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Air-Sea Rescue Barge 10 - ASR 10 | by Scottish Maritime Museum - SMM
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Air-Sea Rescue Barge 10 - ASR 10

Built in 1941 by Carrier Engineering of Wembley as part of a 16-vessel order by the Air Ministry, Air-Sea Rescue Craft 10 (or ASR10) is now a rare example of a type of craft which played an important role in the North Sea and English Channel during WWII.

Officially code named ‘Cuckoos’ and referred to as ‘Ocean Hostels’ by the press, these highly-visible ASR craft had no engines and were instead moored at strategic intervals along the bomber routes to occupied Europe.

Maintained by the Air Sea Rescue Service, their role was to provide emergency shelter for the crews of downed aircraft, and each contained vital equipment and supplies, including preserved meat and vegetables, biscuits, tea, cocoa, rum, drinking water, bunks for 6 men, blankets, towels, washing gear, books and playing cards, all of which would reduce the shock of the airmens’ ordeal. First aid supplies were also on board, and a flag which could be flown to indicate that the craft was occupied. The men were able to radio for assistance and a fast rescue could then be carried out.

The following instructions found inside the vessels were a fine example of humour prevailing despite the seriousness of the crewmen’s situation:

1. “Air sea rescue float No. 10 welcomes you, and hopes that you will be comfortable and that your stay will be short.”

2. “Though the host is absent you should find all you need. Dry and warm clothing, food, drink, and a smoke, a stove to cook with and blankets to sleep in. Please help yourself but do not consume all the stores the first day.”

ASR vessels were of a welded steel construction with a steel superstructure and mast. Their hulls were brightly painted in red and yellow bands, which made them easy to spot at sea, and the floats were designed to be easily boarded, with bars extending below the surface to give foot and hand holds. Their sterns were also cut away so that ladders could hang straight down and be easily climbed.

While the floats no doubt boosted morale, there few recorded instances of their use. Of course it was not just British airmen who were able to access the floats. Although Germany had their own version, nicknamed ‘lobster pots’, it has been said that German E-boats used to visit to make use of the supplies on board. Enemy airmen found on board the vessels were taken as prisoners of war.

ASR10 was moored by Dover during the war and was converted to a yacht in the 1950s. It has since been restored to her original condition, with the Scottish Maritime Museum receiving her after she lay derelict on the slipway at Battery Park, Gourock, for many years.

Although not in the mainstream of maritime activities, it remains an example of the ongoing challenge to save lives at sea and a reminder of the importance of the sea to Britain during successive wars.

Photo by Alan Kempster for SMM

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Taken on March 3, 2015