U.S. Army Aircraft Rescue Boat P-239 (Wreck E)
When Wreck E was originally located during the 1996 Lake Survey, its sonar image was tentatively interpreted as the wreck of a sidewheel steamer. Consequently, when the ROV reached the site in 1997, the survey crew was very surprised to find the words “U.S. Army P-239” preserved on the stern. The vessel itself, which has settled in very deep water, is quite large and appears to be broken amidships. The wooden hull was painted a light gray color, much of which is still visible. Both sides of the vessel have a number of portholes located about 61 cm (2 ft) below the level of the deck. The stern of the vessel appears to be in good condition, but a badly damaged section of the hull became apparent as the ROV traveled forward. This section, located roughly amidships, appeared on both the port and starboard sides of the vessel. The damage suggests that the spine of the vessel is completely broken. In the section where the deck is missing, metal bulkheads were visible running athwartships.
Like the stern, the forward section of the boat appears to be in good condition, with a large hatch and several portholes in the deck towards the bow. The hull flares rather dramatically in the bow, and the vessel’s number is painted on both sides. On the stern deck are two companionways and a large wooden box that may have been used to store life preservers or other equipment. Just forward of the transom is a deck hatch with a round opening. This hatch is next to a large shaft, which runs through the deck and is most likely the top of the rudderpost. No deckhouse or conning tower of any sort was apparent, unless it was originally in the section of the vessel that is now badly broken up.
This vessel was a U.S. Army Air Corps Aircraft rescue boat, or a vessel that was used to rescue downed pilots. Historical research has determined that P-239 was a “Type 235A Wooden A.C. Rescue Boat.” Constructed in September 1943 at Dooley’s Basin and Dry Dock in Massachusetts, the wooden hull of this vessel was originally 32.03 m (105 ft) long and had a beam of over 5.8 m (19 ft). It was originally equipped with two 1200-HP gasoline engines, which were able to push the vessel along at a maximum speed of 17 knots. It is likely that this boat ended up at the bottom of Lake Champlain while in the service of the Army Air Corps, which operated out of the Plattsburgh air base for about eighteen months beginning in January of 1945. The find was a surprising but positive turn of events—this almost-extinct class of World War II vessels closely resembles the Subchasers (SCs) built at Shelburne Shipyard in Shelburne, Vermont, during that war.
Continuing research has uncovered two pictures of the vessel at the Shelburne Shipyards which show that the vessel already severely damaged, with a gaping hole amidships and the total absence of its upper works. These recent discoveries suggest that P-239 was most likely sent to the bottom on purpose. However it is hoped that continued research will reveal if the vessel was ever employed on Lake Champlain and what its purpose might have been.
For further information see:
Sabick, C., A. Lessman, and S. McLaughlin, Lake Champlain Underwater Cultural Resources Survey, Volume II: 1997 Results and Volume III: 1998 Results. Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, 2000.