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A Brief Biography of

3rd Lt. (later Captain) Charles Satterlee

(September 14, 1875 - September 26, 1918)

Contributed by Robert Pendleton

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Captain Charles Satterlee was an outstanding career officer that served in the United States Revenue Cutter Service from 1895 to 1915 and was transferred to and continued to serve in the newly formed United States Coast Guard from 1915 until his death in action on September 26, 1918.

The Biography:

Captain Charles Satterlee was born to the family of  Mr. Charles Avery Satterlee on September 14, 1875 in Gales Ferry, Connecticut. On November 19, 1895 he was appointed from the State of Connecticut as a Cadet in the School of Instruction of the  Revenue Cutter Service, at New Bedford, Massachusetts. On January 17, 1898, Cadet Satterlee was commissioned Third Lieutenant.

Prior to the United States’ declaration of war with Spain in April of 1898, Third Lieutenant Satterlee was serving as a line officer on board the United States Revenue Cutter LEVI WOODBURY based out of Portland, Maine.  Shortly after the declaration of war the Treasury Department’s Revenue Service cutters were assigned to cooperative operations with the U.S. Navy. The R.C.S. cutter LEVI WOODBURY conducted operations with Admiral Sampson’s North Atlantic Squadron from May 8 until the end of hostilities in August, 1898. Her primary duty was to blockade the port of Havana. She returned to the control of the Treasury Department on 17 August 1898.
Third Lieutenant Satterlee was promoted to second lieutenant on May 6, 1899, to first lieutenant on March 5, 1905, and finally to captain, on September 3, 1915, in the newly formed United States Coast Guard (established on January 28, 1915). At Key West, Florida, on December 9, 1915, he was assigned to the command of the U. S. Coast Guard Cutter MIAMI. On the 1st of February 1916, the MIAMI’s name was changed to TAMPA.
At the time he was assigned to command MIAMI, Captain Satterlee was 43 years of age and had served in the Revenue Cutter Service for over twenty-two years. Within that time period, he had served 15 years and 9 months on sea duty; 1 year and 4 months on harbor duty, and 3 years and 4 months on special duty assignments.

On April 6, 1917 the United States declared war with Imperial Germany and U.S.C.G. Cutter TAMPA was temporarily transferred to the U.S. Navy. On her arrival at Gibraltar on October 27, 1917, she was assigned to Ocean Escort Duty operations and in early November she commenced the first of 18 convoy escorts. For the next 10 months and 22 days she was never disabled and was ready to sail whenever called upon. She escorted 350 Allied merchant vessels losing only two and would bring her 4-inch guns into action several times against German submarines.

At Gibraltar she was assigned her 18th convoy, H.G. 107, consisting of merchant vessels to be escorted to England. Prior to her casting off for the voyage on September 17, 1918, sixteen British military and civilian dockyard workers boarded as passengers for their return passage to the United Kingdom.

On Thursday, September 26, 1918, at 4:15 p.m. while in the Celtic Sea off the Southwestern coast of Cornwall, England, Captain Satterlee received permission to detach TAMPA from the convoy and proceeded alone on a course for Milford Haven, Wales, where the weather during that afternoon was fine and the wind was a light northwesterly.

According to the war log of the Imperial German Navy submarine UB 91, a coastal torpedo attack submarine under the command of KptLt. Wolf-Hans Hertwig, the submarine sighted a single small steamer just as dusk set in at 7:30 p.m. At 7:40 p.m. he dove for the attack and at 8:15 p.m. launched one stern torpedo which hit her portside amidships. Captain Hertwig wrote that two minutes after the initial torpedo explosion a second detonation took place perhaps occasioned by the depth charges of the sinking vessel. UB 91 surfaced to search for men and wreckage but nothing was found.

The loss of the United States Coast Guard Cutter TAMPA represented the greatest single loss in combat fatal casualties for the United States Navy and Coast Guard during World War I. Lost were a total of 115 crew members, including Captain Satterlee. Also lost were the sixteen British military and civilian passengers.

Captain Satterlee’s body was never recovered. Of 131 souls lost, only two Coast Guardsmen’s bodies were found and positively identified. They were both later reentered in the United States.The torso of an unidentified male washed ashore at approximately the same time and it was presumed that it was the remains of a U.S. Coast Guardsman. The torso was interred with military honors at Lamphey Churchyard, Wales.

Captain Charles Satterlee was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. The Purple Heart (The War Department revived the Purple Heart decoration on 22 February 1932retroactive to service after 5 April 1917) was presented posthumously to all the members of the crew and their surviving family members by the United States Coast Guard at Tampa, Florida, in January of 2001.


Register of the Officers, Vessels, and Stations of The United States Coast Guard, Treasury Department, United States Coast Guard, January 1, 1917, Washington, Government Printing Office, 1917.

United States Coast Guard Roll of Honor, April 6, 1917- -November 30, 1918 Supplement to the Report of the Secretary of the Navy, Washington, Government Printing Office, 1919

Tampa, Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Department of the Navy, Naval Historical Center, Washington Navy Yard, Washington, D.C.

The Purple Heart is awarded to members of the armed forces of the United States who are wounded or killed by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy and posthumously to the next of kin in the name of those who are killed in action or die of wounds in action. Military Order of the Purple Heart at:

British casualties listed in a British Admiralty Reference Sheet, 9 October 1918, Copy of Telegram from S.N.O. Gibraltar to Admiralty listing British Naval ratings and dockyard men as casualties on board Tampa , October 6, 1918.

Extract From War Diary of UB-91 (Concerning torpedoing of U.S.S. TAMPA on 26 September 1918), National Archives and Records Administration, Old Military and Civil Records, Washington, D.C.

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