US PT Boats WW2

PT was the US Navy abbreviation of “patrol torpedo” boats in World War Two.

 

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Navy Gunners firing their 50 caliber guns, send their bright stream of tracers aloft at a Zero as another Zero dives in flames into the lagoon.

Numerous prototypes for patrol torpedo boats were designed and built with each one having its on flaws. Nonetheless, they were easy and quick to build but were hell to be on in a heavy seaway. Their hulls had a very difficult time taking the pounding they received in rough weather. While the plywood they were made of was itself made from mahogany and braced with solid mahogany, PT boats could exceed a speed of 40 knots.

(Drawing, Charcoal on Board; by Griffith Baily Coale; 1942. Courtesy of the US Navy History and Heritage Command)

PT boats underway off Attu Island during occupation.

US Navy PT boats underway off Attu Island during the Japanese occupation.

Japanese troops landed on Attu and Kiska 3 June 1942. These are part of the Aleutian Islands which came into possession of the United States after we bought Alaska from the Tsar of Russia in 1867. We bought the entire state for $7.2mm. Secretary of State Seward was ridiculed over paying such a ridiculously large amount of money for what was assumed to be nothing more than a frozen wilderness. I think we got the better of the deal.

Given the remoteness of the islands and the forbidding climate, it took more than a year of planning and transporting supplies before US and Canadian troops re-took the islands from the Japanese.

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Photograph above from the US National Archives shows PT boats returning to base after operations off Leyte Island in the Philippines in December 1944. Note twin mounted .50 cal. machine guns. On 20 October 1944, US troops had landed on Leyte. This commenced the American campaign to drive the Japanese out of the Philippines. The fighting was intense and and US troops took heavy casualties.

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US Navy PT Boats make high speed runs, during maneuvers off The Panama Canal Zone, circa 1943.

(photo and caption courtesy of US Navy History and Heritage Command)

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Admiralties Operations, March-April 1944. PT boats bombarding Pityilu Island, Seeadler Harbor, prior to landings there by the Army’s First Cavalry Division, 30 March 1944. Note 37mm & 20mm guns on these boats. (Photo and caption courtesy of US Navy History and Heritage Command)

“Admiralties Operations” above is a reference to part of the larger New Guinea campaign to regain control of these islands from the Japanese. The Admiralty Islands had originally been a colony of Imperial Germany. After Germany’s defeat in World War One, the League of Nations gave Australia a mandate to rule the islands. The Admiralty Islands are an archipelago group of 18 islands in the Bismarck Archipelago, to the north of New Guinea in the South Pacific Ocean.

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PT boats in New Guinea. Zero hour nears as darkness descends on New Guinea. Boats of the PT squadron warm up as they prepare to roar out on another dangerous mission.

In the beginning of the naval war in the Pacific, the US Navy had not achieved the mastery of fighting at night which had been achieved by the Imperial Japanese Navy and until new fighting doctrines were developed, the US Navy suffered significant losses in night battles with the Japanese especially in a series of engagements off Guadalcanal.

 

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U.S. Navy PT boats crossing the English Channel on D-Day, 6 June 1944  during the Normandy Invasion, as twelve B-17 bombers pass overhead. Note the twin .50 caliber machine guns on the boat from which the photograph was taken.

(caption and photo courtesy of U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)

Although the vast majority of US Navy PT boats were deployed in the Pacific, a handful were sent to Europe as seen in the photo above. I have never understood why the US Navy felt the need to do this. We must have felt we just wanted a handful of our own PT boats instead of having a squadron of Royal Navy Motor Torpedo Boats assigned to the US fleet.

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 A ship in New York Harbor loaded with Elco 80 foot Patrol Torpedo Boats (PT Boats). 

Photo taken in 1942 and courtesy of Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum

Approximately 600 PT boats were built for the US Navy, almost all of them either built by the Elco Company or Higgins in New Orleans.

Published by

Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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