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Coast Guard Takes on Rum Runners

By THOMAS P. FARNER | Mar 01, 2017

Prohibition, like many other attempts at social engineering, had a noble goal but created a much different reality. Instantly the country was divided into two camps, wets and dries, and the new law had declared that one of them was illegal. Government attempts to increase enforcement was met with more-sophisticated ways of breaking the law. The biggest problem was the border and keeping alcohol out of the country.

In February 1924. U.S. Attorney General Harry Daugherty told reporters, “Another very interesting phase of enforcement, but one fraught with many difficulties, is that of seizing rum-running vessels. Hovering along our shores there is a good-sized fleet of such vessels. Now that the Government is insisting upon the observance of the 12-mile limit they stay about 15 miles from shore and give over their cargo of liquor to small boats which, for the most part, sneak in during the night to deserted places along the coast and sometimes into small inlets where they cannot be followed by the larger boats of the Coast Guard, which has taken over this work of patrolling our coast.”

But enforcement would take more than words. The Burlington Free Press announced on St. Patrick’s Day, 1924, “The ‘drys’ are happy. They see the end of rum smuggling. The action of the House in passing by an overwhelming vote the bill providing for the enlargement of the coast guard service and the ratification by the Senate of the treaty with Great Britain enabling the seizure of rum runners 12 miles from shore are two measures which look to the rigid enforcement of the prohibition laws.”

The joy of the dries was short-lived. The Oct. 10, 1924, issue of The Tuckerton Beacon shows that the rum runners were becoming more organized.

“Early last Tuesday morning thru the fearless work of the captain of the Bonds Coast Guard Station, Captain Rogers and an equally brave crew of men composed of Percy Mathews, chief boatswain mate, Marsden Cranmer, chief mechanics mate, and Leslie Rogers, surfman … had been out early last Thursday morning in the new fast run chasers, with which the coast guards are now provided, patrolling the nearby waters when about 3:40 they sighted this small fleet of rum runners, composed of one high powered sea skiff, a good sized garvey and a tender in tow of the large boat.”

After approaching the mysterious flotilla, “Captain Rogers signaled for the boat to stop but instead of doing so the crew began to hustle around and try and make the boat go faster, after two signals had been given to pull up, Capt. Rogers gave the order to fire across the bow of the boat and try to stop it, this order was carried out but still the boat kept on, the Captain then gave the orders to fire at the boat and about the same time the rum runners opened with a volley of shots at the coast guards and a lively battle then ensued for several minutes with the coast guards using Springfield rifles and the run runners using automatic revolvers and shot guns, but the coast guard decided the issue when they brought into play the rapid fire machine gun which they carry on these patrolling expeditions. The machine gun raked the smugglers craft fore to aft and after several rounds of ammunition had been emptied at them they were seen to pile over the sides of the boat and swim for the shore, like a bunch of water rats, deserting their boats and their cargoes to the coast guards and thinking only one thing and that was of getting ashore out of that rain of lead.”

With the naval battle won by the Coast Guard, still the rum runners weren’t ready to quit.

“After the smugglers deserted the boats the coast guards drew up to the abandoned boats and taking them in tow started homeward. Evidently the rum runners had a party waiting on the shore for as the coast guard boat hooked on to the other boat a crowd of men emerged from the woods in an attempt to frighten the coast guards by their superior numbers into deserting the captured boats. However nothing daunted these men and although they had failed to capture the crews of the boats they had at least taken a load of whiskey and three boats had been confiscated.

“The boats and their cargoes were taken to Bonds C.G.S. where the liquor was unloaded and stored in the station house to await its deposition by federal authorities.”

Once back on LBI, the victors took stock of their haul.

“The one large boat captured is a thirty foot sea skiff painted a dark gray to make it a harder color to see by the revenue cutters and coast guards. It is equipped with a 300 H.P. Sterling Dolphin Special Motor and is capable of making a speed of thirty five miles an hour. It has evidently been used for the sole purpose of smuggling judging from its equipment. The garvey is a fairly good-sized boat with a Palmer engine. The small tender fastened on to the large boat contained 3 quart bottles of liquor. The rest of the load was on the other two boats.

“The seized liquor which amounted to 170 cases and made up of a number of one time very popular brands: Old Crow; Canadian Club; John Haig; Black and White; Green Stripe; Old Smuggler; William Penn Pure Rye; White Horse; Peter Lawson; White Label; Lawsons’ Haig & Haig and one case of champagne was estimated to be worth about $15,000 and the value of the three boats was placed at $9,000 making a total loss to the smugglers of about $24,000. One automatic revolver was also found on the boat when it was captured, evidently the rest of the firearms were cast overboard.”

The Beacon concluded, “An interesting sight on the captured rum runner was the marks where the machine gun bullets had riddled it, at one place on the gunwale about two inches was completely cut away where the bullets had cut through. It is miraculous how the crew on the rum runner escaped being killed by the flying lead.

“The place where the boat was captured was about opposite Chestnut Neck on the shore road which is considered a noted place for bootleggers to ply their trade.

“The escaped crew of the boats is thought to have been from Atlantic City as this was the direction they were seen to go in cars that were following along on the shore road after they had given up hope of recovering their boats.”

The battle off Chestnut Neck showed the need to reinforce the Coast Guard, and the Dec. 11, 1924, issue of the New Egypt Press reported, “Beach Haven for the first time saw one of the new rum chasers, as the coast guard craft used in running down rum smugglers are commonly called when the C.G. 100, just stationed at Atlantic City, came in Little Egg Harbor on Monday and staid here most of the week.

“This boat is manned by a crew of eight men including the captain and is equipped with all the latest improvements possible in this type of craft. This boat is the first of this type turned out by the Mathis Yacht Building Company of Camden. It is equipped with two Sterling Special Motors and has twin screw propellers, their speed said to be about 35 miles per hour.”

The new boat wasn’t just fast.

“On the forward deck of the craft is mounted a one pound gun. A Lewis machine gun is also a part of the equipment as well as a dozen Springfield rifles.

“A wireless telephone set is also part of the boat’s equipment. At night on the high seas the crew of the boat can listen in (on) any concert being broadcast in any section of the United States by one of the latest receiving sets ever constructed.

“This new type of boat is now being turned out by contract from ship building plants all over the country to help put down the smuggling of booze, dope and foreigners into the United States. The Mathis Yacht Building Company was the first one to complete its first boat on the contract.”

As the number of rum runners increased, there was a chance they would even need assistance from the Coast Guard.

The Jan. 12, 1925. issue of the New Jersey Courier told, “Keeper Calvin Falkinburg and crew of Ships Bottom Coast Guard Station, seized a seaskiff, fitted out with a 125 hp engine, capable of 55 miles an hour, so it was boasted by her crew, also two men and twenty cases of whiskey on Saturday last, near the end of the state bridge across Barnegat Bay. The two men said they were headed for Surf City, ‘where they had landed before.’ The third man in the crew escaped.”

Once on shore and in the hands of the Coast Guard, “They told the men on the beach that they had got lost in the thick weather and had used up a hundred gallons of gas, running out of motor fuel, thus were forced to land in daylight.

“Keeper Falkinburg said his lookout had been watching the men at sea for some time before they landed. He was also notified of the landing by Cromwell Inman, of Surf City. The place where the crew said they had landed before at Surf City is said to boast a block and tackle and other equipment to haul out a rum-runner quickly.”

Before being taken away, “the men also said that they had hit a pound net pile and stove their boat so that she leaked, which was another reason for beaching her by daylight. One said he would not desert his boat as she cost too much and boasted that ‘we will have no trouble in getting out of this.’”

The Coast Guard on LBI was making some headway in the war against the rum runners , but that would only mean the rum runners would begin their own war on the LBI Coast Guard.

Next Week: Bribes and scandals.


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