A cutter with a one-of-the-kind mission
The US Coast Guard cutter Courier (WAGR-176) started life in 1945 as the M/V Coastal Messenger. It was built in the final days of the Second World War as an inter-island shuttle craft to move military and naval cargoes between the Pacific islands. The war ended before the new ship could be deployed. At 338 feet in length and with a displacement of 5,650 tons, it was too small for most international commercial service. It was operated for several years though by the Standard Fruit Steamship Company and Grace Lines along the coasts to northern South America. In 1952, it was acquired by the Department of State for use as a mobile transmitting facility for the Voice of America. At the time, the Soviet Union was jamming most radio signals being sent behind the Iron Curtain. It was felt that a mobile facility would be more difficult to jam. The State Department envisioned a small fleet of these transmitting vessels surrounding the Communists. To ease political sensitivities, it was decided that the mobile facility should be operated by the US Coast Guard. The USCGC Courier was officially commissioned on 15 February 1952. Although the cutter had a Coast Guard commanding officer and regular Coast Guard crew, the personnel running the high-powered radio transmitter were US Information Agency (USIA) employees. The Courier carried the most powerful radio transmitter ever installed on a ship (at least to that date). Filling a cargo hold were a 150 kilowatt medium-wave transmitter and two 35 kilowatt short-wave transmitters. In another cargo hold were diesel engines generating 1,500 kilowatts of electrical power for the radio equipment. Initially, a helium balloon was used to raise a transmitting antenna to a maximum height of 900 feet. The balloons kept breaking loose in high winds and were soon replaced by an antenna strung between the forward and main masts. The Courier operated almost exclusively in the eastern Mediterranean Sea and was homeported in Rhodes until 1964. Its 12 years away from the United States is still the record for continuous overseas deployment of any US government vessel. Following its return, the Courier was used as training vessel at the USCG Reserve Training Center, Yorktown, Virginia. The ship was decommissioned in 1972.