80 Years Ago: Calvertville Mosquito Station
The U.S. Navy PT Boat Base at Tulagi (Tulaghi) in the British Florida (Solomon) Islands came about after the island was liberated by Allied forces– primarily the 1st Marine Raiders– in August 1942 following a four-month occupation by the Japanese.
The impressive prewar concrete wharf there, dubbed Government Wharf as it had been constructed and controlled by the local British administration, while too small for proper warships, was thought ideal for a squadron of PT boats.
As detailed in Close Quarters, by Bulkeley, Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Two, in Panama, was reflagged as MTBRon 3 and its brand-new 77-foot Elco-type PTs shipped from the Canal, across the Pacific, in a rather interesting way:
The first division of Squadron 3, PTs 38, 46, 48, and 60, departed Balboa on August 29 aboard the Navy oilers Lackawanna and Tappahannock, two PTs to a ship. They arrived September 19 at Noumea, New Caledonia, were unloaded, and were towed to Espiritu Santo by USS Bellatrix, a cargo ship, and the tender Jamestown, which had sailed from New York early in August to join the PTs in the Solomons. The boats were towed from Espiritu Santo by the fast minesweepers Hovey and Southard, converted four-stack destroyers, to a point 300 miles from Tulagi. There the boats were turned loose to proceed under their own power, arriving at Government Wharf, Tulagi, at daybreak on October 12.
The second division, PTs 37, 39, 45, and 61, was shipped to Noumea on a merchant ship and arrived at Tulagi on October 25.
Soon, Seabees had constructed a 20-bed infirmary, a 1,000-barrel tank farm for 100 Octane mogas with a pipeline to the repaired dock, rudimentary mess and bunk houses, an engine workshop, and a protected torpedo overhaul and storage magazine.
By December, Motor Torpedo Boat Flotilla ONE, under command of CDR Allen P. Calvert (USNA 1924)— formerly commander of the destroyer USS Craven— was activated with headquarters at Sesapi, on the northeastern tip of Tulagi.
With that, the base took on the name Calvertville, and continued ongoing operations against the Japanese “Tokyo Express,” being involved not only in the Guadalcanal campaign but also in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea.
MTBRon 3 was soon joined by MTBRon 2, MTBRon 6, MTBRon 8, and MTBRon 1 by July 1943. Among these Elco boats was PT-109, whose skipper was a young Lieutenant (jg) John Fitzgerald Kennedy, USNR.
Later, MTBRon 31, 32, and 37 would arrive and spend their war conducting nightly patrols of the Bougainville and Choiseul coasts long after the “big show” had moved to the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.
Ultimately, by the end of the war, over 100 PTs at one time or another had been based there.
The below images, captured in March 1943 by LIFE photographer Frank Scherschel, show Calvertville at its prime.
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