D-Day’s Matchbox Fleet

D-Day's Matchbox Fleet

Sixty wood-hulled boats made in Brooklyn, each 83 feet long, were carried across the North Atlantic on the decks of Liberty Ships to England sixty-five years ago. The cutters, chiefly used for anti-submarine patrol and coastal search and escort, were modifed as rescue craft.

The group of small wooden gasoline-powered cutters, vulnerable to incendiary shells, was called  the “Matchbox Fleet.”  On June 6, 1944, these boats crossed the Channel as U.S. Coast Guard Rescue Flotilla One, part of Operation Neptune/Overlord.

Inscription on the Rescue Flotilla 1 (The “Matchbox Fleet”) Memorial, harborside at Poole, Dorset, UK:

From this Quay, 60 cutters of the United States Coast Guard Rescue Flotilla 1 departed for the Normandy Invasion, 6 June 1944.  These 83 foot boats, built entirely of wood, and the 840 crewmembers were credited with saving the lives of 1437 men and 1 woman.  In remembrance of the service of Rescue Flotilla 1, and with appreciation of the kindnesses of the people of Poole to the crews, this Plaque is given by the men and women of the United States Coast Guard.


U.S. Coast Guard Rescue Flotilla One at Normandy

The Iron Sailors of the Last Wooden Patrol Boat (WPB)

The Cutters,” E. Bishop, Naval History May/June 1994 (PDF courtesy of uscg83footers.org) 

Rescue Flotilla 1, WW2Talk (good selection of photos)

 The U. S. Coast Guard at Normandy, Scott T. Price   (overview of D-Day operations by USCG)



Image adapted from a Wheeler Shipyard graphic by Mike Licht. Download a copy here. Creative Commons license; credit Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

Comments are welcome if they are on-topic, substantive, concise, and not obscene. Comments may be edited for clarity and length.

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16 Responses to “D-Day’s Matchbox Fleet”

  1. Diane Says:

    I think I remember a History Channel piece that included this.. but not sure?

  2. Mike Licht Says:

    Diane wrote: I think I remember a History Channel piece that included this

    I searched the History Channel website. There are plenty of programs about the Navy’s Torpedo Boats, but nothing on the “Matchbox Fleet.”

  3. Jack Read Says:

    Thanks for printing info about the 83′ Resflo 1 cutters and the wording from the inscription on the plaque on the Quay at Poole, Dorset, England —I had the honor to write those words back in 1993 while working with my friend GM3c Jack Campbell (who ‘passed the bar’ 12/2008) when we were trying to get a memorial for the CG Rescue Flotilla 1 in time for the 50th Anniversary of D-Day (6’6’1994)—-too little has been told about thge USCG in WW2 but little by little some ha come our aftewr all these years–
    Jack W Read CMoMM (CgG3) USCG Resflo 1 Normandy 6’6’44

    [Note: More about Jack Read here. -ml]

  4. Mike Licht Says:

    Mr. Read: My Dad, Philip Licht, was the Gunner’s Mate on CG 83428, (USCG 31 in Rescue Flotilla 1). My brother visited Poole last year with his wife and daughter. They were quite moved by the plaque.

  5. Jack Read Says:

    Mike—it is a small world after all (isn’t that part of the Disney World song they play?—loved it ever since the NYC 1939 Worlds Fair I attended as a teenager)—computers are what could hopefully save us all from extinction, if used for good since we meet folks all over the world in good will and sharing–now I understand why you chose the subject matter to print—-is your dad still with us?—if so, give him my best regards.

  6. Mike Licht Says:

    Jack Read wrote: -is your dad still with us?

    Alas no, but Mom is still going strong strong. They met while he was still a Coastie, before he joined NYPD.

    I’m living in DC now, and hope to see what the Coast Guard archives has about Resflo 1 before next June 6th.

  7. Jack Read Says:

    Would appreciate any info you find regards Resflo 1 activities—I find that some of the stuff put out is ,shal we say, not kosher—-cheers

  8. John Madden Says:

    Mr. Read and Mr. Licht,

    I had contacted Mr. Read about 8 or 9 years ago after I found his website.

    My Dad, Robert Madden, was the skipper of No. 42 (USCGC 83463. One of Mr. Read’s picture has my father in it (he is pictured between CMoMM Lowry and CBM Wardell).

    Is there any way we can get each other’s contact info? I have a number of pictures, messages, and other items of my father’s, including the flags from his boat.

    Mr. Read, I also have a copy of a note you wrote to Emalee Morse from 1994 that I just found yesterday regarding the plaque you helped get set up in Poole.

  9. Metal detector turns up bit of World War II history Says:

    […] […]

  10. Tim Says:

    My Dad served on the 83501.

  11. Paul Kahn Says:

    My father is Robert Kahn, from the Bronx, NY. He was a Coxswain on one of the 83 footers at Normandy. I don’t know the number of h is boat but I have the in-port pennant from his boat. He is in the photo of the 1994 50th Anniv dedication of the plaque in Poole England, he’s the husky scowling one with the white mustache in the front row with his hand on the stone.. He’s 94 and alive in California. If anyone is interested in contacting him you can reach him through me.

  12. David Maggio Says:

    My father-in-law, William W. Curtis, was a signalman aboard USCG 2 during the D-Day invasion. Through him, I know some about the boat’s history, but would love to know more about it and especially the other crew members on USCG 2 (#83304). I would greatly appreciate any information about this boat and crew. Thanks.

  13. Matt Levy Says:

    We are restoring 83366 which was USCG-11 during the Normandy Invasion – located in Seattle WA – we welcome any and all information / stories / artifacts we can find – she will be brought back to life wearing the 1944 colors and will be open to the public as a museum ship

  14. Paul Says:

    Two years ago I posted information about my father, Robert Kahn, being in the Coast Guard during the Normandy Invasion. He served on USCG-59 (CG83514) stateside during WWII, and later on was part of Coast Guard Flotilla One during the Normandy Invasion. He passed away in March at age 94, one week after his first great granddaughter was born.

  15. Jim hoyt Says:

    My dad served aboard the USCG-13-the Lucky 13-during the D-Day Invasion. I am trying to find any info I can.

  16. Kathy Lifland Says:

    Hi Jim,
    My dad also served on USCG-13 during the D-Day invasion. Have just started researching but yet to find any pictures or know what sector the Lucky 13 was assigned to.
    His name was Dale Wallace (MoMM1C). He rarely spoke of his wartime experiences.

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