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United States Coast Guard
North Atlantic Ocean Weather Patrol

By Lieutenant Colonel Ted Allan Morris, United States Air Force (Retired)

Article from "The Quarterdeck Log" on the Bibb & Bermuda Sky Queen   |  Photographs by Michael Dolman, one of the Survivors

The crew of U.S. Coast Guard PBY-5A 48314, July 23, 1947
This aircraft and crew made a 1,300 mile round trip and open sea landing and take off to bring
a critically ill sailor from the USCGC BIBB to St. Johns, Newfoundland.
Left to Right:  C. Roll, AP 1/C; W. Corbett, ARM 1/C; Lt. W. Morrill; J. Pallam,
AMM 1/C; J.C. Entrekin, AMM 2/C; K. Franke, CAP.

 Ocean Weather Patrol, one of the most demanding of the many diversified missions performed by the Coast Guard, began in early 1940 and continued for 37 years.  Ocean Weather Patrol was a program in which Coast Guard cutters were assigned to a 10-mile square “Station” on the high seas, and while there, provided world-wide weather forecasting information, collected oceanographic date, and provided emergency navigation assistance and rescue aid for ships and aircraft in distress.

 Patrols were performed in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, around the clock, every day of the year, including throughout World War II.  At its best, duty on patrol was disagreeable and at its worst, it was extremely hazardous.  In September, 1942, while on a North Atlantic station, the 250-foot USCGC MUSKEGET, which was converted for war time use from the 1922-built merchant vessel CORNISH, was torpedoed by U-755 and lost with all 121 men.

 At the end of World War II, eight permanent Ocean Stations were established in the Atlantic, each designated with a phonetic alphabet letter:  ABLE, BAKER, CHARLIE, DOG, EASY, FOX, GEORGE, and HOW stations.  In the North Atlantic, the Ocean Weather Patrol mission was conducted under the operational control of the Coast Guard’s North Atlantic Ocean Patrol (NORLANOPAT), which also included a Coast Guard Air Detachment and the LORAN Stations in Greenland and along the Atlantic Seaboard of the U.S. and Canada.  In the Pacific, six Stations were established:  OBOE, NAN, NOVEMBER, SUGAR, UNCLE and VICTOR.  Later, the station names were changed to agree with the modern phonetic alphabet.  The ships used on these Ocean Stations were the 255-foot OWASCO class, the 311-foot CASCO class (ex-US Navy small seaplane tenders), the 327-foot TREASURY class, and, during the Korean War, the 306-foot EDSALL class (Destroyer Escorts).  On the Atlantic stations, most ships operated from either Boston or New York, and would spend 29 to 31 days on station, making weather and sea condition observations every six hours and transmitting the information to one and all.

 One of these ships was the 327-foot TREASURY class cutter, USCGC BIBB, WPG-31.  Her wartime service included convoy escort duty in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, where she made numerous attacks on enemy submarines and rescued hundreds of allied seamen from their torpedoed ships.  Following conversion to an Amphibious Force Communications (AGC) Flagship, the BIBB participated in the invasion of Okinawa in 1945.

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter BIBB, WPG-31.
Commissioned 1937, 327 feet in length, 2200 tons displacement.
During WWII, BIBB served as a convoy escort in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean, made numerous attacks on U-Boats, and saved over 350 allied seamen from torpedoed ships.  As an Amphibious Communication Flagship (AGC), she participated in the Okinawa Invasion.  Following WWII, employed primarily on North Atlantic Ocean Weather Stations.  Decommissioned in 1985 after nearly 50 years of arduous service.

 On July 23, 1947, the BIBB and her 150-man crew were assigned to Ocean Station Charlie, and they needed help!  A crew member, Seaman Joseph Johns of Helena, Georgia, was seriously ill with a ruptured appendix.  The ship did not carry a Doctor, and the Pharmacist Mates on board believed Johns’ condition was beyond their capabilities to help.  The Captain considered steaming for Argentia, Newfoundland, but the situation dictated that Johns needed to be airlifted immediately to medical help.

 Fortunately, another resource available to NORLANOPAT was the Coast Guard Air Detachment based at the US Naval Air Station at Argentia.  The detachment had two PB1G aircraft, the Coast Guard version of the four-engined B-17.  These aircraft were used for Search and Rescue, and carried a 32-foot life boat slung under the belly of the airplane, as well as other rescue and survival equipment, all of which could be dropped to people in distress at sea.  However, the PB1G could not land or take off from the water, and their primary use was flying missions of the International Ice Patrol.  This mission consisted of spotting and tracking the ice bergs that break away from the Greenland Ice Cap and drift south into the Atlantic shipping lanes.  Reports on the travels of these ice bergs were transmitted to one and all to help prevent a disaster like that of the TITANIC in 1912.

 Fortunately for Seaman Johns, the Air Detachment also had two long-range PBY-5A twin-engined amphibious aircraft capable of landing and taking off from the ocean.  One of these aircraft, PBY-5A Bureau Number 48314, was made ready for the mission.  The pilots and aircrew for this mercy mission were Patrol Plane Commander (PPC) LT. William Morrill, First Pilot (PP1P) Aviation Pilot First Class Clayton. Roll, PP2P and navigator, Chief Aviation Pilot Kenneth Franke, and crew members Aviation Machinist Mate First Class (AMM 1/C) John Pallam, AMM 2/C J. C. Entrekin, and Aviation Radio Man First Class (ARM 1/C) Walter Corbett.

 One essential preparation for this mission was the installation of Jet Assisted Take Off (JATO) bottles.  Four 14 KS 1000 JATO bottles, two on each side, were mounted on external racks located on the aircraft hull just forward of the gun blisters.  Each JATO bottle, which weren’t “jets” at all, but actually small solid-fueled rocket motors, would produce 1000 pounds of trust for 14 seconds when fired.  This extra thrust was extremely helpful in accelerating the aircraft at un-stick speed during takeoffs in rough seas with a heavy load.  However, the bottles were practically impossible to mount while the aircraft was on the water, and so they were loaded before takeoff from Argentia.  Once these and all other preparation were complete, the crew took the runway for takeoff in the marginal weather, including minimum visibility, for the 600-mile over water flight to Ocean Station Charlie.

 Upon reaching the BIBB, the crew of 314 prepared the PBY for a water landing, while studying the wind and sea conditions carefully.  Open-sea landings were always a very hazardous operation, and the pilots flew back and forth while the ship made several wide turns to help dampen out the surface of the turbulent ocean.  Meanwhile, the electrically operated wing floats, which were retracted in flight to form the wing tips to the “P-Boat,” were lowered, and the main wheels checked locked in the retracted position in the sides of the hull.  The nose wheel was checked retracted and the nose wheel doors closed and locked shut.  The auxiliary power plant (APU) beneath the flight mechanic’s position was started and its output checked, to ensure it was available for the electrical power needed to keep the aircraft batteries charged and provide power for radio communications with the BIBB while the engines were shut down after landing.  The APU also powered the aircraft’s built-in bilge pump, which siphoned any sea water that might enter the hull from leaks caused by landing, or open hatches, and provided the needed electricity for restarting the engines.

 After all preparations were made, and the wind and sea conditions evaluated, the pilots flew the P-Boat ever nearer the ocean surface, and finally made a power-on full stall landing.  They applied engine power and controls to keep 314 on the water while preventing an uncontrollable bounce back into the air.  After coming to rest, the crew members checked the hull for popped rivets or other damage, and placed the bilge pump hose on the deck in the blister compartment, where the sea would most likely come aboard when the blister was opened to receive the patient.

PBY-5A 48314 makes a power-on, full stall, open sea landing in the North Atlantic near Weather Station CHARLIE.
After the initial bounce (shown here) she'll stay on the water!

 The crew of the BIBB placed Seaman Johns in a wire Stokes Litter, and transferred him from the ship onto the cutter’s 26-foot pulling boat.  The boat, manned by six oarsmen and a coxswain to man the steering oar, rowed for the PBY, with Johns and attending medical personnel aboard.  They approached 314, which was bobbing up and down on the ocean swell with the engines shut down to prevent a propeller from striking the boat or a crew member.  The coxswain edged the pulling boat in close, while being careful to avoid colliding with the plane’s hull, wings or tail plane.  The blister hatch was opened, and the patient was quickly transferred into the aircraft and placed in the bunk compartment, just forward of the blister compartment.  The plane’s crew secured Seaman Johns carefully, so he would not bounce around and suffer injury during the potentially rough open-sea takeoff.

 Aircrew member J.C. Entrekin then climbed out the blister onto 314’s hull to make the final electrical check of the JATO firing circuit and to install the black powder igniter into each bottle.  However, instead of four bottles, Entrekin found only three.  One of the port side bottles had apparently been jarred loose during the open-sea landing.

 The pilots considered the situation, and decided that an extra 1,000 pounds of thrust on the starboard side would not be uncontrollable, since the bottles were mounted near the center line of the plane, and especially considering they needed all the JATO thrust they could get to make the take-off.  They had Entrekin install the igniters and connect the electrical circuits for all three remaining JATO bottles.  That completed, the crew member crawled back into the aircraft, soaking wet from the cold ocean spray.

The 26 foot pulling boat departs the BIBB with seriously ill crewmember Seaman Joseph Johns
for the transfer to PBY 48314.

 The pulling boat backed away, but held a position to stand by in case of an emergency during the PBY’s takeoff.  The two engines were restarted and everything prepared for takeoff.  Entrekin stayed with the patient in the bunk compartment to assure Johns that all would be well.  He was also there to make every effort to get the patient out of the aircraft if things did not go as planned.

The pulling boat from the BIBB approaches 48314.

 The BIBB had continued her wide sweeping turns to dampen the sea surface, and the crew turned the PBY into the best conditions for takeoff in the rough seas.  Lieutenant Morrill handled the controls, while first pilot Roll tried to bend the throttles forward to get all the power available from the engines.  At the proper moment, LT. Morrill fired the JATO, and first pilot Roll needed every inch of his six foot four frame to stand on the right rudder to keep 314 on a straight takeoff run.  After several bone-jarring bounces, the PBY stayed airborne and headed back to Argentia.  With a cruise speed of about 100 miles an hour, it took six hours for the return flight.  As they neared their destination, the crew learned that the weather at the Naval Air Station had deteriorated severely, and they diverted to Torbay Airport at St. Johns, Newfoundland.

Seaman Joseph Johns, suffering from a ruptured appendix, is secured in PBY-5A 48314
for an open sea, JATO assisted take off and a 650 mile flight to medical care in Newfoundland.

 After landing, Seaman Johns was transferred to an ambulance and rushed to the U.S. Army hospital at Fort Pepprill for the emergency appendectomy.  His appendix had indeed ruptured, and had it not been for PBY 48314 and its crew successfully completing the 1,200 mile, 12 hour mercy mission in terrible weather conditions, he would have died before the BIBB could reach port.

 The next day, 48314 and crew made the flight back to NAS Argentia.  The weather was still bad, and they made several Ground Controlled Approaches (GCAs) before finally landing in zero-zero conditions.  After clearing the runway, the tower radioed the crew and informed them they could hear them taxiing past, but couldn’t see them, and as there was no other traffic, they were cleared to taxi to parking, if the “Follow-Me” truck could find it!

 Rescue of the Boeing 314 Clipper
October 13-14, 1947

 Less than three months later, on the night of October 13-14, 1947, the BIBB and an aircraft from NORLANOPAT Air Detachment Argentia teamed up again to make a dramatic open sea rescue.  One of the famous Boeing 314 Clippers, The Bermuda Sky Queen, en route from England to the U.S. on a charter flight, encountered 100 mile-an-hour headwinds after passing the “point of no return.”  Unable to make the coast, and unable to get back to Europe, the pilot decided to ditch in the stormy North Atlantic at Ocean Station CHARLIE, where the BIBB was once again on Ocean Weather Patrol.

 A PBY-5A, 48335, was launched from Argentia with additional life rafts and survival equipment to provide air search and rescue assistance if The Bermuda Sky Queen proved unable to reach or find the BIBB.

 At CHARLIE, the BIBB turned on all possible lights, and maintained radio contact with the clipper until the pilot made visual contact with the ship.  Once again, the BIBB made wide sweeping turns in an attempt to dampen out the extremely high seas, and at dawn’s first light, the Sky Queen’s pilot landed his fuel-starved clipper along side the BIBB.  While maneuvering toward the BIBB, he water-taxied into the ship, smashing the nose of the Boeing against the ship’s hull.  The clipper stayed afloat, and the passengers and crew remained on board the aircraft, but after a couple of hours the heavy seas and high winds forced the cutter and clipper apart.  The BIBB then launched all its small boats to the rescue.  With skillful seamanship, the boats’ crews rescued all 62 passengers and seven crew members of the ill-fated Boeing Clipper.

 The P-Boat overhead stood by throughout the rescue, and when no longer needed, turned into the same headwinds that claimed the Sky Queen, and completed the flight with nothing left but fumes in the fuel tanks.  One engine starved out during taxi-in.

 The Sky Queen, with no Aviation Gas available for 600 miles, her nose battered, and adrift in worsening seas, was declared a hazard to navigation, and sunk with 40mm cannon fire from the BIBB.  It took a lot of cannon fire - she was one tough old bird...

On February 23, 2002, I was thrilled to get the following message from a survivor of the Bermuda Sky Queen!  What a wonderfully small world the internet has created...

"Dear Mr Morris:

At the age of 3 1/2, I was a passenger on the Bermuda Sky Queen when it came down in mid-Atlantic and was rescued by you and your shipmates.

I was accompanying my father, A. Edgar Ritchie, and mother, Gwen Ritchie, on our return from Europe where my father had been attending meetings in Geneva, Switzerland. Incidentally, the meetings resulted in what became the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), the organization that ultimately presided over the incredible expansion of international trade from 1947 to 1992. As my parents later told the story, after Mum and I had endured a rough trip across on a cargo ship, they jumped at the opportunity to fly back on the Sky Queen. I believe the regular airlines were tied up as de-mobilization was still underway.

I have the FAA report on the trip. It is quite incredible. There is no way that flight plan could in fact have been achieved. Fortunately for us, the pilot (Martin) was as talented at flying the plane as his navigator was incompetent in planning the trip.

As a youngster, my memories are naturally selective and blurred. I do recall the alarm when it became obvious we had turned around and later when we were preparing to ditch. We were given some orange juice, which I later blamed for making me seasick once we were down.

I also remember the terrible crunch when your ship crushed the nose of our plane. We could see daylight through the nose and took on some water in the high waves.

Most of the passengers were calm but one woman, in particular, was completely hysterical and had to be subdued, mainly by pouring gin down her throat, an exercise I naturally found fascinating.

I will never forget the jump when our turn finally came. My Mother had gone ahead with someone else's baby. I followed on a later trip with my Dad. The waves seemed to be black as ink, as I recall, and the raft looked tiny. Once aboard the raft, I do recall looking back up at the seaplane and complaining that my Teddy Bear had been left behind. I am told that I passed out from the cold and wet during the transfer so I do not recall the final stages. My father always told the story of the courage of the seamen manning the boats and those who hung from the netting down the side of the ship to help the survivors aboard. I am told that I was tossed by a sailor in the boat and caught by another hanging on the net who carried me topside.

I should tell you that my parents were filled with admiration and gratitude for the men of the Bibb. They had behaved with great skill and incredible courage under very difficult circumstances.

Once aboard, it did not take me long to recover. Indeed, I recall later that night being sternly admonished by one sailor that bad little boys were stuffed down a manhole which he proceeded to open. That kept me quiet for a bit. When we finally came into the harbour at Boston, I vividly remember the fireboats with their plumes of water and the noise of the flypast as the Bibb steamed in with a broom at its mast.

You may be interested in knowing how things turned out for three of the passengers you rescued. My father, Edgar Ritchie, became Canada's highest ranking diplomat. He served as Canada's ambassador to Washington during the Johnson/Nixon years, returning to head up our department of foreign affairs (with the bureaucratic title of Undersecretary of State for External Affairs). He suffered a bad stroke in 1974 but went on to serve as Canada's ambassador to Ireland before taking his retirement. He died in January 2002 of another stroke. At his funeral, which was attended by over 400 people, the story of the rescue by the Bibb was retold by one of his old friends.

My mother, Gwen, is alive and living in Ottawa. She worked with my father in their various diplomatic postings. She also became an accomplished painter, both oils and watercolours. Now in her 80s, she is still active although her health is deteriorating. She and Dad were able to enjoy 4 children, 8 grandchildren and (so far) two great grandchildren. It is striking to realize that all but three owe their lives directly to the crew of the Bibb.

As for the youngster, Gordon, I also (to my surprise) enjoyed a career in the Canadian public service. I headed up our Department of Industry and later negotiated the Canada-USA free trade agreement as Canada's ambassador for trade negotiations. It was a great honour and pleasure to meet President Reagan and get to know Secretary Baker during these events. Now retired from government, I am chairman of one company, CEO of another, and sit on a number of corporate boards as well as chairing the board of our Ottawa heart institute.

With warmest regards,
Gordon Ritchie"


Here's another contact! 

Can you help Mr. Proudfoot find the information he seeks?

Received December 7, 2012:

Dear Mr. Morris,
I was doing some research on the Rescue of the BIBB of 69 passengers and crew from The Bermuda Sky Queen back in 1947, and came across your website.  My wife (16 years old at the time) was a passenger on the plane.  She have very vivid memories of the rescue.
     I have been trying to get a copy of the Captain's Assistance Report (Capt. Paul B. Cronk).  Also, an article was apparently published in The Bulletin in November 1947 "Bibb Rescues Sixty Nine". 
     Any help you can provide to track down this report and the article would be very much appreciated.  I have written the Coast Guard a few times, but must be going to the wrong place ... no replies.

Thanks for your attention,
Joey Proudfoot <joeyp228@bellsouth.net>


 The ships, aircraft, and even the chart coordinates for the Ocean Stations are now gone.

 The last Ocean Weather Station Patrol was performed in late 1977, when improvements in satellite weather reading, communications, and long-range radio navigational aids made a ship and 150 men sailing for a month inside a 10-mile box “uneconomical.”

 Both PBYs, 48314 and 48335, were retired in the late 1950s, and sold.

 The USCGC BIBB, continued in Coast Guard service, and among her other accomplishments, seized four ships and more than 113 tons of illegal drugs in the early 1980’s.  After nearly 50 years of arduous service in war and peace, she was decommissioned in September, 1985.   She was selected to become part of the artificial reef system in Florida and in November 1987, was sunk off Key Largo.  Her sister-ships in the TREASURY Class are all now either sunken targets, artificial reefs, “recycled materials,” or tied up along side as tourist attractions.

 Joseph Johns and at least 69 others, including 3 & 1/2 year old Gordon Ritchie and his parents, and Michael Dolman, lived to leave the deadly North Atlantic, thanks to the men and machines at Ocean Station Charlie.

 The crew members of the BIBB and the P-Boats are now “senior” veterans, and have only their memories to remind them of those times.

Copyright by Ted A. Morris, 2000