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The ship was built as the German sail training ship Horst Wessel in 1936; it served to train German sailors in sail techniques until decommissioned at the start of World War II.
The vessel was given anti-aircraft armament and re-commissioned in 1942. Eagle commenced its existence in Nazi Germany as Horst Wessel, a ship of the Gorch Fock class.
(Mircea was also built in 1937 for the Romanian Navy, and work began on a fifth ship called Herbert Norkus, but was stopped with the outbreak of war.) Horst Wessel was commanded by Captain August Thiele, a previous Captain of Gorch Fock, and it was homeported in Kiel.
She was larger in dimension and her spars were all steel, unlike Gorch Fock Her keel was laid on 15 February, she was launched on 13 June, completed on 16 September, and commissioned on 17 September.
Each summer, Eagle deploys with cadets from the United States Coast Guard Academy and candidates from the Officer Candidate School for periods ranging from a week to two months. The primary mission is training the cadets and officer candidates, but the ship also performs a public relations role for the Coast Guard and the United States.
Often, Eagle makes calls at foreign ports as a goodwill ambassador.
On 21 August 1938, Adolf Hitler visited the ship and sailed for approximately one hour before departing.
Later that year, Horst Wessel and Albert Leo Schlageter undertook a four-month voyage to the Caribbean and visited St. Along the way, they caught numerous sharks and turtles at sea and kept ducks enclosed on deck to provide fresh eggs.
At the end of World War II, the four German sailing vessels then extant were distributed to various nations as war reparations. Coast Guard crew sailed her from Bremerhaven to Orangeburg, New York—through a hurricane—assisted by Captain Schnibbe and many of his crew who were still aboard. Chase suspended operations as there was a surplus of graduates from the United States Naval Academy. Chase was decommissioned and transferred to the Marine Hospital Service.