Navy ‘Stuff’…

This week is something a bit different…

The Mosquito Fleet, AKA PT (Patrol Torpedo) boats. Specifically the WWII variants.

The original concept goes back to the 1890s, then called Torpedo Boats. In WWI, the Brits designed what they called Motor Torpedo Boats (MTBs), of which the US version is a lineal descendent.

PT 105 and sisters underway off the East Coast.

U.S. Navy bureau of Ships – Official U.S. Navy photo NH 97974 from the U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command

Three main competitors for the PT boat contracts (all of whom built at least some boats) were Higgins Industries, out of New Orleans, LA,  Electric Launch Company (Elco), out of Bayonne, NJ, and Huckins Yachts out of Jacksonville, FL. Higgins was already heavily into government contracting with their LCVP or ‘Higgins’ landing craft.

Various lengths and designs were proposed, and tested, with the designs ‘settling’ around a 76-80 foot boat, powered by three Packard 2500 marine engines. The ‘standard’ equipment was four MK-8 torpedos (later upgraded to the MK-13), two MK-18 21inch launchers, two .50 caliber machine guns and 2-6 Mk-6 depth charges. The ‘stated’ required speed was 32kts loaded.

They operated in the Mediterranean, off Europe, off the US, the Panama Canal, and the western Pacific. The total numbers built were, Elco- 326,  Higgins- 199, and Huckins- 18 (they were a late entry). There were slight differences between the different manufacturers, as indicated here-

from 1945 training handout

The original concept was to use them as an anti-ship weapon, primarily at night. However, this led to problems without good lighting to allow the PT crews to see their targets. Eventually most of the PTs were fitted with Raytheon SO radar, which had about a 17 nm range. This allowed them to upgrade their tactics and immensely improved their kill ratios.

Bonus points if you recognize this Lieutenant…

U.S. Navy bureau of Ships – Official U.S. Navy photo 80-G-14252 from the U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command

In 1942/43  PT boats at Guadalcanal were given credit for several sinkings and successes against the Tokyo Express (Japanese resupply missions). Several times the presence of PTs disrupted heavily escorted Japanese resupply activities.

In both the Med and Pacific, a primary function of the PTs were to sink the supply barges run in shallow water by both the Germans and Japanese. This was done by removing the torpedo tubes (ineffective against shallow draft targets) and installing more and heavier guns. John F. Kennedy actually commanded one of the original version of this in the Pacific, PT- 59.

Of course one can’t not mention PT-109…

U.S. Navy bureau of Ships – Official U.S. Navy photo 306-ST-649-9 from the U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command

I’m not going into detail on that, if you don’t know the story, just search PT-109.

Often forward deployed, the conditions, at least in the SW Pacific, weren’t always the best…  PT-66 (MTBRON-8) Morobe PT Boat Base, New Guinea. Note the camouflage netting strung behind the boat.

U.S. Navy bureau of Ships – Official U.S. Navy photo 80-G-53844 from the U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command

Another problem, actually one of the bigger ones for PT boats were aircraft attacks. With almost no armor plate, they were very vulnerable to attack. A number of boats were lost to friendly fire also.

One note on engines- The Packard Corporation actually built aircraft engines among other things, and the original engines submitted for the trials were upgraded WWI Liberty aircraft engines! There were three upgrades during the war, the 4M-2500 initially generated 1200 hp three of them roughly equaling the power of a Boeing B-17 bomber. It was subsequently upgraded in stages to 1500 hp , allowing a designed speed of 41 knots. The 5M-2500 introduced in late 1945 had a larger supercharger, aftercooler, and increased power output of 1850 hp. It could push fully loaded boats at 45 to 50 knots. However, fuel consumption of any version of these engines was exceptionally heavy. A PT boat carried 3,000 gallons of 100 octane aviation fuel, enough for a  boat to conduct a maximum 12-hour patrol at 23kts/200 gallons hour. At 32+kts/500 gallons hour generated only 6-hours. Hull fouling (BIG problem in the South Pacific) and engine wear both decreased top speed and increased fuel consumption.

The other missions PT boats fulfilled were lifesaving, anti-shipping during the D-Day invasion, mines and smoke screens, air-sea rescue operations, rescue shipwreck survivors, destroying floating mines, and intelligence or raider operations, depending on the PT’s theater of operations.

Very few PT boats remain, one is PT658, out of Oregon, totally rebuilt by volunteers and seaworthy! She is in her as accepted condition as of July 31, 1945. Simply amazing…

Creative Commons, Jerry Gilmartin and Don MacDonald, May 2011

Lastly, we have PT-305, housed in the National WWII Museum in New Orleans…

She is now seaworthy and available for rides on Lake Ponchartrain starting in April 2017.

Peripatetic Engineer has a post up HERE, with PT-305 actually underway on her own power!

For more information, you can go HERE

Oh yeah, the LT…

John D. Bulkeley

For extraordinary heroism, distinguished service, and conspicuous gallantry above and beyond the call of duty as commander of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 3, in Philippine waters during the period 7 December 1941 to 10 April 1942. The remarkable achievement of LCDR Bulkeley’s command in damaging or destroying a notable number of Japanese enemy planes, surface combatant and merchant ships, and in dispersing landing parties and land-based enemy forces during the 4 months and 8 days of operation without benefit of repairs, overhaul, or maintenance facilities for his squadron, is believed to be without precedent in this type of warfare. His dynamic forcefulness and daring in offensive action, his brilliantly planned and skillfully executed attacks, supplemented by a unique resourcefulness and ingenuity, characterize him as an outstanding leader of men and a gallant and intrepid seaman. These qualities coupled with a complete disregard for his own personal safety reflect great credit upon him and the Naval Service.

He also picked up General Douglas MacArthur, family, and his immediate staff, carrying them from Corregidor aboard PT boats over 600 nautical miles of open ocean to Mindanao. He also participated in the D-Day landings, commanding a PT squadron and later made Rear Admiral.


Navy ‘Stuff’… — 28 Comments

  1. Popular legend has it that the hull design and motor choice were from a rum runner design arrived at towards the end of prohibition tat the designer didn’t want to see go to waste, and so gave to the navy. You don’t mention this. Is there are word of truth in it? I have to admit I’ll be sad if there isn’t.

  2. I loved the PT boats, especially after reading PT109 before Kennedy was elected President (school required reading). I would have volunteered for them, but I was in between PT’s and River Boats of Vietnam. I enjoyed the restoration video, too. That boat looks so bad skimming across the water.

    • There was also the venerable PT-73…but I think that their mission was so secret that it never made it into the archives. We have to rely on Hollywood to recount their deeds.

  3. Anybody that sailed into harm’s way in a plywood boat filled with explosives and aviation gasoline has my respect.

  4. The Germans had their own version, called E-Boats (Wiki entry here). A novel by Paul Mandel and his wife Sheila (who completed it when Paul died during the writing) details PT boat operations in Europe during WWII – – it is titled The Black Ship. I read it in a Reader’s Digest Condensed Books hardcover collection.

  5. They Were Expendable – one of my favorite John Wayne movies and one of the best WWII movies made (John Ford). Robert Montgomery had served in the Navy during the war, and his acting and directing in this film are superb.

  6. Ever I saw John Wayne’s sub chaser, the Wild Goose, I wanted one. And would always have accepted something smaller like a PT Boat. But that fantasy aside, my hat is off to those who served on them in combat. Rough duty.

  7. Very cool!

    “without benefit of repairs, overhaul, or maintenance facilities for his squadron, is believed to be without precedent in this type of warfare” ” a unique resourcefulness and ingenuity”

    So…the Lt. not only knew his way around the ocean, how to plan and successfully execute missions, he must have been either very nice to his equipment or very good with bubble gum and bailing twine…is that what the Navy was saying? Maybe he kept his mechanic well supplied/motivated with scotch? Lol.

    If so, then we need more men and women like him in the country as well as the Armed Services. 🙂

  8. CSP- Nothing I found in the ‘official’ Navy stuff… But the hull form was ‘distinctive’ for the time.

    CP- That it does! Guys I knew that were Brown Water sailors said they were the ‘descendants’ of the PT boat guys!

    LL- LOL, yep! Borgnine actually spent 10 years in the Navy, made GMG1 serving on a Patrol Yacht during WWII. The real PT-73 was torched after it ran aground off Mindanao supplying the guerrillas during Jan 1945.

    John- AMEN!!!

    WSF- It was. The bioluminescence they kicked up stayed visible for hours.

    Robert- Yep, E-boats were also built by the Italians.

    PE- Dang, I missed that one, I’ll link it!

    ERic- One of the classics!

    LL- Amen to that!

    Suz- Bubble gum, bailing wire, and San Miguel painted label… LOL

  9. I’ve read one theory that the crew of PT 109 was asleep and that’s why they were run over by the destroyer. The boats were so maneuverable that they could avoid and attempt to ram them.

  10. When I was a kid, there was a civilian-owned PT boat in the marina near Meig’s Field. The owner didn’t take her out a lot, as she was a gas hog.

    Don’t know what happened to the boat.

  11. PE- I’ve also heard that, but never found ‘confirmation’…

    CM- It’s ‘probably’ now at a museum somewhere. At 200 gal/hr, even back in the day for avgas, that wasn’t a cheap ride, but that must have been a helluva rush!

  12. No “safe spaces” for those young men in an MTB plywood cockleshell.

  13. I had to check as I thought this was true about They Were Expendable:
    (From Wikipedia)
    “The characters of John Brickley (Montgomery) and Rusty Ryan (Wayne) are fictionalizations of the actual subjects, John D. Bulkeley (Medal of Honor recipient) and Robert Kelly, respectively.”
    The enlisted were unsung heroes as they joined the resistance on the loss of their boats.

  14. Roger- Nope, not a one!

    Ed- You are correct sir.

    John- I’ve really got to get down there!

  15. Great post! As a former tin can sailor, I love the Navy Stuff. The last ship I spent time on was USS RENTZ, now sadly on the bottom of the Pacific (, as of last year.

    The PT display at the Nimitz Museum is definitely worth the visit, as is the Japanese mini sub from the Pearl Harbor attack ( They also have a “Pacific Combat Zone”, where reenactors show a snippet of combat between Japanese and US troops. Worth seeing for the flamethrower, and the reenactors are pretty serious about it all. Nice folks.

    Plus, you can drag along family and turn them loose in Fredericksburg, which has many antique shops, restaurants, and other places to visit…and Cimarron Firearms has their store in Fredericksburg! How can you lose?

    All my best,
    Bob (former LT(j.g.), USNR)

  16. Bulkely, had a destroyer named for him. I believe it is an Arleigh Burke class.

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  18. Probably the roughest duty for the PT boats was a group assigned to fight in Alaska. Up the inside passage and off to a war they were really not designed for.

  19. In terms of offensive energy (explosives chemical potential + projectiles kinetic energy of a full load of ordnance) divided by vessel mass, the PT boat delivered more punch per pound than any other boat or ship the USN put to sea.