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Air Force Sailors in Korea

The U.S. Air Force's crash rescue boats were little-known but important parts of the rescue effort in Korea. After World War II, the Army Air Forces' dismantled its extensive network of rescue boats, but the war in Korea made them once again necessary. The Air Force regained a limited number of boats from the Army and Navy, and found Airmen with boating skills to man them. In most cases, enlisted men commanded rescue boats. The boats were not part of the Air Rescue Service, but instead were assigned to local air base groups.

Crash boat duty was difficult. Boats stationed off the coasts of Korea and Japan moved constantly to stay in the path of likely aircraft routes from several air bases. The boats had no heating systems, so crews suffered in the frigid winter weather off the Korea peninsula. Crews typically lived onboard for two to three months at a time, returning to harbor bases for food, water, and maintenance.

In addition to rescue duties, Air Force crash boat crews also transported clandestine agents and armed raiding parties to and from North Korea, often exchanging fire with communist forces in hostile waters. They armed their fast 85-foot boats with heavy machine guns, and though some boats were damaged, none were lost in combat.

The models here represent two types of boats the Air Force used in Korea (painted in their WWII USAAF and Army colors). The USAF disbanded crash boat units in 1957, as helicopters and aircraft became increasingly effective in rescue work.

Click here to return to the Air Rescue Overview.

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