The Rescue Buoys of World War II

There are shards of history that much of the public knows nothing about, and the British rescue buoys fall into that category. During World War II, the English Channel was peppered with buoys that were designed as floating rescue stations for housing downed pilots and stranded sailors awaiting pickup. Beneath the buoys were full accommodations, including beds, change of clothes, medical supplies, food, games, and even cigarettes. The buoys had a floor space of about 43 square feet, with an 8-foot cabin rising above the float. On the upper deck of the cabin was an oval turret 6 feet high, with a signal mast carrying a wireless antenna. Tube railings to which the distressed flyers could cling ran along the outer circumference below and above the water line. A ladder led up to the turret, in which there was a door that opened into the cabin below. Signaling was accomplished by hoisting a black anchor ball and a yellow and red striped flag on the mast during the day. At night, red and white lights in the turret indicated that rescued men were onboard. SOS signals giving the location of the buoy were automatically sent out by an emergency transmitter. Being in fixed locations, the buoys could be checked by rescuers once or twice a day. If occupied, a seaplane or high speed launch could be summoned. During the course of the war, these buoys saved many airmen and sailors that ships and seaplanes might have been too late to rescue.