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.
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-
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…
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…
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.
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…
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.
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.