The Sinking of the USCGC MAGNOLIA WAGL-231
24 August 1945

by Lieutenant Colonel Ted Allan Morris, USAF, Retired

The "Maggie" was rammed amidships and sunk by the SS MARGUERITE LE HAND, a brand new 18,000-ton type C-3 cargo vessel on its maiden voyage.  The MARGUERITE LE HAND was named posthumously for President Franklin Roosevelt's private secretary of 21 years. 

The MAGNOLIA had just cleared the sea buoy in the Gulf of Mexico preparing to enter Mobile Bay.  The time was 2328 hours, 24 August 1945.

The MAGNOLIA and the MARGUERITE LE HAND had exchanged one blast of the whistle signaling for a port to port passing when the MARGUERITE LE HAND came hard aport.  The Magnolia went hard astarboard in an attempt to avoid collision and was rammed amidships, the bow of the MARGUERITE LE HAND slicing deep into her port side.  Almost immediately, the MARGUERITE LE HAND reversed its engine and backed out, leaving a gaping hole in the MAGNOLIA'S hull nearly to the keel.  Having virtually no watertight compartments, the Gulf of Mexico poured in and the MAGNOLIA sank in less than two minutes.

Fifty-nine crew members survived primarily because the night was exceptionally hot.  The ship had practically no ventilation into the lower crew quarters, so the majority of the men had gone topside to sleep wherever they-could find a level spot.  One man was lost in the sinking.

The MAGNOLIA was unable to launch life boats.  She carried a 26 ft. motor launch and a 26 ft. pulling boat, plus several life rafts.  The pulling boat was smashed when someone on the MARGUERITE LE HAND released a 15 ton slide-mounted life raft onto the MAGNOLIA at almost the moment of the ramming impact.  Most-crew members did not have time to don life jackets and had to spend several hours treading water to stay alive.

The MARGUERITE LE HAND launched several life boats, searching for and picking up survivors.  The MAGNOLIA used a very thick bunker IC fuel oil and the majority of survivors were coated with it.  Many of us swallowed quantities of the foul stuff requiring hospital treatment after being landed in Mobile.

Built in 1904 at Baltimore, MD, for the US Light House Service, the MAGNOLIA was 173 feet long with twin reciprocating steam engines driving twin screws.  The Coast Guard inherited the Light House Service and the MAGNOLIA in 1939.  Part of the "Flower Fleet" of ships, she performed the hard, dirty job of maintaining aids to navigation of all types, from lighthouses to buoys.

Shortly after the collision many of the MAGNOLIA'S crew went to Norfolk, Virginia, to man the CGC SALVIA, WAGL-400 (then Arelatively new 180 ft. buoy tender), bringing her to Mobile to replace the MAGNOLIA.
Albeit while the MAGNOLIA was not sunk by enemy action, it was the last major Coast Guard ship sunk during World War II and as the survivors would attest, the water was deep, oily, very wet....and the night very long waiting to be rescued.

As an 18 year old S 1/C (QM) with 18 months service, I was the youngest crew member on board the MAGNOLIA when she was rammed and sunk on 24 August 1945 during the final days of World War II.  Following the MAGNOLIA incident, I went into Coast Guard Aviation serving another three years as an Aviation Machinist Mate.

USCGC Magnolia WAGL 231

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter MAGNOLIA - WAGL 231
Launched 1904, Sunk 1945


Below:  The Author on the Maggie, age 18, 1945:

Here are three of the other crewmen on the Maggie.  John McAndrew (1914 - 1969) is in the foreground.
Does anyone know the other two men?
Thanks to Joe McAndrew, John's son, for the photograph.

Below is a photo of the Maggie in WW2 paint.  Many thanks to Eric Schoneberger, CDR, USNR (Ret), for the photo.  His father, SM1 Warren Schoneberger was aboard her at the time of this photo, but mustered out before she was sunk.

                Magnolia about 1944

Here are some pictures of the Maggie going about her day to day business:

Working Bouys from the
                  USCGC Magnolia, 1945

Below are some photos of the salvage operations. 
You'll note that the Magnolia is sitting on the bottom and her stack is sticking up out of the Gulf!

Deep Sea Diver Suits for
                  the salvage of USCGC Magnolia, 1945

The Ensign of the USCGC Magnolia
Above:  The Maggie's Ensign.  I was part of the salvage crew, free-diving into the pilothouse to secure logs, charts, and other paperwork.  I also brought out the Ensign, but no one wanted it, so I kept it!  You can see that the Coast Guard never wasted money on things like new flags when the old one still held (mostly) together...

The plaque reads:  The Ensign of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter MAGNOLIA (WAGL-W231)
Which was Rammed and Sunk 24 August 1945.
She was the last major Coast Guard vessel sunk during World War II.
The Ensign was retrieved by Survivor Ted A. Morris QM3/C USCGR.

Copyright by Ted A. Morris, 1999