As WWII approached, the Coast Guard had operational air stations at Biloxi, Brooklyn, Elisabeth City, Miami, Port Angeles, St. Petersburg, Salem, San Diego, San Francisco, and Traverse City. The inventory of aircraft included the Grumman J4F1 Widgeon (8), Grumman JRF2 Goose (7), Douglas RD4 Dolphin (7), Grumman JF2 Duck (6), Hall PH2 (5), Hall PH3 (5), Naval Aircraft Facility N3N3 (4), Grumman JRF3 Goose (3), Curtiss SOC4 Seagull (3), and one each of the Lockheed XR301 Electra, Lockheed R501 Lodestar, and Consolidated PBY5 Catalina.
Early missions included Greenland Patrol and Neutrality Act enforcement. When the U.S. entered the war, Coast Guard aviation exploded with rapid growth. The missions of Coast Guard aviation paralleled the missions of the Coast Guard. Coast Guard aircraft escorted convoys along the coat, assisted escort vessels in locating u-boats, monitored all merchant vessels arriving in U.S. waters in support of the port security mission, and performed search and rescue missions.
Off the U.S. coast, on 27 January 1942, LCDR R.L. Burke was flying a Duck out of E City when he heard the tanker Frances E. Powell was under attack. Burke arrived on scene after tanker had been torpedoed. His bombs missed the diving U-boat, but Burke dropped a grappling hook attached to two life jackets. The hook caught on the U-boat and marked her position for arriving destroyers. On 28 June 1942, a Coast Guard Duck saw the tanker William A. Rockefeller torpedoed off Cape Hatteras. The aircrew attacked the U-boat, which escaped. The aircrew then flew to CG-470, a 78-foot patrol boat about five miles distant. The Duck led CG-470 to the scene. CG-470 laid a depth charge pattern with negative results. She then picked up the crew of the sunken tanker. With the Duck guiding her, all 50 of the tanker’s crew were saved. On 1 August 1942, a Coast Guard J4F piloted by Chief Aviation Pilot Henry White and crewed by RM1 George Boggs was credited with sinking U-166 with a single well-placed depth charge. Between 1941 and 1943 Coast Guard aircraft delivered 61 attacks on u-boat contacts. This was the only victory credited to a Coast Guard aviator. White was awarded a DFC and Boggs an Air Medal. In 2001, evidence surfaced that put this credit into dispute. The Wreckage of U-166 was discovered several miles from the site of White’s attack. The wreckage was near the site where PC-566 reported damaging a sub on 30 July. Further analysis confirmed that U-171 was attacked in the vicinity of White’s action, but she survived the attack and the war.
In Greenland, on 5 October 1943, Patrol Squadron 6 (VP-6), the only Coast Guard-manned VP squadron, was established at NAS Argentia, Newfoundland under the command of CDR Donald MacDiarmid. The squadron moved its compliment of PBY-5As to Narsarssauk, Greenland for operations with the Greenland Patrol. On 28 November 1943, an Army trainer crashed on the icecap. VP-6 dropped provisions to the crew and directed rescuers to their position. On 13 February 1944, LCDR John McCubbin found HMS Strathella, which had been disabled in a storm a month earlier. With its radio inoperable, the little ship had drifted aimlessly while its crew almost died of thirst and starvation. McCubbin directed Modoc to the vessel and Modoc towed her to safety. By November 1944, VP-6 had flown 638,998 miles in 6,325 flying hours, searching more than three million square miles of ocean and land. On 12 July 1845, VP-6 was turned over to the Navy, after 27 months of operations and hundreds of lives saved. Lt. John Pritchard and RM1/c Benjamin Bottoms were awarded Distinguished Flying Crosses when they were killed trying to rescue the crew of a B-17 that crashed B-17 on the icecap.
Even in time of war, maritime accidents still occurred. In September 1943, ENS W.M.Braswell, flying from AIRSTA Miami, landed next to a ditched and submerged Pan American aircraft, swam to it, pulled three unconscious crewmen from it, and, with help from his radioman, resuscitated all three men before turning them over to a patrol boat. In December 1943, the first Air Sea Rescue Unit was established in San Diego and on 22 February 1944, the National Air Sea Rescue Agency was established. The Coast Guard was the lead agency. In December 1944, ENS F.T. Merritt rescued a Navy fighter pilot who had collided with a target tow aircraft and crashed into the ocean. From 14 to 20 January 1945, AIRSTA Port Angeles aircraft searched along with Army, Navy and Forrest Service aircraft for the crew of a Navy patrol plane that had crashed in the mountains 130 miles northeast of Seattle. On 17 January, four men were found and the Army and Navy secured search efforts. The Coast Guard and Forrest Service continued and found the other two men three days later. Statistics from the Northern California Air Sea Rescue Center show that in 37 air crashes involving 98 people, 51 people were beyond assistance. Of the other 47, 42 were rescued.
During the war, the Coast Guard had as many as 450 aircraft in their inventory. The main Coast Guard aircraft in the war was the Consolidated PBY Catalina (120). Other aircraft newly acquired by the service during the war included the Martin PBM Mariner (63), Vought OS2U Kingfisher (53), Curtiss SO3C Seamew (48), North American SNJ Texan (15), Stearman N3S-3 Kaydet (11), Curtiss R5C-1 Commando (10), Douglas R4D Skytrain (8), Beech JRB Expeditor (7), Consolidated PB2Y Coronado (4), Consolidated PB4Y-1 Liberator (4), Howard GH-2 Nightingale (3), Curtiss SOC-4 Seagull (3), Vultee SNV-1 Valiant (2), and North American B-25J Mitchell (1). At the end of the war, Coast Guard aviation had grown by a factor of six to over 300 aircraft.
For a complete list of aircraft that served in WWII go to this Link.