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PT boats in line astern.
PT-105 at high speed.

PT Boats were a variety of motor torpedo boat (hull classification symbol "PT", for "Patrol Torpedo"), a small, fast vessel used by the United States Navy in World War II to attack larger surface ships. The PT boat squadrons were nicknamed "the mosquito fleet". The Japanese called them "Devil Boats." [1]

The original pre-World War I torpedo boats were designed with "displacement-type" hulls. They displaced up to 300 tons and the top speed was 25 to 27 knots.

The PT boats used in World War II were built using the planing-type hull form developed for racing boats. They were much smaller (30-75 tons) and faster (35-40 knots).

Both types were designed to strike at larger warships with torpedoes, using relatively high speed to get close, and small size to avoid being spotted and hit by gunfire. They were also much less expensive than large warships. However, the motor torpedo boat was much faster, smaller, and cheaper than the conventional torpedo boat.

During World War II, American PT boats engaged enemy destroyers and numerous other surface craft, ranging from small boats to large supply ships. PT boats also operated as gunboats against enemy small craft, such as armored barges used by the Japanese forces for inter-island transport.

Many PT boats became famous during the war.

PT-41, commanded by Lieutenant John D. Bulkeley, carried General Douglas MacArthur in his daring escape from Corregidor Island, Philippines. Bulkeley was awarded the Medal of Honor for his operations in the Philippines before rescuing MacArthur. Bulkeley's story inspired the book They Were Expendable, and a movie of the same name.

Life magazine published an article about the PT boat captains in the battles off Guadalcanal, featuring the exploits of Lieutenants Stilly Taylor, Leonard A. Nikoloric, Les Gamble, and Bob and John Searles; the article mentioned many boats in RON2 and RON5 (PT-36, PT-37, PT-39, PT-44, PT-46, PT-48, PT-59, PT-109, PT-115, and PT-123).

Other PT boats gaining fame during the war were PT-363 and PT-489, the boats used by LCDR Murray Preston to rescue a downed aviator in Wasile Bay, off Halmahera Island, for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

After the war had ended, another PT boat was made famous as part of a presidential campaign: PT-109, commanded by future President John F. Kennedy.



In the late 1930s, the U.S. Navy requested competitive bids for several different concepts of torpedo boats. This competition led to eight prototype boats built to compete in two different classes. The first class was for 55-foot boats, and the second class was for 70-foot boats. The resulting PT boat designs were the product of a small cadre of respected naval architects and the Navy. Henry R. Sutphen of Electric Launch Company ("Elco") and his designers (Irwin Chase, Bill Fleming, and Glenville Tremaine) visited the United Kingdom to see British motor torpedo boat designs. While visiting the British Power Boat Company, they purchased a 70-foot design (PV70) (later renamed PT-9 during the competition), designed by Hubert Scott-Paine. Other entries in the competition were three boats built by Andrew Jackson Higgins of Higgins Industries in New Orleans. These boats were PT-5 and PT-6 (built using government-required Sparkman and Stephens design, scaled to an overall length of 81 feet) and then PT-6 "Prime" which was redesigned by Higgins personally using his own methods. Another competitor for the contract was the Huckins Yacht Company which came up with competing 70-foot boat class designs.

On June 8, 1939, contracts were let to the Fogal Boat Yard, Inc., later known as the Miami Shipbuilding Co., of Miami, Fla., for PT's 1 and 2, and to the Fisher Boat Works, Detroit, Mich., for PT's 3 and 4. These four boats were essentially the Crouch design, modified in some details by the Bureau of Ships. At the same time the Philadelphia Navy Yard was authorized to start construction of PT's 7 and 8, 81-foot boats designed by the Bureau of Ships.

Navy Bureau of Ships designers and the Philadelphia Navy Yard came up with two other designs (PT-7 and PT-8). The results of the competition found that none of the boats, as built, were up to the necessary performance specifications identified by the Navy.

The Plywood Derby

The Board of Inspection and Survey decided to conduct comparative service tests. The following boats were tested off New London, July 21 to 24, 1941:

PT 6: 81-foot Higgins; 3 Packard 1,200-hp engines.

PT 8: 81-foot Philadelphia Navy Yard; aluminum hull; 2 Allison 2,000-hp engines, 1 Hall-Scott 550-hp engine.

PT 20: 77-foot Elco; 3 Packard 1,200-hp engines; equipped with special propellers; special strengthening added to hull framing and deck.

PT'S 26, 30, 31, 33: Same as PT 20, except with standard propellers and without special strengthening.

PT 69: 72-foot Huckins; 4 Packard 1,200-hp engines.

PT 70: 76-foot Higgins; 3 Packard 1,200-hp engines.

70-foot boat built for British by Higgins; 3 Hall-Scott 900-hp engines.

The test included an open-sea run of 190 miles at full throttle, forever after referred to by PT personnel as the "Plywood Derby." The course started around New York Harbor, at Sarah Ledge, then led around the eastern end of Block Island, then around Fire Island Lightship and finished at Montauk Point Whistling Buoy.

This was a shakedown to see which company would be contracted to build the Navy PT boats. At the completion of the trials, the Navy considered all three designs. The Elco 77-footer came out on top ("PT-20"), followed by the Higgins 76-footer ("PT-70) and Huckins 72-foot boat("PT-69"). Although Elco "PT-20" came in first, the Navy saw the merits of the other two boats and decided to offer all three companies contracts. Elco received the largest share of the contract with contracts for 350 boats, Higgins was awarded contracts for 199 boats, and Huckins was awarded a contract for 18 boats.

The Elco company may have had an advantage owing to their experience in small-boat building, having built 550 80-foot sub chasers for the Royal Navy during World War I. Additionally, in 1921, they introduced the famous 26-foot "Cruisette", (a gasoline cabin cruiser). This success in small-boat building was followed in the 1930s with 30-ft to 57-ft "Veedettes" and "Flattops", which were gasoline-powered boats that set the highest standard in a golden era of boating. This small-boat experience helped Elco obtain a contract for 10 boats based on the 70-foot Scott-Paine Model PT Boat. These 70-foot boats were tested and determined to be too light for open sea work, but Elco got a contract for 24 larger boats based on a lengthened 77-foot design.



The Elco Naval Division boats were the largest in size of the three types of PT boats built for the Navy used during World War II. By war's end, more of the Elco 80-foot boats were built than any other type of motor torpedo boat (326 of their 80-foot boats were built). The 80-foot (24.4 m) wooden-hulled craft were classified as boats in comparison with much larger steel-hulled destroyers, but were comparable in size to many wooden sailing ships in history. They had a 20 ft 8 in (6.3 m) beam. Though often said to be made of plywood, they were actually made of two diagonal layered 1-inch thick mahogany planks, with a glue-impregnated layer of canvas in between. Holding all this together were thousands of bronze screws and copper rivets. This type of construction made it possible that damage to the wooden hulls of these boats could be easily repaired at the front lines by base force personnel. Five Elco Boats were manufactured in knock-down kit form and sent to Long Beach Boatworks for assembly on the West Coast as part of an experiment and as a proof of concept.


Higgins produced 199 78-foot boats. The Higgins boats, built by Higgins Industries in New Orleans, Louisiana, were 78-foot (24 m) boats of the PT-71 or PT-235 or PT-625 classes. The Higgins boats had the same beam, full load displacement, engine, generators, shaft power, trial speed, armament, and crew accommodation as the 80-foot (24 m) Elco boats. Many Higgins boats were sent to the Soviet Union and Great Britain at the beginning of the war, so many of the lower-numbered squadrons in the U.S. Navy were made up exclusively of Elcos. The first Higgins boats for the U.S. Navy were used in the Battle for the Aleutian Islands (Attu and Kiska) as part of Squadron 13 and 16, and others (RON15 and RON22) in the Mediterranean against the Germans. They were also used during the D-Day landings on 6 June 1944. A somewhat odd footnote is that even though only half as many Higgins boats were produced, far more survive (seven hulls, 3 of which have been restored to their World War II configuration), than of the more numerous Elco boats, thus seemingly demonstrating the superior construction of the Higgins boat. Of the remaining Elco boats only three hulls (one restored) are known to exist at this time.


Huckins received the smallest contract: 18 boats by the end of the war, none of which saw combat. They were assigned to home defense squadrons in the Panama Canal Zone, Miami, Florida and in Hawaii at Pearl Harbor. Huckins was a tiny yacht-building company in Jacksonville, Florida and was unable to build the number of boats needed by the Navy. Additionally, the Navy was unhappy with the Huckins design for its poor seakeeping abilities, and for this reason, it was relegated to non-combat assignments during the war. Although Huckins built a few 78-foot boats of the PT-95 class, the Elco 80-foot and the Higgins 78-foot boats became the standard American motor torpedo boats of World War II.

Vosper and other types of PT Boats

During World War II, the Vosper Boat Company of Great Britain arranged for several boatyards in the U.S. to build British-designed 70-foot (21 m)-foot motor torpedo boats under license to help the war effort. 146, armed with 18-in (457 mm) torpedoe, were built for Lend Lease, exported to Allied powers such as Canada, England, Norway, and the Soviet Union. They were never used by the U.S. Navy, and only about 50 were used by the Royal Navy, and most were passed to other countries. They were constructed by Annapolis Boat Yards and Miami Shipbuilding Company.

In addition, the Canadian Power Boat Company produced five Scott-Paine designed PTs for the U.S., which were also sent as Lend Lease to the UK.

PT Boat Construction

With accommodation for three officers and 14 enlisted men, the crew varied from 12 to 17, depending upon the number and type of weapons installed. Full-load displacement late in the war was 56 tons.

The hull shape of a PT Boat was similar to the "planing hull" found in pleasure boats of the time (and still in use today): a sharp V at the bow softening to a flat bottom at the stern. PT boats were intended to plane at higher speeds, just like pleasure boats. The Elco and Higgins companies both used lightweight techniques of hull construction which included two layers of double diagonal mahogany planking utilizing a glue impregnated cloth layer between inner and outer planks. These planks were held together by thousands of copper rivets and bronze screws. The overall result was an extremely light and strong hull, yet it could be easily repaired from battle damage at the front lines.

As a testament to the strength of this type of construction, several PT boats withstood catastrophic battle damage and still remained afloat. For example, the forward half of the PT-109 (Elco) stayed afloat for 12 hours after she was cut in half by a destroyer. PT-323 (Elco) was cut in half by a kamikaze aircraft on December 10, 1944 off Leyte, yet remained floating for several hours. Another was PT-305 (Higgins 78-foot), which had the stern blown off by a German mine in the Mediterranean and yet returned to base for repairs. PT-171 (Elco) was holed through the bow off New Georgia on August 10, 1943, by an unexploded torpedo which failed to detonate yet remained in action and was repaired the next day.

In 1943, an inquiry was held by the Navy to discuss planing, hull design, and fuel consumption issues, but no major modifications were made before the end of the war. (Wooden Boat Forum) During the war, both Elco and Higgins both came up with stepped hull designs which achieved significant increases in top speed, ("ElcoPlane" & "Higgins Hellcat") but the Navy rejected them for full production due to their increased fuel consumption and other considerations.

PT boat armament

The primary anti-ship armament was two to four Mark 18 21-inch steel (53 cm) torpedo tubes launching Mark 8 torpedoes, which weighed 2600 pounds with a 466 pound TNT warhead. Mark 8 torpedoes had a range of 16,000 yards at 36 knots. These torpedoes and tubes were replaced in 1943 by four lightweight roll-off style torpedo launching racks, two on each beam, mounting 22.5-inch (57 cm) Mark 13 torpedos, which weighed 2216 pounds and carried a 600 pound Torpex filled warhead. The Mk13 torpedo had a range of 6300 yards and a speed of 33.5 knots.

PT boats were also well armed with numerous automatic weapons. Early PT boats were armed with one 20mm Oerlikon cannon at the stern. Later in the war, several more of these 20mm cannons were added amidships and on the forward deck. Additionally, on the forward deck, some early Elco 77 foot boats had twin-mounted .30 cal (7.62 mm) Lewis machine guns. Later in the war one or two .30 cal Browning machine guns were mounted to each of the forward torpedo racks on pedestal mounts. Two twin M2 .50 cal (12.7 mm) machineguns mounted inside plexiglas enclosed hydraulically operated Dewandre rotating turrets were mounted on the first series of 77 foot Elco boats (PT-20 to PT-44).[2] Almost immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Dewandre turrets were replaced on the entire PT boat fleet with open ring twin mounts. The ring mount was designed by both Elco and Bell, and designated Mark 17 Twin 50 caliber aircraft mount.[3] Part of the Mark 17 Mod 1 and Mod 2 ring mount consisted of the Mark 9 twin cradle. [4] [5]

Additionally, some PT boats carried two to four U.S. Navy Mark 6 depth charges in roll-off stern racks, or mine racks. Beginning in 1945, PTs received two eight-cell Mark 50 rocket launchers,[6] launching 5 in (130 mm)spin-stabilized flat trajectory Mark 7 and/or Mark 10 Rockets[7]with a range of 11,000 yards. These 16 rockets plus 16 reloads gave them as much firepower as a destroyer's 5 in (130 mm) guns. By war's end, the PT boat had more "firepower-per-ton" than any other vessel in the U.S. Navy. Although not technically a weapon, U.S. Navy PTs also were fitted with was Raytheon SO radar, which had about a 17 nm range. Having radar gave Navy PTs a distinct advantage in intercepting enemy supply barges and ships at night.

Occasionally, some front line PT boats received ad hoc outfits at forward bases, where they mounted such weapons as 37 mm aircraft cannons, rocket launchers, or mortars. One such field modification was Kennedy's PT-109 which was equipped with an Army M3 37mm anti-tank gun that her crew had commandeered; they removed the wheels and bolted it to the fore deck just the night before she was lost. After numerous other PT crews had cannibalized from crashed P-39 Airacobra fighter planes on Henderson Field, Guadalcanal, the weapon that gained widespread use as the war progressed was the 37 mm Oldsmobile M4 aircraft automatic cannon. After having demonstrated its value on board PT boats, the M4 (and later M9) cannon was installed at the factory. The M4/M9 37mm auto cannon had a relatively high rate of fire (125 rounds per minute) and large magazine (30 rounds). These features made it highly desirable due to the PT boat's ever-increasing need for a larger "punch" to deal effectively with the Japanese daihatsu barges, which were immune to torpedoes due to their shallow draft. By the war's end, most PTs had these weapons. Starting in mid-1943 Most PT boats mounted one 40mm Bofors gun[8] on the aft deck. This gun had a firing rate of 120 rounds/min and range of 5420 yards, and was served by a crew of 4 men.

Packard engines

All U.S. PT boats were powered by three 12-cylinder gasoline-fueled engines. These engines were built by the Packard Motor Car Corporation, and were a modified design of the 3A-2500 V-12 liquid-cooled aircraft engine. The 3A-2500 was an improved version of the 2A engine used on the Huff-Daland XB-1 Liberty bomber of World War I vintage. Packard modified them for marine use in PTs, hence the "M" designation instead of "A". (i.e., 3A-2500 then 3M-2500). The three successive versions of these engines were designated as 3M-2500, 4M-2500, and 5M-2500, each of which had slight improvements over the previous version. Their aircraft roots gave them many features of aircraft engines, such as superchargers, intercoolers, dual magnetos, two spark plugs per cylinder, and so on. Packard built the Rolls Royce Merlin aero engine under license alongside the 4M-2500, but with the exception of the PT-9 prototype boat brought from England for Elco to examine and copy, the Merlin was never used in PTs. The 4M-2500s initially generated 1200 hp (895 kW) each, together roughly the same power as a Boeing B-17 bomber. They were subsequently upgraded in stages to 1500-hp (1,150 kW) each, for a designed speed of 41 knots (76 km/h). The final engine version, the Packard 5M-2500, (late 1945) had a larger supercharger, aftercooler, and power output of 1850 Hp. This much power could push the fully-loaded boats at 45 to 50 knots. However, using the older 4M-2500 engines, increases in the weight of the boats due to more weaponry offset the potential increase in top speed. Fuel consumption of these engines was phenomenal; a PT boat carried 3,000 gallons (11,360 liters) of 100 octane avgas. A normal patrol for these boats would last a maximum of 12 hours. The consumption rate for each engine at a cruising speed of 23 knots was about 66 gallons (250 l) per hour (200 gallons (760 l) per hour for all 3 engines). However, at top speed, consumption increased to 166 gallons (628 l) per hour per engine (or 500 gallons [1,890 l] per hour for all 3 engines). Navy acceptance trials for every boat required it be able to demonstrate ability to achieve design speed of 41+ knots. Going at this speed, the 3,000 gallons of fuel would be used in only about 6 hours. Wartime conditions such as hull fouling and engine wear could sometimes cause the boats top speed to be degraded until maintenance could be performed.


Originally conceived as anti-ship weapons, PT boats were publicly credited with sinking several Japanese warships during the period between December 1941 and the fall of the Philippines in March 1942. Attacking at night, PT crews may have sometimes failed to note a possible torpedo failure. Although the American Mark 8 torpedo was troublesome and did have problems with porpoising and circular runs, it could and did have success against common classes of targets. The Mark 3 and Mark 4 exploders were not subject to the same problems as U.S. submariners were having with their Mark 6 exploder on their Mark 14 torpedoes.

PTs would usually attack under the cover of night. The deck houses of PT boats were protected against small arms fire and splinters. Direct hits from Japanese guns could and did result in catastrophic explosions with near-total crew loss. They feared attack by Japanese seaplanes, which were hard to detect even with radar, but which could easily spot the phosphorescent wake left by PT propellers. Bombing attacks killed and wounded crews even with near misses. There are several recorded instances of PT boats trading fire with friendly aircraft, a situation also familiar to U.S. submariners. Several PT boats were lost due to "friendly fire" from both Allied aircraft and destroyers.

Initially, only a few boats were issued primitive radar sets. Later in the war, as more PTs were fitted with dependable radar, they developed superior night-fighting tactics and used them to locate and destroy many enemy targets. During the Guadalcanal and Solomon Island campaigns in 1942-1943, the PT boats of Squadron (RON) 2, 3 and 5 would lie in wait to ambush a target from torpedo range (generally about 1000 yards {914 m}). During some of these nighttime attacks, the PT Boats' position may have been given away by a flash of light caused by grease inside the black powder actuated Mark XIII torpedo tubes catching fire during the launching sequence. In order to avoid return fire by the enemy ships, the PT Boat could deploy a smokescreen using stern-mounted generators as they escaped and evaded the enemy ships. The enemy forces would use searchlights or seaplane-dropped flares to locate the fleeing PT Boat, illuminating them for destruction by their heavy-caliber guns. Sometimes PT Boats used depth charges as a last-ditch confusion weapon to scare off pursuing destroyers. They could adjust the depth charge setting to go off at 100 feet, and by the time it exploded the pursuing destroyer would be right above the explosion. Starting in mid 1943 and thereafter, the old black powder actuated Mk13 Torpedo tubes loaded with Mark 8 torpedoes were removed and replaced with a newer style of torpedo launcher. The new Mark 1 "Roll-off" Torpedo launcher rack (which was loaded with an improved Mark 13 aerial torpedo) effectively eliminated the old problem where a flash of light giving away the position of the PT Boat as a result of a burning grease. The new launcher did not use any form of explosive to launch the torpedo, and it was about 1000 pounds less weight than the old tube style launchers.

During the war, a few PT Boats were modified to become a "PT Gunboat" In the PT Gunboat, the torpedoes were all removed and replaced with more and heavier guns. These versions mounted extra armor, though tests showed this was not very effective. A small 2-man muslin covered cork liferaft was normally mounted on the forward deck, though it was displaced by guns mounted on the bow after mid-1943, and moved to the top of the chart house or farther aft.

The effectiveness of PT boats in the Solomon Islands campaign, where there were numerous engagements between PTs and capital ships as well as against Japanese shipborne resupply efforts dubbed "The Tokyo Express" in "the Slot", was substantially undermined by defective torpedoes. The Japanese were initially cautious when operating their capital ships in areas known to have PT boats, since they knew how dangerous their own Type 93s were, and assumed the Americans had equally lethal weapons. The PT boats at Guadalcanal were given credit for several sinkings and successes against the vaunted Tokyo Express. In several engagements, the mere presence of PTs was sufficient to disrupt heavily-escorted Japanese resupply activities at Guadalcanal, but this tactical advantage did not last long[citation needed]. Afterwards, the PT mission in the Solomon Islands was deemed a success.

Throughout World War II, PTs operated in the southern, western, and northern Pacific, as well as in the Mediterranean Sea and the English Channel. Some served during the Battle of Normandy. During the D-Day invasion, PTs patrolled the "Mason Line", forming a barrier against the German S-boats attacking the Allied landing forces. They also performed lifesaving and anti-shipping mine destruction missions during the invasion.

PT gunner mans his twin fifties off New Guinea

Perhaps the most effective use of PTs was as "barge busters". Since both the Japanese in the New Guinea area and the Germans in the Mediterranean had lost numerous resupply vessels to Allied airpower during daylight hours, each attempted to resupply their troop concentrations by using shallow draft barges at night in very shallow waters. The shallow depth meant Allied destroyers were unable to follow them due to the risk of running aground and the barges could be protected by an umbrella of shore batteries. PTs had sufficiently shallow draft to follow them inshore and sink them. The efficiency of the PT Boats at sinking the Japanese supply barges was considered a key reason why the Japanese had severe food, ammunition, and replacement problems during the New Guinea and Solomon Island Campaigns, and made the PT Boats prime targets for enemy aircraft. Using PT boat torpedoes was ineffective against these sometimes heavily-armed barges, since the minimum depth setting of the torpedo was about ten feet (3 m) and the barges only drew five (1.5 m).[1] To accomplish the task, PTs in the Mediterranean and the Pacific (and RN and RCN MTBs in the Med) installed more and heavier guns which were able to sink the barges. One captured Japanese soldier's diary described their fear of PT boats by describing them as "the monster that roars, flaps it wings, and shoots torpedoes in all directions." [2]

Though their primary mission continued to be attack on surface ships and craft, PT boats were also used effectively to lay mines and smoke screens, coordinate in air-sea rescue operations, rescue shipwreck survivors, destroy Japanese suicide boats, destroy floating mines, and to carry out intelligence or raider operations.

After the war, American military interviews with captured veterans of the Imperial Japanese Navy, supplemented by the available partial Japanese war records, were unable to verify that all the PT boat sinking claims were valid. Like many other victory claims by all parties involved (aircraft pilots, surface ships, submarines) this unclear verification was due in part to the incomplete nature of the Japanese records.

Food aboard a PT boat

Although they did have a small refrigerator on board, PT boats lacked the larger capacity refrigerators of larger ships to store meat, milk, butter, and eggs, so crews depended on the ingenuity of their cook, who might also be quartermaster and signalman, and what he could do with Spam, sausage, and beans. Most Squadrons were supported by PT Boat Tenders which supplied the boat crews with meals cooked aboard the larger ship. PT Boat crews would often trade with other ships or military units for supplies, or sometimes even fish by aiming rifles or tossing grenades into schools of fish.

PT gunboat modification

In the Solomon Islands during 1943, three 77-foot PT boats, PT-59, PT-60, and PT-61, were converted into "PT gunboats" by stripping them of all original armament except the two twin .50 cal (12.7 mm) gun mounts, then adding two 40mm and four twin .50 cal (12.7 mm) mounts. Lieutenant John F. Kennedy was the first commanding officer of PT-59 after its conversion. On November 2, 1943, PT-59 participated in the rescue of 40 to 50 Marines from Choiseul Island and a foundering landing craft (LCVP) which was under fire from Japanese soldiers on the beach.[3] In 1944, several Higgins 78-foot boats ( PT222, PT-283, PT-284, PT-285, and PT-282) were converted, releasing PT-59, PT-60, and PT-61 for transfer back home to the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Training Command (MTBSTC) school in Melville, Rhode Island for use in training in hull repair techniques.

The Battle of Blackett Strait and the loss of PT-109

See main article PT-109.
Lieutenant, junior grade John Kennedy (right) with his PT-109 crew.

One notable incident in the Solomon Islands campaign was when a force of 15 PT boats, including LTJG John F. Kennedy's PT-109 were sent into Blackett Strait to intercept the Tokyo Express on 2 August 1943. In what National Geographic called a "poorly planned and badly coordinated" attack, 15 boats with 60 available torpedoes went into action. However, of the thirty torpedoes fired by PT boats from four sections not a single hit was scored.[4]

In the Battle of Blackett Strait (where PT-109 was lost), only four PTs (the section leaders) had radar, and they were ordered to return to base after firing their torpedoes on radar bearings. When they left, the remaining boats in the section were virtually blind and without verbal orders, thus leading to more confusion. This may have contributed to the events that resulted in PT-109's loss.

Patrolling just after the section leader had departed for home, PT-109 was run down on a dark moonless night by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri, returning from the supply mission.[5] The PT boat had her engines at idle to hide her wake from seaplanes.[6] Conflicting statements have been made as to whether the destroyer captain spotted and steered towards the boat. Members of the destroyer crew believed the collision was not an accident, though other reports suggest Amagiri's captain never realized what happened till after the fact.[7]

Remarkably, the survivors were found by Biuku Gasa and Eroni Kumana, two Solomon Islanders who had been dispatched in a dugout canoe by an Australian coastwatcher. Though his boat was sunk, for his actions of towing a wounded crewman to an island (and later to a second island) and assisting in his crew's subsequent rescue, Kennedy was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal (for Lifesaving). The incident would later become a well publicized part of Kennedy's political campaign. In the 1960s, the story of PT-109 was told in the form of magazine articles, models, toys, hardback and comic books, a hit record, and a major motion picture; it also inspired several television shows, starting with McHale's Navy. What some say was the wreck of PT-109 was found in 2002 by Robert Ballard. There has been some doubt shed on whether this finding is in reality from PT-109, since two other PT Boats were lost in this general vicinity at other times. Ballard was reluctant to dig into the sand beneath the tube to verify if it was indeed still attached to the wooden hull of the boat. He also never found the three engines which should have been nearby, nor anything else. Ballard's basing the discovery of the wreck of PT-109 upon the finding of a single torpedo tube has cast doubt upon the entire affair.

PT boats today

At the end of the war, almost all surviving U.S. PT boats were disposed of shortly after V-J Day. Hundreds of boats were deliberately stripped of all useful equipment and then dragged up on the beach and burned. This was done to minimize the amount of upkeep the Navy would have to do, since wooden boats require much continuous maintenance, and they were not considered worth the effort. The boats also used a lot of gasoline for their size, making them too expensive to operate for a peacetime navy. Much of this destruction occurred at PT Base 17, on Samar, Philippines, near Bobon Point.

A total of nine PT boat hulls still survive to this day in the U.S.


Two of the experimental PT-Boats also still survive, PT-3 (built by Fisher Boat Works) in Pennsylvania and PT-8. PT-3 was a 59 foot barrel back boat that was rejected by the Navy during trials in 1941 after being deemed too short to carry 4 torpedoes.[8] PT-3 and PT-8 were both part of Squadron 1 (RON 1) during the testing period. After testing was completed in 1941, PT-3 was reclassified into a Small Boat and transferred to Harbor Patrol duties for the duration of the war.[9]


PT-8 (built at Philadelphia Naval Shipyard) in Louisiana was built entirely from aluminum but did not pass the speed acceptance criteria for use as a PT Boat for the U.S. Navy due to its weight. She was reclassified as a harbor patrol boat for the duration of the war.


Rob Ianucci of “Fleet Obsolete” finalizes arrangements as PT-48 arrives in The Rondout section of Kingston, New York

PT-48, possibly the last surviving 77-foot Elco, was in need of major restoration, after having been cut down to 59 feet and used as a dinner cruise boat. Because of this boat's extensive combat history, having survived 22 months in the combat zone at Guadalcanal (more time in combat than any other surviving PT boat), Rob Ianucci of Kingston, New York acquired this boat in June 2008 and transported it to Rondout Creek in Kingston (on the Hudson River) for eventual repair.


PT-305, ("USS Sudden Jerk") a Higgins 78-foot boat, which saw action in the Mediterranean with RON22. She was cut down to 65 feet for use as an oyster seed boat in Crisfield, Maryland. PT-305 was acquired by DOANM, and then sold in May 2007 to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. PT-305 was restored to become a permanent display in the Higgins Wing of the museum [9]. (video and website of PT 305 restoration [10])


Another restored (but non-operational) 78-foot Higgins boat is PT-309 ("Oh Frankie!"), at the Nimitz Museum of the Pacific War[10] in Fredericksburg, Texas, which was restored by the (now defunct) Defenders of America Naval Museum (DOANM). PT-309 is currently in a static diorama display without engines installed. Her external restoration was completed by the Texas group in 2002, and is to a high standard. PT-309 saw action against the Germans in the Mediterranean as part of RON22. Further restoration is slated to be finished in May 2010.


PT-459, a Higgins 78-foot boat, was cut down to 65 feet and highly modified into a fishing trawler. She has been acquired by Rob Ianucci and moved to Kingston for possible restoration


PT-486, an Elco 80-foot boat, now called Schumann Sails Big Blue, was discovered in February 2002 operating as a sightseeing boat out of Ottens Harbor in Wildwood, New Jersey. The current owner has her out of the water and is configuring her to resemble PT-109.


PT-615, an 80-foot Elco originally assigned to RON 42, was commissioned after the war ended. PT-615 was returned to Elco after being sold and was heavily modified into a yacht, which was leased to actor Clark Gable. He named the boat Tarbaby VI, and used her through the 1950s. The boat was serviced and stored by Elco. She was sold several times, and in the 1990s was offered for sale as Gable's Dreamboat. PT-615 was eventually acquired by Rob Ianucci and moved to Kingston for possible restoration.


PT-617 is an 80-foot Elco boat located in Battleship Cove Naval Museum in Fall River, Massachusetts. She was obtained from the backwaters of Florida and moved to its current location by JM "Boats" Newberry, the founder of PT Boats Inc. "Boats" along with the team at Battleship Cove Museum restored her during 1984-89, inside and out, at a cost of US$1 million. The quality of the restoration was extremely high, and the boat is on display inside a weatherproof building, on blocks out of the water. She is available for public viewing, and has portions of her hull cut away to display the cramped interior of the crew's quarters. General visitors are not allowed inside the boat


PT-657, a Higgins 78-foot boat, has been converted into a charter fishing boat. She is located in San Diego, California and is now named Malahini.


PT-658 Portland, Oregon

Perhaps the best example of a surviving Higgins 78-foot boat is PT-658, which was completely restored to her original 1945 configuration from 1995 to 2005. PT-658 is now fully functional and afloat, using the original three Packard V12 5M-2500 gas engines. It is the only 100% authentically restored U.S. Navy PT boat actually operational today. PT-658 is located in Portland, Oregon at Navy Operational Support Center Portland's Swan Island Pier. The group wishes to maintain the boat as a living, breathing artifact dedicated to the history of the PT force of the Second World War.[11] )


PT-728, a surviving Vosper boat, built under license at the Annapolis Boat Yard in Maryland, was restored by Bill Bohmfalk in Key West, Florida. Bohmfalk reconfigured the deck house to partially resemble an 80-foot Elco instead of its original Vosper 70-foot configuration. PT-728 was acquired by Rob Iannucci and moved to Kingston. There PT-728 serves as a tourist attraction, giving up to 49 tourists the chance to ride on a "PT boat". This boat is the only U.S. Coast Guard regulation-approved PT boat licensed to take passengers for hire, and the only surviving U.S.-built Vosper design.[12]


PT-796 is a 78-foot Higgins.[13] She is currently located in a Quonset hut-style building, protected from the weather, and up on blocks. PT-796 was used as a float during John F. Kennedy's inaugural parade to represent PT-109, with the PT-109 hull number painted on the bow, and several of PT-109's surviving crew members manning the boat. These two boats are owned by PT Boats, Inc., a World War II PT veterans organization headquartered in Germantown, Tennessee.

UK Vosper

The two Vosper boats in England were built by Vosper itself, and the first is in fairly good condition at Portsmouth. The second UK built boat is in private hands, floating on a canal north of London and being used as a private residence, though it is remarkably intact in its World War II configuration.

Recently destroyed PT Boat Hulls


PT-308 ("La Dee Da"), which was unaltered and was still 78 feet long and in 1946 stripped condition, was found beached on the bank at Franklin Timmons boatyard in Dagsboro, Delaware. The PT-308 Restoration Group was formed and began to restore the boat. But the property owner, who was building a new condominium project nearby, deemed it an eyesore and had it destroyed. The Restoration Group was only 3–4 weeks away from moving the boat to a new location. The cabin of PT-308 was removed and transported to Texas to be used as a template/pattern for PT-309's cabin. More info on PT309 is listed in the above section on PT309.


PT-659, a Higgins 78-foot boat, formerly located in Vancouver, Washington[14][15] had been scrapped by May 30, 2008. Parts of it, including the aft 20 feet from the stern, were used by the National World War II Museum to restore the PT-305. The boat and her cradle were cut up into smaller chunks and transported by truck to a warehouse in New Orleans.[16],


PT-694, (Recently destroyed) a U.S.-built Vosper & Co. 73-foot boat, was used in the television show McHale's Navy, which featured the comic exploits of a fictional PT boat crew on "PT-73". Until the mid-1990s, the boat was in private hands in Wilmington, California. The owner kept it seaworthy and ran it around from time to time. Unfortunately, while awaiting transit to San Francisco, the boat broke loose of its mooring in Santa Barbara, washed up on the beach, and was destroyed.


PT-695 ("PT Joe"), (Recently destroyed) a U.S. built Vosper & Co. 73-footer had existed virtually intact in her as-built configuration in lower San Diego Bay until late 1996. Sometime after that she was towed up to the Bay Area and existed in an inlet off the Sacramento River in Rio Vista, California but then sank at her moorings in 2003. In 2007 the wreck was cut up and hauled away in pieces.


PT-761, an Elco 80-foot boat, originally scheduled for restoration by DOANM, sadly, was destroyed at the storage facility in February 2006.[17]

PT Boats in Argentina

Ten Higgins PT Boats were delivered in 1948 for use by Argentina's navy (Armada) during the late 1940s up until the late 1970s. All of these boats are now retired from naval use, with two still in service today as sightseeing boats on the River Plate: the Leonardo da Vinci #8 and the Mar de la Plata #9. The other six boats [18] are in various states of disrepair or sunk or scrapped.

Other boats mistaken for PT Boats

The 1963 movie PT-109 used what appears to be five Elco 80-foot boats. The engine telegraph shows the Elco name, and the boats look like real Elco 80-foot boats. The boats were converted from 85 foot Air Force Crash Rescue Boats, due to the unavailability of surviving operational World War II PT boats. The 85 foot boats were built with only two Packard engines where as all PT boats have three engines.

In the 1997 movie remake of McHale's Navy, 63 foot Air Sea Rescue boats were used.

Occasionally modern Vietnam-era (Trumpy or Nasty) PTF or "Patrol Torpedo Fast" type boats are sometimes mistaken for World War II PT boats. Several PTF boats can still be found around the country, including PTF-3 in Florida, PTF-19 in Chesapeake Bay and PTF-23 in California. These should not to be confused with World War II PT boats, as they differ in several key features, such as length, width, equipment, engines, crew size, material of construction, and armament.

Notable PT boats

Some examples of famous PT boats:

See also

Other World War II torpedo boats:


General printed references

  • Breuer, William (1987). Devil Boats: The PT War Against Japan. Novato, California, U.S.A.: Presidio Press. ISBN 0-89141-586-6. 
  • Robert J. Bulkley, At Close Quarters: PT Boats in the United States Navy (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1962)
  • Victor Chun, American PT Boats in World War II: A Pictorial History (Schiffer Publishing, 1997)
  • T. Garth Connelly, Don Greer, Tom Tullis, Joe Sewell, Pt Boats in Action (Warships, No 7) (Squadron/Signal Publications, Inc., 1994)
  • Michael Green, PT Boats (Land and Sea) (Capstone Press, 1999)
  • Keresey, Dick (2003). PT 105. Annapolis, Maryland, U.S.A.: United States Naval Institute. ISBN 978-1557504692. 
  • Angus Konstam, PT-Boat Squadrons - US Navy Torpedo Boats (Ian Allan Publishing, June 2005)
  • An excellent compendium of information about the Elco PT Boats can be found in "Allied Coastal Forces of World War II" Volume II by John Lambert and Al Ross. ISBN 1-55750-035-5. This book has a detailed history of the development of the various Elco boats, with numerous drawings and photos. It also has sections on PT Boat construction, as well as chapters on the Packard engines and typical weaponry used aboard PT Boats.

PT-109 story printed references

  • Robert J. Donovan, PT 109: John F. Kennedy in WWII, 40th Anniversary Edition, McGraw Hill (reprint), 2001, ISBN 0-07-137643-7
  • Richard Tregaskis, John F. Kennedy and PT-109 (Random House, 1962) OCLC 826062
  • Robert D. Ballard, Collision With History: The Search for John F. Kennedy's PT 109 (National Geographic, 2002)
  • Haruyoshi Kimmatsu, "The night We sank John Kennedy's PT 109" appeared in Argosy Magazine December 1970, Vol. 371 #6
  • Tameichi Hara, Japanese Destroyer Captain (Ballantine Books, 1978) ISBN 0-345-27894-1
  • Duane T. Hove, American Warriors: Five Presidents in the Pacific Theater of World War II, Burd Street Press, (2003) ISBN 1-57249-307-0
  • James Michener, Tales of the South Pacific, Fawcett Crest Books, (1947) ISBN 0-449-23852-0


  1. ^ Naval Ordnance and Gunnery. NAVPERS 16116-A, Washington, D. C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946, pp. 212–213 
  2. ^ Hamachek, LCDR Russell (1989), "Hot Straight and True", PT Boat Commanders Anecdotes of WW2, New York, N. Y.: Houghton-Mifflin, pp. 27–28 
  3. ^ Donovan, Robert J. PT-109: John F. Kennedy in WW II, pp 176-184.
  4. ^ Donovan, Robert J. PT-109: John F. Kennedy in WW II, pp.95-99.
  5. ^ Donovan, Robert J. PT-109: John F. Kennedy in WW II, pp.73, 100-107.
  6. ^ Donovan, Robert J. PT-109: John F. Kennedy in WW II, pp.60-1, 100.
  7. ^ Donovan, Robert J. PT-109: John F. Kennedy in WW II, pp.105, 108-9.
  8. ^ PT-3 and PT-8 Status
  9. ^ MTB RON 1
  10. ^ Winter Texan Resources for South Padre Island, Brownsville, Harlingen and the Rio Grande Valley
  11. ^ PT-658 under way video
  12. ^ WWII Motor Torpedo Boat PT 728
  13. ^ PT Boats, Inc.- Museum
  14. ^ Google Earth View of PT-659 in fromerly in Vancouver Washington
  15. ^ Street view of PT-659
  16. ^ Dreams of restoring WWII PT boat end
  17. ^ PT 761 Restoration Project
  18. ^ FlotadeMar

External links

Simple English

PT Boats were motor torpedo boats ("PT", for "Patrol Torpedo"). They were small, fast ships used by the United States Navy in World War II to attack larger surface ships. The PT boat squadrons were nicknamed "the mosquito fleet".


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