olympic defense network

During World War II and really with any war, any coastal area of the United States had to be kept on a higher alert than during peacetime. Coastal defense networks now are much more technological that they were in 1943. During World War II, the West Coast was patrolled by units of men whose job it was to watch for activities that were out of the ordinary along the Olympic Coast of Washington. Normally, their job was pretty boring, unless you liked walking or driving along the coast looking at the ocean. There were ships out there, but most of them were where they were supposed to be and were not cause for concern.

In the early spring of 1943, however, coastal lookout activities along the Olympic Peninsula suddenly took a turn from the mundane to something quite unusual. As the La Push unit patrolled the beach that day, they suddenly began to see debris on the beach. That is never a good thing to see, because it means that somewhere, there is a ship in a lot of trouble. Rain, wind, and heavy seas just before midnight on April 1st, were driving the Russian steamship Lamut toward the shoreline, and behind a jagged cluster of rocks just off Teahwhit Head. By the early morning hours of April 2nd, the ship was in great peril, and the lives of the crew hung in the balance.

The La Push patrol unit was in for an intense morning, as they would find at first light on April 2nd. When the patrolmen began finding wreckage on the beach, they headed south along the beach to see if they might find the ship in trouble. It wasn’t long before they sighted part of the grounded ship. It was lodged between a hundred-foot cliff and a small, jagged rock island. Amazingly, there were survivors huddled high on the steeply sloping deck of the Russian ship called Lamut. They wouldn’t have lasted long on that deck, but the high seas made a sea rescue impossible. The coast guardsmen of the La Push Unit decided to attempt a rescue by land. That would be pretty treacherous in itself, but they had no other choice.

This would not be a quick rescue. By mid-morning, the members of the rescue party had cut a path through the thick underbrush bordering the beach. Then, they began their ascent along the slippery boulders to the top of the cliff above the smashed ship. They would have to get very creative in their rescue maneuvers. “Using gauze bandage weighted with a rock, a light line was lowered to the eager hands of the stranded crew aboard the Lamut. Tying heavier line to the gauze, one line succeeded another until a lifeline strong enough to support the weight of a single person was stretched between the ship and the cliff. One by one survivors were raised to the cliff top and finally assisted down the landward side of the rocky ridge to the beach below. As darkness approached, the last of the Lamut survivors emerged from the swampy beach trail to waiting coast guard trucks and ambulances.” The rescue of the Lamut crew was among the most dramatic events in the annals of World War II beach patrol history.

While this was just one of the rescues conducted by the Olympic Defense Network, it was undoubtedly the most intense rescue they performed in their years of service. On March 29, 1944, the beach patrol ended and a week later the unit decommissioned. The trails in that area are now a part of the Olympic National Park probably date from the era of World War II beach patrol activities. A while back, a small, collapsed wood frame cabin was located at Teahwhit Head. It is believed to be associated with World War II beach patrolling activities in the La Push unit, and quite possibly belongs to the Lamut.

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