“the sea shall not have them”

The raf air sea res­cue ser­vice saved Thou­sands of lives dur­ing wwii us­ing high-speed launches


The Ma­rine Branch of the Royal Air Force was formed only 11 days af­ter the ser­vice it­self was founded in 1918, to pro­vide wa­ter­borne sup­port and ser­vices for the RAF across the world. Ini­tially known as the ‘Ma­rine Craft Sec­tion’, what be­came known the Air Sea Res­cue Ser­vice (ASRS) was de­vel­oped in the 1930s with the de­sign of fast res­cue launches.

One of the most in­flu­en­tial boats was the ST-200 Mk. 1, which was 11.4 me­tres (37.5 feet) long and had a top speed of 29 knots. In a cu­ri­ous twist of mil­i­tary his­tory, the ves­sel’s cre­ation was lob­bied for and tested by T.E. Lawrence (also known as ‘Lawrence of Ara­bia’) while serv­ing as an air­craft­man in the RAF.

The suc­cess of the ST-200 led to the de­vel­op­ment of faster res­cue boats dur­ing the 1930s, and when war broke out they be­came in­dis­pens­able life­savers. The ASRS sup­ported op­er­a­tions glob­ally, but their main de­ploy­ment was in the English Chan­nel. Among many other mis­sions, five launches res­cued 500 sol­diers from Dunkirk and 93 were de­ployed sup­port­ing mar­itime op­er­a­tions on D-day. It is es­ti­mated that at least 8,000 lives were saved by the crews of the res­cue boats, who op­er­ated in all weathers and of­ten in the face of en­emy ac­tion. Such was their de­ter­mi­na­tion to pre­serve life that the ASRS’S motto be­came “The Sea Shall Not Have Them”.

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