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U.S. Crash Boats

85 ft. Rescue Boat

ASR 85 Foot - Design 379, aka Type II, Production Run of 140
 
 
ASR 85s were the ultimate and fourth group of rescue boats and, in reports, often referred to as "Class II" boats. These boats were designed by Diar Long, the same person that had earlier designed the AVR-63. When Mr. Long considered the success of his AVR 63 ft. rescue boat he basically scaled up that design when the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps asked him for a boat faster than the 104, larger than the 63 and with transoceanic capability.  These boats were delivered to the AAF in 1944-1945. In practical rescue operations they had an operational radius of about 500 miles.
 
Generally if a boat has a range of about 2,500 miles, it can cross most oceans, although it may require multiple legs. I have seen no records to indicate that an 85’ ever completed such a crossing but it was theoretically possible using only its “cruising” Chrysler M-10s at 6.2 knots, but it would have been a long and incredibly slow trip. In June of 1944 the 131st AAF Rescue Boat crew left Gulfport, MS and flew to Newark, NJ. P-358 was being modified to increase the range of the boat in Nyack, NY and was supposed to take the Great Circle Route to the Azores. Among the mods were extra bladder tanks nestled in the rear cockpit. The boat ran into a storm in the Bay of Fundy and the skipper decided to abort the mission in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The boat headed back to Newark about June 29th. Some crew members heard rumors that the skipper had stood for court martial. Very few boats were built with the extra Chrysler engines based on the plan views I've seen, the Operator's Manual for 85' boats, and conversations with crewmen.  The reason for trying to move the boats overseas under their own power was that moving tanks, guns, and other large equipment to the war zones had higher priority so boats and crews spent lots of time ready to go but no way to get there. I have seen one source that states that the cruising engines were a marine conversion by Kermath of  small Ford 110 hp. V-8 engines. Elimination of the "cruising engines" made space available to add much needed Kohler 110 volt generators.
 
The space originally required for the twin Chryslers, or Fords, may have been a contributing factor in determining that  the main engines for the 85s were twin Packard Marine 4M-2500s rather than three, which powered the PT Boats. However, the 85s were lighter and had a top speed of 35 knots even with only two engines. The boat was armed with two twin 50 caliber machine guns in two tubs, and a 20 mm anti-aircraft gun.  A total of 140 of these boats were built. Although there were more 63 ft. boats in AAF service, there were more 85 ft. boats actually built under AAF contract.  Many 63 ft. boats were built for the Navy but then transferred to the AAF. 
 
Both the 85s and 63s were designed for operation in temperate to tropical climates. Those boats assigned to the Aleutian Islands off Alaska during WW II and North Korean waters were very uncomfortable, even when modified by their crews with plywood on the inside of the ribs to create a dead air space and much larger heaters to deal with the extremely cold conditions. The condensation dripping off the ceiling had a tendency to short out what little electronics that were on the boats. It should be pointed out that severe condensation was also an issue on submarines, especially the old S-boats, serving in arctic waters during WW II. Although 85 ft rescue boats were originally built with four heaters, those heaters were long gone by the start of the Korean War, as the boats had originally been assigned to warm climates where heaters were not needed.  Bob Frankovich recalls that during the Korean War he requested more than the standard 2 blankets for his crew as they were living aboard their 85 and it had no heat. The request was denied but he has able to requisition more mattresses so his crew slept in a “mattress sandwich”. They wrapped themselves in the blankets and then slipped between the two mattresses that were stacked on each berth. Typically an 85 carried a crew of 14 to 16 men, while a 63 carried 9 or 10.
 
Both 85s and 63s were designed to patrol for 3-4 days, maybe up to a week, with crews primarily quartered and messed at their stand-by location which was normally a shore base. For 85 ft. crews in Korea, it was not uncommon to be continuously at sea for up to 2 months, being refueled and supplied from a supply ship. During that period they would anchor at Cho-Do Isalnd  and return to Inchon for a few hours to resupply every few weeks. They would return to Fukouka, Japan for heavy maintenance every 90-120 days for a period of about a week, depending on the maintenance required.
 
Crash boats would serve in World War II, Korea, and continued in service during the Cold War in the near coastal waters of the United States with the Coast Guard.  AAF crash boats were decommissioned on a massive scale following World War II. The USAF finally decommissioned their crash boat units in 1956. They would also serve in many military arms of other nations.   Many boats ended up in private hands for use as yachts or commercial vessels and some were used by Sea Scouts around the San Francisco Bay beginning in the late 1940s.  A few other 63 footers were used by Sea Scouts on the East Coast and the Pacific Northwest through the late 1960s and early 1970s. Many others were used as targets and sunk.  
 
 Those in private hands were generally repowered with diesel engines due to the high cost of operation of the gasoline engines and the non-explosive nature of diesel fuel. An ASR 85 burned 140 gallons per hour of 87-91  octane avgas (some sources state the octane rating to be as high as 140) with both engines at 2000 rpms. The Operator's Manual mentions 91 octane, but only in passing.
 
During the 1960s boat R-1-661, an 85 footer, was kept in active service assigned to Tyndall Air Force Base, near Panama City, Florida.  During the Vietnam War, she towed targets for helicopter gunship training and anti-mine training as well as recovered drones. In 1971, the Air Force decided to preserve R-1-661 as one of the last remaining crash boats from World War II. Some sources describe her as a 63 footer but that is incorrect. She was to be placed on display at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio. The boat was too large for the cargo plane that was to transport her so that plan was scrapped. She was then donated to the PT Boat Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.   As she was being run upriver to Memphis, she struck a submerged obstruction and damaged her running gear.  Once at Memphis, the boat sank at her moorings.
 
The US Naval Sea Cadet Corps expressed an interest in salvaging the crash boat. The boat was placed on a barge and shipped to Chicago. The Sea Cadets’ plan was to restore the boat and use it as a training vessel and then to donate her to a museum. Finding a museum that would take her and display her indoors proved to be a problem and she was sold to a succession of owners and she was fought over in court for eighteen years.  She was finally barged to Muskegon, Michigan and wound up sitting in a cradle, neglected and outdoors for five years starting about 1993. In 1998 she was offered to the AAF/USAF Crash Rescue Boat Assn. (CRBA) in terrible condition as a donation by Dick Loderhose. What was appealing about R-1-661 was that she had never been modified and still had her Packard engines and related machinery. The hull was so rotten that the deck was unsafe to walk on, so the side of the engine room was chain sawed and ripped out with a front end loader to remove the engines etc. At the same time the CRBA had a second donation of an 85 ft. boat, P-520, also from Dick Loderhose..
 
The CRBA previously requested the Army (661 had originally been an Army vessel) to move R-1-661 to any point on the Gulf Coat between New Orleans and Ft. Walton Beach to make salvaging her easier. The Army turned them down, not because they lacked the resources or funds, but because “they could see no benefit to the Army using their resources for the benefit of the Air Force”. It appears that the CRBA was the victim of a petty Army vs. Air Force rivalry. Eventually the owner agreed to the CRBA pulling the Packard engines and other equipment on site and offered to assist in getting hid of the hulk.
 
The P-520 was a very different story. She was located in San Diego and reported to be in excellent condition with respect to hull, deck and superstructure for use as a museum piece. His donation was conditioned upon his being allowed to remove the diesel engines previously installed while under private ownership. This boat was originally built in 1944, at Wilmington, California. It was sold as war surplus in 1947 and was subsequently owned by a series of owners. Bud Tretter, a member of the CRBA, offered to have P-520 towed to his marina and shipyard in Long Beach, to store it pending the CRBA’s finding a suitable museum to display the boat. There were hopes that the Navy would haul her as deck cargo to any Gulf Coast port and the association could arrange delivery to one of several museums from there. Otherwise, they would need to find a West Coast museum. Installing the Packard engines from P-661 would make P-520 a museum quality boat with some restoration and maintenance work done at Bud Tretter’s shipyard.
 
Upon close inspection it was found that she was not in “excellent condition” and that a significant amount of wood, both inner and outer hull planking, needed to be replaced and the transom completely rebuilt. Fiberglass needed to be stripped from the main deck and once it was removed, they found the decking was in such bad shape that it had to be completely replaced.  The decking over the aft cockpit was removed. Hatches on the main deck, foredeck, and the removable hatches over the engine room, all needed repair or rebuilding. Barbettes (gun tubs) had to be built from scratch, port and starboard. Fuel tanks (50 yr. old rubber bladders) had to be inspected and either passed, repaired, or replaced. Bud needed to obtain and install 2 diesel engines and drivelines. Fortunately two diesel engines, GM V-1271s, were donated by General Engine Power, Inc, the GM dealer in Long Beach. All plumbing and wiring had to be replaced. I have not listed those items in the interior living spaces that needed paint, repair, or replacement, or any electronics.
 
Originally Bud had agreed to do what restoration work needed to be done at no cost, but the work needed proved to be much more extensive, and much more expensive, than originally anticipated by either the CBRA or Bud, and that became a source of some friction within the group.  A fifty year old, 85ft. wooden boat can be a real money pit and, at least up to 2002, the work was done on Bud’s dime. In late 2002 the CRBA started contributing money to the project, beyond some donated boats that they had given Bud to sell from time to time, with instructions to use the cash for the project. By 2004 she was pretty much “done”.  There is a link to pictures of P-520 near the bottom of this page and in the "Photos & Missions" portion of this website. She is beautiful but, without taking sides, it is easy to see how restoration was bound to lead to hard feelings, especially as the years dragged on. It took seven years and some sources guess close to a million dollars to restore the P-520. At some point the CRBA signed P-520 over to Bud Tretter in order to end the friction due to restoration costs or dockage fees. However the long term plan was still to donate her to a museum.
 
 In late 1996 or early 1997, HQ, USAF issued a directive to all museums except their main museum in Dayton, Ohio that they immediately cease accepting any items of any kind for display. But the cost of moving an 85 ft. boat 75 miles over land to Dayton was prohibitive. That made the likelihood of ever finding a museum, owned by the federal government, to accept an original 63 ft. or 85 ft. rescue boat almost impossible. They are too expensive to maintain for all but a handful of private museums. This threw the plan a serious curve ball. They attempted to donate the boat to several other museums without success. In the fall of 1999 the CRBA was still looking for a museum home for P-520 and as late as December, 2005 they thought she would be going to the Alabama Battleship Memorial Park. Later they were shocked to learn that the Battleship Memorial Park had no funds to exhibit the boat due to damage caused to the park by Hurricane Katrina.  There was some talk of donating the boat to a museum in Seattle but that never came together. In July of 2017 the Alabama Battleship Memorial Park again expressed an interest in obtaining the P-520 but as of August, 2018 has once again been unable to accept the P-520. The main challenge seemed to be the delivery cost, which if delivered under its own power would be approximately $85,000 and if delivered by a "float on float off" yacht deliver service would run in the neighborhood of $115,000.  If a benefactor was to be found, I think this donation could still come together.
 
Bud Tretter passed away  June 13, 2012 and his son Jerry continues to store the boat at the marina/shipyard in Long Beach, California. In 2013 there was an online post that the boat was to be donated to the Pacific Battleship Center in Los Angeles, but that never came to fruition either. For an extensive photographic tour of this restored vessel ,click here. This boat is very well restored but is not 100% period accurate as it is actually used and not a static museum piece. As an example, a hot water heater has been added to allow for comfortable showers, but it is still a commendable restoration.
 
Production Totals by Builder
 
Builder
Location
Quantity
Burger Boat
Manitowoc, WI
8
Cambridge Shipbuilding
Cambridge, MD
14
Dooley's Basin
Fort Lauderdale, FL
28
Eddy Shipbuilding
Bay City, MI
12
Fellows & Stewart
San Pedro, CA
10
Herreshoff Mfg.
Bristol, RI
12
Nevins, Henry B.
City Island, NY
5
Peterson Boatworks
Sturgeon Bay, WI
8
Peterson, Julius
Nyack, NY
5
Robinson Marine
Benton Harbor, MI
7
Simms Bros.
Dorchester, MA
8
Truscott Boat & Dock Co.
St. Joseph, MI
15
Wilmington Boatworks
Wilmington, CA
8
Total   140
 
 
Plan Drawings