History of the 4th ERS

A Brief History :



This publication is a condensation of the extensive work, writing, assembling of official military orders, photographs and the many other endeavors by the Squadron Historian, Wilfred Emond. He has been ably assisted by many former members of the Squadron, particularly Charles (Doc) Roser and J. Clifford Shaw.

In addition, many members of the Squadron have sent Emond their own personal anecdotes, recollections, memorabilia, photographs, etc. for the purpose of enhancing the compilation of a comprehensive history of the 4th Emergency Rescue Squadron from the time of its inception in early 1944 through the completion of World War II and on beyond until it was finally disbanded sometime in the late 40s or early 1950s. .

Those who attended the 5th annual reunion of the 4th Emergency Rescue Squadron Association in San Antonio, Texas, in October 1990, have reviewed the extensive work of Emond. It is hoped that the historical project, authorized by members of the 4th Emergency Rescue Association at earlier reunions, will be completed and published for the benefit of all who served their country as members of the squadron in both times of war and peace.




Until the summer of 1943, the scale of AAF combat operations had been sufficiently limited to permit a continuing reliance upon the assistance of other services for providing air-sea rescue operations. It was expected at that time, however, that combat operations by the spring of 1944 would increase to where it would require the various air forces to provide their own air-sea rescue operations. The problem of achieving some better coordination of effort between the Navy and the Army Air Force and a closer liaison with interested Allied services had been under discussion by agencies of the Joint Chiefs of Staff since the spring of 1943.

In August 1943, the AAF drafted plans to make itself as self-sufficient as possible by organizing seven air-sea rescue squadrons equipped with PBYs for rescue operations. Actually, only two were to become operational in the southwest Pacific. (See Army Air Forces in World War II, Vol. VII, Services Around the World, Chapter 15.) The 4th Emergency Rescue Squadron was activated on April 22, 1944, Hdq. AAF Eastern Flying Training Command, Maxwell Field, Alabama. The unit was to consist of twelve OA-10A aircraft, more commonly known as the US Navy PBY-5A, “Catalina.”

The unit was reorganized on February 25, 1945 to include eight B-17G aircraft, each carrying a 28 foot “droppable” boat. (General Order No. 28, Hdq. AAF, Pacific Ocean Areas, APO 953.) Six OA-10A and one B-17G aircraft were lost or destroyed from January 1945 through the end of the war. At the war’s end the unit was equipped with fourteen OA-10A and twenty B-17G aircraft. During the last months of the war, the unit operated from Johnston Island, Kwajalein Atoll, Peleliu Island, Saipan Island and Iwo Jima.

The primary mission of the unit was in direct support of bomber operatios for the B-29 forces operating out of the Mariana Islands. The Squadron was called upon, however to support fighter and bomber operations on islands such as Yap, Koror, Babelthaup, Truk, etc. The unit provided air-sea rescue support during the ground invasion of Iwo Jima. Battle participation Credits (Battle Stars) were awarded personnel of the Squadron for Ground Combat (Iwo Jima,) Air Offensive Japan Campaign, Western Pacific Campaign, and the Eastern Mandates Campaign.

A total of 862 combat missions were flown totaling over 6000 hours of flying time for the Squadron. 89 men were rescued by either open sea landing operations or by dropped airborne boats. The Squadron assisted in the rescue of another 487 men for a total of 576 men rescued.

Individuals assigned to the Squadron were awarded the Navy Cross (2), Silver Star (3), Distinguished Flying Cross (7), Bronze Star Medal (5), and numerous Air Medals. Historical records are not complete. There are indications that several additional awards for gallantry were made for the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Bronze Star to individual members of the Squadron.

The Squadron was officially assigned to the 20th Air Force on October 1, 1945. Prior to that time the Squadron was often reassigned from one organization to another. For example, official records reveal that the unit was reassigned as many as seven times from May 15, 1945 to the date of October 1 when it officially became a part of the 20th Air Force.

This constant reassignment of command greatly complicated the effective utilization of this important Air Sea Rescue organization at a crucial time in the final days of World War II. The unit had no real high level leadership for administrative, supply or logistical support. Operational control was actually never clearly established. Most of the rescue missions flown were directed or requested by the US Navy rescue service, which often slowed the Squadron’s flight mission response time. Despite the constant change of command and lack of operational control, the unit performed with distinction and is recognized in many official publications regarding World War II operational units.

The official history of the Army Air Force in World War II, Vol. VII, page 500 summarizes some of the notable achievements of the unit, “The Fourth Emergency Rescue Squadron performed valiantly during the few months of combat that remained after its deployment. Its planes and the B-29s of the XXI Bomber Command contributed significantly to the development of a technique of “Escort and Orbit” that had grown out of a long experiment in the Pacific. By providing an escort of rescue planes and by stationing others at stated intervals on the homeward route, the escort and orbits aided greatly to the total effectiveness of rescue efforts...”




17 April, 1944: General Orders issued by HQ. AAF, Eastern Flying Training Command, Maxwell Field, Alabama, directed the 4th ERS to be organized. The unit strength was authorized to be 59 officers and 205 enlisted men.

29 December, 1944: Special Order #48 issued by Air Transport Command, Pacific Division, West Coast Wing, 1506 AAF Base Unit, McClellan Field, California, directed the Flight Echelon to move from McClellan Field to Mather Field, California, for temporary duty pending further dispatch to overseas destination. This TDY was to strengthen the hulls of the OA-10A aircraft.

12 January, 1945: The first four OA-10A aircraft arrive at Wheeler Filed, Oahu, T.H.

19 January, 1945: The Ground Echelon leaves Oahu for Saipan.

24 January, 1945: One OA-10A aircraft along with its entire crew was lost on its flight from Mather Field to John Rodgers Field, Honolulu, T.H. Radio contact was maintained with the aircraft at hourly intervals after take-off at 1800 hrs on January 23 until 2400 hrs the same day. On 25, January, a search was begun from Treasure Island, California. After six days of searching, it was abandoned with nothing reported. No further information on this flight was ever received.

6 February, 1945: Ground Echelon arrives at Kobler Field, Saipan.

27 February, 1945: General Order #28 issued by HQ. AAF, Pacific Ocean Areas (Admin) APO 953, by order of Lt. Gen. Harmon, directing the reorganization of the 4th ERS to include the officers, enlisted men and equipment to support the addition of eight B-17G aircraft, each equipped with a 28 foot droppable lifeboat for air-sea rescue duties.

7 March, 1945: Special Order #66, issued by HQ AAF, Pacific Ocean Area, directed the Flight Echelon with aircraft, to move from Wheeler Field, T.H. to Kobler Field, Saipan. The delay at Wheeler Field was to have the Canadian radios replaced with U.S. made equipment and to paint the aircraft in camouflage colors.

10 March, 1945: The 4th ERS participates in its first mission. It was to stop at Johnston Island while en route to Saipan and ironically, aid in the search for the same Lt. Gen. Harmon, mentioned previously, whose B-24 aircraft went down between Kwajalein and Johnston Island. All ten operational OA-10A aircraft searched for ten days while experiencing rough seas and poor weather. The aircraft had to fly at low altitudes through numerous rain showers and low clouds, making the search of a complete area very difficult. Unfortunately, no signs of survivors or wreckage were reported.

31 March, 1945: All operational aircraft are in place at Kobler Field, Saipan.

#44-33908 - Damaged on take-off in open sea and scuttled after rescuing several members of a B-29 crew near Iwo Jima. One air crewman (pilot) lost.

#44-33904 – Damaged on landing and sunk attempting an open sea rescue off the coast of Japan. No loss of air crewman.

#44-33905 – Ditched and scuttled after funning out of fuel after completing a successful rescue in the Sea of Japan.

#44-34080 – Shot down in Tokyo Bay while attempting a rescue on 13 August. All seven air crewman lost.

#44-33882 – Reported missing off the coast of Japan. Cause of loss unknown. Ten air crewman lost.

One ground crewman was killed while inflating a tire on a P-47. Tire exploded and wheel rim blew off causing a fatal injury.

When the war ended, the squadron was equipped with fourteen OA-10A and twelve B-17G aircraft. Eight more B-17G aircraft arrived for assignment in September 1945.