Guadalcanal and Beyond -- The Solomons Campaign
SIX MONTHS elapsed between the firing of PT 34's last torpedoes off Cebu and the first firing of torpedoes at Guadalcanal by boats of a new Squadron 3. During most of this time there were no bases from which the short-range PT's could go out to meet the enemy. They were not designed to patrol hundreds of miles to sea, but to deliver sudden punches close to shore and relatively near their bases. They met the enemy only once during these 6 months: on the fringe of the great Battle of Midway in June 1942.
Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 1, then commanded by Lt. Clinton McKellar, Jr., was given 3 days' notice late in May to make its boats ready to proceed under their own power to Midway, 1,385 miles from Pearl Harbor. This was the longest run across open water that American PT's had ever made. Except for PT 23, which broke a crankshaft and had to turn back the first day, the boats made the run without strain, fueling from patrol vessels and a seaplane tender which met them at Necker Island, French Frigate Shoal, and Lisianski Island.
As at Pearl Harbor on December 7, breakfast was interrupted on the morning of June 4 by the arrival of Japanese planes. This time the air raid alarm gave the boat crews time to get their boats underway in the lagoon before the planes were overhead.
More than 60 Japanese Navy bombers came over, escorted by 50 Zero fighters. The first planes dropped bombs from high altitude along the north side of Eastern Island and in the hangar and barracks area on Sand Island. This attack was scarcely over when dive bombers swept down, scoring hits on the powerhouse on Eastern Island and on fuel tanks on Sand Island.
As the dive bombers pulled out over the lagoon, the PT's opened with all their guns. PT'S 21 and 22 concentrated their fire on a low-flying Zero, which crashed in the trees on Sand Island. Another Zero came out of a steep dive to strafe PT 25. The 25 took 30 small-caliber hits above the waterline; 1 officer and 2 men were slightly wounded by shrapnel. Planes several times started to dive on other boats, but swerved off as soon as the PT's opened fire.
Sixteen U.S. Marine planes had gone up to meet the attackers. Maj. Verne J. McCaul, USMC, Group Executive Officer, Aircraft Group 22, Second Marine Aircraft Wing, reported, "Each pilot made only one or two passes at the bombers and then spent the remainder of the time trying to shake from 1 to 5 Jap fighters off his tail. Most succeeded by using cloud cover, or, in two cases, by leading the Japs into fire from light anti-aircraft guns ashore and on PT boats."
When the raid was over, PT'S 20, 22, and 28 returned to the Sand Island dock and sent fire and rescue parties ashore. Ens. D. J. Callaghan, USNR, and Ens. Clark W. Faulkner, USNR, salvaged rifles, ammunition, hand grenades, and Packard engine spares from a burning hangar. Lieutenant McKellar, with R. H. Lowell, MM2C; V. J. Miastowske, F3c; and J. B. Rodgers, S2C, cut a path through barbed wire to fight fires in a large fuel oil dump. PT's cruised around the bay, searching for downed Marine aviators. They picked up five pilots and two enlisted men.
During the rest of the day, far to the northwest, Army and Marine Corps planes from Midway and Navy planes from the Enterprise, Yorktown, and Hornet blasted the Japanese invasion force. At 1930 all 11 PT's got underway to search for damaged Japanese carriers reported 170 miles to the northwest. The weather was squally, with poor visibility. These conditions, excellent for PT attack, also made it difficult to find targets. Unable to find anything by dawn, the PT's turned back to Midway. On the way, PT's 20 and 21 sighted a column of smoke 50 miles to the west. They sped toward it at 40 knots, but when they arrived all they could see was a large expanse of fuel oil and floating wreckage, apparently Japanese. Probably no Japanese carriers were left afloat. The planes were credited with sinking two carriers, the Kaga and Soryu, on June 4, and another two, the Hiryu, and the Akagi, on the 5th.
On June 6 the PT's put to sea, each with a flag-draped coffin aboard, to bury at sea 11 Marines who had fallen in the air raid two days before.
TO THE SOUTH PACIFIC
The United States took its first offensive action of the Pacific war on August 7, 1942, with the landing of the First Marine Division on Guadalcanal and the neighboring islands of Tulagi and Florida. It was obvious that PT's could be used effectively in the Solomons. Squadron 2, in Panama, was alerted in July for a move to a combat area.
The squadron had been enlarged to 14 boats during the summer when Lt. Comdr. Henry Farrow brought PT's 59, 60, and 61 to Panama from Melville under their own power, to prove that boats could run to Panama on their own bottoms. The Chief of Naval Operations directed that eight boats be transferred from Squadron 2 to form a new Squadron 3, and that the new squadron prepare for immediate shipment. The remaining six boats were to remain in Panama. Lt. Comdr. Alan R. Montgomery, who had relieved Lieutenant Commander Caldwell as commander of Squadron 2 in June, was ordered to assume command of the new unit when it was commissioned on July 27. Lt. George A. Brackett, USNR, relieved him as commander of the parent squadron.
Designation of the new unit as Squadron 3 was unfortunate. Although all of the boats of the original Squadron 3 had been destroyed, the squadron was still carried on the books of the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts. Administrative confusion was inevitable. For example, when the new squadron requested its commissioning allotment, the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts tartly replied that this had already been granted to Squadron 3 in 1941, and that it was not the policy of the Navy Department to grant more than one commission allotment to any one command.
The first division of Squadron 3, PT's 38, 46, 48, and 60, departed Balboa on August 29 aboard the Navy oilers Lackawanna and Tappahannock, two PT's to a ship. They arrived September 19 at Noumea, New Caledonia, were unloaded, and were towed to Espiritu Santo by USS Bellatrix, a cargo ship, and the tender Jamestown, which had sailed from New York early in August to join the PT's in the Solomons. The boats were towed from Espiritu Santo by the fast minesweepers Hovey and Southard, converted four-stack destroyers, to a point 300 miles from Tulagi. There the boats were turned loose to proceed under their own power, arriving at Government Wharf, Tulagi, at daybreak on October 12.
The second division, PT's 37, 39, 45, and 61, was shipped to Noumea on a merchant ship and arrived at Tulagi on October 25.
Squadron maneuvers were part of the Panama training for PTs en route to the Pacific.
Meanwhile Squadron 5, the first 12 Elco 80-foot boats, had arrived in Panama, scheduled for shipment to the Solomons. On recommendation of the Commander Panama Sea Frontier, who considered Squadron 2 a more experienced unit than Squadron 5, the new squadron was directed late in September to remain in Panama, while Squadron 2 was designated for shipment to the combat area. Six boats, PT's 109 to 114, were transferred to Squadron 2. Lt. Rollin E. Westholm was detached as commander of the newly commissioned Squadron 7 in New York and flew to Panama to take command of Squadron 2.
The change in orders placed Squadron 2 in an unenviable position. Squadron 3 had left Panama with the lion's share of the available spare parts on the assumption that Squadron 2 would remain there. Furthermore, Squadron 3 had taken the boats in best condition. The remaining 77-footers needed complete overhaul, which could not be accomplished in the time available. The squadron picked up the remnants, patched the boats as best it could, and departed for the combat area, arriving at Tulagi at the end of November.
3. THE STRUGGLE FOR GUADALCANAL
As Squadron 3's first division approached Tulagi from the southeast on the night of October 11/12, the cruisers San Francisco, Boise, Salt Lake City, and Helena, with accompanying destroyers, were blasting an enemy task force not 40 miles to the west, in what has come to be known as the Battle of Cape Esperance.
This action, which cost the enemy one heavy cruiser and three destroyers, was simply the latest manifestation of Japanese determination to regain control of the southern Solomons. The enemy had made his intentions clear the night following our original landings on Guadalcanal, when a cruiser task force struck swiftly and nearly disastrously, sinking our heavy cruisers Astoria, Quincy, and Vincennes, and the Australian heavy cruiser Canberra. Two weeks later a strong enemy force, including three or four carriers, was observed several hundred miles to the eastward, in the vicinity of the Santa Cruz Islands. Our carrier planes sank the carrier Ryujo, Army aircraft sank destroyer Mutsuki, and the rest of this force had to withdraw in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons.
During August the Japanese made many air attacks on Guadalcanal and attempted several landings. In September and early October they increased their efforts, sending cruisers and destroyers to make small night landings. This was the Bougainville Express -- later renamed the Tokyo Express by Adm. William F. Halsey, Commander South Pacific Force. We had neither the seapower nor the airpower to counter all of these thrusts. Only when a major assault impended was it possible to send a heavy task force against the enemy.
It was such an assault that resulted in the Battle of Cape Esperance. The Japanese apparently had found reinforcement by cruisers and destroyers inadequate, and had resolved to make a major landing from large transports. A large-scale operation of this type demanded that our airpower on Guadalcanal be crippled, at least temporarily. So it came about that a carrier force was sent down to neutralize Henderson Field and was turned back by our cruisers.
Smashing as our victory was, it was not enough. We had lost the destroyer Duncan, and cruisers Boise and Salt Lake City had been heavily hit. The Japanese, with more ships immediately available, were able to send in another large task force 2 nights later to shell Henderson Field.
The noise of the shelling awoke the crews of the PT's at Tulagi at 0200 October 14. Lieutenant Commander Montgomery gave the order: "Prepare for action. All boats underway immediately."
Montgomery rode PT 60, with Lt. (jg.) John M. Searles, USNR. Following were Searles' brother, Lt. (jg.) Robert L. Searles, USNR, in PT 38; Lt. (jg.) Henry S. Taylor, USNR, in PT 46; and Lt. (jg.) Robert C. Wark, USNR, in PT 48. Midway between Tulagi and Guadalcanal, the tremendous orange flashes of Japanese guns became visible. Montgomery gave the signal to deploy for attack.
In the blackness of the night PT 38 became separated from the others. Bob Searles saw a Japanese searchlight flash on and sweep over his boat without picking it up. Seconds later he saw what appeared to be a light cruiser forward to his starboard beam. He eased his boat in at 10 knots, fired two torpedoes at 400 yards, two more at 200 yards, then shoved his throttles forward to full speed, turned right and passed 100 yards astern of the cruiser.
Searles saw a torpedo hit forward of the bridge, causing a violent double explosion. All hands on the PT felt the intense heat of the blast.
Montgomery attempted to close the only ship still shelling Guadalcanal, but a destroyer searchlight swept the water on PT 60's port hand, silhouetting the PT for another destroyer to starboard, which immediately opened fire. The 60 held her course until she could fire two torpedoes, then turned hard left and retired at high speed, under fire from the pursuing destroyer. H. M. Ramsdell, CMM, said he saw two explosions at the target. Taylor, in the 46, also saw explosions and was certain they were torpedo hits.
Montgomery, believing that he had shaken the destroyer, slowed the 60 and stopped laying smoke. Almost immediately another destroyer fixed the PT in its searchlight beam and opened fire. The first shell landed only 20 feet astern, almost lifting the PT out of the water. The 60 zigzagged at high speed, laid smoke, tried to shoot out the destroyer's searchlight, and finally discouraged pursuit by dropping two depth charges in the destroyer's path. Later still another destroyer was seen, patrolling Sandfly Passage, at the western end of Florida Island. The 60, idling close to the beach, washed aground on a coral reef.
Wark, in the 48, saw the first searchlight spot the 60. Just then the 46 cut across the 48's bow, forcing Wark to turn hard right to avoid collision. Wark lost contact with the destroyer and cruised slowly until another destroyer 200 yards away caught the 48 full in its searchlight and opened fire. C. E.
Todd, SC1c, poured .50 caliber into the destroyer's bridge and superstructure. The searchlight went out and the destroyer was not seen again.
Taylor, in the 46, had cut across the 48's bow to avoid collision with a destroyer which he saw only when it put its spotlight on PT 60. The 46 escaped detection and swung back to its original course to intercept the vessels shelling Guadalcanal. But the shelling had stopped, and with no gun flashes to silhouette the enemy ships, Taylor was unable to find them.
This was the first of many confused night actions, of which the results are uncertain. The squadron claimed three torpedo hits. A coastwatcher reported the next day that natives had seen a large vessel sink off New Georgia. Subsequent broadcasts by Radio Tokyo acknowledged the loss of one cruiser on the night of October 13/14, and stated that their ships had been attacked by 19 torpedo boats, of which they claimed to have destroyed 14. On the basis of these reports, the PT's claimed one cruiser damaged, one cruiser probably sunk. There is no conclusive evidence, however, that any major Japanese ship was sunk that night.
The PT's could not prevent the Japanese from sending in more cruisers and destroyers the following night to shell Henderson Field. PT 60 had been towed off the reef during the day, but it would be many weeks before she could patrol again; PT 38 had no torpedoes, and the other two boats were ordered to escort two small supply ships from Tulagi to Guadalcanal and return. On the return trip, the crews of the PT's watched the enemy shell the field. Their mission was to stand by their convoy, and they could not attack.
So effective was the bombardment that on the morning of the 15th it looked for a while as if no planes would be able to rise to oppose a Japanese landing from six transports west of Kokumbona. But soon Navy, Marine, and Army planes were in the air. They destroyed at least three transports, but the enemy had already landed thousands of troops.
4. MEETING THE TOKYO EXPRESS
Lt. Hugh M. Robinson, the squadron executive officer, relieved Lieutenant Commander Montgomery as squadron commander shortly after his arrival at Tulagi with the second group of four boats on October 25. Montgomery had contracted a fever in Panama, but got out of bed to sail with the first division. On the tanker the fever developed into pneumonia, which kept him flat on his back all the way across the Pacific. He insisted on making
The long trip from Noumea to Tulagi with the boats, then forced himself to go out on patrol. He had lost 25 pounds and was living on nerves alone. Finally, at the end of October, he had to be shipped back to the United States for medical treatment.
The arrival of the second four boats permitted an increase in tempo of operations. While operations were varied, including courier and escort duties, and once even an attempt to tow a damaged destroyer, McFarland, the principal mission of the boats remained interception of the Tokyo Express.
Daily air reconnaissance of the Slot -- the broad passage between New Georgia and Santa Isabel -- and of the islands to the northwest, often gave warning of impending forays against Guadalcanal. Each evening the results of air reconnaissance were compared with late reports from coastwatchers on islands flanking the Slot, and the final report was forwarded to the PT's.
The sound between Florida Island and Guadalcanal, which came for obvious reasons to be known as Iron Bottom Bay, was geographically favorable for PT action. The two western entrances, between Cape Esperance and Savo Island to the south and between Savo Island and Sandfly Passage to the north, were relatively narrow. And the confinement of Japanese ground forces to the area between Kukum and Cape Esperance on northwestern Guadalcanal left little doubt as to the ultimate destination of enemy ships. Finally, Cape Esperance was less than 35 miles across smooth water from the PT base at Sesapi, on Tulagi.
It became a regular practice, on nights when the Tokyo Express was reported to be heading down the Slot, to place PT's as scouts in the entrance channels, or even outside the entrances, to the west of Savo Island, while other boats lay in wait inside the bay, ready to move toward either passage when the enemy was reported. On the night of October 29/30, when three enemy destroyers had been reported in the Slot, Lt. (jg.) James Brent Greene, USNR, in PT 39, went out to the west of Savo as an advance scout. Just after midnight he reported two ships 10 miles west of Cape Esperance heading for Savo at high speed.
Bob Searles, in the 38, was lying to between Esperance and Savo, watching for the enemy's approach from the west. Suddenly a friendly scoutplane swooped in and dropped a flare almost on the deck of a Japanese destroyer bearing down on the 38 at high speed from the east. No one had seen the destroyer enter the bay, and had it not been for the flare it undoubtedly would have run down the PT. The destroyer opened fire on the plane, giving the PT a chance to get underway. Then the destroyer shifted fire
To the 38 and gave chase. The other boats heard the 38's radio: "One enemy can coming from east through Cape Esperance and Savo. Am being chased. Am being fired on. Course northeast. Hurry, Hurry!"
Five minutes later the destroyer swerved abruptly and shot out through the Savo-Esperance passage. Greene, having heard the 38's message, moved in to intercept. He picked up the destroyer's wake, bored in to 400 yards and fired three torpedoes. The destroyer replied with automatic weapons, holing the 39 in several places. As the 39 passed 200 yards astern, Greene thought that one of his torpedoes hit amidships and that he had damaged the ship. However, he was apparently mistaken.
Japanese cruisers and destroyers landed 1,500 men and some artillery east of Koli Point on the night of November 2. On the 4th, the cruisers San Francisco and Helena, with the destroyer Sterett, bombarded this new force, setting fire to supply and ammunition dumps. On the night of November 5/6, three PT's were ordered to patrol off Koli Point and one from Kokumbona to Cape Esperance, to guard against attempts to reinforce the newly landed troops.
Lack of radar, which seriously hampered PT operations throughout the Guadalcanal campaign, was sorely felt that night. Stilly Taylor, idling along in PT 39 on the Kokumbona to Cape Esperance patrol, learned that the enemy was in the vicinity only when his boat began to pitch and roll in what obviously was the wakes of two ships heading east at high speed. The wakes were visible, but not the ships. Later a searchlight at Henderson Field flashed on for an instant, silhouetting a destroyer, but Taylor could not find the destroyer again for another 40 minutes. Then, almost at the moment of sighting, the destroyer caught the 39 in its searchlight and blazed away with all guns. A shell exploded just off the PT's stern, knocking down the two torpedomen at the after tubes and hurling Teddy S. Kuharski, GM2c, right out of the starboard machine-gun turret. Taylor tried to get his torpedoes away, but only one fired. As he swung the boat around, retiring in a wide turn, shells were dropping within 50 yards. Kuharski scrambled back into his turret and brought his guns to bear on the destroyer's bridge. After his first few bursts the searchlight went out and the destroyer ceased fire. A second destroyer also illuminated the 39 and fired at her, dropping heavy caliber shells in her wake and spraying the water all around with automatic fire. The 39 zigzagged to safety behind a smokescreen.
The following night, off Koli Point, Lt. Lester H. Gamble, USNR, in PT 48, fired four torpedoes at a destroyer at less than 400 yards' range. He saw two hit amidships, causing a tremendous explosion and a geyser of water and foam. A single burst of shell-fire passed well overhead as the 48 retired at full speed. An oil slick and debris were sighted in the area at daybreak, but again there is no conclusive evidence that the ship was hit.
On the afternoon of November 8 the Commander Advance Naval Base Guadalcanal ordered all available PT's to intercept a reported enemy force of five destroyers heading for Guadalcanal. Only three boats were available. The condition of the squadron at the time was recorded by Lt. S. S. Savage, USNR, the squadron intelligence officer: "This was the third time in four nights that the PT boats had been out to clash with a strong enemy force. With the inadequacy of base facilities and the constant use of the boats, proper maintenance had become a problem. The boats' own officers and men, after spending a nerve-shattering night battling heavy Jap ships that repeatedly caught them in blinding lights, and on occasions, all but blew them out of the water with deadly salvos of explosive shells, would catch a few hours nap in the early morning, then spend the major portion of the day working to have the boats in shape for the night's patrol. Morale was high, but physical strain was beginning to show in men and boats."
Robinson led the night's patrol in PT 61, followed by Brent Greene in the 39 and Lt. (jg.) Leonard A. Nikoloric, USNR, in PT 37. Greene first reported an enemy destroyer south of Savo Island and, as the boats deployed in line abreast to attack, two more destroyers were sighted. The 39 fired two torpedoes, which missed the lead destroyer astern. The 61's line of sight was blocked by the 37, but the 37 let go two torpedoes at 500 yards and a third a few seconds later. The lead destroyer turned hard left, avoiding the torpedoes. Immediately the three destroyers turned on their searchlights and laid down a heavy barrage. A large caliber shell hit the 61, blowing off its bow. The boats escaped behind a smokescreen and, with the help of a calm sea, good boat handling, and sufficient speed to keep the bow out of water, Robinson brought the 61 safely to Tulagi. The 39, hit by shrapnel but not seriously damaged, remained on patrol until dawn. The action, which took only 8 minutes from first sighting to escape, was the quickest the squadron had had.
Two nights later Robinson led a three-boat division on patrol south of Savo Island where, for a moment, before they merged into the dark background of land, four destroyers could be seen in column close to the
Only minor underwater repairs could be made without docking facilities. H. C. Zagary, CBM, puts on a diving helmet to inspect the bottom of a PT at a Solomons base.
Guadalcanal shore. The PT's closed the range, but the destroyers saw them first. Robinson got two torpedoes away and Nikoloric one before the enemy fire forced the boats to retire. A shell exploded so close to Nikoloric's boat that everyone on deck was knocked down and stunned except John D. Legg, CQM, who had been hanging onto a guardrail in the cockpit. "I saw that we were going to get sunk," Legg said, "so I pushed the throttles down and gave her hard right."
Legg, whose quick action undoubtedly saved his boat from destruction, kept the PT zigzagging for 3 minutes before Nikoloric recovered sufficiently to take charge.
5. THE BATTLE OF GUADALCANAL
The enemy chose the middle of November for an all-out attempt to reinforce Guadalcanal. As early as November 9 it was obvious from air reconnaissance that a great amphibious offensive had been set in motion and might reach the Guadalcanal area on the 13th. We already had on the way to Guadalcanal transports carrying 6,000 men and thousands of tons of equipment, which had to be unloaded on November 11 and 12 if we were to continue to hold the island.
Rear Adm. Richmond K. Turner, in charge of the resupply operation, had 6 cruisers and 14 destroyers. Far to the south, at Noumea, Rear Adm. Thomas C. Kinkaid, had a supporting force of one aircraft carrier, two battleships, two cruisers, and eight destroyers. All available land-based planes were to attack Japanese airfields in range of Guadalcanal on November 11, 12, and 13.
If Admiral Turner's force could turn back the enemy's thrust, expected on the 13th, then planes from Guadalcanal and Admiral Kinkaid's carrier, Enterprise, together with Admiral Kinkaid's battleships, might be able to handle the main Japanese force.
Despite Japanese air attacks, the transports were unloaded on schedule. On the evening of the ruth, Admiral Turner withdrew to the southwest with his transports. Five cruisers -- San Francisco, Portland, Helena, Juneau, and Atlanta -- with 8 destroyers -- Cushing, Laffey, Sterett, O'Bannon, Aaron Ward, Barton, Monssen, and Fletcher -- under Rear Adm. Daniel J. Callaghan, turned east to meet a far heavier enemy force of 17 ships, including 2 battleships, a light cruiser, and 14 destroyers. In the furious 34-minute action which followed, we lost Atlanta, Barton, Cushing, Laffey, and Monssen, and
suffered damage to the Portland, San Francisco, Helena, Juneau,4 and three destroyers. Admiral Callaghan was killed on his flagship, the San Francisco. The price was high, but the enemy also had been hurt, and his intended bombardment of Guadalcanal was completely frustrated.
One Japanese battleship, Hiei, had taken over 50 topside hits, but on the morning of the 13th was still afloat and heading toward Guadalcanal, possibly with the intention of bombarding Henderson Field. Throughout the day, planes from the Enterprise, Marine planes from Henderson Field, and Army B-17's made a total of seven torpedo, five dive-bombing, and two strafing attacks on the Hiei. By nightfall the apparently indestructible battleship had sunk.
That night the Japanese brought cruisers and destroyers into Iron Bottom Bay to shell Henderson Field. No big ships were available to stop them.
Stilly Taylor and Jack Searles were assigned to screen the heavy cruiser Portland, which had been damaged in the previous night's action and was being towed back to Tulagi. The boats separated, Taylor patrolling a northsouth course and Searles an east-west course. "By about twelve-thirty," Taylor said, "we were secured from this job and immediately tried to locate each other again. However, before we were able to do so, the Nips began to shell Henderson Field, first putting a very bright flare in the vicinity of the field and naturally both of us started in on them independently.
"Apparently, I was much nearer to the Japs than Jack was because of where I had secured from patrol around the Portland. The best intelligence we had was that there was a Jap battleship on the way down from either Bougainville or Rabaul. It was supposed to have been accompanied by several escorts, probably destroyers. This intelligence report should not be confused with the battleship Hiei, which we knew was just the other side of Savo Island.
"As soon as the Japs opened fire, it was obvious to us that there was at least one fairly heavy ship. We thought, at the time, that it was probably the battleship referred to in the intelligence report. We could tell that it was definitely a heavy ship because of the long orange flash from its gunfire rather than the short white flash which we knew from experience was the smaller fire of the destroyers. As we started in to make our run on this formation, we thought that we saw a destroyer make a short scouting trip well ahead of the main formation. My quartermaster reported this and I could never be absolutely sure that it was not his imagination. However,
due to the light put up by the Nips' flares, I was able to use my [torpedo] director for the first time. I set his speed at about 20 knots and I think that he was doing slightly more than this. I kept him in the director for approximately seven salvoes, and really had a beautiful line on him. After closing in to about a thousand yards, I decided that if we went in any further, we would get tangled up in the destroyer screen, which I knew would be surrounding him at about from five hundred to seven hundred yards. I, therefore, fired three torpedoes. The fourth misfired and never left the tube. The three fish landed beautifully and made no flash as we fired them. We immediately turned around and started back for the base, but we had the torpedoes running hot and straight towards the target. I am positive that at least one of them found its mark. Certainly the Nips ceased fire immediately and apparently turned right around and limped home. Jack who had been behind me, kept on going until he ran into one of the screening destroyers. He said that he had put two fish into him and left him sinking. As we were retiring, one of the Jap destroyers came up to a patch of smoke that we had laid to cover our retirement and fired a few rounds into the smoke, but we were, by this time, well on our way home.
"This was an easy attack for PT's because we were able to get within range unmolested with good visibility because of their flares and because of their gunfire. I do believe that the first they knew of our presence was when torpedoes hit them. It was the kind of attack that we had all been dreaming about. They usually came in under cover of bad weather, and we often found ourselves in the middle of them before we knew what was going on."
Here again, damage to the enemy cannot be stated with certainty. But the question of damage is secondary. The PT's had accomplished their primary purpose: to halt the bombardment of Henderson Field. Of that there is little doubt. As soon as Taylor and Searles attacked, the Japanese stopped shelling and retreated. If it seems incongruous that a major task force should retire precipitately as soon as attacked by two PT's, it must be. remembered that the PT's achieved complete surprise. The Japanese did not know what was attacking them or what forces might be available to press the attack -- they could have only an imperfect idea of how much damage they had inflicted on us the night before -- and they were undoubtedly reluctant to risk action with an unknown force which seemed to have the drop on them.
The PT's interrupted the bombardment when 18 planes had been destroyed and 32 damaged. But Henderson Field was still usable. And during the day of the 14th, Henderson Field was used with great effectiveness, not only by the Marine planes based there, but by Navy planes from Enterprise, which landed at Henderson Field, refueled and took off again to make repeated attacks on Japanese task forces in the Slot.
Reports were conflicting as to the composition of these forces. One, apparently, was the cruiser task force heading back to base after its visit to Henderson Field; another was a large transport force convoyed by cruisers and destroyers and preceded by a separate force of cruisers, destroyers, and two battleships. Navy and Marine Corps planes made many torpedo and bomb hits on these ships, sinking the heavy cruiser Kinugasa and seven transports. The planes whittled down the Japanese forces, but could not stop them. At dusk they were still bearing down toward Iron Bottom Bay. Late in the afternoon of the 14th Lieutenant Robinson was ordered to send out all available PT's. He received reports of the transport task force coming down the Slot; of a battleship, cruiser, and destroyer force circling 150 miles to the north, and of a cruiser and destroyer task force approaching from the southwest. And there was a possibility that part of Admiral Kinkaid's force, the battleships Washington and South Dakota with four destroyers, under Rear Adm. Willis A. Lee, might be on its way.
Robinson, Greene, and Nikoloric took the only three boats still capable of operations to patrol north of Savo. Just as they arrived on station, Radio Tulagi informed Robinson that Admiral Lee's task force would be in the area and instructed him to withdraw to the east of Savo Island. As the boats withdrew, they saw Washington and South Dakota rounding the northern tip of Savo. Admiral Lee, in the Washington, apparently saw the boats at the same time. The Admiral himself called Guadalcanal headquarters saying, "Call off your boys."
Robinson, overhearing this, immediately assured Lee that they knew his identity.
The battleships decided the Battle of Guadalcanal, sinking the battleship Kirishima and battering the rest of the enemy task force so savagely that by the next day its remaining ships were in full retreat. During the day of the 15th, Army, Navy, and Marine planes blasted the remaining transports. The enemy's greatest attempt at reinforcement had ended in failure to land any substantial number of men or quantity of supplies.
6. AFTER TASSAFARONGA
The final major Japanese thrust at Guadalcanal was turned back by our cruisers in the Battle of Tassafaronga on November 30, but from that time until the final evacuation in early February, the Tokyo Express continued to run. During this period the PT's had some of their grimmest, as well as most successful, actions.
About the first of December the PT's received welcome assistance from half a dozen SOC's -- Navy scout observation planes. The SOC's had been carried aboard cruisers damaged in the many actions around Guadalcanal, and were left behind with orders to work with the PT's when their cruisers left the area for repairs. Every night the PT's expected action, one or two SOC's flew up the Slot to spot enemy ships and report their position. It was a hazardous assignment for the SOC's, because the Japanese ships usually made their runs under cover of bad weather, and several were lost.
Further assistance was received about the first of January, with the arrival of a squadron of PBY's, Navy patrol bombers known as "Catalinas" or "Black Cats." The PBY's not only reported positions but heckled enemy ships by dropping flares and bombs, sometimes forcing the ships to reveal their positions by drawing fire from them. Once, toward the end of January, when a group of PT's was waiting near Savo to engage an approaching force of 12 enemy destroyers, the Black Cats bombed the destroyers so effectively that they turned and fled before they had come within 30 miles of Guadalcanal.
By December 7, when a reconnaissance plane reported at least nine destroyers heading down the Slot, the material condition of the Tulagi PT flotilla had been considerably improved by the arrival of Squadron 2, under Lt. R. E. Westholm. It was possible to send out eight PT's in three groups to meet the opposing force. Westholm, in PT 109, with Lt. Charles E. Tilden, USNR, in PT 43, patrolled between Kokumbona and Cape Esperance; Bob Searles, in PT 48, and Stilly Taylor, in PT 40, patrolled off the northwest tip of Guadalcanal, while four boats waited near Savo Island as a striking force: PT 59 (Jack Searles), PT 44 (Lt. Frank Freeland, USNR), PT 36 (Lt. (jg.) M. G. Pettit, USNR), and PT 37 (Lt. (jg.) Lester H. Gamble, USNR).
At 2320 the 48 and 40 sighted a group of enemy ships heading directly toward them from the northwest. As they started to move into firing position, one of PT 48's engines, then another, failed. The enemy ships, now seen to be destroyers, started firing at the 48. Taylor, realizing that the 48 was a sitting duck for the Japanese, swung the 40 back across the oncoming
enemy's bows, laying a smokescreen, and then swerved to run south-southeast down the channel. Apparently unaware that the 48 was crippled, the destroyers pursued the 40, which easily outdistanced them. The 48 ran on one engine into the lee of Savo Island and anchored close to shore.
The striking group, advised of this contact by radio, deployed and at 2335 sighted the enemy force, which apparently consisted of five destroyers and a larger ship. As soon as the PT's came within effective range, the Japanese started firing at them. PT 37 fired two torpedoes at the leading ship with no observed results. PT 59 then let go two torpedoes at the nearest destroyer, which turned, avoiding the torpedoes, but exposing the large ship and another destroyer to the line of fire. As PT 59 swung to retire, it strafed the leading destroyer, a bare 100 yards away, and the destroyer returned the fire heavily. The PT was hit 10 times, but no one was injured. A machine-gun bullet set fire to a belt of .50-caliber ammunition in one of the turrets. Cletus E. Osborne, GM2C, USNR, stayed in the turret, detached the blazing belt and threw it to the deck, where it was extinguished.
Barely 3 minutes after the 59 started her run, PT's 44 and 36 whipped in, fired four torpedoes each, and retired unscathed. Pettit claimed one probable and one possible hit; Freeland two certain hits. Westholm, approaching in the 109 from the southeast, heard a terrific explosion in the direction of the targets about the time that Freeland fired his torpedoes.
The enemy had had enough. The Japanese ships turned and withdrew precipitately to the north. Although damage to the enemy is uncertain, the PT's, with practically no damage to themselves, had frustrated the mission of a far superior force.
The Japanese also used submarines in their attempts to support Guadalcanal. A submarine would surface close to shore. Barges would come out to unload it. On the night of December 9, Jack Searles, in the 59, patrolling with PT 44 at Kamimbo Bay, sighted an enemy barge. As the PT's opened fire on the barge, Searles saw a surfaced submarine. He quickly fired two torpedoes, one of which hit amidships. A geyser of water spouted high in the air, followed by tremendous explosions and a huge oil slick that spread for an hour and a half. It has been confirmed that Searles sank the submarine I-3, a vessel 320 feet long, of 1,955 tons standard surface displacement.
Two nights later a sizable Japanese force again entered Iron Bottom Bay, and again the PT's were there to meet them. Les Gamble, Stilly Taylor, and Lt. (jg.) Williams E. Kreiner 3d, USNR, all claimed torpedo hits. It is known that the PT's sank the destroyer Terutsuki.
When this action began, Frank Freeland, in PT 44, and Charlie Tilden, in PT 110, were patrolling the Kamimbo Bay area, southwest of Cape Esperance. They turned back on receiving a radio report of the contact with the enemy, and headed into Iron Bottom Bay between Cape Esperance and Savo Island. As they came in, they passed astern of the burning cargo ship, still underway and heading slowly toward Cape Esperance. Lt. (jg.) Charles M. Melhorn, USNR, aboard the 44, became slightly perturbed when he saw tracer fire, apparently directed at Florida Island from a destroyer just off the port beam.
"We were throwing up quite a wake," he said, "and with the Jap cargo ship on our starboard quarter lighting up the whole area, I thought we would soon be easy pickings and I told the skipper so.
"Before he could reply, [Willard A.] Crowe, the quartermaster, who was at the wheel, pointed and yelled out, 'Destroyer on starboard bow. There's your target, Captain.'
"Through the glasses I could make out a DD [destroyer] two points on our starboard bow, distance about 8,000 yards, course SSW. We came right and started our run. We had no sooner steadied on our new course than I picked up two more destroyers through my glasses. They were in column, 30° on our port bow, target course 270°, coming up fast. The skipper and I both saw at once that continuing our present course would pin us against the beach and lay us wide open broadsides from at least three Jap cans. The skipper shifted targets to the two destroyers, still about 4,000 yards off, and we started in again. By this time we were directly between the blazing ship in toward Esperance and the two destroyers. As we started the run, I kept looking for the can that had fired toward Florida. I picked him up behind and to the left of our new targets. He was swinging apparently to form up in column astern of the other two. The trap was sprung and as I pointed out this fourth DD, the lead ship in column opened fire.
"The skipper ordered hard right rudder, increased speed, and smoke. We turned at right angles to the course of the column, and held until we were directly ahead of the lead ship who was firing steadily but over and astern. As we crossed his bow, we swung left again 90° to the west and retired behind our smoke. A few shots landed behind us as we turned, but they broke off firing at once, as soon as they saw we had gotten behind smoke. We retired at full throttle intending to get well under Savo before we made our next run. The AK [the cargo ship] under Esperance was burning fiercely and as we passed her again, she buckled amidships. We veered slightly to the
right and when we were directly between Savo and Esperance, about 3 miles south of Savo, we turned right 180° and started back.
"Crowe was at the wheel, Ensign [John D.] Chester, [USNR] in the cockpit behind him, Lieutenant Freeland was at the throttles and I was standing on the transom between the machine-gun stops. We had just come out of our turn when we were fired on by a ship to the east of, and behind, the burning AK. I saw the blast, yelled: 'That's for us!' and jumped down on the port side by the cockpit. We were hit aft in the engine room. I don't remember much. For a few seconds, nothing registered at all. I looked back and saw a gaping hole in what was once the engine room canopy. The perimeter of the hole in the canopy was ringed by little tongues of flame. I looked down into the water and saw we had practically lost way. Dowling, who was on the starboard side amidships when we were hit, said that the turrets were afire, but that both gunners had gotten out and went forward with him.
"Someone on the bow said, 'Shall we abandon ship?' Freeland gave the order to go ahead and abandon ship. Together with Crowe and Chester, Freeland jumped out of the cockpit and went aft on the port side. As he passed me he said something about 'getting the life raft.'
I stayed by the cockpit, looking at the little group of men on the forecastle and glancing over where the shell came from. He let go again. I glanced forward and dove. One man on the bow hit the water about a hand ahead of me as I dove, another man followed just behind me. I dove deep and was still under water when the salvo struck. The concussion jarred me badly, but I kept swimming under water. There was a tremendous explosion, paralyzing me from the waist down. The water around me went red. The life jacket took control and pulled me to the surface. I came up in a sea of fire, the flaming embers of the boat cascading all about me. I tried to get free of the life jacket, but couldn't. I started swimming feebly. I thought the game was up, but the water, which had shot sky high in the explosion, rained down and put out the fires around me. From the first hit to this point took less than 15 seconds.
"I took a few strokes away from the gasoline fire which was raging about 15 yards behind me and as I turned back, I saw two heads, one still helmeted, between me and the flames. I heard a cry which came from behind the flames. I called to the two men, told them that I expected the Japs to be over in short order to machine-gun us, and to get their life jackets
ready to slip. I told them to get clear of the reflection of the fire as quickly as possible and proceeded to do so myself.
"I struck out for Savo, whose skyline ridge I could see dimly, and gradually made headway towards shore. Every 2 or 3 minutes I stopped to look back for other survivors, or an approaching destroyer, but saw nothing save the boat which was burning steadily, and beyond it -- slightly to the west -- the Jap AK which burned and exploded all night long. Sometime shortly before dawn a PT boat cruised up and down Savo, came out and passed about 25 yards ahead of me. I was all set to hail him when I looked over my shoulder and saw a Jap can bearing down on his starboard quarter. I didn't know whether the PT was maneuvering to get a shot at him or not, so I kept my mouth shut, let him go by, slipped my life jacket and waited for the fireworks. The Jap can lay motionless for some minutes, and I finally made it out as nothing more than a destroyer-shaped shadow formed by the fires and smoke which etched the outline against Cape Esperance.
"I put my life jacket back on and started out again. I was being set down rapidly to the east and finally made Savo by swimming due west. The PT circled and came back behind me, I yelled, but he swung off toward the wrecked boat. Although I heard both him and the SOC droning around most of the night, they never came close.
"I saw no ships, nothing until after dawn when one of our DD's went west out through the groove. I judge that I finally got ashore on Savo about 0730 or 0800 in the morning. Lieutenant H. S. Taylor picked me up off the beach about an hour later."
Only one man besides Lieutenant Melhorn was picked up that morning. Two officers and seven enlisted men were lost with their boat.
On the night of January 2 the PT's met the Tokyo Express again; Gamble claimed damage to one destroyer. Then, on the evening of the 10th, Lieutenant Westholm received word that eight Japanese destroyers were expected to arrive in Iron Bottom Bay at midnight. Four boats were already out, patrolling in two groups to the west of the Savo Island-Cape Esperance line: Les Gamble, in PT 45, with Lt. (jg.) Ralph O. Amsden, Jr., USNR, in PT 39, to the west, and Bob Searles, in PT 48, with Ens. Bartholomew J. Connolly, III, in PT 115, to the east. Westholm, in PT 112, immediately got underway with Charlie Tilden in PT 43 and Lt. Clark W. Faulkner, USNR, in PT 40, to cover the Guadalcanal coast between Cape Esperance and Aruligo. He
sent another group, Jack Searles, in PT 59; Taylor, in PT 46; and Pettit, in PT 36, to patrol just to the east, between Tassafaronga and Doma.5
Half an hour after midnight, Westholm's group, one-quarter mile offshore, sighted four destroyers heading slowly southeast, a mile offshore. The last ship turned back toward Savo Island; the other three presented perfect targets. Westholm gave the order, "Deploy to the right and make them good."
Tilden, easternmost of the group, closed to 400 yards and fired two torpedoes at the first ship in column. A tremendous crimson flash from his after port tube, caused perhaps by an imperfect impulse charge or too much oil in the tube, revealed his position to the enemy. The destroyer, which was not hit, opened with its main battery as Tilden turned hard right to retire. The second salvo hit the 43, slowing the boat so that it was just keeping headway. The destroyer closed fast. Tilden ordered abandon ship.
After Tilden jumped, he was fired on by Japanese machine-guns. He dived as deep as he could, and saw and heard the bullets striking the surface above. Other members of the crew were so close to the destroyer that they could hear the Japanese talking.
Faulkner, whose boat was the center of the striking force, closed to 500 yards and fired four torpedoes at the second ship. He watched his after port torpedo hit solidly, shooting a column of water in the air. A moment later there was a second explosion at the same target. Faulkner turned hard right and retired at full speed along the coastline. Westholm bore in close to the third ship and fired four torpedoes, one of which hit, throwing a huge column of water in the air. He was so close that he had to turn hard left and pass astern of the destroyer. Ships to the west opened fire with large-caliber guns. He turned east and another ship toward Savo opened fire. Two shells hit the 112 almost simultaneously, one at the waterline amidships, the other near the forward bulkhead of the engineroom. C. A. Craig, MoMM1c, showed great courage and ability in subduing the fire in the engineroom, and when it appeared impossible to save the boat, he and Lieutenant Westholm were the last to abandon ship. The entire crew got off safely into a liferaft. At 0130 the boat was still afloat and Westholm decided to try to board her. As the raft drew within ioo feet, the 112 exploded and settled by the stern. She sank at daylight, 1 mile east of Cape Esperance.
PT 46 was the only boat of the other striking group to make contact with the enemy. Taylor fired four torpedoes at 2,000 yards. One of his men saw two flashes at the target which might have been hits. Amsden and Gamble fired seven torpedoes from 2,000 yards at a ship between Esperance and Savo, with no observed results. Gamble fired his last torpedo at a ship 15 miles west of Savo, also at 2,000 yards' range, and without visible results. The other boats did not sight the enemy, but assisted in picking up survivors. The entire crew of the 112 was safe. One enlisted man was killed and 2 were missing from the crew of the 43. The 43 itself was seen in the morning on the beach in enemy territory near Cape Esperance, and was destroyed by gunfire from a New Zealand corvette to prevent capture.
The Japanese apparently had dumped overboard large quantities of supplies, trusting to the tide to float them ashore to their garrison on Guadalcanal. After daylight the PT's sank over 250 drums of supplies. The PT's claimed damage to three destroyers. All that can be definitely confirmed, however, is that the destroyer Hatsukaze was holed completely through both sides by a single torpedo hit, but was still able to retire at 18 knots.
Four nights later 13 PT's went out to meet a Japanese force consisting of 9 destroyers. The Searles brothers, with PT's 59 and 38, took the outer patrol off Kamimbo Bay. Clark Faulkner, in PT 39, with Bart Connolly in PT 115 formed the inner patrol 2 miles south of Savo Island. Strike group 1, led by Westholm in PT 109, with Gamble in PT 45 and Lt. John H. Clagett, USNR, in PT 37, took station 2 miles southwest of Savo; strike group 2, led by Lt. Allen H. Harris in PT 40, with Pettit in PT 36 and Ens. J. F. Kearny in PT 48, was 2 miles off Doma Reef on the Guadalcanal coast; and strike group 3, led by Hugh Robinson in PT 47, with Taylor in PT 46 and Ens. R. L. Richards, USNR, in PT 123, was midway between the inner patrol and strike group 2.
During the entire night visibility was practically zero, with occasional rain squalls so heavy that it was impossible to see the bow of the boat from the cockpit. But there were also occasional lightning flashes that silhouetted enemy ships.
Westholm, who left Clagett and Gamble to make a search northwest of Savo, had his only contact with the enemy when a plane dropped a bomb harmlessly 150 feet off his port quarter. Clagett and Gamble also were attacked by a plane which dropped two bombs at a safe distance and attempted to strafe the boats. Gamble returned the fire, ceasing abruptly when lightning flashes revealed five enemy ships standing in through the
Savo-Esperance Channel. Clagett fired three torpedoes without observed results; Gamble fired two, the first of which missed. The second was seen to hit the lead destroyer with a large explosion. As the PT's retired toward Savo, another destroyer fired on them from the east. The PT's swung left and up the west side of Savo. The destroyer kept them under heavy fire until they passed north of the island. Clagett retired successfully, but Gamble was taken under fire by a destroyer that came around the north tip of Savo from the east. He doubled back around the south of the island and retired toward Florida Island, where, in zero visibility, he ran aground. A Navy tug pulled the PT off the reef the following afternoon.
A few minutes after Clagett and Gamble made their attack, a flash of lightning silhouetted a ship between Savo and Esperance for Taylor and Richards. Taylor fired two torpedoes and Richards one -- all misses. The ship opened fire, but in the extreme darkness was inaccurate. Richards made a wide circle, returning to the Savo-Esperance line. Several lightning flashes silhouetted another ship. Richards fired his remaining three torpedoes at 500 yards and as he withdrew at idling speed, saw one hit solidly aft of amidships. The target opened with all guns, but Richards believed that he was unobserved, as none of the fire came close.
Lieutenant Robinson, the third member of strike force 3, observed ships off the Guadalcanal coast, and repeatedly tried to close to firing range. Each time lightning flashes silhouetted him and enemy fire forced him to retire.
Lieutenant Harris was the only member of strike force 2 to sight the enemy. He fired two torpedoes at a ship standing in towards Tassafaronga, but was sure that neither hit.
Connolly, on the inner patrol 2 miles southeast of Savo, turned toward Esperance after observing gunfire from ships. He saw two enemy destroyers, closed to 1,000 yards and fired four torpedoes. While turning away to starboard he thought he saw a torpedo hit the first destroyer with a flash followed by a dull yellow glow. He retired under inaccurate fire.
Faulkner, who was patrolling with Connolly, picked up a destroyer in a flash of lightning. Just as he started to close, the destroyer poured heavy fire at him. The first salvo hit close aboard, throwing one of the gunner's mates to the deck. Several shells hit the beach on Savo, throwing up sand and rocks on their starboard hand. The PT went aground, but Faulkner succeeded in backing off with minor damage shortly before dawn.
The PT's had fired 17 torpedoes, claiming hits on 3 ships. Japanese records, however, show that no damage was inflicted.
Toward the end of January, enemy activity gave the appearance of preparation for another major effort to regain Guadalcanal. Actually it was evacuation.
Reconnaissance aircraft and coastwatchers reported on the afternoon of February 1 that 20 destroyers were standing down the Slot at high speed. Forty-one fighters, scout bombers, and torpedo bombers from Henderson Field attacked the force at dusk, crippling one of the enemy. Thirty escorting Zeros shot down four of our planes and lost three of their own.
The destroyers Fletcher, Radford, and Nicholas stood out toward the Russell Islands to the west to intercept the Japanese. Every time they tried to close Cape Esperance, however, Japanese planes attacked them, forcing them to unmask their batteries. As soon as our destroyers opened fire, the planes would go away, only to return on the next attempt to work in toward Esperance. The planes also dropped flares to mark the track of our destroyers, and robbed them of surprise.
The light minelayers Preble, Montgomery, and Tracy, which had left Noumea on the 29th, arrived in Iron Bottom Bay early in the evening and dropped their mines from Doma Reef halfway to Cape Esperance, one of the earliest offensive minefields laid by our surface craft in the Pacific.
All available PT's were deployed in the Savo-Esperance area to meet the enemy. Bob Searles, in PT 47, and Taylor, in PT 39, were to take station 2 miles southeast of Savo; Clagett, in PT 111, and Gamble in PT 48, 2 miles southwest of Savo; Jack Searles in PT 59, Connolly in PT 115, and Ens. J. J. Kelly, USNR, in PT 37, 3 miles northwest of Esperance; Faulkner in PT 124 and Richards in PT 123,3 miles south of Savo; Westholm in PT 109 and Tilden in PT 36,2 miles north of Doma.
On the way to their patrol area, Clagett and Gamble were ineffectually strafed and bombed by a large monoplane. Forty minutes after arriving on station, Clagett sighted a destroyer 3 miles east of Cape Esperance and Gamble sighted 2 destroyers 2 miles west of Savo. The PT's separated, each to attack its own target. Gamble closed to 900 yards and fired his two after torpedoes at the first of the two destroyers. Both missed astern. He took more lead and fired his forward torpedoes. He was able to watch them only a few seconds before heavy fire from both ships forced him to retire behind a smokescreen. Then a steady rain of fire from another ship on his starboard bow forced him to turn left toward Savo to avoid being trapped. He
nosed in to the beach and gave orders to abandon ship, expecting the enemy to pick up the boat in their searchlights and destroy it. But the Japanese failed to discover the boat, and it was pulled off the beach and returned to the base in the morning.
Clagett approached within 500 yards of his target and fired four torpedoes, but he too had no opportunity to observe the results because of the volume of fire directed at him. Thirteen minutes after firing its first torpedoes, PT 111 was hit by shellfire and burst into flames. Clagett, though thrown to the deck and severely burned about the face and arms, managed to crawl over the side and into the water. Unable to swim because of his burns, he was supported by Merle C. Elsass, TM2c, and Walter L. Long, Sic, until rescued by another PT. Russell J. Wackler, RM2C, suffered compound fractures of his legs. Eris. A. E. White, and Lamar H. Loggins, F2C, stayed with him, fighting off sharks for 2½ hours before he died. Except for Wackler and Lt. (jg.) Philip A. Shribman, who was missing, all of the crew of the 111 were rescued.
The 59, 115, and 37 were bombed and strafed, without damage, by enemy planes as they passed through the Savo-Esperance channel. An hour later they found themselves completely trapped by destroyers on three sides and the enemy-occupied Guadalcanal coast on the other. They counted as many as 12 destroyers circling them at a time.
Connolly closed within 500 yards of one destroyer, fired two torpedoes and reversed course. He thought that both hit. He saw the ship slow abruptly and start to list. Then another ship loomed up ahead. He fired two more torpedoes and reversed course again. Shellfire now seemed to be coming from all directions. He cut his speed and the destroyers lost his wake. The fire became increasingly inaccurate. A sudden, intense rain squall gave him a chance to slip through the ring of destroyers. He beached the 115 on the western shore of Savo. At dawn he backed her off and returned to base. During the same squall Jack Searles also escaped the trap, and hid north of Savo until dawn.
Ensign Kelly, in the 37, fired four torpedoes, but in retiring, the 37 received a direct hit in the gasoline tanks. The brilliant, blinding flash lighted the whole sky in the vicinity of Cape Esperance. Only one survivor of the 37 was picked up -- Eldon O. Jenter, MM1c, who suffered serious shrapnel wounds and burns.
Faulkner and Richards were bombed and strafed ineffectually by enemy planes while proceeding to the patrol area. Soon after they arrived on
station, Faulkner sighted a destroyer coming through the Savo-Esperance channel. He closed to 1,000 yards and fired three torpedoes. Two hit, sending up large columns of fire. The ship burst aflame and burned for more than 3 hours. Richards, following Faulkner in, was about to fire torpedoes at a second enemy ship when an enemy plane glided in silently and dropped a bomb squarely on the fantail of PT 123. Flames immediately swept the boat and the crew abandoned ship. Enemy planes bombed and strafed the men in the water. One enlisted man was killed, three were missing, and three others suffered serious injuries from shrapnel wounds, burns, or fractures.
The two remaining striking groups of PT's fired no torpedoes, but at dawn assisted in rescuing survivors. Taylor recovered three enemy landing barges with outboard motors, which appeared to have been hurriedly abandoned, as they contained Japanese rifles, knapsacks, and personal effects.
Of the 11 PT's that went out to meet the enemy, 5 had fired 19 torpedoes, and 3 PT's had been lost. Six men were killed, 3 officers and 6 men were missing, and 1 officer and 5 men were seriously injured. The PT's claimed to have sunk 2 destroyers and damaged 2 others. The only sinking that can be confirmed is that of the destroyer Makigumo, and the cause of her sinking was not entirely due to the PT's. A captured document indicates that the destroyer, while maneuvering to avoid PT torpedoes, struck one of the newly laid mines off the Guadalcanal coast, and that the enemy sank the damaged destroyer after futile efforts to tow it to safety.
This was the most violent action the PT's had at Guadalcanal, and it was their last. On the night of February 7/8, exactly 6 months after the Marines first landed, the Japanese completed their evacuation. Guadalcanal, steppingstone for all of the Solomons, was ours.
8. A LULL IN OPERATIONS
The next 4 months were months of relative calm. Ousted from Guadalcanal, the Japanese devoted themselves to strengthening their positions in the upper Solomons and undertook no offensive action except for occasional air raids. This respite was sorely needed by the PT flotilla. The first squadrons had barely enough men to operate the boats, let alone maintain adequate base facilities. Crews became exhausted and were easy prey to malaria, dengue
fever, and other tropical diseases. The boats, operating without adequate spares and repair facilities, were deteriorating.
Motor Torpedo Boat Flotilla 1, under command of Comdr. Allen P. Calvert, was activated on December 15, 1942, with headquarters at Sesapi, to bring all the squadrons under a single command. Operational control of the PT's remained, however, in the local naval base commanders (in the case of the Tulagi boats, Commander Naval Base Guadalcanal), a policy which, as will be seen, brought unfortunate results.
A month later, Capt. M. M. Dupre, Jr., was designated Commander Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons, South Pacific (Administrative), in an attempt to improve the logistic support of PT's. Captain Dupre's organization was vitally needed. PT equipment was shipped from the United States to Noumea for off-loading and transshipment to the operating area. As the PT flotilla expanded, a centralized organization was needed to handle these transshipments.
Captain Dupre was also Chief of Staff to Commander Naval Bases, South Pacific, and this duality of command helped to insure consideration of PT requirements in the construction of new bases. Before Captain Dupre's appointment to the administrative command, there had been no one on South Pacific staff specifically charged with responsibility for PT bases, and the squadron commanders had been too much occupied with operations to have much time to spare for base problems. As a result, PT's were breaking down for lack of maintenance, although spares, material, and personnel to maintain them had already arrived in the South Pacific.
For example, when the first echelon of Motor Torpedo Boat Base 1, consisting of 4 officers, 21 men, and large quantities of spares and equipment arrived from the States and unloaded at Espiritu Santo, no one informed the PT squadrons of its arrival. Much of the base equipment was cannibalized by other commands at Espiritu Santo, PT spare parts deteriorated on the beach, and officers and men were assigned to other duties. Eventually, the remnants of material and personnel were collected and assimilated by the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons command, but during nearly all of the Guadalcanal campaign, the squadrons had to make out as best they could with entirely inadequate base facilities.
By March 1943, Base 2 and half of the salvaged personnel and material of Base 1 had been sent to Tulagi. Base 3, augmented by the other half of Base 1, was established as a main engine overhaul base at Espiritu Santo. By
"Calvertville", the Tulagi PT base, named for Comdr. Allen P. Calvert, Commander Motor Torpedo Boat Flotilla 1.
May 1, the Espiritu Santo Base was overhauling 10 to 12 engines a month, and by November 1 was operating at full capacity of 54 engines a month.
The first four boats of Squadron 6 arrived at Tulagi on December 31, in time to go into action against the Tokyo Express. The squadron's second four boats, with PT's 113 and 114 of Squadron 2, were designated as Motor Torpedo Boat Division 17, and were sent to the Southwest Pacific. Under command of Lt. Daniel S. Baughman, executive officer of Squadron 6, Division 17 was the first PT unit to operate in the New Guinea area. The third division of Squadron 6 arrived at Tulagi in March. The squadron commander, Lt. Comdr. Clifton B. Maddox, was detached in February to become assistant to Captain Dupre, and Lt. Clark W. Faulkner, USNR, succeeded him as squadron commander.
Similarly, Lieutenant Westholm was detached from Squadron 2 for duty as operations officer on Captain Calvert's staff, and when that squadron took part in the occupation of the Russell Islands in February, Lt. Allen H. Harris, USNR, was squadron commander. Lieutenant Robinson became Captain Calvert's material officer, and was relieved as commander of Squadron 3 by Lt. John M. Searles, USNR.
The occupation of the Russells, roughly 35 miles west of Savo Island, was designed to deny the area to the enemy and to provide a staging point for future amphibious operations. Squadron 2 boats screened the transport group on its approach to the Russells on the night of February 20/21, and thereafter made regular nightly offshore patrols. The landings were entirely unopposed, and by the end of February the enemy still had not attacked, a fact which led to the belief that he was not even aware of our presence in the islands. The PT's had no action in the Russells. There were a few air raids, which caused no serious damage or losses.
Although the Guadalcanal PT's continued to run routine security patrols until July, they had no further action other than occasional air raids. On the night of March 5, a single plane dropped four bombs on Sesapi. The first three landed harmlessly in the water. The fourth hit the PT operations office, killing 1 officer and 3 enlisted men and seriously wounding 1 officer and 1 enlisted man. The hull of PT 118, moored in the slip alongside the operations office, was riddled with shrapnel.
On April 7 the Japanese raided the Guadalcanal-Tulagi area with 177 planes, of which about 25 were shot down. A group of dive bombers attacked shipping in Tulagi Harbor. Two bombs hit the New Zealand corvette Moa, sinking her in 4 minutes. Just to the north of the harbor the PT tender
Niagara was moored starboard side to the west bank of the Maliali River, heading downstream, with the minesweeper Rail tied up outboard, well aft. Nine planes came up the river, none of them over 150 feet off the water. The Niagara took them all under fire from her eight 20-mm. cannon, and the Rail fired at them with machine-guns. The first plane, already in flames, crashed into the trees 1,000 yards astern of the ship. The second two were not damaged. The fourth, expelling a stream of white smoke, seemed unable to gain altitude and appeared to descend behind the hills to the north. The next two passed within 150 yards and attempted to strafe the ship, but their firing was erratic and they wobbled uncertainly as they passed through the Niagara's heavy fire. Both crashed well back in the woods on the port quarter. The next two sheared up and to the right when taken under fire. One trailed light brown smoke as it disappeared close over the hilltops abaft the port beam; the other passed to starboard and crashed in the hills on the starboard quarter. This was the Niagara's first action. It was also her next to last.
9. LOSS OF THE "NIAGARA"
Plans were being made in May 1943 for occupation of the New Georgia Group, 200 miles to the northwest of Guadalcanal. This was to be coordinated with operations in the Southwest Pacific area against Woodlark Island and the Trobriands, to the south of New Britain, and the Japanese bases of Lae and Salamaua on New Guinea. All of these moves were part of the overall strategy calling for eventual strangulation of the great Japanese stronghold of Rabaul, on the northwestern tip of New Britain.
Squadron 9, commanded by Lt. Comdr. Robert B. Kelly, arrived in the South Pacific in May and was assigned to the Russell Islands to stage there for forward movement in the New Georgia operation. In New Guinea, PT's already were patrolling off Lae and Salamaua. Other PT's were available for assignment to the Trobriand Islands. It would be spreading the Southwest Pacific PT's dangerously thin, however, to attempt to send any of them to Woodlark.
When Squadron 8, a Southwest Pacific squadron, passed through Noumea early in January, it transferred five boats, PT's 144-148, to Squadron 2 as compensation for the six boats of Division 17 that had been sent to the Southwest Pacific. By May Squadron 9 was in the Solomons, the first
six boats of Squadron 10 were at Noumea, and the remainder of Squadron 10 and all of Squadron 5 were on their way. These increases in strength permitted reassignment of six PT's from South Pacific to Southwest Pacific for the Woodlark occupation. PT's 144-148, plus PT 110, were designated Motor Torpedo Boat Division 23, under command of Lt. Charles H. Jackson, USNR, and sailed from Tulagi for New Guinea, in company with the Niagara, on the afternoon of May 22.
The Niagara and the boats headed southeast toward Espiritu Santo, following a circuitous route intended to bring them south of the limit of enemy air activity before starting their open water passage westward to New Guinea. At 1135 on the morning of May 23, a high-flying Japanese twin-engine monoplane passed directly over the Niagara, headed north. Lt. Comdr. David B. Coleman, commanding officer of the Niagara, called his ship to general quarters and directed the PT's to take station in a wide circle around the tender. The plane turned, came back and dropped four bombs. Coleman held his ship in a hard right turn at maximum speed until the bombs were released, then swung his rudder amidships. Three were near-misses to starboard, the fourth a near-miss to port. They were close enough to disable the sound gear and the training mechanism of a 3-inch gun, and to knock out steering control temporarily. Half an hour later, when steering control had been regained, six more twin-engine planes approached from the northward at 12,000 feet altitude. The Niagara opened fire with her remaining 3inch gun and all of her 20mms., but the planes were too high. The planes made a single pass, dropping 12 to 18 bombs. One hit directly on the forecastle. Several were damaging near-misses. From the PT's the ship appeared to be completely enveloped in a mass of water and smoke 250 feet high.
The Niagara listed rapidly to port. Water rushed through a 14-inch hole 6 feet below the waterline to flood two storerooms and a passageway. The engineroorn also started flooding. All power and lighting failed and the main engines stopped. Fires below decks forward, caused by the direct hit, were out of control. Main engine and steering control were restored 7 minutes after the attack, but Lieutenant Commander Coleman ordered "abandon ship" because of the increasing list and the imminent danger of explosion if the flames should reach the tender's gasoline storage tanks.
Lieutenant Jackson brought PT 146 alongside the stern of the ship on the portside, and Lt. William E. Stedman, USNR, brought PT 147 alongside the
The tender Niagara , hit by Japanese bombs on May 23, 1943, burns as PT's come alongside to take off the crew.
stern on the starboard side to take off some of the crew. Others went over the side into rafts and ship's boats, to be picked up by other PT's. The ship was then ablaze from bow to bridge, flames were spreading aft, and ammunition was exploding in the ready service boxes on the deck. Despite her heavy damage, the Niagara was lucky. Not one of her 136 officers and men was killed or even seriously injured.
Because of limited fuel and the distance from Tulagi -- 230 miles -- the PT's had to head back without delay. The Niagara was doomed, but might have stayed afloat for an hour or more. Lieutenant Commander Coleman decided to sink her. Lieutenant Stedman fired a torpedo which struck the Niagara in the gasoline tanks. The ship exploded with a sheet of flame 300 feet high, and went down in less than a minute.
The PT's arrived at Tulagi with the Niagara's crew at 0200 on the 24th. A few days later they set out again with the seaplane tender Ballard, and arrived safely in Milne Bay, New Guinea, on May 31.
10. THE "STANVAC MANILA"
While the Niagara was being attacked, the SS Stanvac Manila, a merchant tanker, was approaching Noumea en route from Panama with the second division of Squadron 10 loaded in cradles on deck. PT's 167 and 172 were just forward of the bridge, headed forward. PT's 173 and 171 were just abaft the bridge, headed aft, and PT's 174 and 165 were just aft of them, headed forward.
At 0407 May 24 the Stanvac Manila, 100 miles south of Noumea, was hit by a torpedo in the port quarter. The events that followed were recounted by the squadron commander, Lt. Comdr. Thomas G. Warfield:6
About 2 minutes after the explosion, the stern was so low that the after portion of the well deck was awash. Apparently the engine room and fire room were flooded as all steam, light and power, and communications were lost. One of the Manila's engineering officers had sounded abandon ship on a hand horn. The crews of the PT's 165 and 174 had freed their boats from the cradles and had then abandoned ship in compliance. The signal had not, however, been heard forward of the after section, so the remaining personnel busied themselves in casting their boats free and broadcasting on their radios. During this interval Ensign [Thomas E.] Falvey had noticed no crews aboard the after two boats and had made his way aft to check on their holding down gear in addition to freeing his own boat [PT 173]. Lt. (jg.) [Russel W.] Rome (Senior PT officer) had countermanded the abandon ship order. . . .
Until daylight the PT crews and the armed guards stood by their guns while the Manila's officers and crew abandoned ship. . . . The forward 3-inch gun crew fired five rounds. About one hour after dawn the wind was freshening and the ship's bow had swung downwind. The stern had settled so that the stern of the PT 174 (lee side) had some buoyancy and was pounding lightly in her cradle. Ensign Falvey at considerable risk made his way to her, led her anchor cable from her sampson post to the stern of the PT 171 and then to the Manila's bridge deck. Between 0800 and 0900 the PT 174 was pounding heavily in her cradle. Lt. (jg.) Rome, Ensign [Edward H.] Kruse (Boat Captain of the PT 171), and Ens. [Malcolm R.] McArdle were able to board her but being unable to cut the Manila's shrouds the anchor cable was passed outboard of the shrouds. The bottom was sound under engine room and lazarette but gas fumes were extremely strong. The anchor cable was made fast to the 174's starboard quarter and all hands heaved from the Manila's bridge deck until the boat was slewed around and lay athwartships. Her bow held fast to some of the Manila's superstructure which prevented further outboard movement. It was apparent that her engines would have to be started, despite the loose gasoline, if she were to be saved. [Homer] Banks and [Harold E.] Hershey, both MoMM1c, and from other boat crews, volunteered to go below and to at
Tempt starting the engines. Without hesitation they started both wing engines and Ensign Kruse was able to back her clear. The effect upon morale was tremendous. A cheer from all hands went up.
The stern of the PT 165 was beginning to slap against the after deckhouse of the Manila. Her batteries had become wet as she had been damaged below the engine room but her engines were started with the auxiliary generator and by pushing her stern out she was backed clear. The water immediately rose to stop the engines. All attempts to stop the leaks and bail were unable to prevent her sinking. Even though watertight doors had been secured she had received too much bottom damage to remain afloat.
The first plane seen by boat crews reached the scene shortly after 1000. The possibility of launching additional boats seemed remote. Nevertheless, the boat crews busied themselves breaking loose shoring to prevent damage to the after hulls and fittings, and throwing off strongbacks.7 Records, chronometers, binoculars, small arms, etc., were gathered from the remaining four boats and put in a lifeboat which had returned with the Chief Mate . . .
Waves breaking over the well deck lifted the PT 173 and set her down on two boat davits. Lt. (jg.) Rome and Ensign Falvey boarded her in spite of her precarious position, found her gas tanks and bottom ruptured beyond hope and flooded her with CO2. The bow of the Manila now lifted to 45 or 50 degs. and she commenced to slip aft. The PT 173 broke loose and sank by the stern just as the two officers jumped clear. The PT 171 simultaneously broke loose and floated clear. Her engine room was taking water more rapidly and transverse bulkheads were probably rupturing. Abandon ship was ordered and carried out quickly and calmly.
As Lt. (jg.) Rome went down the falls into the last lifeboat a sea capsized it, pinning him underneath. He had a glimpse of the ship's master standing on the bridge and, when extricated from under the lifeboat and brought back to consciousness, he went back aboard the sinking Manila to save the Captain. He did not know that the Master had been taken off while he was beneath the lifeboat. The bridge of the ship was at this time awash and Rome was tossed about by the sea there but finally managed to swim clear as the tanker took her final plunge.
The Manila sank, slipping aft, at about 1205, corkscrewing to starboard as her bow heaved up. The motion threw the PT 172 clear but she broke her stem on the yardarm as she cleared. The PT 167 cleared from under the tanker's foremast in a remarkable manner, having been carried down with the ship. She shot clear of the water completely but stripped her topsides on the mast. Her hull was least damaged of any boat.
About 1300 a destroyer arrived taking the PT's 167, 171, and 174 in tow. The PT 172 made Noumea under her own power. During that day, all night, and the following day, exhaustive effort was displayed by the officers and men in keeping the damaged boats afloat.
Two boats (PT's 165 and 173) and one man were lost. The other four boats, with their crews, found haven in Noumea the following day.
11. THE "McCAWLEY"
The occupation of New Georgia began quietly on June 21 with the unopposed landing of two companies of Marines at Segi, on the southern tip of the island. The main landings were not made until June 30, when troops were put ashore at Viru Harbor, to the northwest of Segi; at Wickham Anchorage, on Vangunu Island to the southeast, and, most important of all, at Rendova Harbor on the north side of Rendova Island, separated by only a few miles of water from New Georgia. Rendova was to be the base for the principal thrust against New Georgia. From there troops could be landed a few miles east of the enemy airfield at Munda, which with the airfield at Vila on the neighboring island of Kolombangara, was a primary objective of the New Georgia campaign.
Leading the six large transports and cargo ships of the invasion force into Rendova Harbor was USS McCawley, the former Grace liner Santa Barbara, flagship of Rear Adm. Richmond K. Turner, Commander Amphibious Force South Pacific. By midafternoon McCawley, first of the transports to put men ashore, had landed about 1,200 troops and hundreds of tons of cargo. The task force took up cruising formation and stood out through Blanche Channel for Guadalcanal. Within an hour 25 torpedo bombers swept in low and fast. One torpedo hit McCawley amidships in the engineroom, tearing a 20-foot hole in her side. The ship listed violently to port, then righted herself, swinging to starboard with her rudder jammed hard over and all engines stopped. Admiral Turner ordered the cargo ship Libra to take the McCawley in tow and the destroyers Ralph Talbot and McCalla to stand by to assist while he and his staff transferred to the destroyer Farenholt, to proceed with the remainder of the task force. Ralph Talbot took off all remaining personnel except the salvage crew, in charge of Rear Adm. Theodore S. Wilkinson.
The Libra no sooner had the McCawley in tow than the group was attacked by eight dive bombers. The salvage crew manned the transport's 20mm. and .50 caliber guns, and, with the assistance of the two destroyers, beat off the attack. The McCawley continued to settle. At 1850, with the water still rising, Admiral Wilkinson had the McCalla come alongside and ordered all hands to abandon ship. At 2002 he ordered the McCalla to prepare to torpedo the transport if she should settle to the point where she could no longer be towed. Twenty minutes later, the McCawley's commanding officer reported, the transport "was struck by three torpedoes fired by an enemy submarine and sank stern first in 340 fathoms of water."
The 12 boats of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 9 were part of the task force that entered Rendova Harbor on the morning of June 30. Lieutenant Commander Kelly was to establish a temporary base and operate as directed by the Commander Naval Base Rendova. Most of the first day was devoted to finding a suitable anchorage and fueling the boats from drums lightered out in LCM's. The Commander Naval Base at first told Kelly that there would be no PT patrols that night, but later Kelly received orders to establish a patrol from the northern tip of Rendova to Roviana Lagoon to screen landing craft that were to land troops on New Georgia, and another to the east and west of Mbalumbalu Island in Blanche Channel.
Kelly was shown a dispatch in which the Commander Amphibious Force directed that PT's intercept and destroy enemy forces which were expected to reinforce Viru Harbor from the north. He asked what friendly vessels might be encountered in the area, and was assured that there would be none operating north of Viru Harbor. He was specifically informed that all of our transports and their escorts would be well clear of the patrol areas.
Kelly sent six of his boats to patrol the Rendova-Roviana line, and himself took the other six, in two sections of three each, to patrol off Mbalumbalu Island. While passing through a light rain squall between Rendova and Mbalumbalu, Kelly's radar picked up surface targets 5 miles off the northeast tip of Rendova. On closing, the radar revealed what appeared to be a large ship lying to, surrounded by six to eight small craft* with two escorts patrolling about 1,500 yards to the eastward. Kelly had been told that none of our ships would be in the area -- this must be an enemy transport landing troops on Rendova to the rear of our Army's positions.
Because of the overcast, Kelly had to close to 1,000 yards before he could identify the large ship as a transport. He ordered his first section to attack it and to retire at slow speed if undetected. The second section was to follow at 1,000 yard intervals and attack the escorts as opportunity permitted.
The first section closed to 600 yards, idling in with mufflers closed. Each boat fired four torpedoes. The attack was perfect. There were evenly spaced hits on the target, the transport sank, and the PT's idled away undetected. The second section gave chase to the larger of the two escorts which headed
*One must have been fleet tug Pawnee just arrived to take the tow from Libra. Maneuvering off McCawley's port bow to retrieve the line, which had parted, a Pawnee sailor sang out he heard engines idling and American voices; an instant later "tin fish" appeared from where he was pointing, phosphorescent trails spectacular in the darkness. The little ship rang full astern, almost ran into McCalla on her port quarter, but dodged the torpedoes, some of which her crew insist "porpoised" right under their tug. They say Pawnee was mistaken for an enemy vessel, silhouetted by a light bulb left hanging over the transport's side by the salvage party abandoning ship.
south at high speed. They were unable to close the range sufficiently to attack before it crossed a line between Rendova and Viru Harbor, the southern patrol area limit, so they returned to patrol east of Mbalumbalu.
During the rest of the night the six boats were harassed by enemy floatplanes. One bomb dropped close aboard PT 162, mortally wounding the helmsman, wounding two men slightly, riddling mufflers, exhaust stacks and a gasoline tank with shrapnel. Near-misses ahead and astern lifted another boat practically out of water, causing only minor damage.
Returning to Rendova in the morning, Kelly saw a shattered landing craft adrift in Blanche Channel near the scene of the night's action, marked with the letters APA 4 -- the designation of the McCawley. And an officer aboard one of the PT's of Kelly's second section said he thought that the escort vessel he had pursued was a U.S. destroyer, but he could not be sure because of the distance and poor visibility. Kelly suspected something was amiss, and reported his doubts to the Commander Naval Base and the Commanding General Rendova. These officers assured him again that no friendly ships had been in the area, and congratulated him on a good night's work.
As soon as the action reports of the PT's and the McCawley were compared, of course, it was obvious that the transport had not been sunk by a submarine.
The incident demonstrated conclusively that Naval Base Commanders were not the proper authorities to exercise operational control over PT's. Essentially concerned with administration of a shore base, they did not always have the latest information regarding movements of forces afloat. After the sinking of the McCawley, operational control of PT's was vested in the Commander Amphibious Force, and a PT liaison officer was assigned to his staff. Specific operating areas were established for PT's, from which friendly surface and aircraft were warned to keep clear. PT's were kept advised of friendly shipping near their operating zones.
This system did not function perfectly in every instance, but was a vast improvement over the former method. The lesson cost one transport -- a transport already so grievously wounded that the McCalla was standing by to torpedo it -- without loss of life. The price might well have been higher.
The first month after the New Georgia landings was a period of transition for the PT's. Their organization was strengthened on July 23, when Commodore Edward J. Moran, who had been commanding officer of the Boise in
the Battle of Cape Esperance, reported for duty as Commander Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons South Pacific Force. Operational control of the PT's remained in the Commander Amphibious Force, but Commodore Moran's appointment and subsequent organization of a capable staff brought about improvements in logistic support, standardized operating doctrine, and training programs.
During this period also, the PT's had their last actions with destroyers and their first with armored barges which were too small and of too shallow draft to be suitable torpedo targets and were more heavily gunned than the PT's. The boats started using PBY patrol planes, the "Black Cats," to locate and illuminate barges for them, and found that the Japanese floatplanes, which Kelly's boats met on their first patrol at Rendova, were to come over almost nightly to strafe and bomb them.
The situation had changed since the first days at Tulagi. Now we had the preponderance of seapower. Our cruisers and destroyers shelled enemy positions on New Georgia and Kolombangara at will, and in the Battle of Kula Gulf on July 5/6, the Battle of Kolombangara on 12/13 July, and the Battle of Vella Gulf, on August 6, in which they sank a total of three destroyers and a light cruiser, convinced the enemy that he would have to place his main reliance on coastal barges rather than the Tokyo Express to transport troops and supplies to his bases on New Georgia, Kolombangara, Arundel, Gizo, and the small neighboring islands. The barges were relatively expendable, and could operate close to shore in waters inaccessible to ships of deeper draft. Vulnerable to aircraft attack by day, they usually passed the daylight hours nestling against the shore, well camouflaged by freshly cut leaves and palm fronds, and made their runs at night, preferably in the dark of the moon. Barges became the Japanese lifeline. For the rest of the Solomons campaign, barge hunting was to be the principal mission of the PT's.
13. FIRST ACTION AT RENDOVA
Squadron 9 set up its base on Lumbari Island, on the north side of Rendova Harbor. Squadrons 5 and 10 arrived there in July 1943, and Squadron 11 in August. It soon became evident that while the boats could cover the western portion of the New Georgia Group from Rendova, they could not effectively cover the eastern coasts. Accordingly, a new operating point was established at Lever Harbor on the northeast coast of New Georgia.
Lt. Craig C. Smith, USNR, arrived there on July 24 with four boats of Squadron 6 and the APC 28, a small coastal transport which was to serve as tender, since it was not planned to establish a shore base. Lieutenant Commander Kelly, who had been relieved as area commander at Rendova by Lieutenant Commander Warfield, took command of the Lever Harbor boats on July 26.
The first action with enemy surface ships at Rendova was reminiscent of Tulagi. At dusk on July 3, Kelly took PT's 156, 157, and 161 to patrol off Baniata Point, the westernmost tip of Rendova. About midnight he received a radio message from the base: enemy destroyers were heading for Rendova. An hour later gun flashes were seen to the northwest. Kelly assumed that these were the enemy destroyers, but he could not be sure. He was not yet receiving complete information regarding movements of friendly forces. "The PT's," Kelly said, "were thus faced with the unpleasant task of advancing within visual distance of the unidentified ships and trying to make an identification."
The night was so black that the three PT's passed directly through the formation and were taken under fire before they could positively identify the ships as four Japanese destroyers. "The enemy destroyers apparently executed a turn movement bringing them into column," Kelly said, "and then proceeded to steam at high speed (20-25 knots) in a circle around the PT's. During the next 10-15 minutes a wild melee evolved. The PT's and their smoke puffs were kept almost constantly under fire. The enemy ships were for the most part so close and moving so rapidly that it was like trying to shoot ducks with a rifle to fire torpedoes at them. PT 156 fired two salvos of one torpedo each and missed on both occasions. PT 161 fired no torpedoes as it could never get a reasonable shot. PT 157 fired two twotorpedo salvos. The last of these was fired after that boat had had its center engine put out of commission when the supercharger was riddled by enemy machine-gun fire. Its boat captain believed he obtained a hit with one torpedo on the second salvo as he saw a flash that seemed larger than the other main battery gun flashes. However, there is no assurance that such was the case except that the enemy immediately retired at high speed to the northwest."
The ability of the boats to survive more than 10 minutes of close-range fire from four destroyers, Kelly believed, was attributable to their tactic of maneuvering at slow speed, making frequent 90-degree turns after laying
small smoke puffs. While speed may be a boat's only salvation once its position has been observed, slow maneuvers sometimes may be used to escape detection.
"It has never been determined," Kelly said, "whether or not the PT's obtained any torpedo hits on the enemy group. If one were obtained it must have been at the bow and have done relatively little damage due to the enemy's rapid retirement. However, despite this it is considered that it was an extremely successful engagement in that the enemy was forced to retire without ever having approached within range of our beach head. Had the PT's not intercepted them, the damage they might have inflicted would have been considerable. Our forces had not yet developed adequate defensive positions against bombardment and the beaches were still piled high with stores and munitions. The fact that the enemy was aware of this was indicated by the heavy air raids against these beaches that noon and the following day."
14. COSTLY ERRORS
On the night of July 17/18, three PT's (159, 157, and 160) patrolling the west side of Kolombangara erred to the north of their patrol area. A patrol plane sighted them and reported them as three enemy destroyers. Five of our destroyers which had been patrolling off the northern tip of New Georgia to screen a landing at Enogai Inlet proceeded at full speed toward the reported enemy, and opened fire at 20,000 yards. The PT's, thinking in turn that they had been taken under attack by the enemy, fired torpedoes and retired to the south. The destroyers, knowing that PT's were patrolling to the south, did not pursue them. Fortunately no hits were scored by either side.
A more serious error occurred on the morning of July 20, when three PT's just south of Ferguson Passage on their return from patrol were strafed by four Army B-25's. One PT held its fire; on the other two no order was given to fire, but some of the gunners, as yet with little experience in action, lost their heads and fired at the planes. "I got confused," one gunner said, "and thought it was a Jap plane with our insignia."
One plane crashed 5 miles from the boats. All of the boats were hit. PT 166 caught fire and exploded. All of its crew, some of them wounded,
abandoned ship before the explosion. They were picked up by PT 164. Lt. Edward Macauley 3d, USNR, whose PT 168 had kept its guns silent, proceeded to the crashed bomber, despite the fact that his boat was afire. The crew extinguished the flames, and PT 168 picked up three survivors from the B-25. One PT and one B-25 were lost; 3 men of the B-25 were killed and 3 wounded, and 1 officer and 10 men of the PT's were wounded. The new operations setup was not yet working perfectly: the B-25 crews had been told that no friendly vessels would be operating in the area.
15. THEY DIDN'T PASS THE WORD
The PT's had their final all-out encounter with the Tokyo Express on the night of August 1/2, 1943, when four destroyers ran through Blackett Strait, on the west side of Kolombangara, to Vila, on the southern tip of the island. It was apparent that the Japanese knew that PT's would be their only opposition. Just before dusk on the afternoon of the 1st, 18 bombers made a strike on the PT base at Lumbari Island. One bomb blasted PT's 117 and 164 at their dock and killed two men. Two torpedoes blown off PT 164 by the bomb explosion ran erratically around the bay until they fetched up on the beach without detonating.
Even with the loss of two boats, it was possible to send 15 PT's out in 4 sections to meet the destroyers. Lt. Henry J. Brantingham, in PT 159, led PT 157 (Lt. (jg.) William F. Liebenow, Jr., USNR), PT 162 (Lt. (jg.) John R. Lowrey, USNR), and PT 109 (Lt. John F. Kennedy, USNR)* in the northernmost patrol in Blackett Strait, off Vanga Vanga on the Kolombangara coast. Lt. Arthur H. Berndtson, in PT 171, led a patrol a few miles to the south of Brantingham's division, with PT 169 (Lt. (jg.) Philip A. Potter, Jr., USNR), PT 172 (Lt. (jg.) Stuart Hamilton, USNR), and PT 163 (Ens. Edward H. Kruse, Jr., USNR). To the southeast of this patrol, still in Blackett Strait, Lt. Russel W. Rome, USNR, in PT 174, led PT 105 (Lt. (jg.) Richard E. Keresey, Jr., USNR) and PT 103 (Lt. (jg.) Joseph K.
*Who, 17 years later, was elected President of the United States. Several detailed accounts of President Kennedy's naval career have been published. These include John Hersey's moving and sensitive article "Survival" published in the New Yorker of 17 June 1944, and three books: Robert J. Donovan PT 109: John F. Kennedy in World War II (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1961); Richard Tregaskis's John F. Kennedy: War Hero (New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1962); and Chandler Whipple Lt. John F. Kennedy -- Expendable (New York: Universal Publishing Corp., 1962).
Results of enemy air attack on Rendova Harbor, August 1, 1943: Above, PT 117, beached with a gaping hole in her bow (ACME PHOTO); Below, PT 164, with bow demolished. (PRESS ASSOCIATION, INC.)
Roberts, USNR). South of Ferguson Passage, the southern entrance to Blackett Strait, were stationed Lt. George E. Cookman, USNR, in PT 107, with PT 104 (Lt. (jg.) Robert D. Shearer, USNR), PT 106 (Lt. (jg.) David M. Payne, USNR), and PT 108 (Lt. (jg.) Sidney D. Hix, USNR).
Brantingham made radar contact at midnight with ships approaching from the north, close to the Kolombangara coast. Soon afterward he saw four ships which he believed to be large landing craft. The 159 and 157 started to close the range to make a strafing run. The enemy ships opened fire with heavy guns, revealing themselves as destroyers. PT 159 fired four torpedoes and PT 157 fired two at 1,800 yards. As the boats retired to the northwest, a large explosion was seen at the target. PT 159, having fired all its torpedoes, returned to base. PT 157 attempted to rejoin PT's 162 and 109, but was unable to find them.
A few minutes later Berndtson's division sighted four destroyers, still heading down the Kolombangara. coast. PT 171 closed to 1,500 yards. The destroyers fired starshells to illuminate the PT's and opened fire with their main batteries and automatic weapons. PT 171 fired four torpedoes at the second destroyer. Bright flashes from the tubes warned the destroyer, which turned toward the PT and avoided the torpedoes. The other three PT's in the division were not aware of the presence of the destroyers until they opened fire, and then could not fire torpedoes because PT 171 was crossing their bows. The 171 returned to base. The 159 proceeded north, joining PT's 162 and 109. PT's 170 and 172, straddled by gunfire from two destroyers, ran south through Ferguson Passage, where they were ineffectually attacked by four floatplanes, and eventually returned to their patrol station.
Lieutenant Cookman, whose PT 107 had the only radar in his section, had radar contact with two ships. He headed through Ferguson Passage at high speed to attack, leaving the other three boats of his section behind. Inside Ferguson Passage he fired four torpedoes by radar, and observed a dull red flash in the direction of the target. He reversed course and headed back for the base, passing his other three boats as they came north through the passage. These boats could find no targets, though they patrolled in Blackett Strait for more than an hour before returning to their original patrol station.
Lieutenant Rome's division saw the flashes of the destroyers firing on the boats to the north. At 0025 Rome saw a destroyer to the northeast, close
to the Kolombangara shore, turn on its searchlight and start firing to the west. He fired four torpedoes at 1,000 yards and observed two explosions at the target. As he headed for Ferguson Passage, shells from the destroyer passed overhead and a plane strafed the boat. The 174 was not hit, but returned to base as it had no more torpedoes. PT 103 fired four torpedoes at 2 miles, and also returned to base. PT 105 was in an unfavorable position and could not attack.
An hour later the 105 was patrolling just inside Ferguson Passage. A flame flared up to the northwest in the middle of Blackett Strait, and gunfire flashed along the Kolombangara coast, silhouetting a destroyer moving slowly north, 2,000 yards away. PT 105 fired two torpedoes, but observed no hits.
To the north, PT 109 (Lieutenant Kennedy) was leading PT's 162 and 169 on a slow southward sweep. A destroyer suddenly knifed out of the darkness off PT 109's bow. Before Kennedy could turn his boat the destroyer rammed it at full speed. Gasoline burst into flames immediately. This was the flash which silhouetted a destroyer for the 105. Lowrey, in the 162, saw the destroyer as it bore down on Kennedy's boat. His torpedoes would not fire. He finally swerved off to the southwest to avoid collision with the destroyer, then only 100 yards away. Potter, in the 169, fired two torpedoes, but by then the destroyer was only 150 yards away, and the torpedoes probably would not have armed themselves in that distance even if they had hit. The destroyer opened fire on the 169, which zigzagged to the south behind smoke puffs. A few minutes later Potter saw the wake of another destroyer heading toward him from the south. He swung left and fired his last two torpedoes. The destroyer also turned left, just in time, Potter thought, for the torpedo to hit its bow and explode. The 169 continued to zigzag south, laying smoke.
PT 157, farther north than the other boats, fired two torpedoes at a ship close to the Kolombangara coast without observed results.
This was perhaps the most confused and least effectively executed action the PT's had been in. Eight PT's fired 30 torpedoes. The only confirmed results are the loss of PT 109 and damage to the Japanese destroyer Amagiri. The Amagiri was not hit by a torpedo, but vibrated so badly after ramming the 109 that she was unable to proceed at high speed. The chief fault of the PT's was that they didn't pass the word. Each boat attacked independently, leaving the others to discover the enemy for themselves.
16. THE 1098
"The time was about 0230. Ensign Ross was on the bow as lookout; Ensign Thom was standing beside the cockpit; Lieutenant Kennedy was at the wheel, and with him in the cockpit was Maguire, his radioman; Marney was in the forward turret; Mauer, the quartermaster was standing beside Ensign Thom; Albert was in the after turret; and McMahon was in the engine room. The location of other members of the crew upon the boat is unknown. Suddenly a dark shape loomed up on PT 109's starboard bow 200-300 yards distance. At first this shape was believed to be other PT's. However, it was soon seen to be a destroyer identified as the Ribiki group of the Fubuki class9 bearing down on PT 109 at high speed. The 109 had started to turn to starboard preparatory to firing torpedoes. However, when PT 109 had scarcely turned 30°, the destroyer rammed the PT, striking it forward of the forward starboard tube and shearing off the starboard side of the boat aft, including the starboard engine. The destroyer traveling at an estimated speed of 40 knots neither slowed nor fired as she split the PT, leaving part of the PT on one side and part on the other. Scarcely 10 seconds elapsed between time of sighting and the crash.
"A fire was immediately ignited, but, fortunately, it was gasoline burning on the water's surface at least 20 yards away from the remains of the PT which were still afloat. This fire burned brightly for 15-20 minutes and then died out. It is believed that the wake of the destroyer carried off the floating gasoline, thereby saving PT 109 from fire.
"Lt. Kennedy, Ensigns Thom and Ross, Mauer, Maguire and Albert still clung to the PT 109's hull. Lt. Kennedy ordered all hands to abandon ship when it appeared the fire would spread to it. All soon crawled back aboard when this danger passed. It was ascertained by shouting that Harris, McMahon and Starkey were in the water about 100 yards to the Southwest while Zinser and Johnson were an equal distance to the Southeast. Kennedy swam toward the group of three, and Thom and Ross struck out for the other two. Lt. Kennedy had to tow McMahon, who was helpless because of serious burns, back to the boat. A strong current impeded their progress, and it took
about an hour to get McMahon aboard PT 109. Kennedy then returned for the other two men, one of whom was suffering from minor burns. He traded his life belt to Harris, who was uninjured, in return for Harris's waterlogged kapok life jacket which was impeding the latter's swimming. Together they towed Starkey to the PT.
"Meanwhile, Ensigns Thom and Ross had reached Zinser and Johnson who were both helpless because of gas fumes. Thom towed Johnson, and Ross took Zinser. Both regained full consciousness by the time the boat was reached.
"Within 3 hours after the crash all survivors who could be located were brought aboard PT 109. Marney and Kirksey were never seen after the crash. During the 3 hours it took to gather the survivors together, nothing was seen or heard that indicated other boats or ships in the area. PT 109 did not fire its Very pistols for fear of giving away its position to the enemy.
"Meanwhile the IFF10 and all codes aboard had been completely destroyed or sunk in the deep waters of Vella Gulf. Despite the fact that all water-tight doors were dogged down at the time of the crash, PT 109 was slowly taking on water. When daylight of August 2 arrived, the 11 survivors were still aboard PT 109. It was estimated that the boat lay about 4 miles north and slightly east of Gizo Anchorage and about 3 miles away from the reef along northeast Gizo.
"It was obvious that the PT 109 would sink on the 2d, and decision was made to abandon it in time to arrive before dark on one of the tiny islands east of Gizo. A small island 3½-4 miles to the southeast of Gizo was chosen on which to land, rather than one but 2½ miles away which was close to Gizo, and which, it was feared, might be occupied by the Japs.
"At 1400 Lt. Kennedy took the badly burned McMahon in tow and set out for land, intending to lead the way and scout the island in advance of the other survivors. Ensigns Ross and Thom followed with the other men. Johnson and Mauer, who could not swim, were tied to a float rigged from a 2 × 8 which was part of the 37mm. gun mount. Harris and Maguire were fair swimmers, but Zinser, Starkey and Albert were not so good. The strong swimmers pushed or towed the float to which the non-swimmers were tied.
"Lt. Kennedy was dressed only in skivvies, Ensign Thom, coveralls and shoes, Ensign Ross, trousers, and most of the men were dressed only in
trousers and shirts. There were six 45's in the group (two of which were later lost before rescue), one 38, one flashlight, one large knife, one light knife and a pocket knife. The boat's first aid kit had been lost in the collision. All the group with the exception of McMahon, who suffered considerably from burns, were in fairly good condition, although weak and tired from their swim ashore.
"That evening Lt. Kennedy decided to swim into Ferguson Passage in an attempt to intercept PT boats proceeding to their patrol areas. He left about 1830, swam to a small island ½ mile to the southeast, proceeded along a reef which stretched out into Ferguson Passage, arriving there about 2000. No PT's were seen, but aircraft flares were observed which indicated that the PT's that night were operating in Gizo not Blackett Strait and were being harassed as usual by enemy float planes. Kennedy began his return over the same route he had previously used. While swimming the final lap to the island on which the other survivors were, he was caught in a current which swept him in a circle about 2 miles into Blackett Strait and back to the middle of Ferguson Passage, where he had to start his homeward trip all over again. On this trip he stopped on the small island just southeast of 'home' where he slept until dawn before covering the last ½ mile lap to join the rest of his group. He was completely exhausted, slightly feverish, and slept most of the day.
"Nothing was observed on August 2 or 3 which gave any hope of rescue. On the night of the 3d Ensign Ross decided to proceed into Ferguson Passage in another attempt to intercept PT patrols from Rendova. Using the same route as Kennedy had used and leaving about 1800, Ross 'patrolled' off the reefs on the west side of the Passage with negative results. In returning he wisely stopped on the islet southeast of 'home,' slept and thereby avoided the experience with the current which had swept Kennedy out to sea. He made the final lap next morning.
"The complete diet of the group on what came to be called Bird Island (because of the great abundance of droppings from the fine feathered friends) consisted of cocoanut milk and meat. As the cocoanut supply was running low and in order to get closer to Ferguson Passage, the group left Bird Island at noon, August 4th, and, using the same arrangements as before, headed for a small islet west of Cross Island. Kennedy, with McMahon in tow, arrived first. The rest of the group again experienced difficulty with a strong easterly current, but finally managed to make the eastern tip of the island.
"Their new home was slightly larger than their former, offered brush for protection and a few cocoanuts to eat, and had no Jap tenants. The night of August 4th was wet and cold, and no one ventured into Ferguson Passage that night. The next morning Kennedy and Ross decided to swim to Cross Island in search of food, boats or anything else which might be useful to their party. Prior to their leaving for Cross Island, one of three New Zealand P-40's made a strafing run on Cross Island. Although this indicated the possibility of Japs, because of the acute food shortage, the two set out, swam the channel and arrived on Cross Island about 1530. Immediately they ducked into the brush. Neither seeing nor hearing anything, the two officers sneaked through the brush to the east side of the island and peered from the brush onto the beach. A small rectangular box with Japanese writing on the side was seen which was quickly and furtively pulled into the bush. Its contents proved to be 30-40 small bags of crackers and candy. A little farther up the beach, alongside a native lean-to, a one-man canoe and a barrel of water were found. About this time a canoe containing two persons was sighted. Light showing between their legs revealed that they did not wear trousers and, therefore, must be natives. Despite all efforts of Kennedy and Ross to attract their attention, they paddled swiftly off to the northwest. Nevertheless, Kennedy and Ross, having obtained a canoe, food and water, considered their visit a success.
"That night Kennedy took the canoe and again proceeded into Ferguson Passage, waited there until 2100, but again no PT's appeared. He returned to his 'home' island via Cross Island where he picked up the food but left Ross who had decided to swim back the following morning. When Kennedy arrived at base at about 2330, he found that the two natives which he and Ross had sighted near Cross Island, had circled around and landed on the island where the rest of the group were. Ensign Thom, after telling the natives in as many ways as possible that he was an American and not a Jap, finally convinced them whereupon they landed and performed every service possible for the survivors.
"The next day, August 6, Kennedy and the natives paddled to Cross Island intercepting Ross, who was swimming back to the rest of the group. After Ross and Kennedy had thoroughly searched Cross Island for Japs and had found none, despite the natives' belief to the contrary, they showed the two PT survivors where a two-man native canoe was hidden.
"The natives were then sent with messages to the Coastwatcher. One was a pencilled note written the day before by Ensign Thom; the other
was a message written on a green cocoanut husk by Kennedy, informing the coastwatcher that he and Ross were on Cross Island.
"After the natives left, Ross and Kennedy remained on the island until evening, when they set in the two-man canoe to again try their luck at intercepting PT's in Ferguson Passage. They paddled far out into Ferguson Passage, saw nothing, and were caught in a sudden rainsquall which eventually capsized the canoe. Swimming to land was difficult and treacherous as the sea swept the two officers against the reef on the south side of Cross Island. Ross received numerous cuts and bruises, but both managed to make land where they remained the rest of the night.
"On Saturday, August 7, eight natives arrived, bringing a message from the coastwatcher instructing the senior officer to go with the natives to Wana Wana. Kennedy and Ross had the natives paddle them to [the] island where the rest of the survivors were. The natives had brought food and other articles (including a cook stove) to make the survivors comfortable. They were extremely kind at all times.
"That afternoon, Kennedy, hidden under ferns in the native boat, was taken to the coastwatcher, arriving about 1600. There it was arranged that PT boats would rendezvous with him in Ferguson Passage that evening at 2230. Accordingly he was taken to the rendezvous point and finally managed to make contact with the PT's at 2315. He climbed aboard the PT and directed it to the rest of the survivors. The rescue was effected without mishap, and the Rendova base was reached at 0530, August 8, 7 days after the ramming of the PT 109 in Blackett Strait."
17. BARGE HUNTING
Barge hunting became the principal occupation of the PT's, both at Rendova and at Lever Harbor. From their first contact on July 21 until the end of August, the Rendova boats encountered 56 barges and 5 small auxiliary ships. They claimed 8 barges and 1 auxiliary sunk, 3 barges and 1 auxiliary probably sunk, and 6 barges and 1 auxiliary damaged. The Lever Harbor boats, which had their first barge action on August 3, engaged 43 or 44 barges from then until the end of the month, of which 2 were sunk, 1 was forced to be beached, and 8 to 16 were hit with possible damage.
These claims later proved to be conservative. On several occasions when our ground forces moved into previously enemy-held territory, they found
beached or reefed barges which had been damaged beyond repair by PT gunfire, but which had not been claimed as destroyed. And frequently the boats disrupted Japanese plans by denying the enemy access to his island bases in actions which originally appeared to have caused little damage.
On the night of July 23/24, for example, PT's 117, 154, and 155, patrolling in Blackett Strait, west of Vila, encountered three barges, of which they sank one and chased the others back toward their base. Later they sighted three destroyers approaching from the north. The destroyers, apparently sighting the PT's at the same time, headed for Gizo and Wilson Straits at high speed and escaped to the west before the PT's could get into position to attack.
So far as anyone could tell at the time, this was not a particularly important engagement -- only one barge sunk. But it gains significance in the light of a captured Japanese document, which says, "On 23 July 1943 Destroyer Division 16 was engaged in an urgent transport mission to Kolombangara, but was unable to fulfill it because a group of enemy PT boats, about 12, appeared just before we entered the base and interfered . . . The barges were thus late in assembling."
Thus, although only one barge was sunk, an "urgent transport mission" was utterly frustrated. Strangulation of the supply line was the paramount objective, and the boats accomplished this objective to a far greater degree than any mere "box score" of barge sinkings could possibly indicate.
The principal barge routes led from Choiseul Island across to the northern tip of Vella Lavella and down the west coast through Wilson, Gizo, and Blackett Straits to Vila on Kolombangara. Island, and from Choiseul or northern Vella Lavella to the northern tip of Kolombangara and thence down the east coast to Vila. The Rendova boats attempted to intercept traffic on the first of these routes, the Lever Harbor boats on the other.
Although the Japanese airfield at Munda fell early in August, there remained a well-established enemy position at Bairoko Harbor on the north shore of New Georgia. With our ground forces advancing on Bairoko from Munda to the south and from Enogai Inlet to the east, the enemy attempted to evacuate his forces across Kula Gulf to Kolombangara. Many of the patrols from Lever Harbor were directed at interception of these operations.
Some of the barges were tough. On the night of July 26/27, PT's 106, 117, and 154 engaged six large barges so well armored that gunfire from
the PT's ricocheted harmlessly off their sides. And these barges showed no hesitation, when the PT's stopped firing to reload, in closing the range and opening fire on the PT's. The PT's were hit many times by small-caliber fire, but suffered no casualties. Boat captains learned that the volume of return fire from barges could be reduced by keeping them constantly under fire. Every effort was made to prevent all guns from running out of ammunition at the same time, and to have supporting boats cover the retirement of an attacking PT.
Return fire from barges was not the only danger. Floatplanes harassed patrolling PT's almost every night, usually causing little damage, but frequently preventing the PT's from making an effective attack. On the night of August 1/2 six Rendova PT's were assigned to patrol south of Vella Lavella. PT 170 (Lt. (jg.) David M. Payne, USNR), PT 104 (Lt. (jg.) Robert D. Shearer, USNR), and PT 108 (Lt. (jg.) Sidney D. Hix, USNR) were to cover the northern portion of the area, and PT 172 (Lt. (jg.) Stuart Hamilton, USNR), Moa (Lt. (jg.) Douglas S. Kennedy, USNR), and PT 163 (Ens. Edward H. Kruse, Jr., USNR) the southern. For 4½ hours, each time the PT's attempted to approach the entrance to Wilson Strait or the north part of Gizo Strait they were attacked by planes, which made 27 separate strafing attacks and dropped 8 bombs and 25 flares and float lights.
The continued attacks separated the PT's; the flares disclosed their position. Ensign Kruse spotted two targets by radar off the southern end of Vella Lavella. A moment later his boat was attacked by a plane, and when the attack was over the radar contact was lost. An hour later all of the boats of the northern section picked up six barges by radar, but these boats too were strafed by aircraft and they lost their targets. Later the same boats sighted a column of eight barges heading from Vella Lavella toward Kolombangara. The PT's moved in for a strafing run. When they were 300 yards away all of the barges blazed into action with what appeared to be a solid sheet of fire from automatic weapons, which fortunately passed 10 feet over the PT's. A plane swept in, strafing the boats, and the barges escaped.
Boat captains learned to lie to when planes were overhead so that the white wakes of the PT's would not reveal them to the aircraft. Lt. (jg.) William F. Liebenow, Jr., USNR, in PT 157, and Lt. (jg.) Hamlin D. Smith, USNR, in PT 154, demonstrated the corollary of this doctrine on the night of August 15/16, when they escorted the APC 25 and LCT's 325 and 327 from Lever Harbor to Enogai Inlet. Twice planes came over to strafe and bomb. Each
time the PT's created a diversion by zigzagging at high speed, laying puffs of smoke and leading the planes away from their convoy. Except for the wounding of two men of LCT 325 by shell fragments, the convoy suffered no damage.
Japanese countermeasures against PT's included the mounting of heavier guns -- up to 40mm. -- on their barges, and installation of shore batteries along the barge routes. Lieutenant Commander Kelly reported late in August, "A recent conference with the Commanding Officers of the First and Fourth Marine Raider Battalions at Enogai revealed that during the period 14-19 August, 28 barges have been observed by their Observation Post to enter and leave Bairoko. On three of these nights the PT's have attacked a total of 17 barges leaving Bairoko. On each occasion the return fire from the barges and shore batteries has been so heavy that the PT's have been unable to close to effective range. Only two barges were seen to be damaged and none are believed to have sunk or been seriously disabled. Without illumination it is impossible for the PT's to see the barges which closely hug the shore. However, the PT's themselves are clearly visible against the horizon in the moonlight. Heavily armored large barges with 40mm. and machine-guns escort the medium barges which carry only machine-guns and/or 20 mm. In order to sink a barge, the range must be closed well within 100 yards and more than 1,000 rounds of .50 caliber and 500 rounds of 20mm. are required . . . This requires laying to at point blank range of shore batteries and barges for approximately 10 minutes which is tantamount to sacrificing the PT boat. It is therefore believed that the only practical solution for combatting this barge traffic would be to employ similarly armored barges of our own or to install appropriate shore batteries capable of interdicting the barge route."
The Commander South Pacific Force, forwarding PT action reports for the month of August, agreed with Kelly only in part, saying, "The use of PT boats as barge destroyers leaves much to be desired. Such employment in daylight or bright moonlight is distinctly hazardous and frequently expensive to an unacceptable degree but Commander South Pacific does not agree that PT boats in anti-barge operations are ineffective and costly under all conditions. However, steps have been taken locally to improve their effectiveness, when so employed, by equipping them with a 37mm. or 40mm. single AA gun. Work is now underway on the conversion of three 77-foot MTB's. into motor gunboats by removal of torpedo tubes and depth charges to provide space and weight compensation for an additional 40mm. single AA gun and armor."
After experimentation with the single-shot Army 37mm. cannon, which was not entirely satisfactory because of its slow rate of fire, the automatic Army Air Force 37mm. was made standard installation on PT's in the Solomons. Except for a few boats which had two 40mm. cannon, one forward and one aft, and no torpedoes, the 40mm. was not used by the South Pacific PT's until later squadrons came out from the States with them already installed. It will be seen later that in the Southwest Pacific the 40mm., a far more powerful weapon than the 37mm., became standard armament for PT's. This divergence in armament in the two areas resulted partly from differences in background, partly from differences in operating conditions.
In the Southwest Pacific PT's were used from the start and almost exclusively as barge destroyers. The 40mm. was the most potent and most accurate antibarge gun. Ergo, it was adopted. In the South Pacific, on the other hand, PT's had a background of action against destroyers and cruisers: the torpedo was regarded as the primary weapon. The 40mm. was a heavy gun, and it was feared that the extra weight would slow down the boats if they continued to carry four torpedoes. This fear was justified. Unless PT's are maintained in top condition, frequently a difficult thing to do under combat conditions in forward areas, extra weight does tend to slow them down. In many sections of the Southwest Pacific, PT's armed with the 40mm. were authorized to carry two, instead of the customary four, torpedoes. Although South Pacific PT's did not meet destroyers after August 1, 1943, the possibility that they would meet them still existed. The Japanese still had destroyers at Rabaul and could have run the Tokyo Express again had they been willing to risk their ships.
So much for differences in background. The difference in operating conditions was a matter of distance. South Pacific patrol areas were usually relatively close to the PT operating bases. So it was possible to act on Kelly's suggestion and convert some LCM's to gunboats to accompany the PT's on their missions. Each LCM gunboat carried a 3-inch gun, and their low speed was acceptable where distances were short. Later, larger landing craft, LCI's, were converted to gunboats to operate with the PT's. Similarly converted were some wooden-hulled 110-foot submarine chasers, which came to be known as PGM's. These were somewhat faster than the landing craft, and so could operate further from their base. Thus, in the South Pacific, the PT was preserved primarily as a torpedo boat, strengthened against barges by the 37mm. cannon, but largely dependent on slower gunboats for
heavy firepower. In the Southwest Pacific, where patrol areas usually were 100 to 150 miles from base, LCM and LCI gunboats and PGM's lacked the speed necessary to proceed to station and return during the hours of darkness. Consequently PT's had to carry their own heavy guns.
The 37mm., though inferior to the 40mm. in destructive power, was still a good antibarge gun. Three Rendova boats used it on the night of August 29/30 to sink a heavily loaded barge off Vella Lavella. Comdr. Henry Farrow, in submitting the action report, stated, "the barge probably would not have been sunk, except for the very effective fire of the aircraft type automatic 37mm. guns."
Another problem mentioned by Kelly -- the inability of PT's to see barges against the dark background of land -- was at least partially solved by increasing cooperation with Black Cats. Each night one or more patrol planes were assigned to work with the PT's. The Black Cats guided PT's to their targets and when directed by the senior PT officer dropped flares to illuminate barges and distract the attention of their crews. Frequently the Black Cats would join in the attack, if requested to do so by the PT's, or they would bomb and strafe shore positions inaccessible to PT fire. Sometimes the planes would take over an action from PT's. On the night of August 5/6, for example, a Black Cat had illuminated a 120-foot cargo ship for PT's 159 and 157. The PT's exchanged fire with the ship and pursued it until it passed out of the limits of their prescribed patrol area. The PT's informed the Black Cat that they could go no further, and the plane completed the attack.
With PT's patrolling every night except when destroyer operations were scheduled, it was to be expected that some men would be killed and others wounded, but considering the amount of lead and explosives thrown at the boats by floatplanes, shore batteries, and barges, the casualties were amazingly few. The boats were hard to hit, and most of the hits they took were harmless. Many times PT's returned to base riddled with bullets or sprayed with shrapnel, their crews unscathed. The greatest hazard to the boats themselves was that of close inshore navigation at night in poorly charted reefy waters. PT's 153 and 158 were reefed early in July and were destroyed to prevent capture, as were PT's 118 and 172 early in September, but their crews were brought safely to base by other PT's.
18. VELLA LAVELLA
The next major move of our forces up the Solomons chain was the occupation of Vella Lavella, northernmost of the New Georgia group, bypassing the island of Kolombangara where the Japanese still had upwards of 5,000 troops, strong fortifications, and an airfield at Vila. PT's landed six Army, Navy, and Marine officers on Vella Lavella on the night of July 21/22 to make a reconnaissance of the southern part of the island. Taken off by PT 6 days later, together with the rescued crew of a PBY plane, the party reported that the island was not occupied by the Japanese and that there were suitable landing beaches at Barakoma on the southeast coast.
D-day was set for August 15. On the night of August 12/13, PT 107 (Lt. (jg.) William F. Barrett, Jr., USNR), PT 169 (Lt. (jg.) Philip A. Potter, Jr., USNR), PT 168 (Eris. William F. Griffin, USNR), and PT 104 (Lt. (jg.) Robert D. Shearer, USNR), left Rendova with 45 Army and Navy personnel to be put ashore at Barakoma. This party was to mark the channels and beaches to be used by landing craft, select bivouac and dispersal areas and defense positions, and take into custody a large number of Japanese prisoners reported to be held by native sentries.
On their northern passage through Blackett Strait to Vella Gulf, the PT's were bombed and strafed for more than 2 hours in almost continuous aircraft attacks. One bomb exploded in the water 10 feet astern of PT 168, seriously wounding two crew members and two Army men. The blast holed the boat, punctured the gas tanks, riddled one engine with shrapnel and damaged the other two, putting all three out of commission. Ensign Griffin prepared to abandon ship, but eventually was able to start two engines. He did not know how long his engineers could keep them running, so he called for assistance by radio. The four boats had become separated during the attacks, and it was a boat from another patrol section, Lt. (jg.) David M. Payne's PT 106, that came to his aid. Payne located PT 169 and had it come alongside the 168 to take off the passengers for Barakoma. The 106 took the wounded aboard and, after escorting PT 168 through Ferguson Passage, put on speed to get the wounded back to the base.
PT 107 was the first to arrive at Barakoma, and put its passengers ashore without incident. While it was still unloading, PT's 169 and 104 arrived. They completed their mission at 0320 and departed for Rendova. At 0500 they found PT 103, which had been on another patrol, taking PT 168 in tow south of Ferguson Passage. The 168's engines had failed again. The
107 stood by until fighter cover arrived at 0630. The 103 towed the 168 in, arriving at Rendova at 0900.
Ashore on Vella Lavella, the advance party discovered that not only did the native police have no Japanese prisoners, but that several hundred Japanese, survivors of ships sunk in the Battle of Vella Gulf on August 6/7, were in the area selected for the landing. They were reported to be armed with hand grenades, club's, and a few firearms. The advance party called by radio for help. At 0445 August 14, PT 103 (Lt. (jg.) Joseph K. Roberts, USNR), PT 169 (Lt. (jg.) Philip A. Potter, Jr., USNR), PT 175 (Eris. R. L. Balch, USNR), and PT 180 (Ens. S. Y. Carnes, USNR) left Rendova with reinforcements, landing them at Barakoma at 0940. This force was sufficient to insure that the Japanese in the area would not seriously interfere with the main landings, which were effected on the morning of August 15 with no opposition other than air attacks.
During September PT patrols from Rendova were gradually extended so that they included all of the Vella Lavella coast and portions of the Choiseul coast, 150 miles from the Rendova base. In order to reach these areas more easily, and to give the boats more hours to patrol them, Lt. Comdr. LeRoy Taylor, commander of Squadron 11, moved into Lambu Lambu Cove on the northeast coast of Vella Lavella on September 25, with seven PT's and one APC, to establish an advance operating base.
19. DAYLIGHT STRIKES
Rendova PT's made two daylight strikes in August and September. The first, made with air cover on the morning of August 22, was daring and very nearly disastrous. Comdr. Henry Farrow, in Lt. Robert D. Shearer's PT 104, led PT's 169 (Lt. (jg.) Douglas S. Kennedy, USNR) and PT 105 (Lt. (jg.) Richard E. Keresey, Jr., USNR), into Elliott Cove, just west of the Japanese stronghold of Vila on the south coast of Kolombangara. Lt. (jg.) David M. Payne, USNR, in Lt. (jg.) Sidney D. Hix's PT 108, led PT 125 (Lt. (jg.) C. Murray, USNR) and PT 124 (Lt. (jg.) Leighton C. Wood, USNR) into Webster Cove, just west of Elliott Cove. PT 107 (Lt. (jg.) William F. Barrett, Jr., USNR) and Moa (Lt. (jg.) B. P. Percy, USNR) were assigned to sweep the Kolombangara coast to the west and north of the two coves. Each boat carried Army demolition crews, which were to attempt destruction of enemy installations as opportunity presented.
PT's 104 and 169 started to enter Elliott Cove at 0725, leaving the 105 to patrol outside as cover. Shore guns opened on the 105 from the east but, since the alarm apparently had not been raised inside the cove itself, the other boats continued in. At the east side of the cove they saw four barges behind a large camouflage net suspended from trees at the water's edge. Many Japanese could be seen moving about on shore. As the boats swung toward the barges and opened fire with their 37's, they were taken under fire from machine-guns and rifles on either side of the entrance. They continued shelling the barges, using their 20mm. and .50-caliber guns in an attempt to smother the fire from shore. Because of the heavy enemy fire the boats did not attempt to put Army demolition crews aboard the barges, but retired at high speed after completing their runs. As they emerged from the cove, PT 105 advanced, firing on the shore. When she had placed herself between the retiring boats and the shore batteries, she reversed course and laid a smokescreen behind which all three boats withdrew.
Of the second group, PT's 108 and 125 started to enter Webster Cove at 0730, leaving PT 124 to cover the entrance. As soon as the boats were well inside they were taken under murderous crossfire by machine-gun positions all around the cove. The Japanese even had machine-gun platforms in the trees. Lieutenant Payne was wounded immediately and fell into the charthouse. Lieutenant Hix, at the helm, was fatally wounded in the head. Before collapsing, he put the wheel hard over to withdraw. James G. Cannon, Jr., QM2c, although wounded in the arm, shoulder, and face, took the wheel and brought the boat out of the cove. Jack O. Bell, SC3c, one of the gunners, was killed, and all of the other gunners but one were wounded. Sgt. J. E. Rogers, of the Army demolition crew, was killed when he went forward to assist the wounded 37mm. gunner. Only one officer and two men were unhurt. As soon as the 108 cleared the area of heavy fire, all of the men still able to move went below and put out fires in the forepeak, crews quarters, officers quarters, and lazarette. The 125, which had been following the 108, started to turn as soon as she saw the lead boat turning and preceded her out. She took few hits and only one man aboard was wounded. The two boats patrolling further west had no action, but the 107 came alongside the 108 to carry her wounded back to the base.
The second daylight strike, a sweep of coves in the northern section of Vella Lavella, on the morning of September 15, met no opposition. Lt. Comdr. LeRoy Taylor, in Ens. W. Mills's PT 181, led PT 178 (Lt. (jg.) G. C. Miller, USNR) and PT 170 (Lt. (jg.) W. J. Maul, USNR), into six
coves and inlets, strafing shore installations. In Susulantolo Bay the boats discovered a camouflaged barge filled with drums of rice. They tried to set it ablaze by gunfire, but it would not burn until the men threw a bucket of gasoline over it. In Warambari Bay they found another camouflaged barge, which blazed up immediately when they fired on it. A second section of boats, led by Lt. Leonard R. Hardy in PT 176 (Ens. W. E. Powell, USNR), with PT 175 (Ens. R. L. Balch, USNR), set three barges afire in Marisi Bay and destroyed two small boats in Karaka Bay.
20. END OF THE NEW GEORGIA CAMPAIGN
During the latter part of September the Japanese stopped trying to reinforce Kolombangara and began to evacuate their troops by barge, carrying them across to Choiseul, whence they could make their way to Bougainville. During the month the PT's had actions with 28 barges. They claimed 9 destroyed and 10 damaged. In October most of the work of intercepting the enemy evacuation from Kolombangara and Vella Lavella was assigned to destroyers. The only contact made by PT's with surface craft came when PT's 124 and 125 met two Japanese in a stolen native canoe, attempting to go from Kolombangara to Choiseul. Typically, these Japanese resisted all efforts to capture them, and were shot.
PT's made several reconnaissance missions, landing Marine scouting parties on Santa Isabel and Choiseul Islands; escorting supply echelons, and serving as rescue boats for downed fliers. Floatplanes continued to bomb and strafe them, but the PT's had the satisfaction of shooting down two of the hecklers.
In the Battle of Vella Lavella, on the night of October 6/7, three of our destroyers, Selfridge, Chevalier, and O'Bannon, intercepted and put to rout a Japanese force, estimated at nine destroyers, attempting to evacuate troops from Vella Lavella. One of the Japanese destroyers, Yugumo, was sunk. On the morning of the 7th, four PT's searched the waters northwest of Vella Lavella and picked up 78 survivors of the Yugumo, whom they brought back to Biloa on Vella Lavella, to turn them over to the Army. PT 163 had the most prisoners -- 36 of them lying face down on the deck forward, with 4 armed men standing guard over them. While the boats were lying to at Biloa, waiting for launches to disembark the prisoners, one of the Japanese on the 163 asked for a drink of water. Raymond Albert, S1c, one of the guards, handed him a canteen and permitted him to stand. As the prisoner returned the canteen, he whirled Albert around, snatched his
submachine-gun and shot him in the head, fatally wounding him. Another guard instantly cut down the prisoner with a 45-caliber automatic.
With the end of resistance on Vella Lavella early in October and completion of the Japanese evacuation of Kolombangara, the PT bases at Lever Harbor and Rendova were no longer useful for patrols. The Lever Harbor base was rolled up, but not before another case of mistaken identity had cost four lives. Four PT's, returning from patrol on the morning of September 30 saw three Marine Corsair planes approaching. The boats recognized the planes as friendly, and the flight section leader recognized the boats, instructing the other two planes by radio, "Don't fire as they are our own PT boats."
The pilot of the second plane understood the message; the pilot of the third apparently did not. Although the PT's made a tight right turn, the standard recognition procedure, the third plane swept in and strafed PT 126, killing an officer and two men. The starboard gunner of the 126 opened fire without orders, putting one short burst into the plane. The plane exploded and the pilot was killed.
The Rendova base was kept for repair and supply. In January 1944, it was moved from Lumbari Island to Bau Island in Rendova Harbor, and with the installation of Motor Torpedo Boat Base 11 became the main repair and overhaul base in the area. Commodore Moran made it his headquarters, moving his staff up from Tulagi.
Operations from Lambu Lambu continued into December. Although the boats met few barges they harassed the enemy by strafing shore installations in Choiseul Bay. These missions were good training for the first Higgins squadrons to arrive in the Solomons: Squadron 19, under Lt. Comdr. Russell H. Smith, and Squadron 20, under Lt. Comdr. Glenn R. Van Ness, USNR. On December 14, the day the Commander Amphibious Force ordered abandonment of the Lambu Lambu base, fire broke out in the gasoline dump and swiftly enveloped the dock area and ammunition dump, which exploded for hours. Two boats were at the dock. PT 238, outboard, got underway, but the heat was so intense that the crew of the inboard boat, PT 239, could not cast off her lines. The 239 burned at the dock. The fire, burning at one side of the narrow entrance to Lambu Lambu Cove, prevented seven PT's and an APC from leaving the cove. Until the flames subsided, these craft stayed in the cove with engines running and fire hoses streaming water on their decks. The next day the bodies of two men were recovered from the scene of the fire.
21. TREASURY AND BOUGAINVILLE
The move to Bougainville, largest of the Solomons, had a double purpose. It was designed to cut Japanese communications with their forces on Choiseul, southern Bougainville, and the Shortland Islands, neutralizing thousands of troops in these areas, and to provide fields for land-based airstrikes on Rabaul. It was not necessary to conquer the entire island; a beachhead, airstrips, and a small defense perimeter would suffice. It was another step in the bypassing strategy, started at Vella Lavella, which was to leave tens of thousands of Japanese cut off not only from supply and reinforcement, but even from escape. Cape Torokina and the Empress Augusta Bay area, about halfway up the western side of Bougainville, were to be the beachhead.
Before landings could be made there, it was necessary to take the Treasury Islands, a small group directly between Vella Lavella and Empress Augusta Bay, for protection of our supply convoys to the Bougainville beachhead. PT's put a reconnaissance party ashore on Treasury on the night of October 21/22, and removed it the next night. The scouts reported that the
Metalsmith and shipfitters shop at Torokina Base, Bougainville.
Left to right, W. B. Bradley, SF2C; O. G. White, MoMM1c; R. C. Steen, CM3c.
enemy force amounted to only 235 men. They also brought back several natives of Mono Island, largest of the Treasury group, to serve as guides for the landing. On the night of October 25/26, PT's landed an advance party of New Zealand noncommissioned officers and native guides on Mono to cut enemy communication lines. On October 27, 1943, two PT's screened the fourth transport group for the landings on Stirling Island. The next day Lieutenant Commander Kelly arrived with Squadron 9, set up a temporary base on Stirling Island, and started patrols the same evening.
With the establishment of the Treasury base, the PT's were in position to blockade southern Bougainville, the Shortlands, and Choiseul Bay. Remnants of the enemy that had managed to escape from New Georgia to Choiseul were moving north on foot to the Choiseul Bay region where barges shuttled them by night across Bougainville Straits to Fauro Island, the Shortlands, and southern Bougainville.
H. M. Garothorp, Bkr2c, bakes bread in ovens improvised from empty oil drums at Torokina PT base.
Our landings on Cape Torokina on November 1 met fierce resistance. Some of the bitterest fighting was on Puruata Island on the first day of the invasion. The island was cleared of the enemy by the night of November 2, and the following morning Comdr. Henry Farrow arrived there with eight PT's to set up a base. The enemy exerted constant pressure on our perimeter, and commenced concentrated bombing of the Cape Torokina area on the night of November 5/6. From then until the end of the month he dropped 600 bombs in 33 night attacks. PT's 124 and 187 were slightly damaged on the night of December 18/19 by a bomb at Puruata Island, but were able to go out on patrol the next night. Before the end of December we had gained superiority in the air and the night attacks dwindled to occasional nuisance raids.
Torokina PT's at first assisted in protecting the precarious Allied beachhead by patrolling 10 miles north and 10 miles south of the Cape. While barge contacts were few during November, the boats carried out a number of special missions, escorting convoys and covering minor landings. On six separate occasions they landed and picked up Marine reconnaissance parties on the Bougainville coast. On the afternoon of November 29, Lt. Comdr. LeRoy Taylor, who had relieved Commander Farrow at Bougainville, took PT 187 and two LCI gunboats to cover the evacuation of 700 Marines who had been trapped by superior enemy forces a few miles south of Cape Torokina.
In December both the Torokina and Treasury PT's extended their barge-hunting activities. The Torokina boats covered the western coast of Bougainville from Empress Augusta Bay to Buka Island to the north, and the Treasury boats stretched their patrol areas from the southwest coast of Bougainville through Bougainville Strait, and eventually to the eastern coast of Bougainville. During November and December the PT's claimed 6 barges sunk or destroyed, 11 barges damaged, 3 planes shot down, and 2 planes damaged.
22. A BRUSH WITH TORPEDO BOMBERS
One of the first escort jobs out of Torokina fell to Ens. Theodore Berlin, USNR, whose PT 167, with the LCI gunboat 70, was to accompany the LCT 68 to Treasury Island.* The little convoy left Torokina in the middle of
* The executive officer was Paul Burgess ("Red") Fay, Jr., later to be appointed Under Secretary of the Navy by President Kennedy.
the afternoon on November 5, and was 28 miles southwest of the Cape at twilight, when 12 Japanese torpedo bombers swept in from the west. They dived toward the 167, which opened fire on them. The first plane came in so low that its wing struck the PT's radio antenna. The plane wobbled and crashed into the sea. As it crashed the crew of the 167 felt a severe shock, as though their boat had been hit, but there was no explosion.
A few minutes later another group of planes attacked from the west but further astern. The 20mm. gunners on the fantail of the PT saw their shots go home in one of the planes, which crashed so close to the port quarter that the gunners were drenched by the splash. One of the gunners saw a torpedo wake pass under the stern of the boat. The 167 then lay to, firing at planes which seemed to be attacking the LCI 70 from every direction.
Bow of Ens. Theodore Berlin's PT 167, holed clean through by an enemy torpedo which did not explode.
When the attack was over Ensign Berlin discovered what had jolted his boat. A torpedo had passed completely through the bow without exploding. It had ripped gaping holes through each side of the boat, leaving pieces of its fins and one of its rudders aboard as souvenirs. The holes were well above the waterline and forward of the forward watertight bulkhead, so the boat was in no danger of sinking. Ensign Berlin went alongside the LCI 70 and found that it also had taken a miraculously harmless hit, and had an unexploded torpedo lodged in its engineroom. He took aboard all of the LCI's crew, including two injured men, and proceeded to the LCT 68, which he found had not been attacked. One of the LCI's officers then took a volunteer crew back aboard the LCI so that the LCT could take it in tow.
The next day Radio Tokyo announced that their intrepid airmen had sunk one large carrier and one small carrier off Bougainville.
23. DESTROYERS AGAIN
The destroyers Anthony and Hudson were part of a screen of a supply echelon that left Guadalcanal at 0045 November 7, to arrive at Cape Torokina on the morning of November 8. During the night before their arrival the two destroyers were detached from the convoy to scout ahead and intercept any enemy barges that might be trying to land reinforcements in Empress Augusta Bay. The destroyers had been assured that the PT's would remain at their base.
A dispatch had, in fact, been sent from Guadalcanal, advising the PT's that destroyers would be in the area and instructing them not to patrol, but because of a breakdown in communications the message was not delivered until November 9. Ordinarily, if the PT's had received no instructions from the Commander Amphibious Force at Guadalcanal, they would have been bound to stay at their base anyway, and no harm would have been done. But a special situation existed at Torokina. For the first 2 days at the base, the boats received orders from the Commander Amphibious Force and patrolled 10 miles north and 10 miles south of Cape Torokina. Then communications collapsed and no operational orders were received for 3 days. The enemy lost no time in taking advantage of the inactivity, landing bargeloads of reinforcements near the savagely contested perimeter, first at night and then in broad daylight. The commanding general of the Marines became so incensed at this state of affairs that he ordered the boats
to maintain continuous 24-hour patrols whether or not orders were received from Guadalcanal. Commander Farrow inquired whether friendly ships might be encountered in the area, but Marine headquarters had no information on ship movements.
So it happened that there were two patrols of two PT's each in Empress Augusta Bay when the destroyers arrived early on the morning of the 8th. The Anthony's radar picked up a surface target lying to in the middle of the bay at 0315. The destroyers opened fire at 5,000 yards, and kept lobbing shells for 45 minutes. During this period the target divided into two distinct pips on the radar. When the pips indicated that the targets had increased speed to 20 knots and were still accelerating, the commanding officer of the Anthony realized they must be PT's. The destroyers ceased fire immediately.
PT's 170 and 169, of which Lt. Edward Macauley 3d was officer-in-tactical command, took evasive action, and when the firing ceased, attempted to get in position to fire torpedoes at the "enemy" destroyers. Macauley called by radio to the two boats to the north, and PT 163 obligingly fired one torpedo, which missed. The Anthony could hear faintly the radio conversation between the PT's, so the destroyers turned to clear the area as quickly as possible. Eventually the Anthony made radio contact with the PT's, sending the message, "Humblest apologies, we are friendly vessels," just in time to forestall an attack by Macauley's boats.
This message came just after a new target, apparently a large ship, appeared on the 170's radar, 10,000 yards ahead, and projectiles which, Macauley said, looked like large ashcans passed over the boat. To this day no one knows what these projectiles were or who fired them.
The PT's and destroyers came unharmed to Cape Torokina. Shortly before noon on the 8th, 60 to 80 Japanese planes attacked. Many were shot down. Among the claims were 1 for PT's 103 and 163, 2 for the Hudson, and 11 for the Anthony.
On the night of November 24/25 two sections of PT's patrolling the Buka coast made radar contact with two large surface targets, but believed them to be friendly destroyers known to be in the area until two destroyers closed the southern section and attempted to ram Lt. (jg.) Charles A. Bernier, Jr.'s PT 318. The destroyers fired several 5-inch salvos at the three boats of the section. The boats still could not be sure that they were not our own destroyers, so except for one torpedo fired by PT 64 through a misunderstanding of orders by the torpedoman, the boats did not attempt to attack
but laid smoke puffs and zigzagged to safety. The boats learned later that the destroyers were not our own.
The Commander Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons South Pacific reported, "On the night of 7/8 November 1943, PT boats . . . were fired on for 45 minutes by some of our own destroyers. The fact that our own destroyers were known to be present on the night of 24/25 November and the previous experience of being fired upon by friendly forces, was undoubtedly the major contributing factor in failure to recognize the enemy ships . . . This occurrence and previous ones in which PT boats have had 'unhappy' incidents with our own surface and aircraft indicates the necessity for closer cooperation and coordination between our light surface forces and aircraft. This command is now endeavoring to obtain conduct of numerous training exercises in the back areas between PT boats and DD's [destroyers] and between the former and aircraft, particularly 'Black Cats' and 'Snoopers.' If cooperation is attained it is expected that much valuable information will be obtained and all personnel will have a more full and complete knowledge of capabilities and limitations of the other fellow as well as knowing what to do when they make contact with the enemy in the same area.
"For example, on the night of 24/25 November, it was later learned that one of our aircraft had been shadowing the enemy DD's and knew they were unfriendly. Had that particular aircraft imparted this knowledge to the PT boats and reported the approximate enemy position and course to the PT boat commander, the latter could have maneuvered the various sections in a favorable position to attack."
24. SHORE BATTERIES
As the boats had discovered at Rendova and Lever Harbor, wherever the enemy ran barges he ran them close to the beach and installed shore batteries for their protection. Shells from the shore guns seldom hit the boats, but frequently splashed close enough to force the boats further out to sea. The first boat -- and one of the few -- to receive a damaging direct hit from shore was PT 154 (Lt. (jg.) Hamlin D. Smith, USNR). The 154 and 155 (Lt. Michael R. Pessolano) were lying to 1 mile off the south coast of Shortland Island on the night of November 13/14. A 3-inch shore gun fired three rounds, the second of which hit the afterbody of the port forward torpedo, where it exploded, tearing a gaping hole in the deck and knocking out the steering control. Lieutenant Smith and six men were wounded. Lt. (jg.)
Joseph D. McLaughlin, USNR, the second officer, and Arthur J. Schwerdt, QM2C, were killed. John M. Nicholson, MM1c, senior man on the boat, less seriously injured than Lieutenant Smith, took charge and got the boat underway, heading out to sea.
As soon as Lieutenant Pessolano observed the firing he got the 155 underway, heading out, but when he saw the hit he reversed course to assist the 154. He did not realize that the 154 had no rudder control, and as the 154 increased speed, she collided with the 155, tearing off the 155's port after torpedo and tube. The boats separated and ran until they were well to seaward, when the 155 came alongside the 154. Lieutenant Pessolano went aboard the 154 and took command, transferring the wounded to the 155, which took them back to the Treasury base. Using emergency steering control, a hand tiller in the lazarette, the 154 slowly made its way to the base, arriving 2½ hours after the 155.
Frequently during the months that followed, PT's had the satisfaction of accompanying LCI gunboats and PGM's on missions to shell enemy shore batteries, and of working with Black Cats to bomb them. Yet the shore guns remained a constant menace. Commenting on an action on the night of January 7/ 8, 1944, in which heavy machine-gun fire from shore twice prevented PT's from completing attacks on barges although the PT's were assisted by a Black Cat, Lieutenant Commander Kelly said, "It will be noted that the enemy has resorted to tactics similar to those employed during the enforced evacuation of Bairoko, New Georgia. Immediately preceding each barge movement machine-gun positions are located along the entire evacuation route. Large caliber coastal batteries, placed at strategic positions, are also used to bombard the PT's, forcing them to keep outside their range. Float planes bomb the boats en route to their station and prior to barge movements. When passing fortified positions, the barges usually withhold their fire while the shore positions attempt to force the PT's to retire. When severely damaged the barges beach themselves in the vicinity of these protected areas until the attack has been driven off."
25. TO GREEN ISLAND
January was a month of rain and heavy winds with seas so high that sometimes PT's could not patrol. The Bougainville boats got the worst of it. During the first part of the month, northwest winds averaging 20 knots and
gusting to 40 swept the exposed anchorage at Puruata Island, kicking up 3- to 5-foot seas. Nothing lighter than 500-pound anchors would hold the boats, and there were not enough of them. Lieutenant Commander Taylor sent in an urgent requisition for more anchors and moorings, saying, "boats cannot remain underway here indefinitely."
PT's 115 and 181 were blown on a reef at Torokina on January 7, and the LCI 67, attempting to pull them off, broached on the same reef. Six nights later heavy seas swept a depth charge off PT 189 and a 60mm. mortar off PT 178, broke the 178's 37mm. magazine and bent several 37mm. shells. It was small wonder that the number of barge contacts dropped. The PT's claimed only two barges destroyed and six damaged in January. The weather improved in February and for that month the claims were 13 destroyed, 3 possibly destroyed, and 15 damaged. During both months there were, of course, the usual brushes with float planes. The boats also rescued several downed fliers, and were more active in strafing enemy shore positions than they had been before.
Despite foul weather, the boats performed valuable service in the occupation of Green Island, to the north of Bougainville. Green is a circular atoll about 4 miles across, surrounding a deep lagoon, with two entrances on the west side. Since the enemy was present there in light strength, the Commander Amphibious Force resolved to make a reconnaissance in strength before the main landings, but he could not even plan a reconnaissance until he knew whether the lagoon entrances were deep enough for passage of landing craft. Accordingly, on the night of January 10/11, Lieutenant Commander Taylor and Lt. Leonard R. Hardy took PT 176 (Ens. W. E. Powell, USNR), PT 184 (Ens. E. C. Myers, USNR), and two of the 77-footers that had been converted to gunboats, PT 59 (Ens. J. Atkinson, USNR) and PT 61 (Lt. (jg.) R. L. Rhoads, USNR) to examine the channels.
The weather was too rough for the 77-footers, which had seen hard service and now were carrying the extra weight of two 40mm. guns, one fore and one aft. Seas tore their radar masts loose, fouled gears on the forward 40mm. guns, stripped beading from their chines, and opened seams. The 61's smoke screen generator broke loose and in going overboard carried away an exhaust stack. Water shorted out the 59's radio, starting a small fire in the charthouse. The gunboats could not keep up with the other PT's.
The 176 and 184 arrived at Green Island at 2230, entered the southern channel, took soundings, and departed at 0015 with the knowledge that there was 17 feet of water, ample for landing craft. There was no indication
that the enemy had been aware of their presence. Rear Adm. Theodore S. Wilkinson, Commander Third Amphibious Force, said, "This passage of the channel by two PT boats, within close rifle and machine gun range of possible enemy positions on either side, was a bold exploit, consistent with the reputation for courageous accomplishment of difficult and hazardous tasks which the MTB Squadrons have acquired and confirmed by their operations throughout this area."
Because of the knowledge gained through this experience, Lieutenant Commander Taylor and Lieutenant Hardy, in Ensign Powell's PT 176 and PT 178 (Ens. J. S. Smith, USNR), led the way for our landing craft in the reconnaissance in force on January 30/31. While destroyers screened our transports outside the lagoon, the two PT's were the only covering force for the landing craft inside the lagoon. Among those who went ashore with the reconnaissance party were Comdr. William C. Specht, who had become Commodore Moran's Chief Staff officer in November; Commander Farrow, and Lt. (jg.) William F. Griffin, USNR. While reconnoitering for a PT base site they helped destroy a Japanese machine-gun nest.
For the landing itself, on the morning of February 15, Lieutenant Commander Taylor and Lieutenant Hardy, in PT 247 (Ens. R. B. Warnock, USNR) and PT 249 (Lt. (jg.) M. S. Trimble, USNR) made a last-minute investigation of the channel at 0200 to make sure there were no obstructions. They reported to the approaching task force commander that the coast was clear; the landing was made on schedule with little opposition. Motor Torpedo Boat Base 7 was put ashore the first day, and, on February 16, Squadron 10, under Lt. Comdr. Jack E. Gibson, arrived at Green Island to start operations from the new base.
En route from Cape Torokina to patrol station off the Buka coast on the night of February 11/ 12, 1944, with zero visibility because of a rain squall, PT 282 rammed PT 279 in the engineroom. Jack D. Castleberry, TM3c, was hurled overboard from PT 282, as, apparently, was Paul L. Spicher, RMY, from PT 279, though no one saw Spicher go. Lt. (jg.) John A. Doane, USNR, boat captain of the 282, dived in after Castleberry and rescued him. Spicher was never found, despite searches by PT's and aircraft.
Lt. Alan W. Ferron, USNR, and his PT 278, first to respond to PT 282's call for assistance, picked up the crew of the 279 from their liferaft. Before the 279 sank, 5½ hours after the collision, she was again boarded and a thorough search was made for the missing man. PT 282, heavily damaged in the bow, was towed to base stern first.
27. ACTION IN EMPRESS AUGUSTA BAY
The wide sweeping arc of the Bougainville coast between Cape Torokina on the north and Motupena Point on the south forms Empress Augusta Bay, which was a rewarding hunting ground for the Torokina PT's. Our defensive perimeter extended only a short distance south of Cape Torokina. Most of the coastline of the bay, from the Magine Islands, south of the Cape, past the mouths of the Jaba River, through Gazelle Harbor to Motupena Point, was firmly held by the Japanese. The PT's regularly strafed this coast, the LCI gunboats shelled it, and both PT's and LCI's met many barges running close inshore.
On the night of February 25/26, Lt. Jonathan S. Raymond, Jr., USNR, executive officer of Squadron 20, took PT 251 (Lt. (jg.) Nixon Lee, Jr., USNR) and PT 252 (Ens. R. A. Hochberg, USNR) to Gazelle Harbor. Early in the evening the PT's sighted a barge running close to shore and sank it after two firing runs. Rifle fire from the barge and machine-gun fire from the beach did no damage to the PT's.
Idling north, the boats arrived off the Jaba River mouth at 0150 and made radio contact with a Black Cat whose radio call was "Tarbaby," the call regularly assigned to the PBY detailed to work with the boats. Tarbaby dropped flares at the request of the PT's, illuminating three barges a mile south of the Jaba River, 300 yards offshore. Both boats started a port run, opening fire when abeam the barges. "Tarbaby" also strafed and dropped two bombs for near-misses. Enemy mortars and machine-guns ashore attempted to make the boats withdraw. One barge beached itself and two headed for sea. The boats closed to 75 yards and saw one barge sink, but had to break off the engagement when guns on both boats jammed.
Half an hour later, a mile and a half farther south, the boats found two groups of three barges each, running within 100 yards of the beach. The
boats strafed all of them, scoring many hits, and received machine-gun fire from the beach and from one barge. Just after this run, the 251 sighted a large barge coming up astern, turned and strafed it with undetermined results. "Tarbaby" then dropped more flares for the boats, and directed them to a large barge between the flares and a signal light on the beach. The boats strafed this barge, again with undetermined results, and fired on the signal light on the beach for good measure. The 252 next attacked a barge that suddenly appeared 50 yards off its port beam. At the end of this run the barge's stern was under water and the 251 was on a reef. A few minutes later the 252, circling in an attempt to assist, went up on the same reef, but was able to back off. PT 251, hard aground, requested the base to send two relief boats.
Slowly working down the coast from the north was another patrol section, PT 246 (Lt. (jg.) R. S. Epperly, USNR), PT 254 (Ens. W. J. Harris, USNR), and LCI 24 (Lt. (jg.) O. O. Taylor, USNR). Also working with "Tarbaby," they made runs on four separate barges, as well as on a group of three or four other barges, destroying one and damaging others. Two of the barges beached themselves not far from the reef where the 251 had grounded. The LCI 24 tried to finish them off with its 3-inch guns, but gave up after five rounds because the 251 and 252 were too close to the line of fire.
Lt. Arthur H. Berndtson arrived at 0445 with two relief boats, PT 247 (Ens. R. B. Warnock, USNR) and PT 277 (Lt. J. M. Raine, USNR). Berndtson asked the base to send air cover at daylight. Then, for more than an hour, the boats attempted to sound their way to the 251 to put lines over to pull her off. PT 252 had come within 75 yards when a shore gun started firing. The first shot was over the 251, the second under, and the third a direct hit. The 251 exploded, blazing furiously.
The 252 backed off, firing all its guns at the shore position. PT 247 picked up three survivors from the water, and when air cover arrived at daylight the boats and planes searched for more survivors. They found none in the water, and there could be none on the flaming hulk of the 251. Two officers and eleven men were missing.
When the 252 arrived at the base, an unexploded 57mm. shell was found imbedded in the warhead of the port after torpedo.
February was the beginning of the end of Rabaul, the mighty bastion at the northeast tip of the Gazelle Peninsula on New Britain -- ultimate objective of the Solomons campaign. Since mid-December, when fighter planes were able to take off from Torokina to escort bombers, airstrikes against Rabaul had mounted with increasing fury. In the Southwest Pacific, troops of the First Marine Division landed on Cape Gloucester, at the western end of New Britain, on December 26. They captured the Cape Gloucester airstrip 4 days later. Rabaul was doomed, and the enemy knew it. About the 19th of February he evacuated the major part of his air strength. On the night of February 29/March 1, Commander Specht led 12 PT's from Green Island in the first large-scale joint attack by destroyers and PT's in the South Pacific area. The weather was foul, with heavy rain, low visibility, strong winds, and heavy seas. After the destroyers shelled the coast from a distance, Commander Specht took six boats on a slow sweep down the coast and then took one boat, PT 319 (Ens. R.H. Lewin, USNR), into the vast and beautiful harbor of Rabaul. Visibility was only 100 yards; he found nothing in the harbor; but the search was significant in that the 319 was the first Allied warship to enter Rabaul since the Japanese occupation.
The other six boats on patrol, under Lt. Comdr. Jack E. Gibson, found three barges in the channel between Gazelle Peninsula and the Duke of York Islands to the east. The boats first became aware of the barges when one of them passed between Lt. (jg.) R. C. Simpson's PT 168 and Lt. (jg.) Edward H. Kruse, Jr.'s PT 163. All of the barges were damaged and probably sunk, but visibility was so bad that the boats could not be certain of their destruction.
With the landing of Southwest Pacific forces in the Admiralty Islands on February 29 and the occupation of Emirau Island by South Pacific forces on March 20, the noose around Rabaul was closed and 40,000 Japanese were left to wither on the vine.
Squadron 11 and the tender Mobjack, under tactical command of Commander Specht, moved into Homestead Lagoon, on the west end of Emirau, on March 25, and commenced patrols the following night. From that time on PT's in the South Pacific were to devote themselves to "containing" the Japanese in their sealed-off areas of occupation; disrupting any remaining barge traffic, and strafing coastal installations.
29. MARCH AND APRIL 1944
Operations in March continued along the familiar pattern, with the boats from Treasury, Torokina, and Green Island covering the coasts of Bougainville, southern New Ireland, and southeast New Britain. The PT's claimed 14 barges and 1 motor launch destroyed, 1 plane shot down, and 12 barges damaged. It was, on the whole, a good month for the boats, and, as usual, captured Japanese documents proved it was more successful than the PT personnel themselves realized. Witness the Japanese 17th Army Monthly Intendance Report for March, 1944:
Lines of communications by sea maintained by large and small landing barges would appear to have great transportation capacity, but in view of constant hindrance by enemy planes and PT boats and occasional attacks by enemy destroyers with which airplanes cooperate by dropping flares, traffic was restricted to nights, particularly moonless nights. Transportation by sea also required such facilities as suitable debarkation points and barge hide-outs. Consequently, it is difficult to realize the transportation capacity theoretically possible In defiance of the interference by enemy airplanes and PT boats, transportation was boldly carried out on moonless nights. Although we have sunk more than 10 enemy PT's since 1 February, we lost more than 20 large and small landing barges (about 90 percent of the total number of barges possessed by the Army) while engaged in this difficult transportation.
Actually, the only PT lost in the Solomons by enemy action during February and March was the 251. While the enemy multiplied his destruction of PT's tenfold, there is no reason to suppose he exaggerated his own losses.
An innovation in March was the beginning of destroyer cooperation with PT's. Two or three destroyers would patrol to seaward of several PT patrols. If the PT's should encounter barges or shore batteries too heavy for them to handle, they could call in the destroyers to assist them. This arrangement produced good results until the night of March 17/18, when Lt. Comdr. Ronald K. Irving, commander of Squadron 23, in PT 283 (Ens. William D. Schaffner, USNR), with PT 284 (Ens. L. R. Haspel, USNR), was patrolling with a Black Cat and the destroyer Guest in Empress Augusta Bay. The 283 was lying to 500 yards from a beached barge well loaded with supplies while Lieutenant Commander Irving directed the Black Cat to bombing position over the barge. Guest, with which the PT was having communication difficulties, fired a salvo which destroyed another barge several hundred yards down the beach. Irving told the destroyer about the barge which the Black Cat was about to attack. The Guest fired another salvo. At the
Comdr. Thomas G. Warfield briefs boat captains about to go on night patrol of the Bougainville coast in March 1944.
same time Japanese machine-guns opened fire from the shore. PT 283's gasoline tanks exploded and the boat burst into flames. One man was killed, three were missing, and three officers and two men, including Lieutenant Commander Irving and Ensign Schaffner, were seriously injured. Most of the crew was rescued by the skillful seamanship of Ensign Haspel in PT 284.
To this day Irving is not sure whether the boat was hit by a wild shot from Guest or by Japanese machine-gun bullets.
In April the Japanese effort in the Solomons appeared to decline. Although an average of 18 PT's patrolled each night, searching the waters from Bougainville Strait to Emirau, they encountered only 8 barges, all of which they sank or destroyed. Lieutenant Hardy enlivened an otherwise dull
month by maneuvering three of the Emirau boats close enough to a New Ireland coastal road to strafe and set fire to two trucks, one on the night of April 24/25, and one on the night of April 28/29.
The boats made several special reconnaissance missions. From Green Island, Lieutenant Commander Gibson took boats to the islands of the Carteret Group on March 29, and to the Nuguria Islands on April 9. At both of these island groups, well to the east of Green, they found friendly natives, who paddled out in canoes to greet the boats and exchange gifts. The natives said there never had been any Japanese in the Carterets, and the only ones who had ever been on Nuguria were three members of the crew of a crashed bomber, who had been taken off by barge.
At Emirau, one of the first missions for the PT's was to put a reconnaissance party ashore at Mussau, largest island of the St. Mathias Group, where the enemy had had a radio station and seaplane base. These installations had been shelled by our destroyers, Franks and Haggard, on March 23. Lieutenant Hardy, with PT 176 (Ens. M. D. Thompson, USNR) and PT 181 (Lt. (jg.) Edward Miller, USNR), put a party ashore on the night of March 27/28. The party learned from natives that Franks and Haggard had destroyed a ration dump and a fuel dump and damaged the radio station. There had been 40 to 50 Japanese, who escaped in 2 canoes. Three nights later Lieutenant Hardy brought a larger party to Mussau, again in Ens. Thompson's PT 176, with PT 175 (Lt. (jg.) T. B. Ashwell, USNR). The PT's took aboard 800 pounds of Japanese radio equipment, many documents, three machine-guns, and several bombs. The reconnaissance party sketched and photographed the base and set fire to 8 buildings and 243 drums of gasoline. After the party was back aboard the boats, the PT's strafed the remaining installations, setting fire to a fuel dump.
30. THE RUGGED LIFE
PT sailors thought of themselves as having rugged duty. And so they had. When patrols were not dangerous, they were tedious. Officers and men alike had few comforts, and besides the obvious enemy they had to contend with such hazards and discomforts as heat, rains, uncharted reefs, dysentery, malaria, and a variety of tropical skin diseases known collectively as "the crud." They might have felt sorry for themselves except for their faith in the boats, their eagerness to inflict damage on the enemy, and the
happy American habit of lightening one's burdens by exaggerating them. In this spirit Lt. Comdr. LeRoy Taylor, Commander of Squadron 11, wrote a brief history of his unit, which perhaps gives a truer picture of the rugged life than could be found in a more factual account. He wrote:
Too Many Months in the Solomon Islands or Sex Takes a Holiday
This is about a squadron of MTB's. There are no heroes in this group; no melodramatic book has been written about them. They did their job as they saw it and at the same time tried to keep from going nuts by not letting it get them down.
Our squadron was formed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard where all good sailors go at least once in their lives. Once is enough. After struggling for 2 or 3 months, we were sent to Panama for 3 weeks' training and eventual transhipment to New Caledonia . . .
At Tulagi one finds what could have been a torpedo boat base. There they open the conversation by "Now the trouble is -- most people seem to take this place for granted." Then the lads who came out a while before, begin on the tall sea stories . . . Fortunately we stayed only a week.
We arrived at Rendova just as the New Georgia Campaign was in full swing. We got into the harbor at 9 o'clock at night without being shot up by our own guns there. At first the Japs used to dive bomb the boats in the harbor in daytime, coming in low just over the hills on Rendova Island where the radar couldn't pick them up. One day two soldiers visited our camp on a little island in the harbor, a big soldier and a little soldier. Someone yelled "Air Raid" and the little soldier jumped into the first hole he saw. The big one jumped in on top of him. The hole was our well, about 6 feet deep. The little one nearly drowned. He got the Purple Heart.
There were plenty of flies which bred in the rotting cocoanuts. Naturally there was also plenty of dysentery. The privy was way out over the water. To get to it, one had to walk a couple of cocoanut logs like a tightrope performer. On a dark night one felt sorry for the lads who had to get there in a hurry and in such an unstable state, too. It was a good place to sit and watch the people at Munda getting bombed at night, except that the duds from Munda's guns usually landed on Rendova. In the daytime going out there was just like going to the aquarium. All sorts of pretty fish swam around. When it rained it was bad. Nothing gives you such a feeling of helplessness as a roll of wet toilet paper.
Hunting barges around Kolombangara and the Vella Gulf wasn't what one would call fun. They traveled in convoys and carried plenty of machine guns. One of the other squadrons operating in Kula Gulf had the worst time. There, they had to contend not only with armed barges but with big guns and little guns on the beach. And down near Diamond Narrows it wasn't so far from shore to shore. There were Japs on both sides. On our side there was a little more sea room . . .
The float planes used to chase our boats at night, bombing and strafing. It was bad. Every time you opened fire on a barge you had a float plane on your neck in 2 minutes. It was a war of nerves. Night fighters seemed to be a solution and a plan was arranged to get a float plane. One of the section leaders volunteered to be the bait. He would go out and raise a racket by steaming at high speeds and firing his guns. Our night fighter
would stay overhead waiting. The float plane would jump in to knock off a torpedo boat and the night fighter would shoot him down in the process. This first night everything went according to plan. The float plane came in and the night fighter was there. Then the first word from the night fighter came over the radio. "I'm being attacked by a float plane!" The word went back from the boat, "Bring him down to 2 feet and I'll get on his tail."
The charts of these islands are not what you'd call up to date. Probably because nobody was ever interested in them but a few traders. There are such reassuring notes as "Reefs reported 6 to 8 miles offshore," "Shoal sighted by H.M.S. Dart, 1792," "White water seen here by Capt. Bligh but position doubtful." These things don't help you much when you have to hunt three or four hundred yards off the coast at night. One goes slowly and somewhat nervously. Then some damn fool drops his tin hat or jumps down on deck and you go straight up in the air. You're sure you've hit a reef which is the surest way of finding it. This is the way we were so successful in locating most of the reefs around Vella and Choiseul. Once we made a daylight barge hunt around Vella and had such good luck that we asked to try the same thing at Choiseul. The answer was "No," because of the navigational hazards. The same night we were ordered to patrol the Choiseul coast arriving on station at midnight.
The local natives were good simple souls. We gave one a stick of gum. The next day he came back full of confidence and touched us for a pyramidal tent.
While at Vella we experimented with regular trench mortars mounted on our boats. Getting in to 500 yards of the beach and throwing mortar shells into enemy outposts was fun. The first night we heaved a few over onto the back side of Moli Island. After the first good explosion we heard a loud, exasperated voice scream, "Jesus Christ! What next?" We knew there were Japs in there.
After things quieted down at Vella the Bougainville show came off. We went there to relieve the squadron that had gone in on D-day. They had really caught it. Their base was on a little island which had been the Jap's "Target for Tonight" for 3 weeks. By the time we got there something new had been added. They liked the airstrip better than us but that didn't mean that a good many sticks didn't fall short. One night they got a gun on us. With shelling there's no Condition Red to give you warning. They just start landing. If there's just one gun you can stick your head up between salvos but it's harder when there are two.
Another danger was the cocoanut trees that had been weakened by shellfire and bombing. When the wind blew one always fell somewhere. During a very strong blow a large tree fell on a tent with two men in it. Each one thought the other was pinned under the wreckage and they both struggled frantically to move the tree. They quit when they looked up and saw each other.
By now we had learned that if you screen your privy and your galley right at first, you don't have so much dysentery. Consequently our binnacle list was rather small. But the food was dull so we planted a lettuce patch. In the morning after a particularly active night we noticed there were footprints in it pointing toward the nearest dugout. Then we rigged a string of baling wire around the crops. The next night was bright moonlight and Condition Red went. A white streak in skivvy pants headed through
the lettuce patch and was brought up short on the wire. It was the intelligence officer, the vandal, going like a bat out of hell for his foxhole. Caught at last!
While we were there, one of the famous health and physical upkeep specialists sent out from Washington came to visit us. He made some profound observations. He said the men were in fine shape. (We had instructed the chief commissary steward, who hasn't seen his feet in 10 years, to walk by several times and be observed.) He also said that all the men needed was to have 10 days' leave in Sydney where they could have a beer and take a girl to the movie. To the movie? Some later did go to Sydney but they came home leaving their health behind them.
We had a movie there once. In one scene Greer Garson came tripping over the grass toward Ronald Colman, nudged him gently and opened a lunch basket. She took out the lunch and a bottle of milk. She was a very refreshing picture to war-tired minds. Mouths fell open. Then the audience gave voice. "Hey, look, fellas! Milk, fresh milk."
And so it goes with total warfare to maintain the American way of life and in which one gets to be like the Prisoner of Chillon whose hair was gray, but not with years.
Exaggerated, but not much.
31. TASK GROUP 30.3
After having had the title of Commander Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons South Pacific Force for nearly a year, Commodore Moran at last was given full operational control of his boats on May 1, 1944, when he became commander of the newly formed Task Group 30.3. The task group's mission was to blockade the enemy held coasts of Bougainville, New Hanover, New Ireland, and adjacent island groups to the northeastward, and to destroy all enemy shipping encountered.
During May an average of 24 PT's patrolled nightly. The boats claimed 46 barges destroyed, 14 probably destroyed, and 8 damaged. "The increased number of barges destroyed during May," Commodore Moran reported, "might indicate greater enemy barge activity during the month, but is more likely due to the larger number of boats dispatched on nightly patrols and a more thorough covering of all areas in which barges were likely to be encountered."
Besides barge actions, the boats had their usual share of strafing shore installations and tangling with floatplanes, and the Emirau boats accounted for another truck on the road to Kavieng on New Ireland. PT men from Emirau also boarded several wrecked Japanese ships off New Hanover and stripped them of equipment, publications, and code books. Treasury boats, with PGM's, on three successive nights entered the mouths of the Puriata, Hongorai,
Mobiai, and Mibo Rivers on the southwest coast of Bougainville, in preparation for minelaying operations designed to disrupt enemy barge traffic and to force the barges away from shore into the open where PT's could find them more easily. The PGM's took fathometer readings near the river mouths and the PT's put dinghies over the side to take leadline soundings close inshore. On the fourth night three LCI gunboats, covered by two PT's and a PGM, laid mines in the four river mouths.
It would be well at this time to review the state of Commodore Moran's command. Besides PT's, Task Group 30.3 comprised 2 tenders, Mobjack and Varuna; 6 PGM's; 12 LCI gunboats; 1 LCM gunboat; and 1 APC, a small coastal transport used to carry priority cargo from base to base. The Mobjack, a seaplane-tender type, had reported to Rendova on January 4, 1944, and was now at Green Island. Her arrival had permitted the original South Pacific PT tender, Jamestown, to sail for the United States for a well-earned overhaul, after which she was to be reassigned to the Southwest Pacific. Varuna, an LST type, had arrived on February 13 and was now at Emirau.
Despite the increased number of barge actions during May, it was clear that with the Solomons and the Bismarck Archipelago entirely sealed off, the South Pacific would be an area of declining activity. The Southwest Pacific, on the other hand, was an expanding area. In April, General MacArthur's forces occupied Aitape and Hollandia on the New Guinea coast, isolating some 45,000 Japanese troops between Aitape and Madang, and in May swept forward 115 miles along the New Guinea coast to take Wakde Island, and thence another 180 miles to land on Biak Island. These developments dictated the transfer of PT squadrons from South to Southwest Pacific. Squadron 10 left Green Island for Dreger Harbor, New Guinea, on April 19, and Squadrons 6 and 9 followed a month later.
As for the other squadrons, Squadron 2 had been decommissioned on November 11, 1943. Its 80-foot boats already had been lost in action or transferred to other squadrons; of the eight 77-footers remaining, four, in poor condition, were reclassified as small boats and the others were transferred to Squadron 3. Squadron 3 thus comprised all of the 77-footers in the area. All of these boats had seen hard service and were no longer considered adequate for combat. Squadron 3 therefore was kept at Rendova for training purposes.
Squadrons 5 and 11 were at Emirau. When Squadron 11 first arrived in the area, four of its boats had been sent to Funafuti, one of the Ellice Islands,
as Squadron 11-2, to relieve four 77-footers which had been moved there in December 1942 from Pearl Harbor. These 77-footers had been transferred from Squadron 1 to Squadron 3 when they moved to Funafuti. None of the boats at Funafuti had any contact with the enemy; they were there primarily for crashboat duty under operational control of the Commanding General Samoan Defense Area. By May of 1944 there was no longer any necessity for keeping PT's tied up in such a quiet backwater, so the four boats of 11-2 joined the parent squadron at Emirau.
The three Higgins Squadrons, 19, 20, and 23, were divided between Treasury and Bougainville until the end of April, when the Bougainville base was closed. Squadrons 19 and 20 had been commissioned with only 10 boats each, and by the middle of May the 3 squadrons had lost a total of 5 boats. In order to consolidate the Higgins boats, the lowest numbered squadron, 19, was decommissioned on May 15 and its remaining boats were divided between the other two units.
Two new Elco Squadrons, 27 and 28, arrived, respectively, at Treasury Island early in May, and at Green Island in April.
32. A TRAP
At the beginning of May the Treasury boats found considerable activity in the waters around Rantan Island, 3 miles off the southeast coast of Bougainville. In the first 4 nights of the month they encountered eight large, fast, heavily armed barges near the island, of which they probably sank one and damaged the others. On each of these nights they also encountered floatplanes in the channel between Rantan and Bougainville, and usually were taken under fire by guns on the shores of one or both of the islands.
On the night of May 5/6, Lt. Jonathan S. Raymond, Jr., USNR, who had miraculously survived the destruction of PT 251 just 10 weeks earlier, led a section of three boats to the Rantan area. He rode PT 247 (Lt. (jg.) A. W. MacLean, USNR). With the 247 were PT 245 (Lt. (jg.) C. A. Hastings, USNR) and PT 250 (Ens. F. H. Kaul, USNR). As the boats passed between Rantan Island and Bougainville, they sighted three barges, close together, 600 yards east of Rantan. The boats turned southeast to make a run on them, passing within three-quarters of a mile north of Rantan Island. Then a fourth barge was seen advancing around the northwest tip of the island, and a fifth
around the northeast tip. At the same time two or three other barges appeared to the north of them. By the time the boats were ready to attack, they were in an obvious trap. With barges on all sides of them, machine-guns on Rantan and heavy shore batteries on Bougainville, the PT's could be caught in enemy crossfire no matter which group of barges they attacked.
Lieutenant Raymond continued to lead the way in for a run on the first three barges. Even before the PT's started firing, all of the barges opened on them with a tremendous volume of machine-gun, 20mm., and 37mm. fire; machine-guns poured lead at them from Rantan and the coastal guns on Bougainville started shelling them. At the end of the run the 247 was hit in the engineroom by a large-caliber tracer projectile from Bougainville. The hit caused a large explosion in the engine room, set an engine on fire, reduced the boat's speed to 3 knots, blew the port turret loose, and threw the radar mast forward across the wheel, separating Lieutenant MacLean from Lieutenant Raymond and Ens. R. J. Griebel, USNR, second officer of the 247. Ensign Griebel was mortally wounded.
With the engineroom in flames, the boat practically dead in the water and still under heavy fire, all hands abandoned ship. Lieutenant Raymond, who had been crouching in the chartroom hatch attempting to communicate with another section of PT's to the northward, was last seen heading aft on the starboard side of the boat.
The 245 and 250 had lost contact with the 247 and did not know she had been hit. They turned and made a second, then a third run on the barges, with PT 250 falling rapidly behind, because one of her engines had been hit on the first run. PT 245 made a fourth run on the easternmost of the three barges and was preparing for a fifth when she saw the 247 burning and dead in the water, just north of Rantan, with one barge half a mile southeast of her and another three-quarters of a mile to the northwest. The 245 made runs on each of these barges, and at the end of them the 250 approached from the northeast. The two boats picked up 13 survivors, accounting for all hands except Lieutenant Raymond.
Shortly afterwards, in response to Lieutenant Raymond's call for assistance, Lt. John S. Bonte, USNR, arrived with PT 374 (Ens. D. A. Boyd, USNR) and PT 357 (Lt. (jg.) W. J. Mullen, USNR). These boats searched for Lieutenant Raymond until the 247, which had been burning brightly with ammunition bursting in all directions, exploded. Survivors then were transferred to the 357, except for Ensign Griebel, who was too seriously wounded to be moved from the damaged 250. The 357 and 250 left for the base.
Curiously, during these operations the barges withdrew without firing on the boats and no fire was received from shore except for one large-caliber shell from Bougainville.
On the return trip a floatplane dropped a bomb near the 250 and attempted to strafe the boat, but caused no damage. A shore gun fired six rounds in the general direction of the 357. PT's 374 and 245 remained to search for Lieutenant Raymond for 4½ hours, but could find no sign of him. A Black Cat assisted them by dropping flares and then dropped six bombs in the vicinity of the Bougainville gun positions, starting a large fire which burned with loud explosions.
On succeeding nights PT's returned with PGM's and LCI gunboats to shell the gun positions, but were unable to assess the results of their firing with any degree of certainty.
33. TASK GROUP 70.8
Task Group 30.3 existed for only 6 weeks. In June 1944, the major part of Admiral Halsey's Third Fleet moved to greener pastures. From the beginning of the New Georgia campaign a year earlier, South Pacific Forces had continually operated to the west of 159° east longitude, which was technically part of the Southwest Pacific area. Thus ships and aircraft when in this area had been under the strategic direction of General MacArthur as Supreme Commander Allied Forces Southwest Pacific Area, but had been under the tactical command of Admiral Halsey as Commander South Pacific Area and South Pacific Force. By June, with our activities in the Solomons and Bismarck Archipelago almost entirely confined to blockading, the high command decided to unify these activities under the Southwest Pacific Forces. Accordingly, all military responsibility for the area west of 159° east longitude and south of the Equator passed on June 15 to General MacArthur. All naval ships, aircraft, and bases were transferred at the same time to Vice Adm. Thomas C. Kinkaid's Seventh Fleet, which was part of General MacArthur's command.
Commodore Moran had had conferences in Brisbane, Australia, with Admiral Kinkaid, and when the transfer was made he was designated Commander Allied Naval Forces Northern Solomons Area and Commander Task Group 70.8. His task group comprised all of the naval vessels in the northern Solomons, from New Georgia to Emirau. Besides the PT's, LCI's, and PGM's, he had command of a division of five destroyers and a division
of six destroyer escorts. He was assigned further duties as Subordinate Commander Service Force Seventh Fleet, and so also had command of the naval bases at Rendova, Treasury, Torokina, Green, and Emirau. On June 15 he moved his headquarters from Bau Island in Rendova Harbor to Torokina, in order to maintain closer liaison with the headquarters of the XIV U.S. Army Corps and the Commander Aircraft Northern Solomons already established there.
Although Commodore Moran's PT's were now part of the Seventh Fleet, they were not immediately put under the operational or administrative control of the Commander Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons Seventh Fleet. This seeming anomaly had a very simple explanation. The Commander Seventh Fleet planned to have PT's continue to operate in the Northern Solomons for a time, and to withdraw the squadrons gradually as they could be more profitably employed in the waters to the westward. As long as they remained in the Northern Solomons he wished them to be under command of Commodore Moran, who was thoroughly familiar with PT operations in that area. And he could not make Commodore Moran subordinate to the Commander Moror Torpedo Boat Squadrons Seventh Fleet, who held the junior rank of commander. Thus the PT's of Task Group 70.8, though part of the Seventh Fleet, did not become part of the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons Seventh Fleet until they were withdrawn from Commodore Moran's area of command, the Northern Solomons.
The increased barge activity of May was like the final flareup of a candle before it gutters out. In June the boats destroyed only three barges and damaged only one. "The marked decline in enemy barge sightings and contacts in the area," Commodore Moran reported, "significantly indicates a practical cessation of enemy barge traffic in this area . . .
"The barges destroyed were sunk in St. George Channel between the Duke of York Islands and Southwest New Ireland, where the only known barge traffic in the area was encountered during the period. Because the excessive distances from the PT base at Green Island or Emirau Island to this barge route considerably reduced the period of effective patrol, and since the enemy barges were frequently accompanied by heavily armed . . . escort barges which demonstrated a superiority in fire power over PT's as well as the ability to withstand gunfire, task units of LCI and PGM gunboats are being employed to intercept and destroy this barge traffic. From dusk to dawn these units patrol close inshore along New Ireland between Huru Point and Labur Bay and retire northwestward out of sight of land
during daylight for a period of 3 to 4 days and nights. On the final night of the patrol the gunboats bombard piers, loading areas and barge hideouts along the New Ireland coast before returning to their bases via St. George Channel.
"Although enemy float planes continued to harass the boats, particularly in St. George Channel, the presence of covering friendly night fighters appeared effective in preventing bombing attacks by the enemy."
But the PGM's had no better luck than the PT's. From June until they ceased patrolling in February 1945, the PGM's claimed only 14 barges destroyed.
The Commander Seventh Fleet ordered Mobjack to New Guinea in July, and in August directed Squadrons 27 and 28, with Varuna, to report to the Commander Third Fleet at Manus, in the Admiralties, for temporary duty. After an uneventful sojourn in Manus, Squadron 27 and Varuna went to Palau, in the Marianas, and operated there until the end of December, when they joined the Seventh Fleet PT's in the Philippines. Squadron 28 reported to the Commander Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons Seventh Fleet in October.
Also in August came the decommissioning of Squadron 3, now down to four superannuated 77-footers, PT's 39, 47, 48, and 59, battered veterans that had tangled with the Tokyo Express at Guadalcanal. The four old boats were shipped back to the Training Center at Melville, R.I., where they were used as guinea pigs for training repair personnel.
From July to October the boats claimed only 15 barges destroyed. And not only were there no barges, but at last the floatplane menace subsided. After the first of August there were no plane attacks at all. A new hazard came from drifting mines when Japanese minefields in the Shortland Islands area began to break up. Fortunately no boats struck mines, but the PT's sank about 50 of them during July, August, and September.
For the most part, the boats strafed the Japanese-held beaches. Reconnaissance parties, captured documents, and the native grapevine sometimes brought word that they had caused damage, but usually it was impossible to assess damage with any accuracy at the time of the strafing.
Squadrons 5 and 11, at Emirau, had the most varied missions. They caught 5 more trucks on the New Ireland coastal road, claiming 3 destroyed and 2 damaged and possibly destroyed. They undertook a continuous evacuation of natives from New Hanover, to reduce the Japanese labor supply on the island -- and, incidentally, food supply, for the remaining Japanese were reduced to obtaining their food from the natives. In July and August the
A Japanese storehouse on New Ireland, set ablaze by a landing party of PT personnel.
Emirau boats stole 283 natives and 16 Chinese from under the enemy's nose on New Hanover and took them to Mussau Island. Emirau boats also landed raiding groups, which the PT officers and men frequently accompanied, to destroy Japanese supplies on the small islands off the New Hanover coast.
It was at Emirau that the only losses occurred. PT's 63 and 107 returned on the morning of June 18 from a patrol off the New Ireland coast, and fueled at the dock at Hamburg Bay. A defective valve in the fuel line permitted gasoline to leak into the water. When PT 107 started its engines, the exhaust blast lighted the gasoline on the surface. Both boats burned and sank within an hour, and the fuel dock was destroyed, but there was no loss of life nor serious injuries.
The landing of American forces in the Philippines in October made the war seem remote indeed from the Solomons. It also created a new and expanding area for PT's. Commodore Moran discontinued all PT patrols in the Northern Solomons on November 24. In December Squadrons 5, 11, 20, and 23 departed for duty under the Commander Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons Seventh Fleet.
Meanwhile, Squadron 31, 15 Higgins boats, arrived at Tulagi in October with the tender Acontius; Squadron 37, 12 Elcos, in November with the tender Silenus; and Squadron 32, 12 Higgins, in December. These three squadrons were commanded by officers who had been in the heavy fighting when Tulagi was the forward base, Lts. John M. Searles, Clark W. Faulkner, and Robert C. Wark, all USNR.
This time their duty was to be less strenuous. Commodore Moran assigned the three squadrons to "combat training" at the Treasury base. The boats made nightly patrols of the Bougainville and Choiseul coasts, but the barges had vanished.
Squadron 31 left Treasury with the Acontius on December 1 for Palau in the Marianas, to relieve Squadron 27 and the Varuna. The squadron stayed there until the end of February, when it proceeded to Leyte Gulf in the Philippines, and from there was shipped in June to Okinawa. Squadrons 32 and 37 left Treasury with the Silenus on February 15 for Espiritu Santo to await forward movement to Okinawa. The PT campaign in the Solomons was over.
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