The True ‘Finest Hours’

U.S. Coast Guard releases historic photos to coincide with Disney film premiere.

A photo taken by the Coast Guard of the 'SS Pendleton' grounded six miles off Chatham, Mass.Courtesy USCG

The Walt Disney film “The Finest Hours” is sure to be the stuff of pulse-pounding adventure. It tells the incredible story of a 1952 rescue attempt by the U.S. Coast Guard, which responded to a pair of oil tankers splitting in half in a Nor’easter off Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Just as heart-stopping to us, though, is seeing these historic photographs that the U.S. Coast Guard has released from the actual rescue and aftermath. Their black-and-white tones are a far cry from the computer recreations in the film—and are a powerful reminder that real men fought the battles of their lives on the water that day.

Particularly powerful is the shot of the SS Pendleton, cracked in half and lying half-sunk on a sandbar. If you look carefully, you can see a rescue ladder hanging limp along the non-submerged side of her hull. The stillness of that ladder is eerily memorable.

The U.S. Coast Guard has safeguarded the waters around the United States since 1790. In 2014 alone (the most recent statistics available), it performed more than 17,500 search- and-rescue missions; serviced more than 42,750 aids to navigation that yachtsmen use daily; and established 52 AIS aids to navigation that benefit yachtsmen as well.

USCG, SS Fort Mercer, Bernard Webber, Charles W. Hindsley, Gilbert J. Murphy, Ramon S. Rodriguez

The Rescued and the Rescuer

Charles W. Hindsley, Gilbert J. Murphy and Ramon S. Rodriguez were rescued from the sinking 'SS Fort Mercer' (left). Boatswain's Mate First Class Bernard Webber was an integral part of the USCG rescue team on February 18, 1952 (right).Courtesy USCG

Plucked from the Water

Coast Guard members pluck the master of tanker 'Fort Mercer', Captain Frederick C. Paetzal (far side), and purser, Edward Turner, Jr., from the freezing Massachusetts water.Courtesy USCG
Two Coast Guard men tie lines to survivors from bow section of the 'SS Fort Mercer' so they can be pulled from the rubber liferaft aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter 'Yakutat'.Courtesy USCG

Split and Sit

The 'Pendleton' sits aground in Chatham, Mass. waters after splitting in half from a vicious nor'easter on February 18, 1952.Courtesy USCG
EN3 Andrew Fitzgerald leads three 'Pendleton' survivors to safety at the Chatham Fish Pier.Courtesy USCG

The Gold Medal Crew

Members of the rescue team on that fateful night relax at the Coast Guard station after a difficult rescue.Courtesy USCG

Sunken Stern

Coast Guardsmen from the Chatham Lifeboat Station bared treacherous waters to make a rescue on this stern section of the 'SS Pendleton'.Courtesy USCG

Safe Harbor

Coast Guards lead survivors to safety in a lifeboat heading to the Coast Guard station.Courtesy USCG

Heroism Rewarded

A ceremony, held at the Treasury Building in Washington, DC, at which 21 U.S. Coast Guardsmen were decorated for their participation in the rescue of 70 men from the tankers 'Fort Mercer' and 'Pendleton'. For more images and information about the heroic rescue, click here.Courtesy USCG