service pistol

The M9A3 offers a bigger magazine, a user-friendly grip, and a host of improvements based on lessons learned from over three decades of service.

This is what the DoD has planned for a zombie apocalypse

It does touch on many of the pop culture elements of zombie lore, but it breaks things down to become applicable to most situations that would similar to an actual outbreak.

Some dirtbags messed with an Iwo Jima memorial — and Marines caught 'em on film

Officials say an Iwo Jima memorial in Fall River was doused with the contents of a fire extinguisher last weekend. Police are investigating

Vets are going to get a new ID card, and they'll be ready for use next month

The new identification card will provide employers looking to hire veterans with an easier way to verify an employee's military service.

This is the story behind the rise and fall of the Islamic State group

The Islamic State group, responsible for some of the worst atrocities perpetrated against civilians in recent history, appears on the verge of collapse.

Now the Iraqi army is going after the Kurdish forces who helped beat ISIS

Iraqi federal and Kurdish forces exchanged fire on Oct. 20, capping a dramatic week that saw the Kurds hand over territory across Northern Iraq.

This Kurdish female militia refuses to stop its hunt for ISIS terrorists

A Kurdish female militia, after helping free the city of Raqqa, said it will continue the fight to liberate women from the extremists’ brutal rule.

The US just sent nearly 1M bombs and missiles to Guam — here's why

Hint: There's this guy a few thousand miles away who's threatening to lob a nuke in their direction.

This is what the 400 US troops in Somalia are actually up to

The US has quadrupled its military presence in Somalia after Al-Shabab killed nearly 300 civilians in two truck bombings. Half of them are special ops troops.

The war between the US Army and Magpul is heating up over ice

Magpul officials are calling foul on the Army's claim that its rifle magazines don't work in the cold — and they say they can prove it.