Sometimes our own Coast Guard sailors need assistance. In September 1938, two crew members aboard the cutter NIKE, then on patrol in the Gulf of Mexico, became seriously ill and in need of more medical attention than the cutter's pharmacist mate could give. Lieutenant Henthorn, piloting PJ-2 V-116, with three aircrew members, launched to rendezvous with the NIKE off the Mississippi Delta. A successful water landing was made, and patients C. Arrington and L. O. Prouse were transferred to V-116. The flight crew flew to Lake Pontchartrain, where they made another successful water landing, and the patients were transported to the Public Health Marine Hospital in New Orleans.
BILOXI'S 300-FOOT RUNWAY It wasn't always necessary to launch one of the Coast Guard aircraft to provide aid to an aviator in distress. Bob White owned the Piper aircraft dealership at the Biloxi Municipal Airport and also operated a flying school there. White was a former four-engine seaplane pilot for Pan American Airways, and flew his own J-2 Piper Cub on floats. Once, on a return flight to Biloxi from St. Petersburg, Florida, he phoned ahead to a friend telling him his engine had been acting up "but it was operating alright now." Just in case, he asked his friend to please notify the Coast Guard if he was late arriving at Biloxi. He almost needed the phone call.
As White neared Biloxi, his engine again began having problems. He nursed his aircraft to the coast, managing an emergency landing in the Air Station's seaplane operating area. Obtaining a beaching attachment, the Coast Guardsmen towed the J-2 Piper Cub up the seaplane ramp, where White and a mechanic began to work on fixing the Cub's balky engine. Bob White and his mechanic were treated well by the Coast Guardsmen, with invitations to eat in the mess hall between long hours working on the airplane. Eventually, White found it necessary to remove the installed engine, and replace it with a smaller one. However, the smaller engine didn't have sufficient power to permit a water take off, so White removed the heavy floats and placed the Cub on landing wheels, intending to tow the aircraft across town to the airport. However, several problems prevented White from doing this, and he decided to take off from the Air Station's small paved maintenance and beaching area.
After gaining permission and some assistance from the Coast Guard, White towed the J-2 to the extreme south end of the Air Station. There, he removed everything not absolutely needed for flight to lighten the load, and had several men hold the aircraft back while he set the engine at full power. Then, releasing the brakes and hold-back restraints, White made his take off run toward the seaplane ramp, successfully making his take off on the amphibious base's 300-foot long clear space. This probably gives Coast Guard Air Station Biloxi the honor of having shortest, and shortest-lived runway in the history of Coast Guard Aviation!
Above: The Biloxi Municipal Airport, 1939, with the National Guard encampment tents to the rear of the hangar, at the center of the photo. The T-shaped pier extending into Biloxi Back Bay was the City-owned pier used by the Coast Guard Base 15 during the 1925-1933 era of the Prohibition War. This is all now part of Keesler Air Force Base. The Coast Guard operated its NY4-1 V110 land plane from here and used the field in emergencies with its amphibians with water conditions restricted operation at the Air Station. Photo by Tony Rogusim. Below: The Biloxi Municipal Airport with several US Army and National Guard aircraft, during the 1939 National Guard summer encampment. The large twin engine aircraft is a Douglas B-23 "Dragon" bomber or its UC-67 cargo version. The silver single engine aircraft appears to be a Curtis A-12 "Shrike" attack aircraft. Photo by Tony Rogusim.
MORE AIRCRAFT ARRIVALS AND DEPARTURES In 1939, LT S. C. Linholm, Coast Guard Aviator #36, became the new commanding officer, and RD-4 V-127, the ALIOTH, was transferred to an overhaul facility in Hartford, Connecticut. A landplane, a Consolidated N4Y-1 #V-110, was then assigned to Biloxi, an Air Station with no runway and only provisions for seaplane operations, although maybe someone had heard of White's take-off! The N4Y-1 was an all-fabric biplane with a 32-foot wingspan, a single Lycoming R-690 engine, and had a range of 400 miles at 85 miles per hour with a two man crew. The Air Station operated this aircraft from the Biloxi Municipal Airport, which had been built by the WPA in 1937. The Municipal Airport is now part of Keesler AFB, as is the location of old Base 15.
Consolidated N4Y-1. USCG Photo. JF-2 V-141, brand new from the Grumman factory, piloted by LT Henthorn, arrived for duty as a replacement for JF-2 V-138, which had crashed near Mobile, Alabama, while on a search mission 27 July 1939.
During 1939, RD-4 V-127 returned from a complete overhaul, piloted by LT Henthorn with Aviation Machinist Mate J. Nash and aviation radioman A. Shimkus as crew members. A hydraulic system leak forced an emergency landing at Columbus, Georgia. Nash made the necessary repairs, and the flight continued to Biloxi.
Two of the Coast Guard's largest pre-war aircraft were also assigned to Biloxi for duty. These were PH-2 Hall Aluminum flying boats V-168 and V-170. These were twin engine biplanes, with Wright R-1820-F-51 engines. The all-fabric 74-foot lower wing sat atop the boat-like aluminum hull. This ungainly looking aircraft was much larger and more efficient than the RD-4, 00-1, or PJ-2, and was an excellent seaplane. The PH-2 had provisions for two pilots, Aviation Radioman, two flight mechanics, and had room for up to 20 survivors, including four stokes litter cases. Its range was 1,250 miles at 90 miles per hour, and new PH-2s cost $116,000 each. Commonly referred to as a "Hall Boat," it required special beaching gear for handling on the ground, and used special 12-gauge shotgun cartridges to start the engines.
A Hall Aluminum Company PH-2 Flying Boat. Rather ungainly looking, this was the largest and most successful of the pre-World War II Coast Guard aircraft. Referred to as a "Hallboat", the 73-foot fabric covered externally braced wings supported twin Wright R-1820 engines fitted with three-bladed propellers. With excellent open sea land and take-off capabilities, these aircraft rescued many, especially during the early days of the war. A sealplane, it required separate beaching gear to enable movement on land. Photo by USCG.
THE PARACHUTE LOFT In October 1939, when Hallboat PH-2 V-168 and crew arrived at Biloxi Air Station for duty, one crew member was a family friend of mine from St. Petersburg Air Station, where my father had been stationed in 1935-1936. He was Aviation Machinist Mate Douglas "Pete" Lorraine, and he was also a parachute rigger. He often made parachute jumps on Sunday afternoons for crowds at the Albert Withead Municipal Airport adjacent to the St. Pete Air Station that I still remember watching as a pre-teen aged lad - it was always quite a thrill.
Pete was responsible for the inspection, packing, maintenance, and care of the Air Station parachutes and other survival gear, such as life vests and life rafts. In 1942, the Coast Guard incorporated the rating of Parachute Rigger as a primary title rather than that of an additional duty. Pete eventually became one of the few Chief Parachute Riggers.
At Biloxi, the parachute loft was located across the top of the hangar, about twenty-five feet above the floor. One day in late 1944 while making one of his thousands of climbs up the vertical ladder, Pete lost his footing and fell more than 20 feet to the floor suffering compound fractures of both legs. Part of the wartime-built barracks was then converted to a parachute loft much closer to the floor, and Pete recovered and returned to duty, but he did not make anymore parachute jumps.
MERCY MISSIONS - 1939 & 1940 In November 1939, RD-4 V-137, piloted by LT Henthorn, with three aircrew members, completed a medical mercy mission to evacuate seaman G. Wizner from the S.S. OREGON, 100 miles south of the entrance to the Mississippi River. En route, V-127 was forced to make an emergency water landing in Chandeleur Sound due to engine trouble. The flight mechanic made the necessary repairs, and the mission continued. A successful water landing, transfer of patient and take off was made. Wizner was flown to Lake Pontchartrain and transferred to the Public Health Marine Hospital for an appendicitis operation.
US Coast Guard RD-4 V137, which rescued merchant seaman Wizner from the SS Oregon in November, 1939. USCG photo. On New Years Day 1940, Hall Boat PH-2 V-168 departed Biloxi at daylight on a mercy mission. It was flown by LT Henthorn with crewmembers Aviation Machinist Mate N. F. Crow, Aviation Radioman A. Shimkus, and Pharmacist Mate W. S. Coburn. Late the previous day, the oil tanker S.S. JOHN ADAMS en route to Port Arthur, Texas, had suffered an explosion in the engine room severely injuring engineer N. Marshall. The 125-foot cutter YEATON was dispatched from Gulfport, Mississippi, shortly after midnight to retrieve the injured engineer, and met with the S.S. ADAMS 70 miles southeast of the South Pass entrance to the Mississippi River, about 150 miles from Biloxi. The injured Marshall was transferred to the cutter YEATON, but his condition was deteriorating rapidly, and LT Henthorn and his crew were sent to assist. The decision was made to transfer the patient to the V-168, which landed in the moderate sea, and the life boat was used to effect his transfer to the aircraft.
Meanwhile, Hallboat V-170 piloted by E. E. Fahey, with four aircrew members and Public Health Doctor E.A. Trudeau, was launched from Biloxi to rendezvous with V-168 in the Mississippi River at the Head of Passes. Dr. Trudeau had the necessary equipment to effect an emergency blood transfusion in the aircraft en route to the New Orleans Hospital, and the plan was to transfer Dr. Trudeau to V-168 to be with the patient. However, a dense fog prevented landings at Head of Passes and on Lake Pontchartrain, so V-170 was directed to return to Biloxi Air Station. V-168 proceeded to Biloxi as well. The mercy mission ended about 4:00 in the afternoon with safe landings by both V-168 and V-170. Patient Marshall was transferred to the local Biloxi hospital where he eventually recovered from his serious injuries. On New Year's Day 1940, the Coast Guard pulled out all the stops, sending a 125-foot cutter and two of its largest aircraft to effect a very successful rescue mission.
January 1940. The main building at Biloxi Air Station. Completed in 1937, this building contained the Commander's office, administration offices, galley and mess hall, and living quarters for both officer and enlisted personnel assigned to the station. In the 1990s, the building housed the Biloxi Museum of the Seafood Industry. The small building to the right is the Coast Guard Radio Station. Photo by the New Orleans Item Tribune.
AIRCRAFT TRANSFERS AND RETIREMENTS
EARLY 1941 Early in 1941 the N4Y-1 V-110 was transferred to Elizabeth City, North Carolina, Air Station. RD-4 V-127 and JF-2 V-139 went temporarily to San Diego, while the 00-1 V-154 was decommissioned and sold. This left Biloxi with JF-2 V-137 and V-141, PH-2 V-168 (later exchanged for V-166), along with a new Grumman JRF-2 amphibian V-184. The latter was a twin engine, high wing all metal monoplane with a range of 475 miles at 140 miles per hour. It boasted two Pratt & Whitney R-985 engines, and the aircraft had an initial cost of $75,000. It was commonly referred to as a "Goose". A true amphibian, with the main landing gear hand cranked up and down and fitting flush into the hull, it could operate with equal ease from land or water.
U.S. Coast Guard Air Station, Biloxi, Mississippi; General Muster, 1941; Commander S. J. Lindholm, Commanding Officer. Pre-World War II station complement of seven officers and 56 enlisted men. This includes 12-15 apprentice seamen undergoing "boat" training. Until WWII began, the Coast Guard did not operate a central recruit training center. In the far back of the hangar pictured above is a twin-engined PH-2 Hall Aluminum Flying Boat, either V-166 or V-170. Next to it is the single engine JF-2 Grumman Amphibian V-143. A brand new twin-engined JFR-2 Grumman Amphibian V-184 pokes its nose into the sunshine.
WAR APPROACHES - 1941 As the war clouds gathered over much of Europe during 1941, the surface fleet of the Coast Guard appeared to be the most directly affected. Several of the 327-foot "secretary class" cutters were serving as part of the US Navy in European waters. All ten of the 250-foot "LAKE Class" cutters were transferred to Great Britain, and their Coast Guard crews were used to man several Navy Transports (AP) and Assault Transports (APA). One notable AP was the USS WAKEFIELD AP21 (ex-S.S. MANHATTAN). This vessel transported British troops to Singapore. On 8 Dec 1941, while evacuating civilians, it was bombed and damaged by Japanese forces, killing several Coast Guardsmen. Many of the 240-foot "TAMPA Class" and 165-foot "A Class" cutters were performing escort, weather patrol and surveys in the North Atlantic Ocean, and in Greenland waters. In November 1941, it became apparent that war was imminent, and all Coast Guard activities were transferred from the Treasury Department to the U.S. Navy.
Coast Guard aviation became more active, with stepped up aerial patrols over major US seaports and shipping lanes. While armament was increased for most of the surface fleet, aviation activities continued with unarmed aircraft.
When the U.S. entered the war in December 1941, and throughout 1942, German submarines were having a field day along the U.S. East Coast, sinking many ships. They also moved into the Gulf of Mexico, concentrating on the shipping ports of Tampa, Mobile, the Mississippi Delta, Port Arthur and Houston. They scored heavily against ships steaming independently, since initially there were no efforts to form convoys or to give merchant ships the protection of warships in American waters. In addition, there were very few aircraft equipped to hunt and sink submarines, and effective tactics still had to be devised. In those early days, tactics were often, for both warships and aircraft, "If you see an enemy submarine, try to sink it somehow."
The Germans were winning, and shipping had to have more aerial coverage. While developing the convoy system, along with more effective anti-submarine tactics, everyone made do with what they had at hand. In December 1941, the Coast Guard began anti-submarine patrols from Biloxi with the RD-4 V-127, JF-2 V-143, JRF-2 V-184 and the two Hallboats, V-166 and V-170. None were designed to be equipped with armament or depth bombs, and several jury-rigged systems were utilized until more sophisticated systems were developed and installed. The aiming of depth charges relied on the same seaman's eye used to dropping message blocks to the shrimping fleet.
The "Gulf Sea Frontier" was designated in 1942, and areas of responsibilities were assigned to each service. Coast guard aviation covered the area from Pensacola, Florida, to Galveston, Texas, while the US Navy covered the rest of the Gulf Coast. Commander S. J. Linholm remained as Commanding Officer, Biloxi Air Station.
COMBAT RESCUES - 1942 On May 14, 1942, the unarmed Hallboat V-170 with a six-man aircrew located the torpedoed and sinking tanker S.S. DAVID MCKELVEY 50 miles south of the Mississippi Delta. The Hallboat crew searched for signs of the U-Boat or survivors, and 25 survivors were found swimming in the oil-covered water. The aircrew contacted another tanker, the S.S. NORSOL, and directed it to the scene. While the NORSOL picked up the survivors, the Hallboat crew continued the search for the U-Boat.
Two days later, on May 16, the same Hallboat, with a different aircrew, located the tanker S.S. WILLIAM C. MCTARNAHAN, which had been torpedoed in the same general location. Once again, the crew of V-170 ensured the rescue of 28 survivors by directing several commercial fishing vessels to the tanker, while keeping up the search for the U-Boat.
1942 - An Aviation Machinist Mate works on the R-760 engine on the float-mounted N3N-3 trainer at Biloxi Air Station. The Coast Guard received four of these Naval Aircraft Factory N3N-3 trainers in a swap for four JF-2 Grumman Amphibians in 1941. They were initially used to prepare potential Coast Guard pilots for official flight training by the US Navy. While V-170 continued its patrol and rescue duties at the MCTARNAHAN, the six-man aircrew on Hallboat V-166 located 19 survivors from the torpedoed freighter S.S. HEREDIA south of Atchafalaya Bay. The crew of V-166 directed a commercial fishing vessel to the area as they continued searching for the U-Boat. The survivors, including a very young boy and girl, were safely rescued and taken to Morgan City, Louisiana.
Aircraft from Biloxi continued anti-submarine patrols for the next several days while the MCTARNAHAN, which had not sunk, was towed to New Orleans, where it was repaired and returned to service.
In July 1942, while on an anti-submarine patrol in the unarmed PH-2 V-166 one hundred miles offshore, pilot LT D. O. Reed spotted a large oil slick. This marked the spot where a German U-boat had torpedoed and sunk a Norwegian oil tanker, which had been traveling unescorted. Lieutenant Reed, his co-pilot, Ensign V. C. Tully, and their four-man aircrew began a search for survivors. Soon two badly damaged lifeboats and several survivors were spotted in the rough, oil covered sea.
The aircrew searched the area for signs of a lurking U-boat, and finding none, they made preparations for an open sea landing, always a hazardous operation. The Hallboat landed in the rough sea and taxied close to the damaged life boats. The aircrew removed one sailor with an apparent broken back. Several others suffering from severe burns were taken aboard as the life boat broke apart and sank. The crew taxied the aircraft through the thick oil rescuing a total of twenty-one Norwegian sailors from the sea.
The PH-2 was now grossly overloaded. Placing the oil soaked survivors as far forward as possible, pilots Reed and Tully applied full power to the engines and succeeded in getting the aircraft airborne after several bone-jarring bounces during the take off run. The survivors were flown to New Orleans where the PH-2 landed on Lake Pontchartrain adjacent to the Naval Air Station. The survivors were transferred to small lifeboats for the trip to shore and on to medical care in New Orleans. V-166 then took off for the return flight to Biloxi Air Station and a major clean up inside and outside before its next mission.
On 30 July 1942 the S.S. ROBERT E. LEE, traveling with the USS PC 566 about 200 miles out in the Gulf, was torpedoed and started sinking fast. Once again, Hallboat V-166, this time with pilot LT J. W. MacIntosh, Jr. was dispatched. The Hallboat arrived about 1820 hours and found USS PC 566 trying to rescue survivors. Pilot MacIntosh flew overhead, directing the PC to life boats, rafts, and survivors struggling in the oil covered waters. Soon more than 300 oil soaked survivors crowded aboard the PC and six lifeboats from the S.S. ROBERT E. LEE.
About an hour later three Army land planes, plus two Navy PBY seaplanes arrived at the scene to search for the submarine and assist in the rescue. USS PC 566 requested assistance from the amphibians to take several badly injured seamen to shore for immediate medical help. MacIntosh landed V-166, and one of the Navy PBYs landed as well. The men were transferred to the PBY and flown to Pensacola NAS. V-166 remained on the water for nearly an hour while they determined whether any other survivors required evacuation. Determining that there were none, USS PC 566 departed for New Orleans. MacIntosh and V-166 took off and provided air coverage for several additional rescue vessels that had arrived on scene. Finally, running short of fuel, with night falling, MacIntosh departed after more than three hours aiding in the rescue of the survivors. A safe return and a very hazardous night landing on water at Biloxi Air Station ended a very rewarding mission.
USCG Air Station Biloxi's Hallboat V166, the aircraft that rescued 21 Norwegian sailors after their ship had been torpedoed by a German U-Boat in July, 1942. Shown in pre-war paint scheme. USCG photo.
J4F-1 DETATCHMENT, HOUMA, LOUISIANA;
THE SINKING OF U-166 In July 1942, operating as part of the Southern Naval Coastal Frontier, Biloxi Air Station established a detachment of five brand new Grumman J4F-1 amphibians at Houma, Louisiana. This location provided better anti-submarine patrols over the Mississippi River delta and western Gulf of Mexico.
The J4F-1, which was Coast Guard owned, cost about $75,000 each. Equipped with twin Ranger L-440 engines, the J4F-1 was a high wing all metal monoplane with a range of 750 miles at 135 miles per hour. It was modified to carry a crew of two and a single 325 pound depth bomb under the inboard right wing. As these were USCG owned aircraft, they so were designated with the standard V and three numbers (Navy aircraft operated by the Coast Guard had a five-digit Bureau of Aeronautics number). The five J4F-1s were V-202, V-211, V-212, V-214, and V-217. Painted in wartime gray, these aircraft operated from an earthen grass landing strip shared with a Texaco Oil Company civilian version of the Grumman JRF.
There were no quarters or messing facilities at Houma, so personnel lived on the economy in town. The initial personnel of this detachment were officer pilots LCDR V. Johnson and LT Schul, Chief Aviation Pilots H. White and Thompson, Aviation Pilot First Class Smith, Aviation Radiomen Lynn, Goodwin, Finklea, Bailey and G. Boggs; and Aviation Machinist Mates Danford, White and Spraker. This detachment flew five four-hour anti-submarine patrol missions each day, seven days a week, for two years (1942-1944) until the Navy completed a Lighter Than Air airfield at Houma, and began patrols using K-series Blimps. An interesting note about the Houma Detachment is that five of the thirteen men assigned to Houma operations married girls from Houma.