10th Emergency Rescue Boat Squadron
11th Army Air Force
Alaska - WWII
by Ralph M. Bartholomew
The wartime official history of our
squadron was written by First Sergeant Wilson G. Crompton, later Warrant Officer, and is found in
microfilmed documents at the Air Force Document
Center, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. The history began in the period prior
to WWII when in December 1940 Major Everett S. Davis,
Commanding Officer, Elmendorf Air Base, saw the
success the Royal Air Force was having in the English
Channel with fast heavy duty small boats recovering
downed air crews and returning them to fly again.
Lt. Gordon R. Donley, later Captain
then Major, was dispatched to Ketchikan, Alaska in
December 1941 where the Coast Guard had agreed to
assist in training small boat crews. Lt. Donley
brought with him a few non-commissioned officers on
detached service from various Elmendorf squadrons and
immediately began recruiting young men in Ketchikan
who had been raised in the local fishing fleet and had
their basic small boat training already.
The official name of our organization
became the "Air Corps Marine Rescue Service," later
changed to the "924th Quartermaster Boat Squadron (Avn)"
then finally to the "10th AAF Emergency Rescue Boat
Squadron." Our CO was extremely distressed, to say the
least, when Army officials insisted that only the
Quartermaster Corps operated boats, however, he was
successful in changing it back later to Army Air
As stated in the history, Lt. Donley
was able to rent the wintertime vacant Filipino
Bunkhouse from the New England Fish Co. salmon cannery
for a barracks. Many of his first recruits came from
the local CCC organization that had been disbanded
when the war started. I was number six to enlist as I
too had spent considerable time in the fishing
industry and before that in the Sea Scouts where we
had served on a number of cruises on Coast Guard
vessels for our early training.
New England Fish Co. wanted their bunkhouse back as
the new salmon season was approaching, and Lt. Donley
had been successful in recruiting enough young men so
that the bunkhouse had become too crowded.
We had by then received two new 42' Owens twin
screw cabin cruisers, the P-30 and P-31, that became
our training vessels and later were assigned to air
stations as rescue boats.
We then moved to the abandoned CCC Camp at Ward
Lake, some eight miles out the north highway from
Ketchikan, where with just a little clean-up, was both
usable and somewhat isolated from the community. That
became the "boot camp" for our Army training as well
as our classroom for the navigation, signaling and
small boat handling classes.
Not too long after our transfer to the Ward Lake
CCC Camp, the military decided to move the Aleut
natives out of their communities in the Aleutians and
move them further away from the war to Southeastern
Alaska points. As our CCC Camp looked like a good
place to deposit some of those families, we again had
to move, this time to the new Annette Island Army Air
I was temporarily assigned to the crash and
refueling ready tent on the runway, then to the "Nan
B.," an old wooden cannery tender taken over by the
Army. We spent our nights patrolling offshore on the
lookout for Jap submarines, and the days hauling
passengers and mail between Annette and Ketchikan, and
supplies to outlying overseas communication cable
guard posts on Prince of Whales Island.
Lt. Donley finally received word that the first two
of our 104' rescue boats were under construction at
the Stephens Brothers shipyard in Stockton,
California, so he shipped 20 of us to San Francisco
for further training in gunnery and celestial
navigation with the Navy on Treasure Island, engine
training at the Hall Scott factory in Berkeley and
weather training at the Stockton Air Base.
As we had received Yellow Fever shots (what did we
need those for in the Aleutians?) before leaving
Annette, several of our group were hospitalized as the
vaccine was found to be unstable. As late as 1988, the
government was still checking back on those who had
become ill from the vaccine. One of our members spent
several months in the Presidio Hospital and nearly
When departing for California, we came over to
Ketchikan on our own boats, then boarded a USCG 38'
picket Boat to go alongside a Standard Oil Co. tanker
that had slowed down in the channel for us. We had to
climb up a rope netting with our barracks bags,
helmets, rifles, gas masks, and sleeping bags, then
sleep on the steel deck in the midship house for the
trip to the States.
Prior to going back to Stockton, the Squadron
obtained two "T" boats, the 33 and 34 for training in
Seattle operations and I served on the T-33.
After adding water tanks in Seattle at the BarBee
Shipyard, the 141 to 146 traveling together went on to
their Aleutian base duty stations. I was then aboard
the P-142 and assigned to the new air base at Amchitka
along with the P-143.
We had been delayed for some hull repair at the
Kodiak Seabee ship repair yard after the P-146 had
damaged our guards when their engine failed to respond
in a landing at Anchorage.
While at the BarBee yard in Seattle, an 85' wood
herring seiner type vessel had been acquired and a new
wheelhouse was constructed along with a medical
dispensary installed in the hold capable of handling
12 patients. The vessel was designated the TP-92 and
was stationed in Chernofski Harbor to serve the Umnak
area. It was felt that with the fishing vessel lines
that it might be able to outperform the higher speed
Following the war, this same vessel operated out of
Ketchikan as a fish and freight packer renamed the
"Sidney." The Sidney burned and sunk in about 1973
while returning south across the Gulf of Alaska. Jim
Petine, one of the WWII crew, has contacted me with a
history of this vessel during its service life.
In 1943 we also took delivery at San Francisco of
the 158' steel vessel named "Col. Joseph C. Morrow"
designated "HA-2" for hauling auxiliary. The HA-2 was
carried on the roster as an aircraft retriever as it
was equipped with a 30 ton jumbo lift boom along with
regular cargo booms.
The cargo capacity of 500 measurement tons enabled
us to haul priority Air Force cargos and crash boat
parts and supplies to and between all the Aleutian
bases from the Tacoma Air Force terminal. I was
transferred from Amchitka to the HA-2 at Adak just
after Christmas of 1943 and spent the next two years
aboard variously as the Chief Radio Operator up
through Mate and Executive Officer before discharge in
The squadron next added six 104' cash boats with P-214 through P-217 built by Sagstad Shipyards,
Seattle and P-219 and P-220 constructed in North Bend,
Oregon and powered by three Kermath gas engines.
We went back down the netting to a pilot boat at
Port Angeles, WA. then via bus and ferry to Ft. Lawton
in Seattle where we moved into tents. After a few days
we departed via Northern Pacific RR chair cars for San
We first moved into the old Ghirardelli candy
factory being used as a temporary barracks, then to
tents in Funston Park, out in the Marina District,
with an MP detachment.
The boat construction schedule had been delayed so
it was the fall of 1942 when we finally moved into a
barracks in Stockton, CA to help prepare the P-114 and
P-115. We assisted in mounting the three 50 caliber
machine guns and the two 20mm cannons and made such
other changes or additions we felt were needed for
Alaska service. The P-115 was ready first and I was
assigned as Chief Radio Operator.
We departed several weeks ahead of the P-114 down
river for San Francisco where we moored at the foot of
Market Street. A young lady friend of our skipper,
"Sgt. Don DeSomery," brought Thanksgiving dinner
aboard for the crew. The were later married and
returned to Elmendorf AFB together for our 1986
reunion, the first time I had seen them since early in
An elderly ship pilot, brought out of retirement
for the war effort, was assigned to pilot our boat up
the Pacific Coast to Seattle. He wanted to travel way
offshore to get away from land, and we didn't want to
lose sight of land.
We stayed within sight of land and took a pretty
good beating off the Northern California coast, then
going into Coos Bay, Oregon for refueling. The pilot
had us call for a bar pilot from the Coast Guard to
enter Coos Bay and they sent out a self-bailing pilot
boat that moved at about six knots.
We couldn't control our square stern boat at that
speed so finally poured on the power and went in over
the bar after passing up the pilot boat. As a result
of these problems, we ceased using pilots and moved
the boats with our own crews from then on.
After arriving in Seattle, additional water tanks
were installed and they proceeded north for
assignment, the P-114 to Adak and the P-115 to Cold
Bay in the Aleutians. Additional personnel had been
shipped to Seattle from Annette Island in the
meantime, so a number of re-assignments were made, and
I was sent back with others to Stockton for the P-141
These vessels proved to be under-powered and not as
satisfactory as the Stephens Brothers boats with their
three Hall Scotts.
The 104' design was able to operate in extremely
tough weather and sea conditions, but were slow when
time was of the essence in rescue, so Major Donley
obtained five 85' PT-style crash boats equipped with
1350 HP Packard engines.
Their principle problems were that they sweat very
badly and had a lousy heating system for the
Aleutians. The 85's were all stationed originally at
the Casco Cove PT base in Attu formerly used by the
Navy but abandoned after they found the PT's
unsuitable for Aleutian use.
The squadron next received eight 104' crash boats,
P-749 through P-756, modified a great deal from the
original design and actually appearing top-heavy.
These new vessels allowed some of the older boats to
be moved back to the mainland stations away from the
continued battering of the Aleutian weather
conditions. Of these, the P-750 had been had been
built in New York State while the other seven were
built somewhere in Mississippi and Louisiana.
They were powered by the same 1350 HP Packards that
had been used in the 85' design. Crews reported the
workmanship was so bad that they were in the Olson &
Winge shipyard in Lake Union, Seattle for nearly two
months repairing, re-caulking, and finishing the
The total number of vessels operated by the 10th
Emergency Rescue Boat Squadron now totaled 41 over the
period of WWII. A review of the available manpower
records that I could locate indicated that over 520
men were in the organization over that same period.
Very late in 1945 we began returning the vessels
from the Alaska and Aleutian bases to Seattle where
most of them were declared surplus and sold to the
highest bidders. Some of the 85's became high speed
charter boats and the only other two crash boats that
became civilian vessels I am aware of were the P-115
and the TP-92.
In 1972 the P-115 showed up in Ketchikan as a
salmon troller named the "Shauna" and was identified
from records by the Stephens Bros. Shipyard. It had
been purchased locally from an owner in California who
had been using it as a tuna fishing vessel for many
The squadron participated in many rescues and life
saving responses from climbing mountains, hiking
across the tundra, transporting seriously ill tugboat
crew members to shore hospitals, emergency calls to
outlying weather and radar stations as well as the
aircraft emergency ditching calls. In some cases
aircraft had just run out of fuel and needed a tow for
a Kingfisher and others had to belly land on the
tundra or beach. Some of the boats had to go out to
sea just to provide a radio signal to be used as an
approach beacon so aircraft could get down to sea
level to find their way into a field.
When a call was received there wasn't such a thing
as checking the weather and planning a trip, we just
went out in whatever weather there was. It was amazing
that, in the worst weather in the world, and the
number of boats and personnel that we had, not one
person was lost. There were some that asked for a
transfer ashore as they just could not avoid being
seasick every time out, but they were usually replaced
immediately by another who wanted to get out of the
We know we were a successful operation even though
it was sometimes a long period between calls, but
those things are hard to quantify. When the P-38's
were called on for experimental fighter cover for the
B-24's bombing Paramushiru, they were pushed to the
very maximum of endurance.
One of their pilots mad a comment that put our
squadron into perspective, he said; "We knew the
chances of being rescued by you guys were slim or
none. But one thing we knew for certain was that you
would always be out there looking, and that made the
Presented at "Alaska at War"
conference, Anchorage, AK, November 11, 1993.
Ralph M. Bartholomew, President.
10th Emergency Rescue Boat Association
313 Madison Street
Ketchikan, AK. 99901