Tag Archives: pt boat

80 Years Ago Today: Hornet and Mosquitos

The floating “Shangri-La,” the Yorktown-class carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) arrives at Pearl Harbor directly after the Doolittle Raid on Japan, 30 April 1942. Her harbor escorts, a pair of early 77-foot Elcos of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron One (MTBRON 1), PT-28 and PT-29, are speeding by in the foreground.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), # 80-G-16865.

MTBRON 1 had been commissioned 24 July 1940, with 58-foot Fisher boats which were later transferred to the Royal Navy under lend-lease. The unit also tested out prototype 81-foot Sparkman/Higgins, 81-foot PNSY, and 70-foot Scott-Paine boats before finally fielding the Elco 77s, which had originally been trialed with MTBRon 2 in the Caribbean in the winter of 1940-41.

Sent to the Philipines prior to the outbreak of the war, MTBRON 1 had only made it as far as Pearl Harbor before the beginning of hostilities.

As noted by the National PT Boat Memorial and Museum:

During the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, PT-28 and PT-29 were already loaded on the replenishment oiler USS Ramapo (AO-12) for MTBRon 1’s assignment to the Philippines and as they could not get her motors started, the hydraulics on their gun turrets were not operative.

Crew members cut the hydraulic lines and operated the turrets manually. All 12 boats of the squadron fired on the attacking Japanese aircraft with one, PT-23, credited with shooting down two Nakajima B5N “Kate” torpedo bombers.

Shortly after the above images were taken, the Elcos moved out for Midway via French Frigate Shoals, where they clocked in as both AAA platforms and lifeguards for aircrews during that battle.

PT Boats and Zeros Painting, Oil on Canvas; by Griffith Baily Coale; 1942; Unframed Dimensions 10H X 20W
Accession #: 88-188-AF “On the brightly colored waters of the lagoon, the PT’s are skimming about, darting here dodging there, maneuvering between the rows of machine gun splashes, incessantly firing their twin pairs 50 caliber guns.”

Afterward, they continued the war in the Aleutians.

For the record, PT-28 was wrecked in a storm on 12 January 1943 at Dora Harbor, Unimak. Sistership, PT-29 completed the war and was struck from the Navy list 22 December 1944 while in Alaska waters as obsolete and unneeded.

PT Boat’s guns Sting Japanese Tonys

Offical caption, circa December 1943:

“Flashing its swift, elusive way through Pacific combat waters, a PT boat turns its guns on a pair of Tonys [Japanese Kawasaki Ki-61 Hiens] which suddenly swoop out of a cloud. In the background, an SC boat directs its fire at the marauders. The sky-sea fight is pictured in oils by U.S. Coast Guard Artist Hunter Wood.”

Chief Boatswain’s Mate Wood is known for a variety of naval warfare subjects from WWII.

Back to the Rock

“Dug Out Doug” MacArthur and the “Bataan Gang” returning to Corregidor in March 1945 on, appropriately, a group of four Navy PT-boats. 

(U.S. Air Force Photo Number 82288AC, NARA 204999579)

To his left, in suntans and shades, is Brig. Gen. Carlos P. Romulo, Doug’s ADC since 1941 and listed at the time of the photo as “commanding general of the Philippine Forces of Liberation.” Philippine President Sergio Osmeña, Quezon’s successor in the country’s government-in-exile, is also on the vessel, seated in the camp chair to the port side behind the 37mm gun.

Notably, their ride is PT-373, an 80-foot Elco of MTBRon 27 that, on 7 February 1945, had been the first U.S. Navy surface asset in Mania Bay since Corregidor fell in 1942 when she conducted a night recon mission with PT-356, which is likely the other boat in the above image.

As a side, Romulo would go on to become president of the UN General Assembly in 1949.

Higgins 78, in Detail

Here we see a great series of shots of the PT-71-class (first generation production) 78-foot motor torpedo boat USS PT-200, while her builders– at Higgins Industries, New Orleans, Louisiana– taken January 26, 1942. All are “Official Bureau of Ships Photographs” via the National Archives.

With a displacement of 56-tons and a draft of just over five feet, the all-wood craft could make 41 knots when all three of her 1,500shp Packard W-14 were running perfectly on high-octane gas and her hull was clean. If you note, she has a single 20mm Oerlikon over the stern, two twin .50 cal M2s in tubs oriented around the pilothouse, and four fixed 21-inch torpedo tubes. Unlike those used on Elco-made boats, the tubes on Higgins craft used compressed air to launch their MK8 torpedos rather than the tactically inconvenient black-powder charge which made a flash at night.

Laid down 29 June 1942, PT-200 was completed 23 January 1943, and placed in service and assigned to Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron FOUR (MTB4) under the command of LCDR William C. Specht. At the time, MTB4 was the training squadron at Melville, and, in reflection of this, PT-200 never made it overseas to fight the Axis, ending her career after 13 months, sinking 22 February 1944 in a collision off Newport, Rhode Island.

In all, Higgins produced no less than 199 78-footers of the PT-71/PT-235, PT-265, and PT-625 classes.

evolution of the 78′ Higgins PT boats

She’s a Power Packin’ Mama

The intro copy of this epic 20-minute original 1944-era Jack Warner technicolor film on PT-boats, dubbed Devil Boats, is just great.

She’s a patrol torpedo– a PT to the Navy and I guess only another boat to a landlubber. But to the guys who take her out, she is a high-stepping sweet-singing lulu. She’s built for speed and rough weather and dangerous far waters. She’s a power-packin’ mama with a thunderbolt punch in either hand and her foaming wake has marked the grave of many an enemy ship. She’s got the temperament of a tornado and the personality of a wildcat. And boy, do we love her!

It also includes amazing period footage of the Elco factory in Bayonne, New Jersey– where CDR John D. Bulkley’s 77-year-old dad is a QC guy!– and the Packard line in Detriot before finishing with an overview of the eight-week training course for PT boat officers and some dramatized action.


Bring back the plywood (?)

CAPT. Edmund Hernandez, current chair of the Joint Military Operations Department at the U.S. Naval War College, has an interesting take on upping Naval numbers and capability by way of rebooting an old idea: the Mosquito Fleet.

PT Boats and Zeros Painting, Oil on Canvas; by Griffith Baily Coale; 1942; Unframed Dimensions 10H X 20W Accession #: 88-188-AF On the brightly colored waters of the lagoon, the PT’s are skimming about, darting here dodging there, maneuvering between the rows of machine gun splashes, incessantly firing their twin pairs 50 caliber guns.

From his piece in Proceedings this month

Today’s PT boat should be outfitted with the traditional array of .50 caliber machine-guns, 40 mm cannons, rockets, mortars, smoke generator, and radar. But the torpedo would be replaced by the modern anti-ship missile, one simple to employ and able to “fire and forget.” Ultimately, as in World War II, experimentation is required to find the right mix of weapons systems to meet modern mission requirements.

Of course, the age of the small missile-armed fast attack craft (FAC) really peaked around the 1960s-70s but was quickly killed by the antidote that was small seagoing missile-armed helicopters such as the Lynx/Sea Skua, Panther/AS.15TT, and Seahawk/Penguin combinations. For reference, just ask Saddam how well his FACs did in Desert Storm against a handful of Royal Navy aircrews. Lynx from HMS Cardiff, HMS Gloucester, HMS London, and HMS Manchester, armed with Sea Skua missiles, sank or disabled 15 Iraqi patrol craft, from the relatively immune range of 5 miles.

Anyway, interesting take, if they could add some air defense, but then again if you do, these crafts start looking more like corvettes.

Combat Gallery Sunday: The Martial Art of Dwight Shepler

Much as once a week I like to take time off to cover warships (Wednesdays), on Sundays (when I feel like working), I like to cover military art and the painters, illustrators, sculptors, photographers and the like that produced them.

Combat Gallery Sunday: The Martial Art of Dwight Shepler

Dwight C. Shepler was born in Everett, Massachusetts, in 1905 and studied art at Williams College then became a member of the American Artists’ Group and the American Artists Professional League. When the war came, the 36-year-old bespectacled Shepler volunteered for the Navy and, in recognition of his skills and education, was assigned to the sea service’s Combat Art Section as an officer-artist.

As noted by the Navy, “he first traveled with a destroyer on Pacific convoy duty. From the mud of Guadalcanal, through the years of the Allied build-up in England, to the memorable D-Day on the French coast, he painted and recorded the Navy’s warfare.”

Artwork: “Gunners of the Armed Guard” Artist: Dwight C. Shepler #80 NARA

Artwork: “Liberator Fueling” Artist: Dwight C. Shepler #119 NARA

Field Day at Scapa Flow, a Northern British Base NARA DN-SC-83-05415

“Four Sisters of Londonderry” showing a four-pack of brand new U.S. Navy Benson-class destroyer destroyers including USS Madison (DD-425) USS Lansdale (DD-426) and USS Hilary P. Jones (DD-427) Artist: Dwight C. Shepler #97 – The U.S. National Archives (1983-01-01 & 1983-01-01)

Scapa Anchorage, in the collection of the National Archives, shows Shepler’s talents as a landscape artist. You almost don’t notice the Royal Navy battleships and cruiser force

The same can be said with this work, entitled St. Mawes Rendezvous, NARA DN-SC-83-05410

But then, there is war…

He observed the landings at Normandy in the ETO and Ormoc Bay and Lingayen Gulf and operations at Corregidor and Bataan in the PTO.

Opening the Attack Painting, Watercolor on Paper; by Dwight C. Shepler; 1944 D-Day D Day Arkansas French cruisers George Leygues and Montcalm. NHHC 88-199-ew

“The Battle for Fox Green Beach,” watercolor by Dwight Shepler, showing the Gleaves class destroyer USS Emmons(DD 457) foreground and her sistership, the USS Doyle, to the right, within a few hundred yards of the landing beach, mixing it up with German shore batteries on D-Day

Heavy propellers of a Rhine Ferry are swung aloft as Seabees complete the assembly of the pontoons which make up the strange craft at the invasion port somewhere in England. Drawn by Navy Combat Artist Lieutenant Dwight C. Shepler, USNR. Artwork received 12 June 1944. NHHC 80-G-45675

Task Force of Two Navies” Watercolor by Dwight Shepler, USNR, 1943, depicting U.S. and British warships in the Pentland Firth during an operation toward the Norwegian coast, coincident with the Sicily invasion, July 1943. Alabama (BB 60) is in the lead, followed by HMS Illustrious and HMS King George V. Three British carrier-based fighters (two “Seafires” and a “Martlet”) are overhead. Official USN photo # KN-20381, courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Collection, Washington, DC, now in the collections of the National Archives.

“First Reconnaissance – Manila Harbor. Painting, Watercolor on Paper; by Dwight Shepler; 1945; Framed Dimensions 31H X 39W. Two PT’s prowled inside the breakwater entrance of Manila Harbor on February 23, 1945, first U.S. Naval vessels to enter in three years. Treading the mine-strewn waters of Manila Bay, PT’s 358 and 374 probed into the shoal harbor waters where countless enemy vessels sat on the bottom in mute testament of the severity of the fast carrier strikes of the fall of 1944. Manila smoked and exploded from the final fighting in Intramuros and the dock area.” (NHHC: 88-199-FY)

Minesweeper Before Corregidor Cleaning a pathway through the mines off Bataan peninsula, these hardy little minesweepers can work under severe Japanese coastal bombardment. Despite Army air cover overhead, the enemy shore guns sank the motor minesweeper YMS-48 and damaged the destroyers, Fletcher and Hopewell. On the following day, a naval task group landed Army troops on the peninsula and a short time thereafter resistance ceased on Corregidor and Bataan.Painting, Watercolor on Paper; by Dwight C. Shepler; 1945; Framed Dimensions 30H X 39W Accession #: 88-199-GK

Preparations For Getting Underway DN-SC-83-05402

He also did a number of historic scenes for the branch.

Watercolor painting by Dwight Shepler of the USS South Dakota in action with Japanese planes during the Battle of Santa Cruz which took place October 11-26, 1942.

This image was used in a number of adverts during the War.

The Spider and the Fly — USS Hornet CIC at Midway. During World War II, battles were won by the side that was first to spot enemy airplanes, ships, or submarines. To give the Allies an edge, British and American scientists developed radar technology to “see” for hundreds of miles, even at night.Painting, Oil on Canvas; by Dwight Shepler; 1945; Framed Dimensions 28H X 40W Accession #: 88-199-GN

Japanese dive bomber swoops down in a kamikaze attack on USS Hornet (CVA 12) and is disintegrated by the ships anti-aircraft fire before it can hit the carrier. This is a copy of a watercolor painted by Lieutenant Dwight C. Shepler, USNR, Navy Combat Artist, from memory of an actual combat experience. Photographed released August 10, 1945. U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-700121

On 5 September 1813, the schooner Enterprise, commanded by Lieutenant William Burrows, captured the brig HMS Boxer off Portland, Maine in a twenty-minute action that saw both commanding officers die in battle. Enterprise’s second in command, Lieutenant Edward R. McCall then took Boxer to Portland, Maine. USS Enterprise versus HMS Boxer in action off the coast of Maine. Artist, Dwight Shepler. Enterprise was commanded by Lt William Burrows. Unfortunately, NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 47013-KN

For his service as a Combat Artist, the Navy awarded Shepler the Bronze Star. He left the branch in 1946 as a full Commander, USNR, having produced more than 300 paintings and drawings.

U.S. Navy artists, (left to right), Lieutenant William F. Draper, Lieutenant Dwight C. Shepler, and Lieutenant Mitchell Jamieson, conferring with Lieutenant Commander Parsons in the Navy Office of Public Relations, Washington, D.C., November 20, 1944. NHHC 80-G-47096

After the war, he continued his career as a pioneer watercolorist of the high ski country and later served as president of the Guild of Boston Artists.

Dwight Shepler, Mount Lafayette, and Cannon Mountain, N. H., n.d., watercolor, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Ford Motor Company, 1966.36.179

He died at age 69 in Weston, Mass. His works are on wide display from the Smithsonian to the Truman Library and various points in between. His oral history is in the National Archives.

Thank you for your work, sir.

Mosquito Boat flag and log from Normandy hits the auction block

A 48-star 34″x52″ flag, log and pictures from “Coral Queen/Coral Princess,” officially known as PT-520, a PTRon 35 80′ Elco that served in Europe during WWII is up for auction next week at Cowans.

The flag was used by PT-520 until August 25 1944 when the radio mast it was affixed to was shot away by a German shell and was preserved by a coxswain. According to Navsource, PT-50 was transferred to the Russkis in April 1945 and later scuttled in the Barents in 1956– but the flag and log remain.

From Cowans:

Serving in the European Theater of World War Two from June to November 1944, PT-520 participated in numerous actions against German sea and air forces in the English Channel and coast of France. This flag was present during its participation in Operation Overlord, where it was assigned to the “Mason Line”, a net of defensive measures on the western flank of the invasion preventing the attack of German ships. PT-520 was stationed two to three miles from Omaha and Utah areas, sweeping for mines and performing search and rescue operations. After the success of the invasion, PT-520 continued to operate along the French coast, rescuing downed pilots, fending off aerial raids and engaging German minesweepers and fast attack craft. The log states that during its operational career, the vessel sunk two R-Boats, two E-Boats, and one “T.L.C.”

The mosquito boats at Midway

While the huge carrier task forces get all the attention at Midway, there was also an unsung fleet of plywood boats who took part in the battle as well.

As part of the local defenses at Midway were 11 early model PT boats (Elco 77′ PT’s 20-31) of the 1st Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron. Dispatched to Midway from Pearl Harbor in May, the nearly 1,400nm trip is often regarded as the longest open-water PT boat sortie of the war (though they did rendezvous with seaplane tenders for gas twice on the trip).

On June 4, as some 60 Japanese Navy planes attacked Sand Island (part of Midway) the PT boats were ready to meet them. MTB RON 1 had already had a bit of experience shooting at Japanese planes– at Pearl Harbor six months prior.

PT Boats and Zeros Painting, Oil on Canvas; by Griffith Baily Coale; 1942; Unframed Dimensions 10H X 20W Accession #: 88-188-AF On the brightly colored waters of the lagoon, the PT’s are skimming about, darting here dodging there, maneuvering between the rows of machine gun splashes, incessantly firing their twin pairs 50 caliber guns.

According to PTboats.org:

As the dive bombers pulled out over the lagoon, the PT’s opened with all their guns. PT’s 21 and 22 concentrated their fire on a low-flying Zero, which crashed in the trees on Sand Island. Another Zero came out of a steep dive to strafe PT 25. The 25 took 30 small-caliber hits above the waterline; 1 officer and 2 men were slightly wounded by shrapnel. Several times planes started to dive on other boats, but swerved off as soon as the PT’s opened fire.

After the raid they picked up five USMC Marine pilots and two enlisted who had bailed out and returned them to shore.

They also made the epitaph to the great naval battle out to sea on the 5th .

At 1930 all 11 PT’s got underway to search for damaged Japanese carriers reported 170 miles to the northwest. The weather was squally, with poor visibility. These conditions, excellent for PT attack, also made it difficult to find targets. Unable to find anything by dawn, the PT’s turned back to Midway. On the way, PT’s 20 and 21 sighted a column of smoke 50 miles to the west. They sped toward it at 40 knots, but when they arrived all they could see was a large expanse of fuel oil and floating wreckage, apparently Japanese. Probably no Japanese carriers were left afloat.

On the 6th, they put to sea with flag draped coffins of Marines and Japanese killed in the raid two days prior.

Sinking Sun Painting, Oil on Canvas; by Griffith Baily Coale; 1942; Framed Dimensions 54H X 63W Accession #: 88-188-AB Marine stands at parade rest on the bow of a PT boat as she moves slowly out to sea from Midway to give decent burial to Japanese fliers shot down on the islands during the battle. The red ball of the rising sun is prophetically repeated by the round disc and spreading rays of the sinking sun.


A PT break

Bristling with 20mm and 37mm cannon, .50 cal machine guns and torpedoes, the 80~ foot long plywood wonders that were WWII mosquito boats were pound for pound one of the stoutest warships ever to serve the Navy.

NHHC Photograph Collection, L-File, Unnamed U.S. Navy vessels

Note the huge 30-round 37mm drums and boxes of ammo at the ready. NHHC Photograph Collection, L-File, Unnamed U.S. Navy vessels

Secured to their tender, five PTs float in the calm waters of the Pacific as they are refueled and given rudimentary repairs. The brief recess from the wars is a boon to the officers and men of the PT unit as well. A group of them is gathered under the canvas “canopy” on the center boat, circa early Summer 1945. In the foreground, a crewman gives a gun the check-over.

They are equipped with a 37 mm M4 Automatic Gun– a huge 213-pound autocannon designed by John Browing and taken from P-39 Airacobra and P-63 Kingcobra fighters, as well as at least two 20mm Oerlikon forward, likely a 40mm Bofors single aft, and two twin M2 .50 cal tubs.

The Elco boats look to be those of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron THIRTY THREE (PTRon 33) under the command of Lt. A. Murray Preston, USNR. They served at Aitape, New Guinea; Morotai in the Halmaheras; and San Pedro Bay and Panay in the Philippines.