Development -- A New Type Emerges
1. WHAT IS A PT?
DEAD IN THE water, a PT is squat and beamy. It was designed for speed, and in speed lies its beauty. As a PT gains momentum, its bow lifts clear of the water and it planes gracefully over the surface, throwing out a great wave from the chine on either side and a rooster tall of white water astern. The men who rode PT's cursed them for their pounding and discomfort, but loved them for the beauty that is born of their speed.
At first glance, it may seem paradoxical that high speed would not be used in a perfect torpedo attack. Ideally, a PT sneaks in slowly with muffled engines to firing range, launches its torpedoes, turns and idles silently away. This is seldom possible. Usually, by the time the torpedoes are launched, the enemy has been alerted and his guns are blazing away at the PT. Then speed, maneuverability, and a smokescreen are the PT's only protection. Speed also permits PT's to leave their base at dusk, thrust deep into enemy territory and return to base by dawn. It is imprudent to be out in daylight where the enemy controls the air. In a daylight contest between 1 or 2 PT's and 1 or 2 planes, the PT's have the advantage; but where 15 or 20 planes may attack 2 PT's, the advantage is the other way.
Good as it is, the speed of PT's frequently has been exaggerated. PT's do not make 70 knots -- or even 60. They were designed to make better than 40 knots at full war load. And that, over the water, is fast -- more than 45 land-miles per hour. With proper maintenance -- a clean bottom, engines tuned, everything just right -- a PT can be expected to turn up 40 knots without difficulty. But after long periods of operating in advanced areas, without proper maintenance and repair facilities, speed deteriorates. The men of the New Guinea squadrons sang a song which began:
"Oh, some PT's do seventy-five,
And some do sixty-nine;
When we get ours to run at all
We think we're doing fine . . ."
The PT's wake was a thing of beauty.
The size of PT's varied somewhat. Of the first experimental boats, some were 58 feet overall, others 81 feet. The first satisfactory boats, copied from a British design, were 70 feet. These boats, built by the Elco Naval Division of the Electric Boat Co. at Bayonne, N.J., were designed to carry four 18inch (diameter) torpedoes. While this was a standard British size, the United States had only a small stock of these torpedoes and had none in production. Accordingly, the size of the boat was increased to carry four of the heavier and longer 21-inch torpedoes, standard U.S. Navy size. So the next boats were the 77-foot Elco models which saw service at Pearl Harbor and in the Philippines. Finally, demands for heavier armament and better seakeeping qualities led to still larger boats; the 78-foot model built by Higgins Industries at New Orleans, and the Elco 80-footer. The Higgins 78-footer and the Elco so were of comparable size, both considerably larger boats, because of raised freeboard, than the Elco 77.
PT assembly line at Higgins Industries' City Park Plant, New Orleans, La.
(WIDE WORLD PHOTOS)
At Elco's Bayonne, N.J., plant, PT construction was started with the boat upside down; when bottom and side planking was completed, the hull was turned over in a special sling.
These two boats became standard for the U.S. Navy. Including boats built for lend-lease, Elco turned out 320 and Higgins 205. While each type had its proponents, it is fair to say that the Elco boat had a slight edge in speed, and was drier. The Higgins had a tendency to nose under the waves, drenching the crew. The Higgins boat was considerably more maneuverable than the Elco, however, an extremely valuable feature in defense against air attack.
Except for a few of the early experimental boats, all U.S. PT's were powered by three 12-cylinder Packard marine engines. These engines, which burned 100-octane gasoline, were originally rated at 1,200 horsepower. As the boats grew in size and weight more power was needed, and the engine was modified to a 1,350- and finally to a 1,500-horsepower rating. The Packard engine, developed especially for PT use, was one of the most reliable
items of PT equipment. Changing of engines for overhaul was prescribed after 600 hours of use, but spare engines were not always available. Many engines gave satisfactory performance after more than 1,200 hours. Sometimes boats were hit in combat and came limping home with several feet of water in the engineroom, the engines almost submerged but still running.
Although much plywood was used in PT construction, the hull itself was not plywood, but two layers of mahogany planking laid over laminated wood frames. A layer of airplane fabric, impregnated with marine glue, was ironed on between the two layers of planking. The result was a light, strong hull, resilient enough to stand up in heavy seas.
While each type had its own distinctive below-decks arrangement, both included engineroom, fuel tanks to carry 3,000 gallons of gasoline, fresh water tanks, charthouse (in which, besides a chart table, were the radio and
PT's were surprisingly roomy below decks. The ship's cook had an adequate galley to feed a hungry crew.
His problem: would the auxiliary generator hold out until the meal was cooked?
radar), separate living compartments for officers and men, and a galley equipped with electric range and refrigerator.
In relation to its size, the PT carried the heaviest armament of any naval vessel. The first boats carried only four torpedoes in tubes and two pairs of .50-caliber machine-guns in turrets. Then a 20mm. cannon was added, useful against both airplanes and surface craft. Antibarge actions in the Solomons and New Guinea soon demonstrated the need for heavier guns. Early in 1943 experimental installation of single-shot 37mm. antitank guns were made in both theaters. Soon afterwards, automatic 37's were made available by the Army Air Corps. Mounted on the bow, the automatic 37 became a standard installation.
At first, the only torpedoes available for PT's were Mark VIII's of World War I vintage. Designed for use by destroyers, they had a range of 10,000 yards, a speed of 27 knots, and a 300-pound warhead. They were long and heavy, and had to be launched on an even keel, lest the gyro be upset. They were given to erratic runs, particularly at shallow depth setting. Their weight and slow speed were positive disadvantages; their long range was unnecessary because the boats' fire control was not sufficiently accurate to permit a long-range shot.
To avoid tumbling the gyro, it was necessary to launch the torpedo from a tube, a device which added still more weight to the boat. Tubes on the Elco boats employed a black powder charge for launching. This proved to be an additional hazard. In night actions the flash of the powder charge frequently disclosed the position of the PT to the enemy. Higgins Industries eliminated this hazard by developing a launching device which impelled the torpedo from the tube by compressed air.
Most of the difficulties were overcome when Mark XII torpedoes became available. The Mark XIII, developed as an aircraft torpedo, was short range, but far smaller and lighter, and more reliable than the Mark VIII. It had a speed of 45 knots, carried a 600-pound warhead, and had a nontumbling gyro. This made it possible to roll it into the water from a sidelaunching rack, which was much lighter than the torpedo tube.
With this double saving in weight -- a lighter torpedo and a rack much lighter than the old tube -- it was possible to carry a heavier gun than the 20mm. on the stern. Despite the fact that the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons Training Center at Melville, R.I., had turned in an unfavorable report on an experimental mounting of a 40-mm. cannon, Lt. Comdr. John Harllee,
Loading a Mark VIII torpedo in its tube.
obtained authorization to mount 40's on four of his boats in Squadron 12, which arrived in New Guinea in August 1943.
This was the best antibarge gun the boats ever had, and eventually became standard armament on all boats. It was accurate, automatic, and sufficiently powerful to blast holes in the heaviest armored barge. With the addition of the 40 on the stern, the 20 was moved from the stern to the forecastle.
Three of the Solomons PT's were stripped of all original armament except the two twin-. 50-caliber gun mounts. Then two 40mm. cannon were installed, fore and aft, as well as four additional twin .50-caliber machine-guns. These proved to be excellent gunboats, effective against the toughest Japanese barges.
In New Guinea, the PT's even experimented with 75mm. cannon in place of the 40 mm. Although the 75 was actually lighter than the 40, and carried a more powerful punch, it was discarded because the automatic 40 had a much higher rate of fire than the semiautomatic 75, and the 40 had tracer control -- the gunner's eye could follow the flight of his shells -- while the 75 did not.
Early in 1944 PT's both in the Mediterranean and in New Guinea made experimental installations of 4.5-inch barrage rocket projectors, one
A Mark XIII torpedo slides from its launching rack, propellers spinning and exhaust gases escaping from its tail.
Compare with firing of Mark VIII torpedoes from tubes (Frontispiece).
12-round projector on each side of the deck, foward of the torpedo tubes. The rockets were tremendously destructive, but not accurate enough for effective use against surface targets. Consequently they were of little value in the Mediterranean, where radar-controlled shore batteries prevented PT's from coming within rocket range of shore objectives. In New Guinea, on the other hand, the boats could sneak close to land to bombard shore installations. Against shore targets, pinpoint accuracy was not essential, since a salvo of 24 rockets spread destruction over a wide area.
In 1945, boats in the Philippines received a new weapon of great promise -- 5-inch spin-stabilized rockets. Far more potent than the 4.5-inch barrage rockets, these were roughly equivalent in power to the 5-inch shells of a
destroyer -- and they were accurate. This was such a late development, however, that there was little opportunity to test it in action.
Another weapon that should be mentioned is the so-called "Thunderbolt," developed by Elco. This was a power-driven mount containing four 20-mm. cannon. The first experimental Thunderbolt was mounted on PT 138, of Squadron 7, late in 1942. It was never entirely satisfactory in operation, and carried away in a heavy sea before it could be tested in action. Improved models were installed on four boats of Squadron 29 in 1944 for use in the Mediterranean, and on a few boats of Squadrons 10 and 21 early in 1945 in the Philippines. They were highly satisfactory in the few actions in which they were used.
A depth charge explodes in the wake of a PT during training exercises in the Gulf of Panama.
Most PT's carried two depth charges, to be used in case a PT should cross the path of a submerging submarine. Inasmuch as no satisfactory sound gear was ever developed for PT's, they could never aspire to efficiency as antisubmarine vessels, but occasionally were able to harass, if not to damage, enemy underwater craft. During the early months of the war the boats of Squadron 1 were in constant demand for antisubmarine patrol duty at Pearl Harbor, as they were the only vessels available that could drop depth charges in the shallow restricted waters of the harbor and channel and get clear before the charges exploded. The squadron claimed credit for possible destruction of two submarines, but the claim is unconfirmed. On several occasions in New Guinea and the Solomons, PT's dropped depth charges on submerging submarines without demonstrable results.
Occasionally PT's used depth charges for another purpose, in a manner first developed by British boats in the English Channel. Sometimes, when a lugger or small cargo ship resisted destruction by gunfire, it was possible to break its back by dropping a depth charge close aboard.
The final item of ordnance equipment was purely defensive -- a smokescreen generator. Literally hundreds of times boats evaded enemy fire by running radical course changes behind adroitly laid puffs of smoke.
From the beginning, PT's were equipped with radio for communication with base or tender and with each other. Later a VHF (very high frequency) radio, with transmission limited to short distances, was added to give greater security to communications between boats and with cooperating planes.
The early boats had no radar. John Bulkeley had learned the need for it in the Philippines. He urgently requested, and received, 12 sets of aircraft radar for installation in the boats of his new Squadron 7. These sets suffered frequent breakdowns, and often failed to operate because of unreliable power supply, but they demonstrated clearly that radar was invaluable both for navigation and for locating the enemy. Within less than a year, practically all PT's were equipped with reliable radar especially developed for their use. Much of the subsequent success of PT's was directly attributable to this remarkable instrument, which gave them eyes to see in the dark.
2. ANCIENT HISTORY
At the time of World War II, the motor torpedo boat was less than 40 years old. In 1905, Yarrow, the British boatbuilder, launched an experimental
Torpedo boat powered by an Italian Napier engine. Only 15 feet long, the boat made 25 knots and carried two torpedoes. While Yarrow was experimenting with his model, another British builder, John I. Thornycroft, produced a larger motor torpedo boat, 40 feet overall, with a displacement of 4½ tons. This boat had a top speed of 18 knots and carried a single torpedo in a rack. Launching the torpedo was a precarious business, greatly endangering the stability of the boat.
There had been earlier torpedo boats, to be sure, but they were powered by steam. Builders saw in the internal combustion engine an opportunity to fulfill three requirements of torpedo boat design that had seemed mutually exclusive with steampower: high speed, economy, and a small target for the enemy to hit.
The lead of Yarrow and Thornycroft was quickly followed in other countries. The Italians developed a motor torpedo boat in 1906. By 1907, the French had built a steel-hulled boat, displacing a comparatively heavy 8 tons. In place of the torpedo rack which was a feature of the British models, this boat had a single torpedo tube built into the bow. Its trials produced such unexpectedly good results that the French Admiralty enthusiastically urged further experiments with the type.
The United States made its entry into the field in behalf of another power: Lewis Nixon designed, built, and sold to Russia 10 motor torpedo boats in 1908. These boats were powered by two 6-cylinder benzine-fueled engines. Nixon proved the seaworthiness of his design when one of his boats went without damage from New York to Sevastopol under its own power in a moderate sea.
In the same year that Nixon built his boats, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy recommended construction of a number of small motor torpedo boats to be used for coastal defense. The Navy's General Board felt that the funds could be better used for seagoing torpedo boats and no immediate action was taken. In 1909, however, Congress authorized the construction of two small torpedo boats. While these were never completed, the Navy did prepare tentative designs for a 150-foot and a 115-foot boat. Both carried a single 18-inch torpedo tube and two rapid-fire guns.
In 1912, the Navy gave serious consideration to an invention of Charles L. Burger of New York City which allowed small motorboats to be converted to fire torpedoes.
3. WORLD WAR I AND AFTER
Italy and Britain led the field in motor torpedo boat development in World War I. By 1916 Italy had developed MAS boats (Motoscafi Anti-Sommergibli) 50 to 69 feet long, carrying from 2 to 4 torpedoes, with a top speed of about 33 knots. From the abbreviation, MAS, Gabriele d'Annunzio formed a motto, "Memento Audare Sempre" -- "Remember Always to Dare" -- good advice for motor torpedo boats of any nation.
The Italians carried out several successful raids against Austrian naval units and shipping in Adriatic harbors, the most notable successes being the sinking of the light cruiser Wien at Trieste on December 9, 1917, and the sinking of the battleship Szent Istvan in the Straits of Otranto on June 8, 1918.
The first of the British CMB's (coastal motor boats) was built by Thornycroft in 1915. Tests of this 40-foot, 33.5-knot boat were satisfactory and the Admiralty ordered a dozen. Thornycroft later designed a 55-footer, which also was accepted by the Admiralty. By November of 1918 the Royal Navy. had commissioned 66 CMB's, and had designs for a 70-foot boat which could have been put into production by the fall of 1919 had the war continued.
Like American PT's of World War II, the CMB's were not used exclusively for torpedo attacks, but had a variety of functions, including minelaying, antisubmarine patrol, laying of smokescreens, and rescue of aviators from fallen planes. It is worth noting that what was probably the first air attack on motor torpedo boats was made on August 10, 1918, when eight low-flying German planes strafed six CMB's. All of the boats were put out of commission, though none was lost. Twenty-five years later the Japanese made consistent efforts to combat PT's by air attack. Although the PT's were heavier gunned than the CMB's, planes were still such a dangerous adversary that it was tactically unsound to attempt to operate boats in daylight where the enemy controlled the air.
The CMB's had their most spectacular success in a postwar operation, a raid on Kronstadt in 1919 after the Russian Revolution, when they sank the cruiser Oleg and damaged or disabled 2 capital ships and 2 destroyers with the loss of only 1 CMB.
The U.S. Navy showed only slight interest in motor torpedo boats during the war years, no doubt because of the geographical position of the country. Motor torpedo boats were designed for strikes against enemy shipping and fleet units within a short distance of a home base, and German seapower,
except for their U-boats, was incapable of making an assault on American shores.
Acting on recommendation of Rear Adm. Joseph Strauss, Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, the Navy Department decided in 1915 to purchase a high-powered motorboat with which to conduct experiments to ascertain the value of the type. This project progressed only as far as acquisition of plans for a 50-foot boat to be built by the Greenport Basin & Construction Co., of Greenport, Long Island. This boat was designed for a maximum speed of 43 miles per hour and was to carry quick firing guns and a single torpedo tube.
In 1917 the Navy went a step further, testing a 40-foot boat which, though capable of 40 knots in smooth water, was unacceptable because of its rough action in a seaway. A year later a 27-foot craft known as W. Shearer's one-man torpedo boat was built and tested. The forward part of the boat was submersible; the torpedo was carried in a well, which when flooded permitted launching the torpedo under its own power. The trial board recommended construction of a flotilla of these boats for use against German bases, but the General Board quashed the recommendation, remarking, "It is thought labor and material for large numbers of such boats can be better employed to win the war in turning out destroyers, submarine chasers, submarines and aircraft."
In 1920, however, the General Board joined the Chief of the Bureau of Construction and Repair in recommending purchase of two of the Royal Navy's Thornycroft CMB's. The Navy acquired one of each type. Trials in 1922 revealed that the 40-footer could make 32.25 knots and the 55-footer 35.13 knots. No further experimental use was made of the 40-footer, which was used for torpedo recovery until 1928, when it was converted to a crashboat. It was condemned in 1934. Experiments with the 55-footer continued until 1930, when it was stricken from the Navy Register.
During the 1920's many other Thornycrofts appeared in sheltered coves and inlets along the east coast, brought to the United States under private sponsorship. These boats were employed in night operations designed to relieve the dryness of a thirsty nation. While the Navy remained relatively uninterested in development of fast motorboats, the rum trade carried on extensive experimentation, including the adaptation of the Liberty engine to marine use. One engineer whose experience and know-how were valuable to the World War II PT program was frequently known to preface his
comments on perplexing technical problems with the remark, "Well, when I was a rummie, we . . ."
It would be interesting to know how many PT technicians had such a phrase flash through their minds but failed to utter it.
4. SCOTT-PAINE AND VOSPER
Hubert Scott-Paine, who was to make a lasting imprint on American PT design, completed plans in 1934 for a 60-foot boat which might be called the first modern motor torpedo boat. The Admiralty agreed to purchase two, then increased the order to six. Scott-Paine's British Power Boat Co. delivered the boats in 1936. The next year the boats proved their worth by running to Malta under their own power in heavy weather.
In 1938 another British company, Vosper, built a 68-foot boat designed to carry two torpedoes. This speculative enterprise paid off when the Admiralty ordered one boat, then increased the order to six. This was the prototype of the Vosper 70-footer which became standard for the British Coastal Forces during the war. Although this type was never adopted by the U.S. Navy, American yards built many of them for lend-lease to Britain and Russia.3
Early in 1939, Scott-Paine built his first 70-foot boat. It could carry two 21-inch or four 18-inch torpedoes, and machine-guns in power-driven turrets. The boat was light, strong, fast, and maneuverable. On June 15, 1939, it crossed the English Channel and returned at an average speed of 42 knots. The British Power Boat Co. soon had orders for 50 boats from Britain and other major powers. Among them was an order for one boat from a private purchaser, which would have profound effect on the PT program in the United States.
5. RENEWED INTEREST
Foreign experimentation renewed interest in the United States. On December 5, 1936, Rear Adm. Emory S. Land, Chief of the Bureau of Construction and Repair, wrote to the Chief of Naval Operations, saying, "Developments since the War of the motor-torpedo-boat type, then known as Coastal Motor Boats, have been continuous and marked in most European Navies . . . The results being obtained in the foreign services are such as to indicate that vessels of considerable military effectiveness for the defense of local areas, are being built, the possibilities of which should not be allowed to go unexplored in our service. It is, of course, recognized that the general strategic situation in this country is entirely different from that in Europe, so that motor torpedo boats could not in all probability be used offensively by us. It appears very probable, however, that the type might very well be used to release for offensive service ships otherwise unavoidably assigned to guard important geographic points such as an advance base itself.
"If the department concurs, this Bureau suggests the inauguration of an experimental program of such boats and will endeavor to have included in its appropriations for experimental work, funds for the construction of two boats each year, preferably one by contract on designs of private naval architects and one from Departmental designs."
Admiral Land's recommendation was forwarded to the Secretary of the Navy, who in turn passed it to the General Board, with a request for the Board's recommendations. The General Board, while it agreed that "it is clearly evident that because of our strategic situation the type is of much less initial value to our Navy than to most, if not all, of the others," added, "future situations can occur under which it would be possible for such small craft to be used on directly offensive missions -- as is no doubt contemplated in certain foreign navies."
The Board included among its recommendations "the inauguration of an experimental development program on a moderate scale." The Secretary of the Navy approved the Board's recommendations on May 7, 1937.
Just over a year later, Congress made the program possible by enacting Public Law 528, the Second Deficiency Bill for 1938, which included an appropriation of "the sum of $15,000,000 to be expended at the discretion of the President of the United States for the construction of experimental vessels, none of which shall exceed three thousand tons standard displacement."
6. THE DESIGN CONTEST
On July 11, 1938, the Navy publicly invited designers to submit plans for a 165-foot subchaser, a 110-foot subchaser, a 70-foot motor torpedo boat, and a 54-foot motor torpedo boat. A prize of $15,000 was offered for the winning design in each class, and prizes of $1,500 each to all entrants whose plans reached the final stage of competition.
Requirements for the larger motor torpedo boat included: an overall length of approximately 70 feet, not to exceed 80 feet; trial speed of 40 knots; minimum radius of 275 miles at top speed and 550 miles at cruising speed. Armament was to include at least two 21-inch torpedoes, four depth charges, and two .50-caliber machine-guns.
The smaller boat was to be no more than 60 feet long, and was to have a hoisting weight of not more than 20 tons. The weight restriction and a specification that the hull structure "be of sufficient strength to permit of hoisting over side by means of slings under moderate weather conditions" were made with a view to easy oversea shipment and unloading. Such a boat would be within the boom capacity of many fleet auxiliaries and cargo ships. This boat also was to have a trial speed of 40 knots, but its radius need be only 120 miles at top speed and 240 miles at cruising speed. Armament specifications required only two torpedoes and depth charges, or an alternative armament of .50-caliber machine-guns and smokescreen generator.
The preliminary design contest, which closed September 30, 1938, brought 24 designs from 21 contestants for the 54-foot boat, and 13 designs from 13 contestants for the 7o-foot boat. Three designers in the 54-foot class and five in the 70-foot class were requested to submit detailed plans and specifications in the final design contest, which was to close on November 7, 1938. The Navy announced on March 21, 1939, that Sparkman and Stephens, naval architects previously known for their sailboat designs, had won the prize in the 70-foot class, and that Prof. George Crouch, who made his design for Henry B. Nevins, Inc., was the winner in the 54-foot class.
The first contract was let on May 25, 1939, to Higgins Industries, Inc., for PT's 5 and 6, the Sparkman and Stephens design, scaled to an overall length of 81 feet. 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.
7. PT 9
As it turned out, the winning designs already were obsolete. Assistant Secretary of the Navy Charles Edison had been talking with Henry R. Sutphen, executive vice president of the Electric Boat Company. On January 13, 1939, Mr. Edison told the General Board that a 70-foot British motor torpedo boat was available. Adm. Thomas C. Hart, Chairman of the General Board, replied on January 16, "Inasmuch as said design is known to be the result of several years' development, the General Board considers it highly advisable that such craft be obtained as a check on our own development."
After preliminary conferences with Navy Department officials, Mr. Sutphen sailed for England on February 10, with Elco's chief designer, Irwin Chase. Mr. Sutphen made the trip at his own expense, and was to buy the boat at his own expense. He sailed, however, with the understanding that if he succeeded in purchasing a Scott-Paine boat, the Navy would buy it in accordance with the terms of a contract tentatively agreed upon by Elco and the Navy.
Mr. Sutphen was well known in British naval circles. During World War I his company had turned out 550 80-foot ML's (motor launches) for the Royal Navy in 488 days. Besides, he had had preliminary conversations with Scott-Paine's New York representative before sailing. While in England he and Mr. Chase also inspected the Thornycroft and Vosper boats, but were particularly impressed by the speed, maneuverability, and seaworthiness of the Scott-Paine. Mr. Sutphen concluded arrangements to purchase one boat and to obtain the American manufacturing rights, notifying the Navy Department of the purchase on March 17.
President Roosevelt, informed by the Secretary of the Navy of the proposed acquisition, scribbled his approval on the Secretary's letter: "O.K. if price is as low as the proposed American 70-footer."
As it turned out, engine development costs brought the average price of the American boats above the quoted price for the Scott-Paine boat. The Navy signed the purchase contract on June 1.
The Scott-Paine boat, by then designated PT 9, arrived in New York as deck cargo on the SS President Roosevelt on September 5, 1939, when World War II was 2 days old. Ironically, on the day of the British boat's arrival, President Roosevelt issued the neutrality proclamation required by the
The Navy's first PT boat, the Scott-Paine PT 9, is unloaded from SS President Roosevelt in New York, September 5, 1939.
(ELCO NAVAL DIV., ELECTRIC BOAT CO.)
Neutrality Act of 1937, clamping an immediate embargo on shipments of arms, munitions, and planes to all belligerents, including the United Kingdom.
PT 9 was lightered to the Electric Boat Co. plant at Groton, Conn., where Scott-Paine himself put the boat through its paces for a Navy trial board.
8. THE ELCO CONTRACT
War in Europe brought a note of urgency to the PT program. Only PT's 1 and 8 were actually under construction, and no one could say how the new boats might turn out.
Meanwhile, the Scott-Paine boat seemed acceptable. The difficult transition from drawing board to finished product had been made. Elco had the plans and the license to build. Furthermore, Elco's experience with British ML's in the last war was proof of the company's ability to produce.
On October 3, Mr. Edison, by then Acting Secretary of the Navy, informed the President that he wished to acquire additional boats of Scott-Paine design, using unexpended funds from the $15 million appropriation for construction of experimental vessels. The President indicated his approval on the face of the Secretary's letter, adding, "How many? How much?"
About $5 million remained of the original $15 million. Mr. Sutphen thought he might build 16 boats for this price, but after Mr. Edison pointed out that the Navy wished to operate the boats in squadrons of 12, he agreed to build 23 boats, which, with PT 9, would make 2 complete squadrons.*
Final decision was reserved until November 1, when PT 9 ran rough water trials. With Scott-Paine again at the wheel, the boat passed her test with flying colors. Comdr. Robert B. Carney, one of the inspecting officers, and later to become Chief of Naval Operations, reported to Mr. Edison:
The weather conditions afforded an opportunity to see the boat in almost every condition of sea, and she was handled and maneuvered without reservation or without attempt to spare either boat or personnel and under all conditions of course, wind, sea, and speed, the boat performed amazingly well . . .
As a sea boat PT 9 has my unqualified approval and I have such confidence in the boat after observing her in rough water that I would not hesitate to take her anywhere under any conditions . . .
I started out on the trials frankly skeptical about the claims I have heard for this boat during the past year, and I asked for every condition which I thought might bring out weaknesses in the boat's performance; Mr. Scott-Paine was more than glad to go anywhere at any speed or on any course that I requested, and on the run from Watch Hill to Race Light he handled the boat much more roughly than was necessary to demonstrat the qualities of the boat.
On December 7, 1939, the Navy Department made an award to Elco for construction of 11 motor torpedo boats, PT's 10 to 20, and 12 motor boat submarine chasers, PTC's 1 to 12. The boats themselves were to be replicas of
*Mr. Sutphen has stated that his company lost $600,000 on this contract.
The Scott-Paine model. The only major deviation was the substitution of Packard engines for Rolls-Royce engines.
The Navy Department granted Elco a delay in delivering PT 9 until January 3, 1940, as an aid in building her sister craft. Company officials had a rude shock when they tried to work from the Scott-Paine plans. They discovered they had a hodgepodge of partial sets of blueprints for three separate boats, none of them exactly matching PT 9. They resolved the difficulty by using the PT 9 as a working model, measuring each and every part and making an entirely new set of blueprints from their measurements. Certain as this method was, it was necessarily slow. PT 9 was not delivered to the Navy until June 17, 1940. Even then it was the U.S. Navy's first PT.
9. THE SQUADRONS
With delivery of 32 boats in prospect, the Chief of Naval Operations in April 1940 established the organizational policy that was to continue unchanged throughout the war. The squadron was to be commissioned, while the individual boats were not to be commissioned, but placed in service in the squadron. This policy centralized administration, avoiding the unutterable confusion had each boat been a separate administrative unit.
At the same time the Chief of Naval Operations designated boats for the first squadrons: Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 1 was to include PT's 1 to 8; Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 2, PT's 9 to 20; and Motor Boat Submarine Chaser Squadron 1, PTC's 1 to 12.
Squadron 1 was commissioned July 24, 1940, with Lt. Earl S. Caldwell as Squadron Commander. It was then composed of PT's 3 and 4, which had been delivered to the Norfolk Navy Yard at the end of June, and PT 9, which it was to keep until the commissioning of Squadron 2.
Squadron 1 was a collection of experimental types. Its first boats, the 3 and 4, were the Fisher Boat Works 58-footers, powered by two Packard 1200-horsepower engines. PT's 1 and 2, the Miami Shipbuilding Co.'s 58-footers, never joined the squadron. Their production was so delayed, waiting for installation of their 1,200-horsepower Vimalert engines, that by the time they were delivered in December 1941, they were obsolete and were reclassified as small boats.
Higgins Industries had considerable difficulty translating the Sparkman and Stephens design into a satisfactory boat. PT 5 was eventually placed in
The Scott-Paine PT 9 paces PT 3, the Fisher Boat Works' 58-foot boat.
service on March 17, 1941, but its performance was disappointing. The original PT 6 was never placed in service. It was sold to Finland in 1940. On his own initiative and with his own capital, Andrew Jackson Higgins decided to build a modified version. When it was delivered in February 1941, it was a Higgins design rather than a modified Sparkman and Stephens, and was accepted enthusiastically by operating personnel, many of whom considered it superior to any previous type, including the Scott-Paine.
The Philadelphia Navy Yard Government-designed boats, PT's 7 and 8, were delivered in October and November 1940. The 7 was powered by four Hall-Scott 900-horsepower engines. The 8, unique in that it had an aluminum hull, was powered by two Allison 2,000-horsepower engines (actually four V-engines mounted to form two X-engines) and one Hall-Scott 600-horsepower engine. These boats were sadly overweight when delivered, largely because the Navy Yard used heavy destroyer fittings and fixtures in their construction. PT 8 was further handicapped by its engine installation. The big Allison engines had no self-starters. It was necessary to build up a speed of 15 knots on the small Hall-Scott engines and then
The aluminum hull PT 8, built by the Philadelphia Navy Yard.
drag in the Allisons. Nor did the Allisons have reverse gears. This made maneuvering close to a dock extremely difficult, dependent entirely on the small Hall-Scott engine.
With the delivery of PT 10, the first Elco boat, Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 2 was commissioned November 8, 1940. Lieutenant Caldwell was commander of both squadrons until February 1941, when Lt. William C. Specht relieved him as commander of Squadron 1.
10. THE 77-FOOT BOAT
At the time that the first boats of Squadron 2 were being delivered, the Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance recommended an increase in the size of the boats to accommodate four 21-inch torpedo tubes. The General Board recommended that the new boat be approximately 80 feet overall, and suggested that the Navy acquire 24 with funds made available by a $50 million appropriation for small craft for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 1940. The Secretary of the Navy approved these recommendations, and on September 17, 1940, the Navy awarded a new contract to Elco for twenty-four 77-foot boats of modified Scott-Paine design. The earlier contract was modified so that PT 20, on which construction had not yet started, would be the first of the 77-footers.
11. SOUTHERN WATERS AND LEND-LEASE
Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons 1 and 2 were ordered south for the winter. Squadron 2, completed with the delivery of her last boats on December 31, 1940, made the trip to Miami without undue difficulty. Squadron I, then comprising only the PT's 3, 4, 7, and 8, was beset by engineering mishaps. In Florida the boats were joined by the first PT tender, USS Niagara, the former Manville yacht, Hi-Esmaro. Her repair facilities were limited, but she was the best available at the time, and the experience gained in operating with the Niagara was to prove valuable in planning later tenders.
All boats had been scheduled for shakedown cruises to Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, but the Squadron 1 boats were clearly so inadequate that Squadron 2 sailed alone for Cuba. Squadron 1 stayed in Florida, where it took delivery of the Higgins boats, PT's 5 and the second 6.
Squadron 2's cruise to Cienfuegos and return proved the Elco boats could stand punishment. The boats went through extremely heavy seas with remarkably little damage. Plans for further cruising in the West Indies were cut short at the end of March, when the squadrons were ordered to proceed to New York to transfer most of their boats to the British under lend-lease.
Of the Squadron 1 boats, only the Higgins-designed PT 6 was considered worth keeping for further tests; the British did not want the aluminum-hull PT 8, so PT's 3, 4, 5, and 7 were scheduled for transfer. The Squadron 2 boats were too small to carry four 21-inch torpedo tubes, and since the first 77-footers were due to be delivered in June, all could be turned over to the British, who desperately needed them in the Mediterranean. The Squadron 1 boats and PT's 9 to 15 were transferred in April. Thus PT 9, the original Scott-Paine boat, was returned to the British just over 2 years after Mr. Sutphen purchased it in England. Transfer of PT's 16 to 19 was delayed until July, so that those four boats, with PT's 6 and 8, could be sent to Newport, R.I., to assist in training new personnel pending delivery of the first 77-footers.
Motor Boat Submarine Chaser Squadron 1 was placed in commission February 20, 1941, with Lt. (jg.) Edward G. De Long, as Squadron Commander. Its boats were identical with those of Squadron 2, except that they carried
Two dozen depth charges instead of four torpedoes. Equipped with racks from which depth charges could be dropped astern, and two Y-guns, which could throw four charges at a time, two on either side, the boats were able to lay down a good pattern for an underwater barrage.
While the squadron was still fitting out in New York, lend-lease cut it down to four boats. PTC's 5 to 12 were transferred to the British on April 4, for service in the Royal Navy as motor gunboats.
The remaining four boats, meanwhile, went to Key West, where each was fitted with a separate type of experimental sound gear. None worked. If the boat was underway the noise of its engines drowned out the echoes of the sound equipment. If the boat shut off its engines and lay to in anything but a dead calm, it developed such a short, sharp roll that it could not pick up the echoes. Although admirably armed against submarines, the PTC's had no way of locating them.
PTC's 1 to 4 returned to New York, where they were leased to the British on July 15, 1941. Two days later the squadron was decommissioned.
13. THE PLYWOOD DERBIES
The winter in Florida did provide experience. On May 19, 1941, Lieutenants Caldwell and Specht met with representatives of the Chief of Naval Operations, Bureau of Ships, Bureau of Inspection and Survey, and Interior Control Board, to discuss the future of PT's.
There was general agreement that all PT's had been defective either in military characteristics or construction, except for PT 20, which was still an unknown quantity. The conference recommended comparative service tests of PT's 6, 8, and 20; a new 76-foot boat designed and being constructed by Higgins Industries; and a new 72-foot boat designed by Frank Huckins, under construction at the Huckins Yacht Co., Jacksonville, Fla. They also recommended that no more boats of the PT 20 design be contracted for until the boats of this class should satisfactorily complete the tests.
Twelve days later Adm. Harold R. Stark, Chief of Naval Operations, wrote to the President of the Board of Inspection and Survey: "It is apparent that a considerable divergence of opinion exists among the various offices of the Navy Department and among officers of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons as to the suitability of various types of Motor Torpedo Boats which have been acquired, or are now being built. In order to crystallize as far as
possible, opinion as to the suitability of these various types of Motor Boats and to establish criteria for future contracts, it is desired that the Board of Inspection and Survey conduct comparative service tests."Accordingly, these 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 most important event on the program was an open-sea run of 190 miles at full throttle, forever after referred to by PT personnel as the "Plywood Derby." The course started at Sarah Ledge, led around the eastern end of Block Island, thence around Fire Island Lightship, with the finish line at Montauk Point Whistling Buoy. It was chosen to provide the
PT 20, first of the Elco 77-footers, winner of the "Plywood Derby" in July 1941.
severest possible test under the prevailing weather conditions. The worst conditions encountered, however, turned out to be moderate swells with a cross-surface chop.
Since the Elco entries were the only boats with complete ordnance installations, the other boats were ballasted to the required weight.
PT 26 had developed cracks in the deck during preliminary trials on the 21st, and was unable to take part in the run. PT 33 developed similar cracks off Block Island, and withdrew from the race. PT 70 withdrew between Block Island and Montauk Point because of casualties to deck and frames. The Higgins-built British boat developed engine trouble within 5 minutes after crossing the starting line and had to retire. Elco's PT 30 suffered structural damage at the close of the race and was not considered to have completed this race satisfactorily.
The remaining Elco boats, PT's 20 and 31, easily led the rest of the field with average speeds for the 190-mile course of 39.72 knots and 37.01 knots, respectively. The Huckins entry, PT 69, was third, at 33.83 knots, and the Higgins PT 6 was fourth at 31.40 knots. The Philadelphia Navy Yard PT 8 was the slowest finisher, with a 30.73-knot average.
While the race was clearly an Elco victory, it demonstrated that the Elco hull required further strengthening. Strongbacks were later installed on all the Elco 77-footers to keep the decks from cracking.
The tests preceding the sea run also showed that the Elco boat was fastest over a measured mile. PT 20 ran the mile at 45.3 knots with light loading, and 44.1 knots heavy. The only other boats that exceeded 4 knots were the Huckins 69, with 43.8 knots light and 41.5 knots heavy, and the Higgins PT 70, with 41.2 knots light and 40.9 knots heavy.
In maneuverability tests, however, the Huckins PT 69, Higgins PT 6, and Navy Yard PT 8, in that order, proved to have smaller turning circles than the Elco PT 20. Turning circles of the Higgins PT 70 and the Higgins-built British boat were not observed.
Ballasting of the boats caused dissatisfaction with the Plywood Derby. Mr. Higgins contended, and the trial board conceded, that the ballast could not be disposed so as to give horizontal and vertical moments equal to the simulated loads, but had to be distributed in the best available stowage spaces on each boat. The board reported that the deck failure of PT 70 "was apparently due to the loading of weights on the deck in order to compensate for the armament which had not been installed on this design."
Because of this dissatisfaction, and to acquire more data for use in future design, a second Plywood Derby was scheduled for August 11 and 12, the earliest date that the boats could be put in repair.
Every effort was made to install actual ordnance weights. Of the boats participating in the second run, only the Higgins-built British boat had no ordnance and required ballasting.
By the time of the second Plywood Derby, PT 6 had been transferred to Britain under lend-lease. Besides the Higgins-built British boat, the entries were the Navy Yard PT 8, the Huckins PT 69, the Higgins PT 70, and PT 21, a 77-foot Elco boat. A second Elco 77-footer, PT 29, was assigned to pace PT 8, so that accelerometer readings could be taken to measure the comparative pounding of the two boats. In the first race PT 8 had been the easiest riding and the 77-foot Elcos the roughest.
The course was the same except that the starting line was moved to Race Rock, making it 5 miles shorter. Weather conditions were quite different, however, with heavy cross swells prevailing. West of Montauk the height of the swells was 6 to 8 feet, with occasional waves of 10 or 12 feet. In a confused sea south of Block Island and between Block Island and Montauk Point, the boats met short steep waves as high as 15 feet.
East of Block Island PT 69 suffered several fractured bilge stringers and withdrew. Elco again won the derby, with PT 21 setting an average speed of 27.5 knots, but this time the Higgins PT 70 was close behind, averaging 27.2 knots. PT 8 made 25.1 knots, with the Higgins-built British boat last at 24.8 knots. Some of PT 70's planking and deck fastenings pulled loose. PT 21 developed minor cracks in the deck though not to the extent of those suffered by the Elco boats in the earlier sea run.
The destroyer Wilkes was assigned to run the course with the PT's and was directed to be as nearly as possible at full power on crossing the starting line. The Wilkes ran the course in 6 hours 18 minutes, at an average speed of 29.8 knots. "This time," the Board reported, "was only 25 minutes better than that of PT 21, which required 6 hours 43 minutes to complete the run at an average speed of 27.5 knots. It appears, therefore, that for the assigned mission, modern destroyers possess no sensible advantage over the motor boats even under sea conditions highly unfavorable for the latter, and that in areas where limited visibility is not unusual the motor boats might readily prove much more adaptable than the larger vessels within the limitations of their operating ranges."
The comparative service tests made it possible to prescribe PT characteristics with more assurance. Representatives of the Chief of Naval Operations and Bureau of Ships, meeting in the fall of 1941, decided once again to increase the size of the boats. The Chief of Naval Operations requested the Bureau of Ships to prepare specifications for a new boat and to invite representatives of Elco, Higgins, and Huckins, the three contractors who had demonstrated their ability to build PT's, to a conference.
Capt. A. Loring Swasey and Mr. Sidney A. Peters, of the Bureau of Ships, worked day and night for 2 days to have the specifications ready for the conference on October 6. Mr. Sutphen, Mr. Higgins, and Mr. Huckins attended with their designers. Capt. E. L. Cochrane, of the Bureau of Ships, told them, "We are convinced that the boat isn't big enough to do the things we want it to do, and we need a heavier, more effective, more powerful boat."
Captain Cochrane gave the new specifications. Overall length was to be not less than 75 feet -- the smallest that would permit the boat to fulfill performance requirements -- and not more than 82 feet, the largest that could be transported easily. The boat was to be powered by three Packard engines, which were to be equipped with mufflers to permit silent approach. The boat was to make a trial speed of 40 knots, sustained for 1 hour, and have a cruising radius of 500 miles.
PT 95, the first Huckins 78-foot boat.
PT 84, one of the first of the Higgins 78-foot boats.
"The hull," the specifications stated, "shall be the hard chine stepless bottom type with lines formed with a view to minimizing stress on the hull and fatigue of crew under all conditions and to assure a suitable platform for torpedo and gun fire. The lines shall also be formed to insure easy maneuvering of the boat and a small turning circle at full speed and ability to change direction quickly. The sides shall flare outward from chine to gunwale."
The permanent influence of the Scott-Paine design may be seen in the requirements for a hard chine stepless bottom type hull, and the outward flare of the sides.
"The hull construction," the specifications added, "shall be of the lightest weight, consistent with adequate strength, stiffness and durability for the service intended, and with an eye to simplicity for mass production."
The three companies were invited to submit bids for boats in lots up to 32the number for which funds were immediately available. As a result of the conference, Higgins received a contract for 24 boats, and Huckins for 8. Immediately after the entry of the United States into war, Elco was awarded a contract for 36 boats.
Elco, already geared to large-scale production, was the first to put the new boats in service, with Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 5 (PT's 103-114),
PT 601, one of the latest Elco so-foot boats, built in 1945.
80-footers, commissioned in New York on June 16, 1942. Higgins followed with Squadron 13 (PT's 73-84), 78-footers, commissioned in New Orleans on September 18, 1942. The first of the Huckins 78-footers, PT's 95-97, went to Squadron 4 in July and August 1942, and PT's 98-102 were commissioned as Squadron 14 in Jacksonville on February 17, 1943. Huckins built only to more boats, commissioned as Squadron 26, and none of this type was used in combat. The Navy at last had standardized its PT's with the 80-foot Elco and the 78-foot Higgins.
15. RESHUFFLING THE SQUADRONS
Even-numbered boats of the Elco 77-footers were assigned to Squadron 2; odd-numbered boats to Squadron 1. Practically all were delivered during June and July 1941, permitting the lend-lease transfer of PT 6 and PT's 16-19. Most of the new boats as delivered were short of ordnance. Torpedo tubes were the most serious shortage -- there had been many delays in getting the 21-inch tube in production. Thus, when early in August the Chief of Naval
Operations directed the formation of Squadron 3, six boats for immediate shipment to the Philippines, the new squadron received those boats that had complete ordnance equipment, PT's 31 to 35, and PT 41.
So also, when Squadron I was directed on August 13 to prepare for assignment to the Pacific Fleet, it was assigned the most nearly complete of the remaining boats, PT's 20 to 30, and PT 42. Squadron 2 was left to take the only other boats then contracted for, PT's 36 to 40 and PT's 43 to 48.
The beginning of the war and shipment of Squadron 2 to Panama in December brought immediate need for more boats to be used in training PT personnel in the United States. Elco's first 80-footers would be ready in June and would require trained officers and crews to operate them. Elco meanwhile had contracted to build under lend-lease for England 20 boats of the 77-foot class, PT's 49 to 68, which also carried the designation BPT's (British PT's) 1 to 20. It was agreed in December that the U.S. Navy should retain the second 10 of these boats.
Squadron 4, comprising PT's 59 to 68, was commissioned on January 13, with Lt. Comdr. Alan R. Montgomery as squadron commander. The squadron was assigned on completion of fitting out to the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons Training Center, Melville, R.I. There it remained throughout the war as the training squadron, though its boats changed from time to time to permit students to handle new types, and its personnel changed frequently to give combat veterans a breathing spell and to afford students the benefit of their battle experience.
16. THE TRAINING CENTER
The first attempt to establish an organized training program for new personnel was made in the late spring and summer of 1941. While Lieutenant Caldwell remained in New York to accept and fit out the new 77-foot Elcos, Lieutenant Specht took the boats that were in service to Newport with the Niagara, and established a familiarization school on the tender. This project came to a sudden end with the reshuffling of the squadrons in August.
After the designation of Squadron 4 as the training squadron, the Secretary of the Navy on February 17, 1942, directed the establishment of the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons Training Center at Melville, R.I., on Narragansett Bay just north of Newport. William C. Specht, who had been promoted to lieutenant commander, was relieved of command of Squadron 1 at Pearl Harbor in order to organize the training center, which inevitably
came to be known as "Specht Tech." It began operations in the middle of March 1942.
From the beginning, it was the policy of the training center to use combat veterans as instructors. Among the first instructors were Lt. (jg.) Henry J. Brantingham and Ens. George E. Cox, Jr., who had been with Squadron 3 in the Philippines; Lt. John Harllee; Lt. H. M. S. Swift, USNR; Lt. (jg.) Leonard R. Hardy, USNR; Lt (jg.) Harold D. Howes, USNR; Ens. Edward I. Farley, USNR; and Ens. J. R. Thompson, USNR, who had been with Squadron I at Pearl Harbor. Among those who became boat captains in the training squadron were Ens. Anthony B. Akers, USNR, of Squadron 3, and Ens. Paul T. Rennell, USNR, and Ens. A. Murray Preston, USNR, of Squadron i.
By the first week in April, 51 officers and 177 enlisted men were under instruction; the boats of Squadron 4 were available for training; 47 quonset huts were in various stages of completion, and a request had been submitted for the construction of 44 additional huts. Eventually the Training Center acquired 13 structures devoted to office space, 34 classrooms, 42 maintenance buildings, and 197 huts for living quarters. It was equipped to handle a normal load of 860 enlisted students and 90 student officers. Squadron 4 was gradually enlarged until at the end of 1944 it comprised 28 boats of 4 distinct types.
During the early days, before its own equipment was adequate, the Training Center made use of the superior facilities of the Naval Antiaircraft Training Center at Price's Neck, R.I.; the Naval Torpedo Station at Newport; the rifle range at the Naval Training Station, Newport; the Packard Engine School at Detroit; and the Elco plant at Bayonne, N.J.
In time the Training Center acquired a vast array of training devices. Well-equipped shops made possible not only the training of personnel but a large-scale experimental program. Development of a lightweight torpedo rack to replace the old tube is an outstanding example of the work accomplished under this program.
The period of training originally was 2 months. In 1943 a third month was added to the training period for officers and certain specialized enlisted rates. At first an attempt was made to give each man some training in all subjects, on the theory that in so small a crew each man should be able to pinch hit for any other man. It soon became apparent that the training period was too short for such a theory to be put into efficient practice. The men were apt to become jacks of all rates, with thorough grounding in
PT 40, a battle-scarred veteran of Guadalcanal, returns to the MTB Squadrons Training Center in July 1944
to be used in training repair personnel.
Students of the Repair Training Unit at Melville put new planking on PT 40.
none. Thereafter more specialized training was given to each man in his own rate, with generally good results.
The Training Center became the personnel clearinghouse for the entire PT service. Officers and men returning from combat areas were ordered there for temporary duty, and the Bureau of Naval Personnel accepted the Training Center's recommendations for future assignment both of graduating students and experienced personnel returned from combat. In April 1944, the Training Center inaugurated a program of refresher courses, to bring returning personnel up to date on recent developments in PT operation and equipment.
The Repair Training Unit was established at the Training Center in March 1944 to give specialized instruction to personnel for PT bases and tenders. Many of the repair and maintenance problems of the first squadrons might have been avoided had such a unit been formed earlier. All too many bases and tenders were handicapped by inexperienced personnel who had to learn about PT's the hard way after they reached the operating areas.
PT's in Panama: A sailor looks out at Taboga harbor from the U.S. Naval Station recreation hall,
which before the war was a fashionable gambling casino.
In November 1944, a special command course was established for prospective squadron commanders and executive officers.
By the time of its third anniversary, March 16, 1945, the Training Center had trained 1,797 officers and 11,668 enlisted men.
U.S. Naval Station Taboga was established in August 1942, with Lt. Comdr. H. S. Cooper, USNR, as commanding officer. It was to support the PT squadron assigned as part of the naval defenses of the Panama Canal, and
A light snowfall whitens boats of Squadron 9, loaded three abreast on SS White Plains
in New York in December 1942 for shipment to Panama.
Squadron 5 boats, in a training run from Taboga to the Galapagos Islands in November 1942,
fueled at sea from seaplane tender Pocomoke.
was to serve as a temporary training base for squadrons awaiting shipment to Pacific areas. The base was pleasantly situated on the small, mountainous island of Taboga just off the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal. The site, leased from the Panamanian Government, included a gambling casino of modern masonry construction which (though the gambling devices were removed) made a splendid recreation hall. The Navy installed many facilties, including piers, concrete aprons for hauling boats, torpedo shops and storehouses, engineering shops, powerplant, radio station, gasoline storage tanks, magazines, and living and messing facilities for 125 officers and 700 enlisted men.
This was the base for Squadron 2, then for Squadron 5, which relieved Squadron 2 in September 1942, and finally for Squadron 14, which in turn relieved Squadron 5 early in 1943. It was also the temporary training and shakedown base for most squadrons en route to the Pacific. Early Elco squadrons were shipped to Panama from New York or Norfolk. Higgins squadrons and later Elco squadrons made the run through the Caribbean to Taboga on their own bottoms.
The first squadrons conducted their own training exercises. Later, under command of Lt. Comdr. Van L. Wanselow, USNR, the base developed an extensive training program. The base commander was designated Commander Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons Panama Sea Frontier, and all squadrons were directed to report to him for operational control during their stay in the area.
Climatic and sea conditions were ideal for all phases of advanced training. Torpedo firing, barge hunting practice, gunnery practice, navigational cruises, and joint maneuvers with aircraft could be conducted throughout the year. The many small islands in the Gulf of Panama offered unlimited opportunities for exercises in barge hunting and radar tracking.
Shakedown training was essential to new squadrons. Most of the personnel had had only brief training at Melville and needed to learn to work together as a team. The Elco squadrons began sending their boats to Melville for shakedown, and most of them had an opportunity for further advanced training at Taboga.
For the Higgins boats, such a procedure was impractical because of the great distance between New Orleans and Melville. In April 1943, the PT shakedown detail was established as an adjunct of the Submarine Chaser Training Center at Miami, Fla. Lt. Comdr. Alan R. Montgomery, who had taken the second Squadron 3 to Guadalcanal, was first commanding officer of the new unit.
Montgomery worked out an intensive 14-day training program, later expanded to 3 weeks, which soon became standard for shakedown both at Melville and Miami. Severe winter weather conditions at Melville led to the decision to conduct all shakedown operations at Miami, for Elco as well as Higgins boats, starting in December 1943.
The shakedown detail also conducted a large amount of experimental work, often in conjunction with the experimental program at Melville. The two commands were entirely separate, but maintained close liaison in both their training and experimental programs.
19. COMMISSIONING DETAILS
To expedite the fitting out of squadrons, PT commissioning details were established in New York and New Orleans in June and August of 1942, respectively. Lt. R. J. Dressling organized and was first officer-in-charge of each unit.
The principal function of the commissioning details was to assist the squadrons in procuring the equipment that they would need in the operating areas: spare parts, tools, charts, paint, raincoats and salt water soap, generators and chain hoists, scrubbing brushes and office equipment, and a thousand other items. The commissioning details knew when boats were scheduled for delivery to squadrons. They could plan ahead and place orders for equipment well in advance, so that it would be ready for delivery when the squadron was organized. If material could not be delivered before a
Commissioning ceremonies of MTB Squadron 23 at Higgins Industrial Canal Plant, New Orleans, June 28, 1943.
squadron's departure, the commissioning detail followed through on the order, and saw that it was shipped to the squadron's destination. These units lifted a tremendous burden from the squadron commanders, and greatly accelerated the fitting-out period.
20. FERRYING COMMAND
Squadron 43, a Higgins squadron commissioned in December 1944, was ordered to decommission in New Orleans in March 1945, so that its boats might be transferred to the Russian Navy. At the same time 36 other new Higgins PT's, not yet delivered, were designated for transfer to the Russians. To accomplish delivery of these boats, the Chief of Naval Operations established the PT Ferrying Command, with Lt. George C. Miller, USNR, as commanding officer. PT's were sent from New Orleans to Seattle loaded on LST's, four to a ship. The Ferrying Command provided a crew for each PT. Boat lashings were arranged for immediate release of the PT's; if the LST should be sunk, the boats could float free and their crews could run them to the nearest port under their own power. As it turned out, no LST was ever sunk on one of these ferrying runs.
At the end of the each LST run, the crews turned the boats over to Russian Navy representatives in Seattle and returned to New Orleans for more boats.
The Ferrying Command also ran trials on the new boats and fitted them out before they were loaded for shipment in New Orleans.
The first tenders were far from ideal, but they were the best available at the time. They were useful as communications centers -- they could communicate with boats on patrol and at the same time receive orders from and pass information to higher echelons of command. They serviced torpedoes and performed a certain amount of engineering and electrical repair work. They could do some carpentry work, but unless they towed floating drydocks with them, could do little in the way of underwater repairs. They carried gasoline, supplies, and equipment in limited quantities. They messed the boat crews aboard, sparing the always overworked PT generators the added burden of supplying power to operate the electric stoves. Sometimes, when their
The first PT tender, USS Niagara, a converted yacht, with PT 17 alongside.
evaporators were working well, they could offer the boat crews the luxury of fresh water showers.
The first tender was the Niagara, the former Manville yacht Hi-Esmaro. The Niagara was 253 feet long, 1,923 tons displacement. Built at the Bath Iron Works, Bath, Maine, in 1929, she was converted in New York in the winter of 1940. She was at Pearl Harbor for a time tending Squadron 1, then went to Panama, and underwent further conversion in New York in the summer of 1942. In the winter of 1942 she was assigned to the South Pacific area, where we shall meet her again.
The second tender was the Jamestown, the former yacht Alder, built by Pusey & Jones, Wilmington, Del., in 1927. She was 294 feet long, 2,386 tons. After her conversion as a gunboat in May 1941, she was sent to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis for use in connection with midshipmen's cruises. She underwent further conversion as a PT tender in the winter of 1941. After serving for a time as tender for Squadron 4 at Newport, the Jamestown sailed
An LST-type PT tender, USS Silenus.
PT tender Oyster Bay, first of a class originally laid down as seaplane tenders, with a squadron of PT's in Leyte Gulf.
for the South Pacific, where she tended PT's until February 1944, when she was transferred to the Southwest Pacific.
The third tender, and last of the yachts, was the Hilo, 278 feet long, 2,300 tons. She was built at the Bath Iron Works in 1931 as the Johnson yacht Caroline. In 1938 she was purchased by William B. Leeds, who renamed her Moana. Her conversion to a PT tender at Long Beach, Calif., early in 1942 was a horrible example of the frantic confusion of the early days of the war. Capt. Frank A. Munroe, Jr., USNR, who as a lieutenant commander was her first commanding officer, recalls that not an officer or man assigned to the ship had ever seen a PT.
"Only vague specifications were received regarding what was required in the ship to make it suitable as a tender," he said. "No one could be found in the 11th Naval District who knew the first thing about PT's. BuPers was asked to send a qualified officer and as a result Lt. (jg.) H. M. S. Swift, USNR, was detached from Ron One at Pearl and ordered to temporary duty with the ship. His knowledge and experience were invaluable and responsible
USS Acontius, a C-1-A-type PT tender. PT cradle may be seen under boom on foredeck.
for what facilities the ship finally had. I had hoped to have him as my executive officer but he was ordered to Melville as an instructor about a month before commissioning."
The officers and men of the Hilo did not see a PT until early in July, when the ship arrived in Pearl Harbor. From Pearl Harbor the Hilo eventually made her way to New Guinea, where she became the first tender in the Southwest Pacific area.
An important step forward came with the commissioning of the USS Portunus in June 1943. This was a converted LST, 328 feet long, of 3,754 tons displacement. The large so-called "tank deck," used in LST's for cargo-carrying space, was converted to shop space. Here at last was a PT tender with adequate space and adequate machinery. One of her best features was an "A-frame," a heavy device on the port side that could lift a PT out of the water for repairs to the underwater structure.
The LST type was so satisfactory that eight more were built. Some of the later ones were equipped with two A-frames, one on each side, so that two boats could be raised from the water simultaneously.
Beginning with the Oyster Bay, commissioned in November 1943, four ships originally laid down as seaplane tenders were completed as PT tenders by their builder, the Lake Washington Shipyards, Houghton, Wash. These were 310 feet long, about 2,800 tons. They were fine, sleek ships, built along destroyer lines, and each carried, in addition to antiaircraft batteries, two 5-inch guns. Though they were faster than the ungainly LST type, they had limited shop space and had no means of raising a PT from the water unless they towed a drydock. In certain types of operations, however, where speed and firepower were required, they proved superior to the LST type.
Finally came two huge tenders, the Acontius and Cyrene, commissioned in June and September 1944. These were 413 feet long, with a full load displacement of 11,000 tons -- converted Maritime Commission C-1 hulls. These were splendid ships, with extensive shops and a vast amount of storage space. There was a boom capable of lifting a PT out of the water and setting it down on the forecastle. The Cyrene obtained an extra cradle, so that it could set one boat down on the forecastle and lift another one alongside at the same time. The only disadvantage of these ships was that they were too big and valuable to risk in an area where concentrated enemy air attack was likely -- but they were ideal in a rear area.
Thus each of the later three types had its uses; the seaplane-tender type for forward moves into areas where air attack was likely; the C-1 type as a rear area tender, and the LST type as a fairly successful compromise between the two -- big enough to perform the tender function successfully, but not so valuable a ship that it could never be risked in a forward area.
The development of PT bases was a tiny part of the Navy's vast advance base program. Faced with the necessity of building hundreds of different types and sizes in all parts of the world, the Navy reduced each base to its simplest form: a combination of so-called functional components. A functional component is a collection of personnel and material designed to perform one of the specific tasks of an advance base. It may consist of one man with 100 pounds of equipment, or 1,000 officers and men with 10,000 tons of equipment.
Each functional component contains all of the personnel and equipment necessary for the performance of its particular task, including workshops, vehicles, boats, office equipment, and a go-day initial supply of shop and office consumables. Housing and messing facilities for personnel, defensive ordnance, communication facilities, and in many cases powerplants and water supply usually are not provided with each functional component. These facilities are functional components in themselves and render services to all other functional components at the base.All functional components were listed by designating letters and numbers in a large catalog, very similar to a mail-order catalog, so that area commanders or officers charged with the planning of operations could order the functional components which would fit together to give them exactly the type of bases they needed.The Base Maintenance Section of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, working with representatives of the Bureau of Ships and assisted by the Training Center at Melville and officers with PT experience, developed seven functional components especially for PT's:
- A-4 Unit: Administration (PT Base): This component directed and coordinated the activities of a PT base. It had a commanding officer (for the entire PT base), one other officer, and eight enlisted men. Its major material items included office equipment, a truck, motion picture projectors, a small boat, and housing for the office.
- 2. E-11 Unit: PT Operating Base Repair Component: This was a sernimobile unit with facilities for major hull repair, minor engine repair, and replacement of engines for one squadron of PT's. It had no facilities for major engine overhaul. The component included 3 officers and 131 enlisted men, a machine shop, carpenter shop, spare parts for radio and radar, four 40- by 100-foot buildings, and utilities such as water, power, compressed air, and heat if necessary.
- E-12: PT Major Engine Overhaul Component: This unit was designed to provide four squadrons with major engine overhaul facilities. It had 2 officers and 82 enlisted men. This component was designed to be used in conjunction with an E-ii unit. Its main material consisted of additional repair equipment for use in the machine and carpenter shops of the operating base repair unit.
- E-21 Unit: PT Squadron Portable Base Equipment: This component was a portable base intended to provide a squadron of 8 to 12 boats with portable, lightweight repair and operating equipment. The unit could be carried aboard the PT's themselves and put ashore at a location as much as 350 miles in advance of the nearest PT boat operating base. The equipment of the organization allowed it to make frontline emergency repairs, such as replacing propellers and making hull repairs; and it could operate also as a temporary base where boats could obtain fuel, medical assistance, and communications support. Despite these extensive capabilities, the E-21 component had only one
officer and eight men. However, it was expected that repair personnel of the PT squadron in the area would augment this unit as necessary.
- J-2B Unit: PT Base Ordnance Shop: This unit had facilities to maintain and make minor repairs to all PT armament except torpedoes. It had one officer and five men.
- J-5C Unit: Torpedo Depot Component, Small: This unit provided facilities to service and ready 50 torpedoes a week. It had 1 officer and 10 men.
- P-6D: Decontamination and Camouflage (PT Base): This unit had decontamination apparatus for use in case of gas attack, and camouflage materials including paint, spray guns, and nets. It had no regularly assigned personnel.
While other functional components were especially developed for PT's, a typical PT operating base would contain many standard functional components as well. The following is a standard PT operating base, without main engine overhaul facilities, for one squadron of boats:
Designation Components Number
A-4 Administration (PT base) 1 2 8 12 20 C-3 Radio station -- operating base(small) 1 1 13 20 40 C-8 Visual station -- operating base(small) 1 0 8 9 23 D-9 Petroleum products 1 0 0 3,000 3,750 D-15 Cobbler and tailor shop (small) 1 0 5 15 25 D-22 Disbursing office (small) 1 1 5 6 9 E-11 PT operating base repair 1 3 131 1,000 2,500 G-10 Dispensary -- 10 bed -- mobile. 1 1 3 11 36 J-2B PT base ordnance 1 1 5 25 30 J-4C Base demolition 1 0 0 1 4 J-5C Torpedo depot (small) 1 1 10 130 570 J-15A Personal equipment for enlisted men 2 0 0 4 22 J-15B Personal equipment for officers 10 0 0 1 2 N-1A Camp (250 men) -- tents 2 0 50 430 940 N-5B Camp buildings (250 men)-tropical 2 0 0 300 446 N-20 Base recreation 1 1 3 2 4 P-6D Decontamination and camouflage (PT) 1 0 0 40 100 P-12A Fire protection (basic) 1 0 1 10 30 Q-2 Preembarkation (100 men) 2 0 0 1 3 Total 11 242 5,017 8,554
It should be remembered that this is the standard operating base as planned, and that in practice components could be, and were, added or omitted. The E-11 unit in such a base was usually augmented by addition of one or more pontoon piers and drydocks. By no means all PT bases were as large as this one. Such a base as this would usually be augmented by one or more extra N-1A units and would be used as a main repair base for several squadrons which would operate from smaller bases in further advanced areas.
Like the tenders, the bases were not fully developed when the first squadrons were sent to the Pacific, and for many months PT's had to operate with inadequate base facilities. Once the functional component system was well underway, however, it provided as nearly perfect a solution to base problems as could be imagined, because it was possible merely by adding or subtracting components to form a base suited in size and capabilities for the performance of any required task.
23. HELLCAT AND ELCOPLANE
Although the Elco 80 and Higgins 78-foot boats remained standard throughout the war, the story of PT development would not be complete without mention of the Hellcat and Elcoplane, which exemplified the efforts of the two companies to improve their products.
Higgins Industries on their own initiative designed and built an entirely new boat, a 70-footer, which they called the Hellcat. Builder's trials, run on Lake Pontchartrain on June 30, 1943, were witnessed by officers of the Miami Shakedown Detail, who turned in an enthusiastic report to the Bureau of Ships. There was no doubt that the boat performed well: it made a top speed of 46 knots, and was able to reverse course in 9 seconds. A similar turn with a Higgins 78-footer (which could turn faster than the Elco 80) took 22 seconds. The boat had low silhouette and left little wake at idling speeds -- good features for making a sneak attack. Visibility from the cockpit was superior to that of either of the standard boats.
On the basis of the report of the builder's trials, the Navy purchased the boat on August 26 and gave it a number, PT 564. A Board of Inspection and Survey ran trials for 5 days in September, during which the 564 averaged 47.825 knots on a full-throttle mile run, as compared with 40.12 knots averaged by a standard Higgins boat, PT 282. The smaller boat proved
PT 564, the 70-foot Higgins Hellcat.
itself considerably more maneuverable than the larger one, and was cheaper and easier to build.
The Board recommended that if it should pass rough water trials, the new boat be put into immediate production and that construction of the 78-foot Higgins boat be stopped. The Bureau of Ships made a more cautious approach, stating, "If the operating forces are assured that a smaller, faster boat is required and are satisfied to accept the lesser armament and accommodations which can be built into a smaller boat, the Bureau is assured that Higgins and other PT builders could build such a boat."
At a Navy Department conference in November it was decided not to put the new model in production. Various considerations favored continued production of the larger types. Most of the PT actions in the Pacific at that time were against barges -- the boats were being used primarily as gunboats and had to carry considerable weight in guns and ammunition in addition to their torpedoes. A big boat was required to carry the load. In many forward areas the crews had to live and eat aboard the boats for weeks at a time. The Hellcat had no galley or refrigerator; its living accommodations were inadequate for that type of operation. A new boat would require retooling. And though it had passed its trials with flying colors, there was a
possibility that performance in service would disclose defects not apparent in the trials.
Elco's contribution was the Elcoplane, a series of six steps fastened to the bottom and sides of a standard Elco boat, PT 487. In trials run on December 16, 1943, in Newark Bay for a Board of Inspection and Survey, the 487 made the amazing speeds of 55.95 knots (nearly 65 land-miles per hour) with light loading, and 53.62 knots at full warload. Even more impressive was the maneuverability at high speed. "Running at top speed," the Board reported, "threw helm hard over and reversed course. Turning both right and left, the boat turned 180 degrees in about 6 seconds, and completed the turn with sternway on. At all times during the turn, the boat banked inboard. The performance in this maneuver was spectacular."
The Board's report was so enthusiastic that the Bureau of Ships directed the Supervisor of Shipbuilding at Bayonne to expedite procurement of Elcoplane kits to send to squadrons in the operating areas for conversion of their boats. This project died aborning, however, on receipt of a report from the Commander Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 29, four of whose boats. PT's 560 to 563, ran from New York to Miami with Elcoplanes.
These boats demonstrated that the Elcoplanes, ideal for high-speed operation, caused an increase of 25 percent in fuel consumption and 75 percent in lubricating oil consumption at cruising speeds. Also, at cruising speeds, the boats tended to root into heavy seas, steering was more difficult, and acceleration dropped off. The planes on the boats' sides warped and the supporting brackets cracked and loosened. The boats became sensitive to added weights and correct trim was an absolute necessity.
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