"S N A F U   S N A T C H E R S"


ll good things must have a beginning. They did not believe that the word "good" was presumptive, for it was their commitment to save life, not to destroy it that functioned in a time of war, and may have seemed a paradox. The purpose of this organization was to accompany fighter and bomber squadrons, effecting immediate rescue of their crews, whos misfortune may lie in being set adrift on the open sea. In so doing we may not have only saved human life but trained and experienced fliers, who can again be at their battle stations with a minumum loss of time. Exclusive of the humanitatian aspect, the monetary saving was not inconsideratble. It is estimated that the aggregate expense, to the Government, for the training program of an aircrew of ten men, approached a figure in excess of $200,000. In the event of high swells, making water landings impractical, close radio liaison is maintained with surface craft, namely crash boats. Pursuant to the geographic bearings received, these craft located and picked up survivors that are stranded on dinghies, or that are floating in pneumatic life rafts. Generally speaking, the greatest good that could have been accomplished by a smoothly functioning rescue unit was that of maintaining and sustaining the morale of flying fighter and bomber personnel.

When the United States entered World War II the Army Air Force faced a monumental problem created by large numbers of aircraft making over-water flights for the first time. In addition to bomber and fighter missions, air force crews flew anti-submarine patrols and convoy escort duty; they ferried aircraft, carried personnel, and hauled cargo. Many flights were over vast stretches of ocean. It was inevitatble that because of mechanical failure, enemy action, or disorientation, some planes would be forced down at sea. The planes would float long enough for crews to escape in rubber rafts, but the air force entirely land-based in concept and equipment, had no aircraft that could put down on water to pick them up. In the early days in the Pacific, the air force called on the U.S. Navy patrol squadrons and the Royal Australian Air Force to bring home their airmen; in Europe and the Mediterranean they depended on the Royal Air Force. 

While this system saved a number of lives, members of the Air Force's top echelon were aware that the missions of other branches and other nations came first and that the rescue of Air Force crews had to come second. They recognized that the Air Force would be men and money ahead if it had its own rescue units whose primary duty was the retrieval of downed fliers. Such a possibility was discussed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in December 1942. At first, serious consideration was given to expanding the Coast Guard, to which rescue operations were second nature. But the subcommitee investigating the idea determined that too many obstacles beset an expansion great enough to allow the Coast Guard to cover all types of rescues in all parts of the world. Discussions continued and eventually a decision was reached: Each branch of service would conduct its own air-sea rescue efforts. General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, wartime chief of the Air Force, was quick to order the organization and training of seven air-sea rescue squadrons.

Of the aircraft then available the best suited for plucking men from the sea was a Consolidated PBY-5A. It was considered obsolescent, but it had its advantages: it was amphibious, it's slow speed allowed time for careful scrutiny of search areas, its range allowed it to accompany bombers to their targets and back (until the advent of the B-29), and it could take off with a heavy load of waterlogged airmen. However, Consolidated was working to capacity on wartime contracts, and the prospect of obtaining PBY's direct from the factory within a reasonable period looked grim. The Navy came to the rescue, transferring fifty-four (54) PBY-5's and PBY-5A's - Air Force designation OA-10 and OA-10A - to begin filling out the table of organization and equipment. The bulk of the Air Force requirement for amphibious was filled by Canadian Vickers, which found room in its production schedule for an order of 230 OA-10A's. Deliveries begain in December 1943 and continued until February 1945. Late in the war seventy-five (75) PBY-6A's were delivered to the Air Force by Consolidated as OA-10B's.

On 11 March 1943 the Air Force started training its "navy". Special Order 58 transferred thirty-nine newly trained second lieutenant pilots from Advanced Flying School at Stockton Field, California, to Pensacola, Florida "for the purpose of naval air intermediate training in PBY-5 aircraft." The following day an identical order was given to nine pilots at LaJunta, Colorado. The course included two weeks of advanced navigation training at Selman Field, Louisiana, and then six weeks flight training in the PBY's at Pensacola, this conducted by the Navy and according to the Navy training syllabus.

It was no small comfort to be assured that hovering on the edge of battle was a friendly formation, waiting expectantly to pull one out of the "drink", should he be ill-fated in combat. Such peace of mind definitely contributed to the prevention of "war jitters" and "flying fatigue". It was no less reassuring to know that as soon as a ship was abandoned the location has been accurately plotted and a PBY was launched on its "Dumbo" mission, much of the fear of "ditching" is thereby circumvented and the hope of survival made almost a certainty. Like the loaded automatic pistol at the MP's side, the very presence of an Emergency Rescue Squadron promoted the realization that help and protection was there, should the exigency arise. This gave to the airmen an additional measure of confidence, so vital to mental composure, for no man is unafraid. Statements made by those actively engaged in Sea Rescue work, painted vivid portraits of human suffering experienced by men adrift on the ocean for many days, whose misery was exceeded only by their touching demonstrations of appreciation at the time of rescue. The Second Emergency Rescue Squadron was credited with rescuing over 700 downed fliers during their tenure in the South Pacific from the time they arrived in July 1944 until the end of the war in August 1945. Known as the "Snafu Snatchers", this squadron was the first Army Air Force unit of its kind in the Pacific. In July 1944, it was assigned to the 5th Air Force from which it was transferred  to the 13th Air Force in September 1944. Using OA-10A's (equivalent to Navy PBY-5A's) the Second Emergency Rescue Squadron retrieved over 300 airmen from death or capture during the first six months of its activity. This close up shows the "Snafu Snatchers" nose art painted on the right side of their OA-10A's. "SNAFU" stood for "Situation Normal, All Fouled Up," although another word was usually used for the "F". Rafts with numbers were painted on the opposite side of the fuselage to indicate the crewmen rescued by the aircraft.

See the plaque that was dedicated in September 2002 at the U.S. Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio.


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