The coast Guard's "Matchbox Fleet" was comprised of 60 wooden, 83-foot cutters that performed dangerous lifesaving missions under fire at Normandy, pulling more than 400 men from the water.


One of these vessels was known as the "Homing Pigeon" and successfully saved 126 survivors, the most of any single ship.

Photo: US Coast Guard photo courtesy of Terry Hannigan

Other crews distinguished themselves at Normandy as well. CGC-1 rescued 43 and spent much of the day within 2,000 feet of the beaches. CGC-34 pulled 32 British troops and sailors from the English Channel. CGC-53 rescued five men while under fire from a German shore battery. The HMS Rodney came to the cutter's rescue and destroyed the shore battery with its naval guns.

After D-Day, the Matchstick Fleet continued their duties until Dec. 1944 when they were disbanded. In the seven months of operation, the 60 ships saved 1,438 people. Many of the ships were then transferred to allied navies where they served for the duration of the war.