Southtwest Pacific -- Return to the Philippines
Southwest Pacific Area
NORTHWEST OF New Guinea's Vogelkop, lies Halmahera, an island shaped like a rude K, extending 170 miles from north to south. Morotai, an egg-shaped island some 40 miles long, is separated by 12 miles of water from the northernmost tip of Halmahera, and lies roughly halfway between Cape Sansapor in New Guinea and Davao Gulf in Mindanao, southernmost of the Philippines. Seizure of a base on Halmahera or Morotai was considered necessary to provide land-based air support and flank protection for invasion of the Philippines, which was to begin with landings on Mindanao.
Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger, Commanding General Sixth Army, reported that "The successful fulfillment of this requirement would necessitate an amphibious operation in force to seize and hold an area as close to the Philippines as possible, but within fighter aircraft range of Cape Sansapor, where elements of the Allied Air Forces would be established to provide land-based air support. Furthermore, the area selected should be suitable for the development or construction of necessary airfields, for the employment of light naval forces required to prevent enemy reinforcement by small craft, and for maintenance of the forces committed.
"With these factors in view, GHQ, SWPA, thus restricted the choice of an objective to either northern Halmahera or to Morotai Island. Although northern Halmahera possessed a sufficient number of developed airfields, the capture of any one of these would require a large force. Even after an area had been captured, its defense would present a major problem: the enemy, by utilizing overland routes or by employing shore-to-shore overwater operations, could easily concentrate superior numbers to oppose our forces.
"Plans were therefore made in July 1944, to bypass the main island of Halmahera and to secure objectives on the weakly garrisoned Morotai Island . . ."
The Morotai Task Force, under the command of Rear Adm. Daniel E. Barbey, landed on the southwestern shore of the island on September 15, 1944. The next day Comdr. Selman S. Bowling, who commanded the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons of the Seventh Fleet, arrived in the PT-boat tender Oyster Bay with Mobjack, another tender, and 41 PT's of Squadrons 9, 10, 18, and 33. From the night of September 16/17, when 16 PT's went out on patrol, until the cessation of hostilities 11 months later, the PT's operated regularly as the "light naval forces" mentioned by General Krueger, preventing the numerically superior Japanese on Halmahera from attacking our forces on Morotai. Estimates of Japanese strength on Halmahera ran as high as 31,000 troops, but it was not until August 1945 that the PT's learned that they had "contained" 37,000 Japanese on Halmahera for nearly a year, rendering this huge force impotent by denying it passage across the 12-mile strait between the two islands.
2. RESCUE IN WASILE BAY
The landings of the Morotai Task Force were supported not only by land-based planes from Cape Sansapor but by Navy planes from six escort carriers.
Carrier-borne fighters made an early morning sweep over Halmahera on September 16, and one of them was shot down by antiaircraft fire over Wasile Bay, 60 miles south of Morotai. The pilot, Ens. Harold A. Thompson, USNR, of Fighter Squadron 26 was wounded, but parachuted into the water several hundred yards from the shore. Soon a Catalina rescue plane arrived on the scene and dropped a rubber raft to Thompson. Thompson drifted shorewards until his raft fetched up against the side of a small unmanned cargo ship 200 yards from the enemy-occupied beach. He tied the raft to the ship's anchor chain to keep from drifting ashore.
As long as their fuel held out, his squadron mates circled the area, strafing Japanese gun positions and keeping Thompson in sight. When the squadron's fuel ran low, planes from other units arrived on the scene to continue harassing the Japanese. About noon a Navy Catalina tried to land to rescue him, but was driven off by heavy antiaircraft fire.
In the meantime Thompson's plight was reported to Oyster Bay. Early in the afternoon Lt. A. Murray Preston, USNR, commander of Squadron 33, got underway for Wasile Bay in PT 489 (Lt. Wilfred B. Tatro, USNR) accompanied by PT 363 (Lt. (jg.) Hershel F. Boyd, USNR). Every officer and man aboard the two PT's had volunteered for the dangerous daylight mission.
Arriving at the 4-mile-wide entrance to the bay ahead of their air cover, the boats started to run in close to the western side to avoid minefields and shore batteries to the east. When the PT's were still 4 miles from the narrows, a heavy gun opened fire from the western shore. Preston turned eastward, leading his boats at high speed across a suspected minefield to try the other side. Not one, but three heavy guns opened fire from the eastern shore. The boats were forced to retire. They had hardly pulled out of range of the guns before fighter planes arrived to cover them. They turned and started in again.
It took the PT's 20 minutes to pass through the straits and enter Wasile Bay. The planes strafed both sides of the entrance but the big guns kept blazing away from both sides, dropping their shells much closer to the PT's than they had on the first approach. Once inside the bay, which is nowhere more than 7 miles across, the boats were brought under heavy fire by many guns from both the northern and southern coasts. A fighter plane laid smoke along the shore and guided the PT's to Thompson's raft. Shore batteries, planes, and PT's were all firing furiously as PT 489 came close aboard the cargo ship. Lt. Donald F. Seaman, USNR, the Task Group Intelligence Officer, and Charles D. Day, MoMMIC, USNR, dived overboard from the 489, swam to the raft and towed it back to the 489. During the 5 minutes that the PT's had to lie to while Thompson was being brought aboard, the boats raked the beach with their 40mm. guns, starting several fires. As a parting gesture they gunned up the cargo ship and left it ablaze.
Getting out of the bay was worse than getting in. The fighter planes were running low on fuel and had to streak back to their carriers. Now the shore batteries were free to fire in full volume. For 20 minutes the PT's zigzagged at high speed across the minefield, big shells dropping within 10 yards of them. At last they were out of range. They had been under almost constant shellfire in broad daylight for 2½ hours.
There were no casualties on either PT. The boat's themselves were unharmed save for superficial damage from shell fragments. Rear Adm. C. A. F. Sprague, commander of the carrier task force, said in a letter to
Lt. Comdr. A. Murray Preston, USNR, receives the Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman.
Commander Bowling, "The consummation of this rescue in the face of the tremendous odds is characteristic of the highest traditions of our Navy. The PT Squadron may well be proud of this act which is considered one of the most daring and skillfully executed rescues of the war."
For this action, Lieutenant Preston was awarded the "Congressional" Medal of Honor. Tatro, Boyd, Seaman, and Day were awarded Navy Crosses.
Three PT's were lost at Morotai, all of them during the first 3 months of the campaign. PT 371, on 18/19 September, and PT 368, on 10/11 October, went aground on uncharted reefs close to the Halmahera coast and had to be destroyed. Lt. (jg.) Robert J. Lyon, USNR, boat captain of the 368, believed that his boat could have been towed off had it not been for rifle, machine-gun, mortar, and 75mm. fire from the beach, which hit the 368 many times, mortally wounded one man on PT 365, which was standing by to assist, and forced Lyon to transfer the rest of his crew to the accompanying PT and to destroy his boat.
The third loss was that of PT 363, commanded by Lt. Frank Kendall Mitchell, USNR. Lieutenant Mitchell had come to Mios Woendi in June as executive officer of PT Base 21. His enthusiasm for the boats and his determination to get into the fighting gained him a transfer to Squadron 18, where his ability soon led to appointment as a boat captain and section leader. On the morning of November 25 his boat was returning from patrol, leading Lt. (jg.) William K. Paynter's PT 362, when a lookout sighted a barge beached on the Halmahera shore. Although it was after daylight, Mitchell did not hesitate in leading the boats in to strafe the barge.
Halfway through the first run, machine-guns opened fire from shore and the 363 stopped dead in the water. Mitchell called Paynter by radio: "Our engines are conked out. We are working on them."
Paynter pushed up his throttles and made two daring runs between the disabled PT and the beach, blazing away at the shore guns to distract their attention from the 363. It would have been useless to lay smoke; there was a strong offshore breeze that would have blown the screen away. The shore guns spoke back, hitting the 362 and setting fire to the pyrotechnic signals in the charthouse. David W. Knowles, S1c, USNR, serving as quartermaster of the 362, coolly helped put out the fire with a hand extinguisher, although his left arm was badly burned.
At the end of the second run, word came from the 363: "Come alongside and throw us a tow. After we get out of here we can fix it in 10 minutes."
Paynter rigged towlines and approached the disabled boat, but it was not ready for him. He was circling again, firing at the shore, when a desperate message came from the 363: "For God's sake come alongside and take us off of here."
As Paynter brought his boat alongside, two 3-inch guns added their fire to the storm of machine-gun bullets that were ripping into the boats. Lieutenant Mitchell had been mortally wounded and one man, David L. Friedman, QM3c, USNR, was missing. The 363's second officer, Ens. Edwin W. Polk, USNR, wounded in the right wrist and leg, remained standing in the cockpit, supporting the stricken boat captain and directing the evacuation of his crew.
Knowles, despite his burns and constant enemy fire, boarded the 363 and inspected the boat topside to make sure that none of the crew was left aboard. Francis O. Cooper, TM3c, USNR, pointer of the 40mm. gun on the 362, found that his gun was masked and useless while the boats were together. Although wounded in both feet, he made his way to the 363 and helped carry Mitchell to the 362. Then he returned to his gun. Alfred R. McClure, MoMM3c, USNR, whose bow .50-caliber gun had been the only one on the 362 that was not masked or out of action while his boat was alongside the 363, kept up a steady fire, the only cover during the transfer of the crew. As his boat headed out to sea he could no longer bring his own gun to bear on the shore. He ran aft and took the place of the fallen trainer of the 40mm. gun. Cooper and McClure kept the gun blazing away at the shore until the 362 pulled out of range.
Besides Mitchell, Friedman, Polk, Knowles, and Cooper, the shore fire had wounded one officer and 10 men.
"The batteries which were responsible for the destruction of subject boat were known to exist," Lieutenant Commander Swift, commander of Squadron 18, said in forwarding the action report, "for in the early stages of operations in the Halmahera Island area, shore fire was frequently observed to come from the Galela-Miti Island vicinity. In the 2 weeks previous to subject incident, boats had been in this vicinity without receiving fire of any kind and it was considered that the positions had been wiped out by known aerial strikes. The crafty enemy was evidently waiting just such an opportunity as presented itself on the morning of 25 November, before again revealing his guns. It is considered even possible that the barge on which the run was being made had been previously placed there as a decoy, for no reports had previously been made of enemy craft in that area on the beach."
Both Paynter and Swift felt that this action pointed up the dangers of PT operations during daylight against enemy coastal defenses. But Paynter, possibly thinking of the highly successful rescue in Wasile Bay, also pointed
out that effective daytime PT action against fortified beach areas was entirely possible with good air support.
4. CONTAINING AND HARASSING
Establishment of air and PT bases at Morotai did not require clearing the entire island. Thus, until the end of the war, there was a Japanese garrison on Morotai. Because of the great numbers of Japanese on Halmahera and their persistent efforts to reinforce the Morotai garrison, this remained a productive operating point for PT's far longer than any other base in the Southwest Pacific. In their 11 months at Morotai, the PT's made nearly 1,300 patrols and special missions, destroying over 50 barges and 150 other miscellaneous small craft, harassing the Japanese on Halmahera by raids and beach strafing, preventing efforts to supply or evacuate troops, and, most important of all, effectively preventing reinforcement of the Morotai garrison.
The PT detachment of the 116th Seabees built PT Advance Base 4 on the little island of Soemoe Soemoe, inside the fringing reef off the southwest end of Morotai. Development of the base permitted withdrawal of the Oyster Bay on October 3, 1944. Squadron 33 departed with the Oyster Bay. By February, barge traffic declined to the point where two squadrons could handle it. Squadrons 9 and 10 departed in that month, leaving Squadrons 11 (which had arrived on 17 February) and 18 to handle the Japanese. Since the base was capable of handling two squadrons, Mobjack was also withdrawn in February. Squadron 18 was relieved for overhaul in June 1945 by Squadron 25.26
Operations from September to May in general followed the familiar pattern of barge hunting established in New Guinea. In addition to their nightly patrols, the PT's made many sweeps of the Halmahera coast. Some of these were with fighters, which protected the PT's from shore batteries; others, where the shore guns were not so much to be feared, were with the little "liaison" planes, L-4's and L-5's, which spotted targets for the PT's and directed their fire. These planes sometimes discovered barges hidden away near the mouths of winding rivers and dropped smoke bombs on them to give the PT's aiming points for targets which they could not see.
The PT's worked closely with Australian, Dutch, and native scouts, putting them ashore and retrieving them from the Talaud Islands to the north and several of the small islands around Halmahera. Early in April scouts brought word that the Sultan of Ternate, who before the war had governed the entire area under the controlling influence of the Dutch, was being badly treated by the Japanese. On 8/9 April, PT's 364 and 178 carried a rescue team of Australian, Dutch, and native scouts to the island of Hiri just north of Ternate. The team removed the Sultan and his wives and on April 11 the same PT's picked up the entire party and returned to base. This is the only case in history in which PT's were used to transport a harem.
Early in July 1945, the PT's learned of the Nanyo Kaihatsu Kaisha, and set out to wreck it. The "South Seas Development Co." was a civilian trading firm with stores and warehouses scattered through Halmahera and the small islands off the west coast, and was an important link in the Japanese food supply system for all of Halmahera. The company impressed food from the natives of the islands and stored it in warehouses under supervision of native collaborators or a few Japanese. When military outposts needed food the company hired natives to haul it from the warehouses in large outrigger canoes or in so-called "Sopi" class prahaus, 30 to 40 feet long and capable of carrying a load of over a ton.
On July 5, Lt. Joseph W. Burk, USNR, took a Dutch lieutenant and 37 native scouts aboard Lt. (jg.) J. L. Grubbs's PT 351 and Lt. (jg.) E. F. Shaw's PT 348 for a raid on Makian Island. Near the island they overhauled two supply-laden prahaus. The badly scared native crews told them the supplies were Japanese, so they took the natives aboard and sank the prahaus. The boats tied up at the Makian Island dock and their scouts went to work on two warehouses and the Japanese headquarters building, loading the PT's with bundles of documents and samples of stores before setting the buildings afire. When the headquarters and storehouses were blazing nicely, the boats shot up three empty prahaus on the beach and towed five loaded ones into deep water, where they sank them.
Two days later Joe Burk struck again, taking landing parties of Australian and Dutch scouts on five PT's covered by three RAAF fighter planes, for a barnstorming tour of the western islands.27 All of the boats carried extra fuel in deck tanks to permit them to carry their strike as far south as Obit
Island off the southwestern end of Halmahera, 200 miles from the Morotai base.
At Badjoe, Obit Island, the landing party destroyed a warehouse and a sago mill, and PT 182 ripped six beached prahaus to pieces with its 40mm. A machine-gun opened fire from the beach. The 182 and the three planes strafed and silenced it. The group then moved south to the town of Amasing, on Batjan Island, where the planes directed fire of the boats' guns and rockets against a radio station and several warehouses. It was impossible to observe the full results of the attack, but it could be seen that two warehouses were riddled by shells and rockets and that two 20-foot canoes were destroyed. While the other boats were occupied with this action, PT 182 moved a few miles up the coast of Batjan and destroyed 13 more canoes at Belang Belang.
Turning northward, the group divided, with PT's 350, 349, and 182 proceeding to the village of Kotta, on Moti Island, and PT's 179 and 180 going to Toloemaoe, on Tidore Island. At Kotta the scouts seized enemy documents and supplies and burned a warehouse without opposition. At Toloemaoe a party of 10 men went ashore and captured a quantity of documents from Japanese headquarters. As they were returning to the PT's, six Japanese armed with rifles charged them, and two machine-guns started firing from the underbrush. The men of the landing party ran for it. As they swarmed aboard PT 180 at the dock, E. D. McKeever, MM2c, USNR, opened fire with the 180's bow 37mm. gun, killing all six Japanese. Other guns of the 180 silenced the machine-gun emplacements.
Lt. Redmond J. Reilly, USNR, hit the jackpot on July 10 when he took Lt. (jg.) Kermit W. Montz's PT 355 and Lt. (jg.) William D. Finan's PT 178 on a daylight patrol of the western Halmahera coast and Tidore Island. The boats destroyed nine prahaus on the Halmahera beach and 42 more drawn up on the Tidore shore. There was no enemy return fire and the PT's had plenty of time to blast the prahaus to pieces. Two followup raids in the same area also produced results. On July 14, Lt. Wendell E. Carroll, commander of Squadron 11, led two PT's28 in destroying 15 prahaus, 2 sailboats, and a whaleboat, and damaging 6 more prahaus, opposed only by light and inaccurate machine-gun fire. On the 25th, Lieutenant Montz, in PT 355, led Lt. (jg.) Wayne H. Meagher's PT 134 to destroy 12 prahaus and 3 canoes and to damage a warehouse and 2 pillboxes. Both boats were hit by machine-gun bullets, suffering only superficial damage.
The final raid was made on July 30, when Lt. (jg.) T. J. Lovvorn, USNR, in PT 177, with Lt. (jg.) R. C. Fisher's PT 176, shelled and heavily daged 3 barracks buildings at Taroaoe, on Ternate Island, and then put 14 scouts and 6 PT men ashore at Goeroeapin, on Kajoa Island, to set fire to 5 warehouses bulging with foodstuffs, copra, oil, and clothing.
Scouts and friendly natives brought reports to the PT base that the raids had caused the entire supply system of the Nanyo Kaihatsu Kaisha to be abandoned. As of August 1, 1945, it was reported that only one supply center was still operating and it had been moved so far inland that it was impossible to reach by PT attack.
5. BATTLE OF SURIGAO STRAIT
During the early part of September, Admiral Halsey's Third Fleet swept into the Japanese defense zone like an avenging whirlwind. His carrier planes battered shore installations in the Palaus, Mindanao, and the Visayas, sank many ships, and shot down or destroyed on the ground about 200 enemy planes. Admiral Halsey, impressed by the damage inflicted and by the light opposition encountered, then made an extremely significant recommendation for the future course of the war. On September 13 he stated to Admiral Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific, that the original plan to secure a position in Mindanao prior to seizing Leyte was no longer necessary. Mindanao could be bypassed and the Leyte operation proceed 2 months earlier than planned originally. Immediately, Nimitz, who approved this bold plan, obtained the concurrence of General MacArthur. On September 15 the Joint Chiefs of Staff authorized the cancellation of the Mindanao landings and set October 20 as the target date for the attack on Leyte.
Under the overall command of General MacArthur, the Seventh Fleet, commanded by Adm. Thomas C. Kinkaid, was to land troops of Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger's Sixth Army. For the operation the Seventh Fleet was augumented by many ships normally assigned in the Central Pacific. By agreement with Admiral Nimitz, Admiral Halsey's powerful Third Fleet was to provide naval cover and support for the landings.
The first troops were landed on October 17th on Dinaget and Suluan Islands, commanding the approaches to Leyte Gulf. On the 18th troops were landed on Homonhon Island, at the entrance of the Gulf; minesweepers entered the gulf and underwater demolition teams went to work to investigate
landing beaches; bombardment ships entered and began to lay down a withering barrage on the shore. At the same time, planes from the escort carriers of the Seventh Fleet ranged over the central Philippines, blasting enemy airfields and bombing enemy shipping. Ships of the Northern Attack Force, under Rear Adm. Daniel E. Barbey, and the Southern Attack Force, under Vice Adm. Theodore S. Wilkinson, entered Leyte Gulf on the night of October 19/20. By 1000, October 20, troops were pouring ashore on beaches on the west side of Leyte Gulf.
Movement of PT's from Mios Woendi, New Guinea, to Leyte, some 1,200 miles away, presented a difficult problem. "It was considered too far for the boats to make in one hop, even if escorted by tenders," Commander Bowling reported, "because, although possible of accomplishment if continuously good weather were had, by fueling at sea, the boat personnel would be too tired to commence combat operations efficiently after the trip, and so much gasoline would be used from the tenders that too little would remain in the tenders for combat operations of the boats for more than a day or so. The margin of safety was too thin to make this acceptable."
Consideration was also given to transporting PT's by LSD, the war-born combination of ship and floating drydock which could swallow half a dozen PT's in its maw, but the few available LSD's were urgently needed for other purposes. It was finally decided to send the boats with tenders by way of Palau, in the Marianas, which had been taken by Central Pacific Forces at the same time that Southwest Pacific Forces were invading Morotai.
On Friday the 13th of October 1944, Commander Bowling sailed from Mios Woendi in the Oyster Bay, with two other PT tenders, Willoughby and Wachapreague, a seaplane tender (Half Moon), two Army craft, and 45 PT's under tactical command of Lt. Comdr. Robert Leeson, USNR."29 The PT's fueled from the tenders in Kossol. Roads, Palau, and the tenders in turn fueled from tankers. En route from Palau to Leyte Gulf, the PT's fueled at sea from the tenders in order to arrive with enough gasoline to start operations immediately. The boats arrived in Leyte Gulf on the morning of October 21 and started patrols that night. This was the largest and longest mass movement of PT's under their own power during the war, and every one of the 45 boats covered the full distance under its own power.
PT 194 refuels from tender en route from Palau to Leyte Gulf.
During their first 3 nights at Leyte, the PT's claimed to have sunk seven barges and a small freighter, and claimed damage to several other small craft. On the 23d, Squadron 12, with five boats of Squadron 7 and the Wachapreague, moved to Liloan, on Panaon Island, off southern Leyte, which the Army had taken so that the PT's could guard Surigao Strait, between Leyte and Mindanao.
This passage, and the waters of the Mindanao Sea to the south, was the scene of one of three great naval engagements, fought almost simultaneously, which collectively have been designated as the Battle for Leyte Gulf. The battle opened in the early morning hours of October 23, when the submarines Darter and Dace discovered an enemy task force of battleships, cruisers, and destroyers far to the southwest of Leyte. The submarines sank two cruisers.
On the 24th carrier planes found the enemy's southern force heading through the Sulu Sea in the direction of Surigao Strait, and his central force steaming through the Sibuyan Sea toward San Bernardino Strait, to the north of Leyte and Samar. During the day planes from Vice Adm. Marc A. Mitscher's fast carrier task force attacked and inflicted substantial damage
on both enemy forces. It was decided that Admiral Halsey would meet the central force, the more powerful of the two, with ships of the Third Fleet, while Admiral Kinkaid would send Rear Adm. Jesse B. Oldendorf, with the Seventh Fleet's 6 old battleships, 8 cruisers, 25 destroyers, and PT's, to meet the force approaching Surigao Strait.
It was apparent that the enemy was undertaking major attack. Admiral Halsey, certain that the enemy must use carriers in such an effort, sent searchplanes far to the north. There, late in the afternoon of the 24th, the planes found a mighty force of carriers, battleships, cruisers, and destroyers. Three great task forces were converging on Leyte Gulf, one from the south, one from the west, and one from the north. Now that his inner defenses had been breached, the enemy, for the first time since Guadalcanal, was ready to risk an all-out naval engagement in an attempt to recapture a beachhead.
* * * * *
Rear Admiral Oldendorf disposed his battleships, cruisers, and destroyers across the northern end of Surigao Strait. These ships normally had greater firepower than the reported Japanese force, but they had used up most of their ammunition during the invasion bombardment. On the night of October 24/25, every shell had to count.
South of the main force were 39 PT's deployed in sections of three through the strait and along the coasts of Mindanao, Leyte, and Bohol far into the Mindanao Sea. They were a scouting force, to detect the approach of the enemy and to keep our heavy ships at the head of the strait informed of the enemy's advance. Scouting and reporting was their primary mission; their secondary mission was to attack.
In broad outline, the Battle of Surigao Strait is clear enough. Two Japanese task forces steamed through the Mindanao Sea with the objective of forcing Surigao Strait and destroying our transport shipping in Leyte Gulf. In the van was Vice Adm. Shoji Nishimura's task force, comprising the battleships Yamashiro and Fuso, heavy cruiser Mogami, and four destroyers, Michishio, Asagumo, Yamagumo, and Shigure. Following 20 or 30 miles behind was Vice Adm. Kiyohide Shima's task force, consisting of the heavy cruisers Nachi and Ashigara, the light cruiser Abukuma, and the destroyers Shiranuhi, Kasumi, Ushio, and Akebono. The almost complete lack of coordination between these two groups greatly facilitated the complete rout of the enemy.
The battle was succinctly outlined by Fleet Adm. Ernest J. King in a report to the Secretary of the Navy: "The enemy was first met by our PT boats, then in succession by three coordinated destroyer torpedo attacks, and finally by devastating gunfire from our cruisers and battleships which had been disposed across the northern end of the strait by the officer in tactical command, Rear Adm. (now Vice Admiral) J. B. Oldendorf. The enemy was utterly defeated. This action is an exemplification of the classical naval tactics of 'crossing the T.' Rear Admiral Oldendorf had deployed his light forces on each flank of the approaching column and had sealed off the enemy's advance through the strait with his cruisers and battleships. By means of this deployment he was able to concentrate his fire, both guns and torpedoes, on the enemy units before they were able to extricate themselves from the trap. The Japanese lost two battleships and three destroyers almost before they could open fire. The heavy cruiser and one destroyer escaped, but the cruiser was sunk on the 26th by our planes."
The destroyer Shigure was the only ship of Admiral Nishimura's force that survived the battle.
Admiral Shima's force never really got into action. It was thrown off balance during its approach when a PT torpedo ripped into Abukuma, slowing the cruiser down so that it had to drop out of formation. Admiral Shima did reach the head of the strait, but no sooner had his cruisers launched a single ineffectual salvo of torpedoes than his flagship, Nachi, collided with the burning Mogami, of Admiral Nishimura's force. With his flagship damaged and slowed to 18 knots, and surmising the destruction of Nishimura's fleet, Shima fled, saving all of his ships except for Abukuma and destroyer Shiranuhi, which were sunk by planes during their retreat.
So much for the broad picture; many details of the individual PT actions, however, were obscure. For instance, it was known beyond a doubt that it was a PT torpedo that hit the Abukuma. First, we had no craft except PT's within range of the Abukuma at the time she was hit. Second, Comdr. Kokichi Mori, Admiral Shima's staff torpedo officer, said he saw the PT's attack, and gave this account of the damage: "The wireless room which was under the bridge structure was hit and water came in and the crew in this room were all killed, and those above that room were suffocated by gas. She was down at the bow, reduced to about 10 knots, about 30 were killed . . . The remainder of the fleet went on leaving Abukuma with no escort. On a course of 010 after the attack, we increased speed to 26 knots and very frequently received torpedo attacks from the vicinity of Panaon Island, but no damage was done."
So many PT's were attacking enemy ships that at the time it was impossible to determine which one made the hit. It now has been established, however, that Lt. (jg.) Isadore M. Kovar, USNR, in PT 137 was responsible.
The boat captains were working under difficulties, and it is small wonder that some confusion crept into their action reports. In forwarding the reports, Commander Bowling said: "The weather was fairly clear until about midnight when it became dark, with frequent rain. Because of the darkness, rain squalls, short radar range, low height of eye, small crews with no facilities for accurate observations and records, and the confusion caused by enemy gun fire, the estimate of numbers and types of enemy ships is not considered too accurate. It is also believed that some of the stated times of sighting may be in error by as much as 15 to 30 minutes."
Here are some accounts of what the boat crews saw and did:
* * * * *
The two southernmost sections, nearest the enemy's line of approach, were stationed where Camiguin Island narrows the Mindanao Sea between Mindanao and Bohol. Lt. Weston C. Pullen, Jr., USNR, led the boats on the Bohol side: Lt. (jg.) Joseph A. Eddins's PT 152, Lt. (jg.) Ian D. Malcolm's PT 130, and Ens. Peter R. Gadd's PT 131. At 2215, when the boats were about 18 miles off the Bohol coast, PT 131's radar picked up two targets between them and Bohol. As the PT's approached, the two pips divided into five. A light haze lifted, revealing what appeared to be a destroyer, two cruisers, and two battleships. The PT's were still 3 miles away, too far for an effective torpedo shot, when the enemy's big guns opened fire.
The first salvo straddled the boats. The PT's retired behind smoke, pursued by the destroyer and cruisers, while the battleships sat back firing at them and illuminating them with starshells. An 8-inch shell struck a glancing blow on the forward port torpedo of the 130, shattering the warhead, ripping up deck planking, and passing through the bow above the waterline. Neither the shell nor the torpedo exploded; no one was injured. The 152 was not so fortunate. A 4.7-inch shell tore away the 37mm. gun from the bow, fatally wounded the gunner, stunned the loader, and set fire to the boat. The destroyer bore down on the 152, spotting it in a searchlight beam. "Enemy destroyer sheared off when PT 152 dropped two depth charges set
Forward deck of PT 152, showing effect of enemy 4.7-inch shell in the Battle of Surigao Strait.
at 100 feet," Eddins reported, "and return 40mm. PT fire made enemy reluctant to continue use of searchlight."
The chase lasted for 23 minutes. Just before it broke off, the last two ships of Admiral Nishimura's fleet appeared on the radar. The PT's had been unable to reach friendly forces by radio before the action; after it their radios were out of commission, damaged by the concussion of bursting shells. Lieutenant Malcolm, finding that the 152 had become separated from the group, took the 130 and 131 southward until he found Lt. (jg.) John A. Cady's section of PT's near Camiguin Island. He boarded Ens. Dudley J. Johnson's PT 127, and at 0010 the 127 made the first radio report of the position, course, and speed of the enemy ships.
Aboard the 152, the crew put out the fire and surveyed the damage. The bow was stove in, but the boat could still make 24 knots. Pullen tried for
an hour to close the enemy for a torpedo attack, but the ships were making at least 22 knots and he could not overtake them.
* * * * *
Lt. (jg.) Dwight H. Owen, USNR, aboard PT 151, was in charge of a section stationed to the northeast, south of Limasawa Island: Ens. John M. Ladd's PT 151, Ens. Buford M. Grosscup's PT 146, and Ens. Edward S. Haugen's PT 190. "At approximately 2330," Owen said, "the prologue began. Off to the southwest over the horizon we saw distant flashes of gunfire, starshells bursting and far-off sweep of searchlights The display continued about 15 minutes, then blacked out. Squalls came and went. One moment the moon shone bright as day and the next you couldn't make out the bow of. your boat. Then the radar developed the sort of pips you read about."
At range of 2 miles, Owen identified the targets as a battleship, a cruiser, and three destroyers. Because of interference and enemy jamming of circuits, it was 3 hours before PT 190 succeeded in reporting the sighting. In the meantime the boats deployed for attack. When they came within 1,800 yards a searchlight swept the water on their right hand. PT 146 got off one torpedo, which ran erratically. PT 151 launched one which ran straight, but there was no time to watch it run its course. It was no sooner away than a destroyer caught the 151 and 190 square in its searchlight. The 146 and 190 scored many 40mm. hits on the destroyer superstructure and the light went out. Immediately the battleship turned a light on the 151 and took it under heavy fire. The 151 ran behind smoke on a zigzag course, unharmed except for minor damage from shell fragments. During the encounter another group of ships, about 6 miles to the southwest, fired 15 or 20 rounds at the PT's without effect.
* * * * *
The southern entrance to Surigao Strait was guarded on the west by Lt. Comdr. Robert Leeson's section: Lt. (jg.) Edmund F. Wakelin's PT 134, Ens. Paul H. Jones's PT 132, and Lt. (jg.) Isadore M. Kovar's PT 137. Leeson saw the gun flashes of the Japanese ships firing on Owen's boats, and reported this by radio. Thereafter both the 134 and 132 were able to report promptly all of their sightings. The 137's auxiliary generator had failed, leaving it without radio transmitter or radar.
Half an hour after seeing the flashes, Leeson picked up radar targets 10 miles away. While tracking the targets the three PT's became separated, and thereafter operated independently. Leeson, in PT 134, had approached
within 3,000 yards of what he believed to be two battleships and three destroyers, when the PT was caught in a searchlight beam. Shells fell all about the boat, bursting in the water on both sides and in the air overhead. The 134, firing its 40mm., 37mm., and 20mm., bored in for another 500 yards and launched three torpedoes. Between 3 and 4 minutes later the 134 was jolted by three underwater explosions. No explosion was visible, however, and the enemy ships appeared to continue on course. The 134 shook off the enemy fire and lay to close to the coast of Panaon Island. Soon four destroyers filed past, 1,000 yards away. Leeson launched his last remaining torpedo at the lead destroyer and watched it miss astern. During the next hour the men on the 134 saw other large ships, possibly Admiral Shima's force, pass through the strait, but they had no more torpedoes and could not attack.
PT 132 found a destroyer lying to a mile off the southern tip of Panaon Island and closed to 1,200 yards. As Ensign Jones maneuvered his boat into firing position, the destroyer turned toward him, but did not open fire. Jones launched four torpedoes. One was erratic and the other three narrowly missed. He withdrew, then circled to return for a rocket attack, but could not find the destroyer again.
Two destroyers almost slipped past the radarless 137 before Lieutenant Kovar spotted them. As it was, he was able to get away only one overtaking shot which missed astern. Two hours and 20 minutes later, at 0335, he saw an enemy destroyer coming back down the strait. He closed within 900 yards and fired one torpedo which, he said, "was observed to pass under the beam of the destroyer." A heavy underwater concussion jarred the PT, but there was no visible explosion. The destroyer illuminated the PT with starshell and fired several salvos at it before entering a cloud of heavy smoke which hung over the strait. Mike Kovar's torpedo, while missing the destroyer, was no dud. It plowed on through the sea and ripped into light cruiser Abukuma. The explosion killed about 30 men and slowed the cruiser to 10 knots. Abukuma fell out of formation and put into port. She was sunk off Mindanao on October 26 by Air Force bombers.
* * * * *
Guarding the eastern entrance to Surigao Strait, about 10 miles from Leeson's section, were Lt. Robert W. Orrell's PT 523, Lt. (jg.) James P. Wolf's PT 524, and Lt. Donald Hamilton, Jr.'s PT 526, led by Lt. Comdr. Francis D. Tappaan, USNR. About the time Leeson was moving in with the 134 for his torpedo attack, Tappaan's boats picked up radar targets 8 miles away. When the PT's had closed to a mile and an eighth, the enemy fired starshell
to the west, no doubt to illuminate the 134 and, in so doing, silhouetted his ships to Tappaan's group on the east.
With this illumination, there was surprising lack of agreement among the PT officers as to the composition of the enemy force. Tappaan identified the ships as "two battleships and three small war vessels of the size of destroyers or larger." Orrell identified them as two cruisers and two destroyers; Wolf as one battleship, two cruisers, and two destroyers; Hamilton as one battleship, one cruiser, and one destroyer.
With the enemy already occupied on his portside, each of Tappaan's PT's was able to get two torpedoes away before being taken under fire. As the boats retired, enemy shells began to walk up the wake of PT 526. The 526 laid two short puffs of smoke, which absorbed most of the enemy fire but prevented the boats from observing the effect of their torpedoes. During their retirement all three boats saw five more pips on their radar screens, following 3 miles astern of the first group of enemy ships.
* * * * *
Lt. (jg.) John M. McElfresh, USNR, in PT 490, was stationed in the middle of Surigao Strait with Lt. (jg.) Harley A. Thronson's PT 491 and Lt. (jg.) Richard W. Brown's PT 493, about 10 miles north of the sections led by Leeson and Tappaan. Picking up four radar targets rounding the end of Panaon Island, 8 miles to the south, the boats deployed to intercept them. A rain squall so reduced visibility that the boats closed within 700 yards of the enemy before they could see the ships, which they identified as a cruiser and three destroyers.
The 490 launched two torpedoes at the leading destroyer. Immediately a ship in another group a mile and a half to 2 miles to the south turned on a searchlight. A moment later the leading destroyer caught the PT in its searchlight and enemy guns fired heavily on the PT's. The 490 launched two more torpedoes at the leading ship, then only 400 yards away, and opened fire on the searchlight with all guns.
The 491, a little further off, launched two torpedoes at the second ship after the enemy opened fire. The 493, still further away, tried to launch a torpedo, but it hung in the rack, and then the enemy fire was so intense that the boat was forced to retire. The 490 shot out the destroyer searchlight, only to be spotted by another. Just before the 490 ran behind a smokescreen laid by the 493, Lieutenant Brown saw a large flash on the destroyer's side, heard a loud explosion, and the second searchlight went out. He believed that one of his torpedoes had hit.
The enemy's fire was accurate. The 490's searchlight was shot off and the boat was holed above the waterline. On the first broadside, Arthur G. Peterson, TM3c, was knocked down and wounded by shell fragments. He picked himself up and turned on the smokescreen generator before reporting his injuries.
A 4.7-inch shell passed through the 493 from side to side, above the waterline. Almost immediately another shell tore clean through the engineroom, carrying away the auxiliary generator, ripping a hole below the waterline, and causing some damage to the engines. Albert W. Brunelle, MoMM2c, USNR, whipped off his own lifejacket, stuffed it into the hole in the side, and went to work to keep his damaged engines running. A third shell carried away the charthouse canopy, killing two men and wounding the boat captain, second officer, and three men. Everyone in the cockpit was blown aft by the blast. Ens. Robert E. Carter, USNR, the second officer, although wounded, quickly returned to the cockpit and regained control of the boat, heading for the Panaon shore. Brunelle kept the engines running until Carter beached the boat. By that time water had seeped in past Brunelle's lifejacket until the engines were almost submerged. The dead and wounded were taken ashore.
The 491, undamaged, continued on patrol until 0530, when it sighted an enemy cruiser, probably the damaged Mogami, steaming slowly southwards. There appeared to be a small fire on the cruiser, aft of the stacks. The cruiser opened up on the 491, bracketing it with 8-inch shells. The PT fired two torpedoes and withdrew behind smoke, following the Panaon coast to the north. Soon the 491 came upon the beached 493 and picked up the survivors. The tide lifted the 493 off the beach, and it sank in deep water soon after daylight.
McElfresh, in the 490, lay to off the Panaon coast, and some 2 hours after his own action had a radar sighting of four ships passing northward through the strait. He saw nothing more until morning, when four enemy dive bombers attacked his boat. The first two dropped bombs, missing the PT by 200 yards. The 490's gunfire made the other two planes turn away.
* * * * *
Commander Bowling reported that there was "a fair agreement between Lieutenant McElfresh aboard the PT 490, Lieutenant Commander Leeson aboard the PT 134, and Lieutenant Commander Tappaan aboard the PT 523,
that at the time Lieutenant McElfresh was attacking what he believed to be one cruiser and three destroyers, he saw Lieutenant Commander Leeson, under enemy illumination and well to the south, attacking from the west, and being fired upon by what Lieutenant Commander Leeson believed to be two battleships and three destroyers. At the same time, Lieutenant Commander Tappaan attacked the same two battleships and three destroyers from the east-these ships having silhouetted themselves to Lieutenant Commander Tappaan's group by illuminating Lieutenant Commander Leeson to the west."
* * * * *
Eight miles north of McElfresh's section were three boats led by Lt. Carl T. Gleason: Lt. (jg.) Kenneth B. Sharpe's PT 327, Ens. Louis E. Thomas's PT 321, and Lt. (jg.) H. L. Terry's PT 326. This section sighted the advancing enemy about 0300 by radar, and made a prompt report to the Commander Destroyer Squadron 54, who advised the boats that he would attack and ordered them to stand clear. The PT's lay to and watched three destroyers, a battleship, and another large warship file past. By 0400, four burning enemy ships were visible. Half an hour later the PT's found a burning destroyer accompanied by an apparently undamaged destroyer. They moved in to attack the undamaged ship, but were taken under such heavy and accurate fire, which wounded a torpedoman on the 321, that they were forced to launch their torpedoes at ranges of 3,000 to 4,000 yards and to retire without waiting to watch the results.
* * * * *
The northernmost sections of PT's were the 320, 330, and 331, led by Lt. G. W. Hogan, USNR, and the 328, 323, and 329, led by Lt. H. G. Young, USNR, stationed south and east of Amagusan Point on Leyte. During the night, our destroyers were ranging down into the strait and told these sections to stand clear. At 0630, Lt. (jg.) Herbert Stadler's PT 323, which had become separated from the other boats, sighted destroyer Asagumo standing by a large burning ship, the Japanese battlewagon Fuso, a few miles to the south. Asagumo was already badly damaged and dead in the water.
The destroyer took the 323 under fire at 3,000 yards, but Stadler moved in another 1,500 yards and made three torpedo runs, firing one torpedo on each run. The third torpedo hit Asagumo in the stern. As Stadler retired, a group of our cruisers and destroyers moved down the strait to finish off the enemy ship. At 0722 Asagumo sank.
Hogan's section, joined by PT's 328 and 489, was returning to Leyte Gulf after daylight when five enemy dive bombers made a strafing and bombing run on the boats. Two bombs dropped 10 yards astern of PT 330, but both were duds, and the planes did no damage.
* * * * *
A few miles to the west of Leeson's section off the southern tip of Panaon Island were three boats led by Lt. Roman G. Mislicky: Lt. Thomas C. Hall's PT 194, Ens. James R. Beck's PT 196, and Lt. William J. West, Jr.'s PT 150. During most of the night these boats were hemmed in by clouds and squalls, so it was not until 0500 that they made their first sighting, a large fire in Surigao Strait.
The boats moved out into the strait and soon saw two vessels which they thought might be PT's. As they closed the range to 1,200 yards, they recognized them as enemy destroyers, and at the same time the destroyers laid down a terrific barrage of fire. The 194's 40mm. gun was carried away by the first salvo, and the boat retired behind smoke. Only the 150 was able to get a torpedo away. A 4.7-inch shell ripped through the stern of the 194 below the waterline and the boat began to settle and lose speed. A 40mm. shell exploded in the cockpit and charthouse, setting off a box of 20mm. ammunition. Two men were seriously injured, Lieutenant Mislicky was knocked unconscious, and Lieutenant Hall, his second officer, and four men were wounded by fragments. The exploding 20mm. ammunition cut the emergency CO2 release and carbon dioxide blanketed the engineroom, smothering the engines. Earl R. Welker, MoMM1c, USNR, and John O. Bozman, MoMM1c, USNR, quickly aired out the engineroom, got their engines running, and then went to work like beavers to keep the engineroom from flooding. The 194 was under fire for half an hour.
Lieutenant West, in the 150, cruised along the Panaon shore trying to find the damaged 194. During his search he was taken under fire by a burning cruiser and four destroyers proceeding southward through the strait.
PT 190, from Lieutenant Owen's section on the west, and PT 137, from Lieutenant Commander Leeson's section on the east, heard the 194's report of damage and also tried to find her. The 190 apparently encountered the same force that had fired on the 150, with an added cruiser. Two of the destroyers chased the 190 for a few minutes, bracketing the boat with
8 or 10 salvos. The 137 sighted only a destroyer and a burning cruiser, both of which fired a few inaccurate rounds at the PT.
* * * * *
Of the 39 PT's that participated in the battle, 30 were under enemy fire and 10 were hit. One boat, the 493, was lost after three hits by 4.7-inch shells. Three men were killed, 3 officers and 17 men were wounded. Fifteen boats fired 35 torpedoes. Fourteen are known to have missed, 1 ran erratically, 1 had a hot run on deck, 11 were unobserved, and 7 were claimed as possible hits.
This much is certain: Admiral Nishimura's ships were flushed by PT's as soon as they passed between the islands of Bohol and Camiguin in the northern Mindanao Sea. For the rest of their passage to and through Surigao Strait their positions were reported by PT's with such accuracy that our heavy forces were able to estimate within 3 minutes the time of their initial salvos. In addition, the enemy ships time and again were forced to reveal
PT 321 picks up a Japanese survivor of the Battle of Surigao Strait. Note second man still in water.
themselves by firing at PT's. And it is certain that PT torpedoes ripped into Abukuma and Asagumo, putting them out of action.
Admiral Nimitz, reporting on the battle, said, "The skill, determination and courage displayed by the personnel of these small boats is worthy of the highest praise. Their contact reports, as well as the firing and illumination which they drew from the enemy, gave ample warning to our own main body; and while the issue of the later main engagement was never in doubt, the PT's action very probably threw the Japanese command off balance and contributed to the completeness of their subsequent defeat."
* * * * *
In the Battle of Surigao Strait and subsequent air attacks, the enemy lost two battleships, two cruisers, and four destroyers. To the north, Rear Adm. C. A. F. Sprague's escort carriers, destroyers, and destroyer escorts gallantly and almost unbelievably held off a far more powerful Japanese battleship and cruiser task force off Samar, while Admiral Halsey cut down an enemy carrier and battleship task force off Cape Engafio. In these actions and ensuing air attacks, the Japanese lost four carriers, a battleship, six cruisers, and four destroyers, and suffered damage to three carriers, five cruisers, and seven destroyers.
"Our invasion of the Philippines was not even slowed down," Admiral Nimitz reported, "and the losses sustained by the Japanese reduced their fleet from what had been at least a potential menace to the mere nuisance level."
6. AIR ATTACKS
In the days following the first landings in the Philippines, the Japanese launched air attacks of unprecedented fury against our shipping in Leyte Gulf. Because of losses in the air and damage to their fields, they could no longer mount large-scale raids. Nevertheless, they attacked persistently with small numbers of planes, not only bombing but employing the suicide dive for the first time as part of a definite program of attack.
While they attacked all types of ships, PT's and PT tenders seemed to be particularly desirable targets. Lt. Comdr. H. A. Stewart, USNR, commanding officer of the Wachapreague, which was under air attack for 2 hours on the morning of October 26, stated with classic simplicity, "Apparently the enemy were somewhat hostile to anything connected with PT operations."
Two PT's stand by during a bombing attack on shipping in Leyte Gulf.
The Liberty ship in left background was hit in this attack.
An LCI, hit by an enemy suicide plane in Leyte Gulf, burns as PT's move in to pick up survivors.
An enemy suicide plane, shot down by PT tender Oyster Bay, crashes in the water close aboard an LST.
The tenders Oyster Bay and Hilo are at left, Orestes center.
This was the third plane shot down by Oyster Bay on the morning of November 24, 1944.
Willoughby, in Leyte Gulf, shot down one plane on October 24 and another on the 25th. The attacks on Wachapreague started the morning after the Battle of Surigao Strait, while the tender was anchored at Liloan, and continued during the morning as the tender proceeded to Leyte Gulf with a group of PT's. Wachapreague was credited with one plane shot down, two probables, and one damaged. The tender was undamaged, but a fragmentation bomb killed one man and wounded four aboard one of the accompanying PT's, the 134.
On the night of October 26/27, Ens. Paul H. Jones, USNR, led PT's 132 and 326 in a patrol that resulted in destruction of two barges loaded with fuel and ammunition. As the boats were returning in the morning, a Japanese Zero dropped a fragmentation bomb 10 yards off the 132. Two men were killed; Ensign Jones, his second officer, and eight men were wounded. On the following evening Lieutenant Commander Tappaan was taking PT's 525 and 523 to patrol station on the north of Leyte in a heavy rain. The
Wreckage of PT 320, victim of a direct bomb hit in Leyte Gulf, November 5, 1944.
rain cleared for 5 minutes, just long enough for four planes to sneak in to bomb and strafe the boats. Eight men aboard the 523 were killed; three officers, six men and an Australian war correspondent were wounded.
Whenever possible, PT's going to and returning from patrol stations by daylight had aircraft cover. They could not be covered constantly, however, and the attacks continued. The attacks were not entirely one-sided. PT's 195, 522, and 324 each shot down a plane. Oyster Bay shot one down on November 24 and, assisted by the fire of several PT's and other tenders, shot down three more on November 26. Each of these three tried to crashdive Oyster Bay, the last one falling so close aboard that flying fragments caused minor damage to the ship and wounded 11 men.
Early on the morning of November 5 a high-flying plane dropped a bomb squarely on the deck of PT 320, anchored in Leyte Gulf. The boat was completely destroyed, with loss of 2 officers and 12 men. Only one man of the crew was saved.
On the night of November 19/20, Lt. Frank H. Olton, USNR, led PT's 495, 491, and 489 on a successful sweep of Ormoc Bay and the Camotes Islands. The boats sank one barge, blew up another, left two ablaze and sinking, and damaged a fifth. Later the boats found two luggers and a barge. They sank the barge and one lugger, and were scoring many hits on the second lugger when a plane dropped a fragmentation bomb alongside PT 495. One man was killed and 17 were wounded.
Late in the afternoon of December 5, a "Zeke"-type fighter plane tried to make a suicide dive on Lt. Joseph H. Moran II's PT 494, after the 494 and Lt. William H. Von Bergen, Jr.'s PT 531 opened fire on it. "At the start of this dive," Moran reported, "the plane was still under control and followed every move of PT 494. Both boats then resumed fire, very accurately. A piece was torn out of the Zeke's wing and it was seen that the Zeke was plunging straight down. PT 494 turned to the left and the Zeke crashed about 25 yards off the PT 494's starboard beam. A few parts from the plane were thrown over the bow of PT 494."
On the afternoon of December 10, PT's 323 and 327 were underway for patrol station, with PT's 528 and 532 following 200 yards astern, when four planes attacked them. One crashed the 323 amidships, damaging the boat beyond repair. Lt. (jg.) Herbert Stadler, USNR, the boat captain, was killed; Ens. William I. Adelman, USNR, the second officer, was missing; 11 men were wounded, including two Army officers who were passengers on the 323. Another plane dived at Lt. (jg.) Benjamin M. Stephens's PT 532.
PT 323, cut almost in half by a Kamikaze plane on December 10, 1944.
As the plane closed to approximately 500 yards," Stephens reported, "we turned hard left and the plane hit the water directly in our wake, distance 25 yards. The plane exploded on contact with the sea."
U.S. forces landed on the island of Mindoro on December 15. Practically all of the available Japanese air strength was shifted to counter the new landings; enemy air attacks around Leyte dwindled into relative insignificance.
7. LEYTE AND CEBU
During October, U.S. Army troops pushed inland on Leyte against increasing resistance. The enemy's stronghold was at Ormoc Bay, on the west side of the island, and there he brought in reinforcements and supplies from Cebu and the other islands to the west by a variety of craft, ranging from barges and luggers to transports and destroyers. Until the end of December, PT's from Leyte Gulf hunted this shipping every night and for the first time in the Southwest Pacific had frequent contact with destroyers.
On the night of November 9/10, Lt. Alexander W. Wells, USNR, patrolled with PT's 524 and 525 on the east side of Ponson Island near the southern entrance to Ormoc Bay, while Lt. A. Murray Preston, USNR, covered the
General Douglas MacArthur returns to the Philippines at Tacloban, Leyte, aboard PT 525 on October 24, 1944.
Left to right, Lt. Alexander W. Wells, USNR, boat captain of PT 525; General MacArthur; Comdr. Selman S. Bowling, Commander MTB Squadrons Seventh Fleet; Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger, Commanding General Sixth Army.
west side of the island with PT's 497 and 492. Just after midnight the 525 fired two torpedoes at a transport entering the bay, but apparently these missed. At the same time the 524 fired two torpedoes at a destroyer, missing astern. The 525 retired under fire from a destroyer and a ship that the boat captain, Ens. Gervis S. Brady, USNR, believed to be a light cruiser. The 524 was pursued by a destroyer for 45 minutes.
An hour after this attack, Preston's boats saw three destroyers round the northern end of Ponson Island. Each boat launched four torpedoes. Great silver blasts leaped up from the last destroyer in column, followed by an orange blaze and clouds of black smoke. As the other two destroyers opened fire and started to chase the boats, the third disappeared from the PT radar screens. Looking back through binoculars, Preston could see only two destroyers where three had been before. The destroyers pursued the boats down the coast of Ponson Island, giving up the chase when the PT's slipped through narrow Kawit Strait between Ponson and Poro Islands.
Preston's attack illustrates the extreme difficulty of accurate assessment of damage. There is no confirmation from Japanese sources of loss or damage in this action. Yet, Preston says, the explosion "was like the Fourth of July -- it looked just like an Elco advertisement." Before the explosion he saw three destroyers on his radar screen and through his binoculars; afterwards, only two.
On the following night several boats sighted destroyers near Ormoc Bay. Some of the boats fired torpedoes, but all were certain misses. PT 321 (Ens. Louis E. Thomas, USNR) and PT 324 (Ens. Harrell F. Dumas, USNR) were maneuvering to get a shot at two destroyers near Gigantangan Island, off northwest Leyte, when the destroyers bracketed the boats with a well-placed salvo. The PT's ran southward, with the destroyers in pursuit. Off the entrance to San Isidro Bay on the Leyte coast, they saw two more destroyers. The boats ducked into the bay and the 321 ran aground near the entrance. Two of the destroyers approached the mouth of the bay. Then the tide washed the 324 aground 100 yards from the 321. A destroyer swept the beach with its searchlight without picking up the boats. The crews set demolition charges on their boats and went ashore. The 321 exploded, but the demolition charges on the 324 failed to detonate.
At daylight friendly Filipinos found the boat crews. About 100 of them helped free the 324, and pilots guided the PT to a little cove at the south of the bay. Its propellers damaged, the boat could still move slowly on two engines. During this passage destroyers again fired on the boat. Assisted
by the Filipinos, the crew camouflaged the boat with branches, and a runner set out to inform the nearest Army outpost of their plight. On the evening of the following day an Army officer, Lt. Robert Schermerhorn, arrived at San Isidro and told the boat captains he would send a report to Sixth Army headquarters. The next morning a runner brought word that their squadron commander, Lt. Carl T. Gleason, was in Arevalo Bay, a few miles to the south. Lieutenant Schermerhorn took Thomas and Dumas to Arevalo Bay in a captured Japanese launch. They found Gleason, who told them to be ready to leave San Isidro Bay at 1900.
The 324, with both crews aboard, was nosing out of San Isidro Bay at 1900 when a Filipino came alongside in a canoe. He brought a message from Lieutenant Gleason: "Nip destroyers around, get back in bay."
Two and a half hours later Gleason arrived at the entrance of the bay with PT's 325, 326, 327, 330, and 190. He blinked word to the 324 to get underway, and the boats returned to Leyte Gulf without interference at 0930, November 14.
On the night of November 28/29, Lt. Roger H. Hallowell, who 2 days earlier had relieved Lieutenant Commander Leeson as commander of Squadron 7, took Ens. Dudley J. Johnson's PT 127 and Lt. (jg.) William P. West's PT 331 to Ormoc Bay. The 127 fired four torpedoes and the 331 fired two at a warship, and the 331 fired two torpedoes at what appeared to be a transport. As the boats retired under heavy fire, explosions were observed on both targets. Hallowell intercepted Lt. (jg.) Gregory J. Azarigian's PT 128 and Lt. (jg.) Nelson Davis's PT 191, patrolling the Camotes Islands. He boarded the 128 and returned to Ormoc Bay, where the PT's, under heavy fire, launched seven torpedoes at three ships at anchor. As the boats retired they saw a large explosion on one of the targets.
After the fall of Ormoc, Hallowell dived for the warship hit by the 127 and found a ship some 200 feet long, similar to a minesweeper, with a large torpedo hole amidships. Captain Bowling assessed the damage as one escort vessel similar to a minesweeper probably sunk by a PT torpedo, one medium transport probably hit and damaged. Information from Japanese sources indicates that Submarine Chaser No. 53 and Patrol Boat No. 105 were sunk by PT's at Ormoc Bay on November 28/29.
The final destroyer action in the Leyte area came on the night of December 11/12, when Lt. Melvin W. Haines, USNR, in PT 492, led Lt. John M. McElfresh's PT 490 in a perfect attack on a single destroyer lying to near Palomplon, on the west coast of Leyte. Sighting his target by radar at a
A Japanese lugger in flames off the coast of Cebu.
This was one of five luggers destroyed by PT's 491 and 494 on December 31, 1944.
range of 4 miles, Haines skillfully worked the PT's between the destroyer and the beach, so as to silhouette the destroyer against the horizon and make the PT's difficult to detect against the shore. He let the boats idle in until they were 1,000 yards from the target; then the 490 launched four torpedoes and the 492 launched two.
One exploded with a great flash directly beneath the bridge. Immediately afterwards a second torpedo exploded amidships, sending oil, water, and debris hundreds of feet in the air. The destroyer sank immediately, and 3 minutes later the boats were jarred by three underwater explosions. At no time had the destroyer given any indication that it was aware of the presence of the PT's. This sinking has been confirmed as that of the destroyer Uzuki, a ship 330 feet long, of 1,315 tons standard displacement.
All this time the PT's had been running up an impressive score against small freighters, barges, luggers, and other small craft in the Camotes Sea. On New Year's Eve, for example, Lt. Joseph H. Moran II, USNR, in PT 494, with PT 491, found five luggers anchored at Daanbantayan, on the west coast of Cebu. The boats claimed destruction of all the luggers, as well as a small motor launch. The light of explosions from the luggers and flares from the PT's illuminated a number of small craft on the beach, which the PT's strafed heavily without observed results.
By the end of December the Eighth Army had taken Ormoc and practically overrun Leyte, compressing the remaining enemy troops into a few isolated pockets in the central mountain range. The enemy's attempt to reinforce Leyte had failed. Squadrons 7 and 12 started operating from a small advance base at Ormoc on December 28. On February 21 they were relieved by Squadron 25.30 The Ormoc boats had good hunting, destroying barges and luggers and harassing the enemy ashore, until the end of March, when units of the Eighth Army entered Cebu City.
The boats ranged through the Camotes Sea, preventing evacuation from Leyte and disrupting enemy supply along the coasts of Cebu, Negros, Bohol, Mindanao, and the lesser islands contiguous to them. Close liaison with guerrilla leaders on Cebu and with Marine Air Group 12, whose Corsairs flew over the area daily, helped the PT's to find and destroy many camouflaged and hidden Japanese small craft. The most productive area was
around the well-defended harbor of Cebu City, principal enemy supply base for the neighboring islands.
Many of these actions were carried out with great daring. For example: On the evening of March 24, 1945, Lt. Joseph W. Burk, USNR, entered the harbor of Cebu City with Lt. (jg.) Leo A. Anderson's PT 348 and Lt. Edward J. Pope, Jr.'s PT 134. The boats drew within half a mile of the southern wharf. There were two freight cars on the wharf and two barges tied up alongside. As the boats tried to approach closer, several machine-guns opened fire on them from shore, joined almost immediately by a 37mm. and a 75mm. gun. The PT's turned, firing deliberately at the freight cars and barges with their 40mm. guns, while their other guns returned the enemy fire. They destroyed the barges and set the freight cars ablaze before they speeded up to clear the harbor. After Cebu City had been taken, the gutted freight cars were found on the wharf, with the shattered barges lying on the bottom alongside.
PT's returning to base after supporting landings of Army troops at Palomplon, Leyte, Christmas Day, 1944.
In addition to attacks on shipping and shore installations, the PT's supported several minor landings by Army and guerrilla forces. The most unusual of these missions was on the night of May 13/14, when PT's 190 and 192 spearheaded the guerrilla invasion of Guintacan Island, in the Visayan Sea, by towing eight 60-foot fishing boats, loaded with a total of 200 guerrillas, from Bantayan Island to Langob on Guintacan Island.
Lt. Gen. Robert L. Eichelberger, Commanding General Eighth Army, reported at the end of the campaign: "The cooperation of Motor Torpedo Boats throughout all operations on the western half of Leyte provided invaluable support to elements of the XXIV Corps. PT squadrons located at Ormoc conducted continuous nightly sorties, sinking over 200 Japanese barges and over 200 other miscellaneous craft loaded with reinforcements, equipment and supplies. The eagerness of the crews to close with the enemy and furnish aid to our ground forces was outstanding throughout."31
8. FIRST DAYS AT MINDORO
Wachapreague and Willoughby sailed from Leyte Gulf for Mios Woendi on November 13, returning 2 weeks later with Pontus; Squadrons 13, 16, and 28; six boats of Squadron 36, and PT's 227 and 230 of Squadron 17. The PT's of Squadrons 13, 16, and 36 had had some action in the New Guinea campaign; Squadron 28 was newly arrived from the Solomons, and PT's 227 and 230 were the first boats to be transferred to the Southwest Pacific from the Hawaiian Sea Frontier. Squadron 17 had been based at Majuro Atoll in the Marshall Islands from February to April 1944, and since then had been at Pearl Harbor, but had not yet been in action.
Squadrons 13 and 16, with PT's 227 and 230, under operational command of Lt. Comdr. N. Burt Davis, Jr., got underway from Leyte Gulf on the afternoon of December 12 in the convoy carrying the Eighth Army's Western Visayan Task Force to the invasion of Mindoro, 300 miles to the northwest. Because of the likelihood of heavy enemy air attacks, the PT's had no tender; instead, an advance base unit was loaded in LST 605 with the PT Detachment of the 113th Naval Construction Battalion.
The invasion convoy had a portent of enemy intentions on the afternoon of the 13th, when a suicide plane crashed into the flagship, Nashville, before it could be taken under fire. Later in the afternoon a flight of 12 enemy planes was driven off by the convoy's air cover, assisted by antiaircraft fire of escort vessels and the PT's. Three of the enemy were shot down.
Troops began to pour ashore on the southwest corner of Mindoro at 0700, December 15, meeting little opposition at the beachhead. Half an hour later Lieutenant Commander Davis went ahead with five PT's, accompanying several of the escort vessels into Mangarin Bay, the prospective site of the PT base, while the other 18 PT's remained with a group of LST's approaching Mangarin Bay. Eleven Japanese planes came over, 4 attacking ships in the bay and the other 7 concentrating on the LST's outside.
Three of the planes over the bay tried to dive on a destroyer, and were shot down by combined fire of all ships. The fourth swooped in over the stern of Ens. J. P. Rafferty's PT 221. The 221 shot it down in flames.
Outside the bay, Lt. Comdr. Alvin W. Fargo, Jr., USNR, commander of Squadron 13, ordered the PT's to speed up to get between the LST's and the approaching planes. The seven planes peeled off and strafed the PT's ineffectively. The PT's shot down three of them. Of the four that got through, two were brought down by combined fire of the PT's and LST 605, crashing in the water close aboard the LST. The other two dived into LST's 472 and 738, ahead and astern of LST 605, setting them ablaze and sinking them. The PT's picked up more than 200 survivors from the 2 ships.
The next morning all of the PT's were in Mangarin Bay and LST 605 was unloading base equipment on the beach. PT's 230 and 300 had just entered the bay, returning from patrol, when a single plane strafed the 230 without causing any damage, made a complete circle and started to dive on LST 605. The LST and all of the PT's opened fire, shooting off part of the plane's tail. It crashed on the beach 50 yards from the LST, killing 5 men and wounding 11.
Half an hour later eight planes attacked the PT's. Lt. (jg.) Byron F. Kent, USNR, boat captain of PT 230, reported: "Three of the planes chose PT 230 as their target. All fire was concentrated on the first as it dove for the boat in a gradual sweep increasing to an angle of about 70 degrees. The boat was maneuvered at high speed to present a starboard broadside to the oncoming plane. When it became apparent that the plane would not pull out of the dive, the boat feinted in several directions and then turned hard right rudder
PT 297 picks up survivors of an LST hit by a suicide plane during invasion of Mindoro, December 15, 1944.
under the plane. The boat's speed carried it partly around the plane as it struck the water 30 feet off the starboard bow.
"About 1 minute later the second plane began its dive following somewhat the same tactics as the first. When the pilot finally committed himself as to his final direction, the boat was swung to the opposite direction of the plane's slight bank. The plane struck 50 feet off the port beam.
"The third plane came in 30 seconds later at a 70 degree angle. After zigzagging rapidly as the plane came down, the boat swung suddenly at right angles to the plane, which by then had finally committed itself. The plane landed in the water just off the boat's stern, raising the stern out of the water and showering the 40mm. crew with flame, smoke, debris and water. All personnel on the boat were slightly dazed, but there were no injuries, and the boat was undamaged."
Lt. (jg.) Frank A. Tredinnick, USNR, whose PT 77 was under attack by a single plane, waited until the last second and pulled down his throttles, causing the plane to crash in the water 10 yards ahead of the boat. Lt. (jg.) Harry E. Griffin, Jr., USNR, similarly avoided a plane by swinging the rudder of his PT 223 hard right. The plane missed by about 10 feet. Lt. (jg.) J. R. Erickson, USNR, with two planes heading for his PT 298, maneuvered at top speed to avoid them. "The gunners fired a steady stream of shells into one plane," he reported, "as it came down in a steep dive and crashed 15 feet off the port bow. Just then the second plane circled once and dived down on our stern, strafing as he dove. The gunners fired on him until he crashed about 3 feet off the starboard bow, spraying the deck with debris and water. One man was blown over the side by the concussion but was rescued uninjured."
The eighth plane was shot down by the combined fire of several PT's. That afternoon, as PT's 224 and 297 were departing for the night's patrol, two planes dropped three bombs near them. The two PT's, assisted by other PT's in the bay, shot down one plane in the water, which narrowly missed the 224, and saw the other glide over the treetops on Mindoro, on fire and losing altitude.
On the afternoon of December 17, three planes attacked the boats in Mangarin Bay. The boats shot one-down and the other two crashed in the water trying to dive on PT's 75 and 84. One man on PT 224 was wounded by strafing, and four men on PT 75 suffered minor wounds from flying debris.
On December 18 three planes came over. Only one went into a suicide dive. Lt. Comdr. Almer P. Colvin, commander of Squadron 16, gave PT 300 a last-second swing to the right. The plane apparently had anticipated the maneuver. It swung right with the PT and crashed into the engineroom, splitting the boat in half. The stern sank immediately; the bow burned for 8 hours. Colvin was seriously wounded, four men were killed, four men were missing, and two officers and four men were wounded. Only one man of the crew of PT 300 escaped without injury.
That night planes dropped bombs on Mangarin Bay, wounding three men. The PT's withheld their fire to avoid revealing their positions. The Mindoro airstrip began operations on December 20, but even the presence of locally based fighters could not immediately stop the enemy attacks. Between the 19tb and 26th of December, the PT's shot down five more planes at no cost to themselves.
9. A JAPANESE TASK FORCE
Late in the afternoon of December 26 an Army pilot returning from a reconnaissance flight reported that an enemy task force of one battleship, one cruiser, and six destroyers was only 80 miles to the northwest of Mindoro, bearing down at a speed of 20 knots. It was the second enemy force sighted that day in Philippine waters. The other, a group of cargo ships and transports off Subic Bay, Luzon, already was under air attack by Mindoro-based planes. It seemed likely that the enemy planned an amphibious landing to regain control of Mindoro.
All available planes were sent out to bomb and strafe the task force. When planes returned from Subic Bay, they were refueled, reloaded, and sent out to join the attack. Through most of the night the planes shuttled between the Japanese ships and the Mindoro strip, dropping their bombs and returning for more.
While the Army ground forces deployed to meet the landing ashore, the PT's, the only Allied naval forces present, prepared to disrupt any invasion forces before they hit the beach. Lieutenant Commander Davis sent Lieutenant Commander Fargo with four PT's (80, 77, 84 and 192) to patrol to the north, and Lt. John H. Stillman, USNR, who succeeded Lieutenant Commander Colvin as commander of Squadron 16, with PT's 78, 76 and 81 to patrol near Ilin Island, off the entrance to Mangarin Bay. PT's 230 and 227 were stationed in outer Mangarin Bay, ready to support either Fargo or
Stillman. Eleven other boats, all in poor condition because of hull or engine casualties suffered during the past 12 days' operations, were dispersed about the inner bay to protect the inner anchorage and to counter any landings on the southwestern coast of Mindoro below the main Allied defense perimeter. The two remaining boats of the task unit, PT's 223 and 221, already had departed from the base to carry an Army radar team and several guerrillas to Abra de Ilog, on northern Mindoro, and could not be reached immediately by radio when word of the aproaching enemy was received.
Davis reasoned correctly that if a landing were attempted, the PT's would be of greatest value when the transports closed the beach to put troops ashore. Then the PT's could attack the transports with torpedoes and use their machine-guns and depth charges against any ships' boats or landing barges that the transports might put in the water. For this reason and because the battleship, cruiser, and destroyer force already was under air attack, he instructed Fargo and Stillman to scout and report on this force, but not to attack until the enemy should approach the beach in the probable landing area.
At 2030 Fargo's boats saw antiaircraft fire on the horizon, 40 miles to the northwest of Mangarin Bay. The firing continued intermittently for an hour, as the enemy fought off repeated air attacks. At 2115 there was a large flash followed by a steady glow in the sky, indicating that one of the ships had been hit and was burning. Then Fargo's boats picked up the enemy ships on their radars, and at 2150 clearly saw six ships 4 miles away. Five minutes later the enemy took Fargo's boats under intense and accurate fire, straddling the PT's on the first salvo. The boats were under fire for 80 minutes as they zigzagged to the south, and for nearly an hour they were under bombing attack by aircraft as well. Fearing that the aircraft might be our own, the PT's did not fire on them. While the shellfire was close, the only casualties were caused by aerial bombs. One exploded just off the stern of PT 77, damaging the boat and wounding the boat captain and 11 men. Another dropped close aboard PT 84, blowing a man overboard. Lieutenant Commander Davis, advised of the casualties by radio, instructed PT 84 to escort PT 77 back to the base. Fargo requested permission to attack, but was ordered to proceed with PT's 80 and 82 southward through the strait between Ilin Island and Mindoro in case the enemy should attempt an assault on the southern beaches. On their passage through the strait the boats were bombed by an enemy floatplane. They zigzagged at high speed and escaped damage.
Stillman's boats, north of Ilin Island, observed the approach of the enemy and were taken under sporadic shellfire. None of the shells came closer than 100 yards. During the 2 hours that Stillman had the enemy in sight, the enemy ships were under almost constant air attack, a circumstance which undoubtedly affected the accuracy of shellfire. Stillman requested permission to attack. Davis, preferring to hold his boats in reserve for a last-ditch stand, ordered Stillman not to attack as long as our planes were still in action. Soon after midnight the enemy succumbed to the air attack and fled northward at high speed, shelling the beach on the way. The Army requested Stillman to search the southwest coast of Mindoro for evidences of a landing. He found nothing.
The boats that had set out for Abra de Ilog with the Army radar team, Lt. (jg.) Harry E. Griffin, Jr.'s PT 223 and Lt. (jg.) E. H. Lockwood's PT 221, with Lt. Philip A. Swart, USNR, as section leader, had reached the northwestern tip of Mindoro before they received orders by radio to return to the base. They met the enemy task force as it steamed northward. Since the force was retiring, Davis gave permission to attack. As the PT's closed, the 221 was taken under heavy shellfire and retired, laying smoke. The 223, apparently unobserved, got two torpedoes away. There was a bright orangered flash on the third ship in line, followed by the sound of a heavy explosion.
PT's searched the scene of action on the 27th. They picked up the man who had been blown over the side of PT 84. He was slightly waterlogged, but uninjured. They also picked up five Japanese sailors, survivors of the 2,100-ton destroyer Kiyoshimo, one of the newest and most powerful in the Japanese Navy. It had been damaged during the air attack and sank after being hit by one of PT 223's torpedoes.
After the action, it was apparent that no invasion had been contemplated, and that the sole intention of the enemy had been to shell the airstrip. The enemy ships were so occupied with fighting off air attacks, however, that their bombardment was ineffective.
10. MINDORO CONVOY
Squadrons 8, 24, and 25 arrived in Leyte Gulf from Mios Woendi on December 23 and were transferred the same day with the tender Orestes to the operational control of Capt. George F. Mentz's Task Group 77-11. Captain Mentz's group was to make diversionary strikes against southern Luzon as
a preliminary to the main assault on the island, scheduled for January 9 in Lingayen Gulf. On December 27, the squadrons and Orestes sailed in convoy for Mindoro.32
Air attacks on the convoy began on the morning of December 28, when suicide planes crashed on LST 750 and the Liberty ships John Burke and William Ahearn. John Burke, loaded with ammunition, literally disintegrated with a mighty roar, sinking a small Army freighter immediately astern. The concussion opened seams in PT 332 although 500 yards away. William Ahearn, no longer able to keep up with the convoy, returned independently to Leyte. The LST, less severely damaged, continued in convoy.
Five times during the afternoon and evening, small groups of planes attacked or threatened the convoy. An aerial torpedo hit LST 750 in the engineroom. Other ships removed the crew and our destroyers sank the damaged ship. Another torpedo grazed the bottom of LCI 624 from stem to stern without exploding. Four PT's were damaged slightly by strafing attacks. Six planes were shot down during the night.
On the morning of the 29th the convoy was under attack for an hour and a half. Three planes were shot down by ships in convoy, one of them by PT 352 when the plane tried to dive on an LST. The convoy's air cover shot down a fourth plane. That afternoon air cover turned back five flights of planes before they could reach the convoy, but for 8 hours during the night, crews of all ships were at battle stations fighting off bombers, torpedo planes, and suicide planes. Six more aircraft were shot down, one by PT 355 when it attempted to crash a destroyer.
There were more attacks during the early morning of the 30th, as the convoy stood into Mangarin Bay, and three planes were shot down. The rest of the day was quiet until midafternoon, when three planes dived at ships in the bay. One crashed on tanker Porcupine, one on destroyer Gansevoort, and the third, set ablaze by fire from Orestes and nearby PT's, hit the water alongside the tender. It skipped on the water and crashed into the starboard side of Orestes. Its bombs, deflected upward, exploded inside the tender, blowing many of the crew overboard and engulfing the ship in flames. The blaze spread almost instantly to the ready ammunition boxes on the deck, and for a time the ship was an inferno of exploding 40mm. and 20mm. shells.
Captain Mentz, standing on the bridge, was seriously injured; his chief staff officer, Comdr. John Kremer, Jr., USNR, was fatally wounded. In all, 6 officers and 14 men were killed; 37 were missing, and 7 officers and 86 men were wounded.
Despite imminent danger of explosion from 37,000 gallons of high-octane gasoline and stores of PT ammunition and torpedo warheads aboard the tender, PT's came alongside to take off the survivors. Led by Lieutenant Commander Davis, many PT officers and men went aboard to search for wounded. Comdr. A. Vernon Jannotta, USNR, on whom command of the task group devolved when Captain Mentz and Commander Kremer were put out of action, brought LCI's 624 and 636 alongside and carried hoses aboard Orestes to fight the flames. After an hour and a half the blaze was under control and the LCI's beached the tender.
Gansevoort, which had been hit amidships, was beached and abandoned. Porcupine was totally destroyed by fire.
Since there were no salvage facilities at Mindoro, the men of the PT Advance Base Construction Detachment, 113th Naval Construction Battalion, squared their shoulders and went to work on Orestes and Gansevoort. They got Orestes in shape to be towed back to Leyte Gulf by LST 708 at the end of January, and Gansevoort at the beginning of February. Since there was no other ship available to tow Gansevoort, PT tender Willoughby made a special trip from Leyte to do the job.
The air attacks on Mangarin Bay were not quite over. On December 30, PT's 75, 78, 220, and 224 shot down a plane as they left the bay to go on patrol. In the early morning hours of January 1, bombers were over the base. A single fragmentation bomb killed 11 men and seriously wounded 10 others, most of them survivors of the Orestes. There was more bombing during the next couple of days, but no more damage until the afternoon of January 4, when PT's 78 and 81 set fire to one of four enemy fighters which flew over the bay. Trailing a plume of smoke and flame, the plane glided into the side of an ammunition ship anchored a quarter of a mile from the two PT's. The ship exploded with a thunderous roar. The PT's were lifted out of the water and were badly damaged by the concussion and falling debris. On the PT's, two men were killed and three officers and seven men were wounded.
Although there were many red alerts in the days to follow, and further air attacks on the Mindoro airstrips, this was the last time that Japanese planes visited Mangarin Bay.
11. TASK GROUP 77.11
The PT's and LCI's of Task Group 77.11 performed all the shore-to-shore movements of troops and supplies required by the Western Visayan Task Force, including reinforcement of Mindoro forces from Leyte, securing the central portion of Mindoro's eastern coast, and seizure of the island of Marinduque, between Mindoro and the Bondoc Peninsula of southern Luzon. In all, there were 27 of these shore-to-shore operations. For the larger ones, when from 100 to 800 troops and large quantities of supplies were to be carried to the objectives, PT's escorted LCI's to the landing beaches. On a few smaller operations, involving the movement of 60 men or less and only 1 or 2 tons of supplies, PT's performed the missions unassisted.
The PT's landed scouts and raiders behind enemy lines on Mindoro and the surrounding islands, established and maintained contacts with guerrilla forces on northern Mindanao and southern Luzon, and reconnoitered all of the principal anchorages of Mindoro, Marinduque, and southern Luzon, bringing back valuable information concerning beach approaches, minefields, and shore defenses. Some of their most valuable reconnaissance work was in preparation for two major diversionary operations undertaken by the task group in the eastern Tayabas Bay area of southern Luzon at the time of the Army landings in force at San Antonio and Nasugbu on the western coast of Luzon late in January. Commander Jannotta expressed the belief that these operations made the enemy uncertain as to our strategic intent, diverted his attention from the actual target areas, and immobilized elements of his forces in the Tayabas-Batangas area.
As part of the preparation for the first of these missions, PT's 188 and 149, led by Ens. William H. Suttenfield, Jr., USNR, made the first daylight transit by Allied vessels of Verde Passage, between Mindoro and Luzon, since the enemy occupied the central Philippines. On the way back to the base the boats destroyed 16 sailing vessels on the beach of Verde Island and pinpointed the position of a heavy gun that fired at them so that fighter bombers of the 310th Bomb Wing were able to destroy it.
The task group suffered the loss of PT 338 on January 25 when the boat ran aground near Semirara Island, off southern Mindoro, and was so badly damaged that it could not be salvaged.
The PT's were released from Task Group 77.11 on February 10 and returned to Leyte Gulf to prepare for further operations.
12. MINDORO PATROLS
Squadrons 13 and 16, with the boats of Squadron 17 increased to six in February, continued patrols in Verde Passage and the Sibuyan Sea until April with good results. For the most part their work consisted of close scanning of enemy-held bays and inlets, since Japanese small craft no longer dared venture into the open sea. The boats found some of their best hunting in Coron Bay, southeast of Mindoro, which as recently as the time of the Battle for Leyte Gulf had been a major Japanese Fleet anchorage.
On the night of January 8/9, Lt. (jg.) R. H. Beasley, Jr.'s PT 220, with Lt. Philip A. Swart, USNR, aboard as officer in tactical command, accompanied by PT 223, made an unusual attack on a 2,000-ton freighter in Coron Bay. Earlier in the patrol the 220 had torn a hole in her bottom on an uncharted reef, and was in imminent danger of sinking as she approached the freighter and fired four torpedoes. While it was claimed that three torpedoes hit the target and destroyed it, this is not confirmed. As the 220 limped homewards, the crew balled with buckets for 5 hours until PT's 75 and 83 arrived, bringing pumps from the base.
Of the many daylight air-sea strikes, two of the most successful were led by Lt. Robert J. Wehrli, USNR, aboard PT 222. On January 29 he led four PT's, covered by two P-38's and two B-25's, into Batangas Bay on southern Luzon.33 The boats were in the bay for 67 minutes, making repeated strafing attacks on small craft and dock areas. For 37 minutes they were under intense fire from shore. The PT's destroyed 2 luggers, 3 barges, 24 sailing vessels, and an undertermined number of suicide boats hidden in huts along the shore. In cooperation with their covering aircraft, they knocked out several gun positions, damaged buildings and a dock, and started eight fires, one of them in a large oil dump. The cost to the PT's was one officer wounded.
On February 23, Wehrli visited Coron town, in Coron Bay, with six PT's and two P-47's.34 With no damage to themselves, the PT's destroyed three motor launches, a whaleboat, a gig, two barges, and two 70-foot lighters, and set fire to a fuel dump ashore.
The Japanese suicide boat, which appeared in the Mindoro area for the first time in the Southwest Pacific, apparently was intended as the marine counterpart of the Kamikaze plane. Fortunately it was far less effective. It was a small motorboat with a large explosive charge in the bow, designed to detonate when the boat was driven into a ship's side. The PT's made a series of strikes on suicide boats hideouts, claiming destruction of more than 40 explosive boats.
Three more PT's were lost at Mindoro. On the night of January 14/15, PT's 73 and 75 delivered supplies to the Mindoro guerrillas at Abra de Ilog, and took the guerrilla leader, Lt. Comdr. George Rowe, aboard for their patrol. Near Lubang Island, to the northwest of Mindoro, the 73 ran hard aground. Lieutenant Commander Rowe said there were 300 Japanese on Lubang, who undoubtedly would attack as soon as daylight revealed the boat's position. PT 75 took the 73's crew aboard and set the grounded boat on fire.
The other two boats, the last PT's lost in the war, were destroyed by our own warships as a result of mistaken identification. Troops landed at Nasugbu, on western Luzon, on January 31, and that night ships of the screen were attacked by 20 or more suicide boats. One rammed and sank PC 1129; the rest were destroyed or driven off. The following night, Lt. John H. Stillman, USNR, was ordered to patrol with PT's 77 and 79 against suicide boats south of the landing beaches. He was not to go north of Talin Point, because our destroyers and destroyer escorts were patrolling north of the point.
Three miles south of Talin Point the PT's were illuminated by starshell, and were taken under fire by ships that they recognized as our own. The PT's fled southward at top speed, trying to identify themselves by radio and by signal light. It turned out later that the ships that fired on them, a destroyer and a destroyer escort, had tried repeatedly to reach the boats by radio, and failing to get an answer, had concluded that they were enemy PT's or suicide boats. The destroyer and destroyer escort did not see the visual recognition signals from the PT's.
Even then the PT's might have outrun pursuit, if the 77 had not run up on a reef. The crew abandoned ship. Ten minutes later a shell hit the boat amidships. The boat burned all night. The 79, following 100 yards astern of the 77, swung hard right and reduced speed to avoid the reef. Running
slowly, she was an easy mark. A shell hit her squarely on the port side. The 79 exploded and burned.
Lieutenant Stillman, who had been aboard the 77, was never seen again. The boat captain of the 79, Lt. (jg.) Michael A. Haughian, USNR, and two men of his crew, Joseph E. Klesh, MoMM1c, USNR, and Vincent A. Berra, QM3c, USNR, were killed when the boat exploded. All of the other officers and men of the 2 boats, 30 in all, swam to the enemy-held shore 2 miles away. With the aid of guerrillas they evaded capture until February 3, when they were picked up by PT's 227 and 230.
Both in lives and materiel, the Mindoro campaign was the most costly that the PT's had had in the Southwest Pacific. Yet the damage they did far overbalanced their losses. They met and overcame the most savage air attacks the enemy could mount, causing destruction of more than 20 enemy aircraft. Together with Army bombers, they sank one of the newest and finest destroyers in the Japanese Navy. They stopped Japanese interisland traffic, cut off evacuation from Mindoro to Luzon, and ferreted out and destroyed small craft in the harbors. They cleaned out whole nests of suicide boats. They supported the guerrillas on Mindoro and Luzon, and carried out many valuable reconnaissance missions.
Task Unit 70.1.4, comprising Squadrons 13 and 16 and PT's 227 and 230, received a Navy Unit Commendation, which read in part: "As the only Naval force present following the retirement of the invasion convoys, this Task Unit served as the major obstruction to enemy counter-landings from nearby Luzon, Panay and Palawan and bore the brunt of concentrated hostile air attacks throughout a 5-day period. Providing the only anti-aircraft protection available for personnel ashore engaged in the establishment of a motor torpedo boat operating and repair base, the gallant officers and men who commanded and staffed the Task Unit and who manned the boats maintained the vigilant watch by night and stood out in the open waters close to base by day to fight off repeated Japanese bombing, strafing and suicide attacks, expending in 3 days the ammunition which had been expected to last approximately 3 weeks in the destruction or damaging of a large percentage of the attacking planes. Their invaluable service in support of the expeditious completion of operations ashore vital to the furtherance of the Mindoro Campaign reflects the highest credit upon the United States Naval Service."
13. BASES AND LOGISTICS
With the ending of the New Guinea campaign and the beginning of operations in the Philippines, plans were made to establish both an advance base and a large operating, repair, and supply base for PT's in the Leyte Gulf area and to move all available squadrons and floating equipment to Leyte as rapidly as possible. Binatac Point in San Juanico Strait, the narrow strip of water separating Leyte from Samar, was selected as the site. PT Advance Base 5 was to be constructed immediately, and the large base was to be put on the same site when it arrived.
"PT base construction in the Leyte area was one disappointment after another during the first several months," Captain Bowling wrote. "The day before the LST's carrying the advance base arrived, the Naval Base Commander notified the Task Group Commander that the place desired at Binatac Point was required for Naval Base construction and was not available for a PT base. A quick survey was made that afternoon to locate another site agreeable to him. Tinaogan Point further up the strait was finally agreed upon.
"This base site proved almost impossible. The base equipment was unloaded during one typhoon and another typhoon occurred shortly afterwards during base construction. It was the height of the rainy season and there was no coral or rock fill available in the area for roads or walks. The terrain was very hilly. The base was constructed, after a fashion, but never satisfactorily completed. It was necessary to base some squadrons and floating equipment here, however, and the conditions were very detrimental to morale with the sides of the hills mere mud slides and the flat places morasses of mud. The large operating and repair base, PT Base 17, arrived in stages -- personnel first, by about a month, so that they had to be housed and fed at the advance base, and were a hindrance instead of a help. A battalion of Seabees worked several weeks with a great deal of equipment building themselves a camp just below the PT Base site on a knoll which had some coral in the water just off the beach. They dredged up coral to make usable roads. When the Seabees vacated this spot very soon after they had it set up, the PT advance base moved there, with an exchange of tentage, lumber, etc.
"When it was finally decided by the higher commands, because of the difficulties of construction on Samar near Tacloban, to shift the Naval Base, the Naval Supply Depot and air strip construction to the Guiuan area of
USS Cyrene lifts a PT aboard for major hull repair.
Samar, a fast survey was made and a PT base site was selected near Bobon Point . . . The advance base was left in San Juanico Strait. The first equipment for PT Base 17 did not arrive at Bobon Point until January 26, 1945.
"The period from 21 October through January 1945 presented the most acute problems ever encountered by the task group during the writer's experience in it. Rains, typhoons and frequent air raids interfered greatly with the servicing of boats by tenders. The advance base was a sea of mud, making it an effort just to exist there. The two typhoons, heavy enemy air oppositions, the Battle of Surigao Strait, and operations against enemy surface ships in the Camotes Sea quickly built up an unusually heavy load and backlog of repair work. All repair work and servicing was done by the tenders anchored in San Juanico Strait or San Pedro Bay, and by the floating work shop barges, crane barges, radar barges, fuel barges and drydocks anchored near the advance base. The handling of spare parts and material was a heartbreaking job, getting them ashore, sorting and distributing them in one inadequate warehouse which had been borrowed from the Army and
Cyrene could dock two PT's at a time.
PT 325 rests in cradle alongside, suspended from boom;
another PT, with corner of stern just visible, rests in cradle on deck.
put up at the advance base. During this period almost all PT spares came from Woendi, a few straight from Manus.
"To accentuate all problems, it was necessary during this period, in addition to supporting current operations, to stage the PT's and supporting equipment through Leyte for the Mindoro, Ormoc, Lingayen Gulf, and Subic Bay operations, and on top of that one tender and three squadrons of PT's were transferred temporarily to operational control of Commander Task Group 77.11 for a special operation from Mindoro. The early arrival of PT Base 17 would have helped immeasurably. This base was of little value to the task group until some time in March 1945. The floating equipment -- drydocks, radar barges, ramp barges, crane barges, gas barges, work shop barges and the four F ships and two FS ships assigned to the task group were the saving features during this period. It would not have been possible to meet our requirements without this equipment. The arrival of the USS Cyrene in San Pedro Bay about 1 January was a tremendous help, with its major repair facilities, large provision storage capacity and berthing capacity."
Cyrene, commanded by Comdr. Frank A. Munroe, Jr., USNR, former skipper of Hilo, looked like a floating navy yard to the PT's.35 She carried a heavy part of the repair load during her first weeks in Leyte Gulf, and had more adequate quarters for Captain Bowling and his staff than they had ever had before. Captain Bowling shifted his pennant from Hilo to Cyrene on January 17.
The "acute problems" of the first weeks in Leyte Gulf were gradually overcome during the early part of 1945. Once it began to function, Base 17, at Bobon Point, Samar, became the biggest and most complete PT base in the world. Its warehouses bulged with supplies, spares, and ammunition. To supply its advance bases, the task group operated what amounted to a private shipping line, using the four F ships acquired from the Army at the time of the Aitape and Hollandia landings and two larger freighters, FS ships, assigned to operational control of the task group by the Commander Service Force. The converted yachts Hilo and Jamestown, though still carried on the books as tenders, had been rendered obsolete as tenders by the arrival of larger and more efficient vessels, and were used as utility ships to shuttle personnel and cargo between bases.
The task group had grown to mammoth size. At its peak in mid- 1945, it had 212 PT's, 11 tenders, 46 functional components, and, not counting
PT Base 17, Bobon Point, Samar.
the major bases which were administered by the Commander Service Force, had more than 1,000 officers and 10,000 men. At the beginning of the year, there were 20 squadrons of PT's. In February, the 2 lowest numbered squadrons, 5 and 7, were decommissioned and their 16 boats were apportioned among 8 other squadrons which had suffered losses. In May the number of squadrons was raised to 19 with the arrival of the first boats of Squadron 38 from the United States.
With so many PT's, more major bases were required. The Dreger Harbor base was rolled up and shipped to Mindoro in January. This became the principal repair and staging base for the task group's five squadrons of Higgins PT's. It was planned to divide the Elco squadrons between Base 17 and PT Base 16, which was established in March as a major repair base at Puerto Isabela on Basilan Island, off the southern end of the Zamboanga Peninsula. Although some squadrons did base there for a time, construction of PT Base 16 had not been completed at the end of hostilities in August, and the base did not play as important a role in the support of PT operations as did the bases at Bobon Point and Mindoro.
14. LINGAYEN GULF
American reoccupation of the island of Luzon began on January 9, 1945, with the landing of the XIV and I Corps of Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger's Sixth Army in Lingayen Gulf. Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons 28 and 36 and the tender Wachapreague, under tactical command of Lt. Comdr. Francis D. Tappaan, USNR, arrived 4 days later.36
The PT's sank four barges on their first patrol on the night of January 14/15. Thereafter they found few targets on their nightly patrols. With his navy reduced to impotence, the enemy made no attempt to reinforce Luzon, and with good internal communications on the island did not risk his small craft at sea. A shining exception to the general unproductiveness of patrols came on the night of January 23/24, when Lt. G. S. Wright's PT 528 and Lt. (jg.) B. M. Stevens's PT 532 fired eight torpedoes at a 6,000-ton freighter, scoring two hits on the bow. Several weeks later Lt. John W. Morrison, Jr., USNR, commander of Squadron 36, had an opportunity to
A Japanese suicide boat on the beach of Lingayen Gulf.
PT's destroyed many of these explosive craft throughout the Philippines.
examine this freighter by daylight. It was aground and abandoned, with the entire bow blown off.
Aside from the freighter and a few barges, all enemy surface craft destroyed by the Lingayen PT's were encountered in a series of four daylight air-sea strikes during a 2-week period in January and February. On the afternoon of January 29, Lt. R. C. Castle, USNR, led Lt. N. J. Russell, Jr.'s PT 523 and Lt. (jg.) James P. Wolf's PT 524 on a sweep of the beach near San Fernando. Covered by aircraft of the 85th Fighter Command, the PT's sank 6 barges, destroyed 4 more on the beach, sank 1 lugger and damaged another beyond repair, destroyed 10 beached suicide boats, and set fire to 3 fuel dumps and 1 ammunition dump.
Two days later Lt. Comdr. Frank B. Gass, USNR, led Lt. (jg.) E. H. Olson's PT 551 and Lt. Walter F. Brown's PT 547 on another strike at the San Fernando area. The boats sank or destroyed 21 barges and 5 suicide boats, holed a water tower with several 40mm. hits, and started a huge fire near the tower. P-38's of the 308th Bomb Wing sank a lugger that was screened by a dock from the fire of the PT's. Two more strikes in the same
area, on February 8 and 11, resulted in destruction of 16 barges, 9 suicide boats, a 100-foot lugger, and a 40-foot motor launch, and damage to a warehouse, a garage, and a truck. The patrol of February 11 was the last in which the Lingayen boats sighted enemy surface craft.
Construction of PT Advance Base 6 at Port Sual, in Lingayen Gulf, permitted Wachapreague to return to Leyte Gulf in March. The boats continued their patrols of the west coast of Luzon and, with the establishment of a fueling station in Santiago Cove in guerrilla territory 100 miles north of the base, extended their patrol area to include the entire northern coast of the island. Most of their activity was confined to strafing enemy shore installations, supplying guerrilla forces and obtaining guerrilla intelligence of Japanese troop dispositions. For several months the PT's were a vital part of the day-and-night air-surface blockade to forestall any enemy attempts at evacuation from northern Luzon to Formosa.
The PT's made several rescues of personnel of aircraft forced down at sea. Lieutenant Commander Gass led PT's 379 and 551 on a mission on March 17, picking up 12 crew members and passengers of a Navy PBM in seas so heavy that the PT's were considerably damaged and every officer and man of the PT crews suffered minor injuries. In a series of three operations off northern Luzon from the 5th to 13th of June, PT's rescued a total of 20 aircrewmen.
PT's supported the Army's eastward drive along the northern Luzon coastline in June by carrying Army officers who spotted targets and directed fire of Army fieldpieces ashore while the boats illuminated enemy concentration areas with flares and strafed them. During the latter part of July, elements of the Philippine Army and the U.S. 11th Airborne Division completed the occupation of the north coast, and PT patrols from Lingayen were discontinued on July 31.
RETURN TO MANILA BAY
Landings by the XI Corps of the Sixth Army in the San Antonio-San Narciso area of Luzon on January 29 reopened Subic Bay as an American naval base and, in conjunction with the landings of the 11th Airborne Division 2 days later at Nasugbu to the south, marked the opening of the drive to liberate Manila. Squadrons 21 and 27, under Lt. Henry S. Taylor, USNR, arrived in Subic Bay with the tender Varuna on February 3. Patrolling to the south,
Lt. John A. Mapp's PT 376 approaches Corregidor on February 16, 1945,
to rescue paratroopers who overshot the top of the island and were taken under enemy sniper fire.
these PT's became the first Allied war vessels to enter Manila Bay since the surrender of Corregidor in May 1942.37
While the battle for Manila was raging, the Sixth Army started operations to open Manila Bay to Allied shipping. In a combined overland and amphibious assault, which the PT's had helped prepare with a thorough reconnaissance of Mariveles Harbor early in February, Sixth Army forces established control over the southern Bataan Peninsula on February 15, and followed up this success a day later with a combined airborne and amphibious assault on Corregidor.
Japanese experience 3 years earlier had indicated how costly an amphibious assault on Corregidor could be. It was decided, therefore, to drop 2,000 paratroopers to seize key positions by surprise before the enemy had time
Lt. Raymond P. Shafer, USNR, and Lt. (jg.) Charles Adams, USNR, approach Corregidor beach
to pick up paratroopers under Japanese sniper fire.
to react. The only good drop site was at Kindley Field, but if the paratroopers landed there, the enemy could direct fire at them from above and they would have to attack against the heavily defended higher ground. It was necessary, therefore, to make the drop on the very top of the rock, even though the only suitable spots there were the Parade Ground, measuring 150 by 250 yards, and the golf course, 150 by 325 yards. These fields were surrounded by splintered trees, tangled undergrowth, and wrecked buildings, and had the added disadvantage of sloping off suddenly in almost perpendicular cliffs. It was to be expected that some paratroopers would miss the fields and find themselves on the cliffside.
As the paratroopers began their descent, PT's waited close to shore. Lt. John A. Mapp's PT 376 spotted a group of paratroopers picking their way down the face of the cliff as enemy snipers took pot shots at them. The 376 moved in and 50 yards from shore put a rubber raft over the side. Lt. Raymond P. Shafer, USNR, executive officer of Squadron 27, and Lt. (jg.) Charles Adams, USNR, paddled ashore and picked up the men. Shortly afterwards they paddled in again for a second group. On the 2 trips, they rescued 17 paratroopers under enemy sniper fire.
Corregidor was taken after a ferocious 12-day battle. General MacArthur, who had left he Rock in PT 41 on March 11, 1942, returned to it in PT 373 on March 2, 1945.
After the fall of Corregidor the Army began a series of shore-to-shore movements to liberate the rest of the islands of Manila Bay. The PT's supported these operations, making close reconnaissance of the entire shoreline of the bay and the islands, and reporting enemy positions and installations to the Army. They sank several barges, suicide boats, and other small craft; prevented reinforcement or escape of the Japanese on the islands, and took many prisoners who were trying to escape from the islands by rafts and canoes, or even by swimming. Interrogation of these prisoners gave much valuable information as to the enemy situation in the bay. The PT's also gave direct support to some of the shore-to-shore movements by strafing and rocketing the beaches in preparation for landings.
The boats helped to acquire further information by putting intelligence teams aboard Japanese hulks in the harbor. Occasionally the boats had to clean out snipers on the hulks before they could put the intelligence teams aboard.
Manila fell on March 3, and the Army completed the liberation of the bay islands on April 16. PT combat patrols ended on April 27.
Squadrons 20 and 23, under tactical command of Lt. James H. Van Sicklen, USNR, and supported by the tender Willoughby, began operations from Puerto Princesa on Palawan, westernmost of the major islands of the Philippines, on March 1, 1945, 1 day after the initial landings by units of the Eighth Army.38 The Army found few Japanese ashore; the PT's, though they patrolled from one end of the island to the other, found none afloat.
Eventually the PT's located a Japanese garrison on Pandanan Island, off the southern tip of Palawan, and strafed it repeatedly. During their first strikes, the PT's drew heavy fire from Pandanan. As time went on the volume of enemy fire slackened, and finally ceased altogether. Late in April, PT's put a landing party ashore and found that the island had been evacuated. With no enemy left to fight, patrols were secured on April 28.
Rear Adm. Forrest B. Royal, commander of the amphibious group that was to put troops of the Eighth Army's 41st Infantry Division ashore at Zamboanga, on Mindanao, requested that PT's start operations as early as possible, to work with aircraft in destroying any enemy suicide boats or PT's that might imperil the invasion forces. Since little enemy air reaction was anticipated, Squadrons 8 and 24, under Lt. Robert A. Williamson, USNR, arrived in the assault area with Oyster Bay on March 9, the day before the first landings.39 For the first few days Oyster Bay remained in the assault area during the day and retired at night to guerrilla-held Sibuco Bay on the west side of Zamboanga Peninsula. Later the tender shifted to a sheltered anchorage in the Pilas Islands to the southwest of Zamboanga.
Operating independently at night and in cooperation with Morotai-based Army bombers during the daytime, the PT's destroyed many small craft around Zamboanga, at Basilan Island to the south, and in the Sulu Archipelago to the southwest. Several fruitful air-sea strikes were made in narrow Isabela Channel, between Basilan and the smaller island of Malamaui. The bag for these forays included two enemy PT boats and a number of smaller craft believed to be suicide boats.
On March 15, Lt. (jg.) William H. Suttenfield, Jr., USNR, with Lt. (jg.) R. B. Mack's PT 114 and Ens. George J. Larson's PT 189, covered by two Mitchell bombers, struck at Jolo City, 80 miles southwest of Zamboanga in the Sulu Archipelago. While the PT's destroyed two luggers, a barge, and six other small craft at the docks, the Mitchells dropped bombs on supply dumps, starting several large fires and setting off one ammunition dump with a blast that threw flame and smoke thousands of feet in the air. Guerrilla reports later indicated that this patrol had wiped out all of the craft owned by the Japanese on Jolo, and that the Japanese thereafter had to resort to native canoes and small sailboats for movement of their troops.
"The immense success of Motor Torpedo Boat-Plane Patrol Teams was clearly illustrated during this operation," Admiral Royal said in his report of the invasion of Zamboanga.
"The fine cooperation that was accomplished resulted in the destruction of many prime targets, inland and along the beaches, especially the destruction of small surface craft, and contributed to making this operation free from suicide boat attacks."
It was planned to install an advance base for PT's at Caldera Point, 7 miles east of the town of Zamboanga, and the advance base unit was unloaded on the beach. Japanese infiltrated through the thinly held defense perimeter of the 41st Division and brought the camp area under heavy mortar and 75mm. fire. Seabees of the PT Advance Base Construction Detachment and base personnel worked swiftly under enemy fire to move the base equipment to safety. They saved more than two-thirds of the equipment and suffered only two minor casualties to personnel.
The Army made unopposed landings on Basilan Island on March 16, and on Malamaui on the 18th. Since plans called for establishment of a major repair and overhaul PT base at Puerto Isabela on Basilan Island, the advance base was installed on Malamaui Island, across Isabela Channel from Puerto Isabela.
By the end of March, enemy water traffic along the Zamboanga Peninsula and through the Sulu Archipelago had dried up. Seaplane tender Pocomoke anchored on April 25 at Tawi Tawi at the southern end of the archipelago to service Navy patrol planes for operations over Borneo. Afterwards PT's began to run down the archipelago from Malamaui, refuel from Pocomoke, and strike at targets in northeastern Borneo, usually by daylight, under cover of Army fighters from Zamboanga or Navy patrol bombers from Pocomoke.
On the morning of April 26, Lt. (jg.) Earle P. Brown's PT 122 and Ens. George J. Larson's PT 189, patrolling in Darvel Bay, Borneo, pounded a small freighter to pieces with repeated 40mm. and 37mm. hits, and on the following morning destroyed a 100-foot junk in the same area. One of the most successful of the early Borneo strikes was that led by Lt. F. Gardner Cox, USNR, against the town of Lahad Datu in Darvel Bay during daylight on April 30 and May 1. On this patrol Ens. George I. Cook's PT 129 and Ens. B. E. Burtch's PT 144 destroyed 12 small craft and damaged 3 more while the covering Mariner patrol bomber of VPB 20 strafed 6 barges anchored up a river and set fire to a fuel dump. As the boats were returning from patrol, they intercepted a raft and an outrigger canoe, from which they captured 12 Japanese sailors attempting to escape from Bongao Island, near Tawi Tawi, to Borneo.
The situation in the Philippines after the Zamboanga landings was summarized in a report by Lt. Gen. Robert L. Eichelberger, Commanding General Eighth Army. "By the middle of March 1945," he said, "the campaign
for the liberation of the Philippines had successfully passed the climactic stage. The original American toeholds on the periphery of the archipelago had, by a combination of multiple amphibious assaults on the beaches and protracted engagements in the mountains, been expanded until they formed an almost continuous ring around the islands.
"On Leyte and Samar to the east, the last of the Japanese remnants were being destroyed. On Luzon to the north, the enemy defenses were disintegrating as Manila fell to the forces of liberation. Mindoro, Marinduque, and the miscellaneous island groups astride the overwater routes through the Visayas were in the final mop-up stage. The enemy's grip on Palawan on the western edge of the archipelago had been broken and our operations in Zamboanga (western Mindanao) and the Sulu Archipelago had disrupted his communication and evacuation routes to the south. With the only remaining escape route to eastern Mindanao dominated by our motor torpedo boats and our air superiority established everywhere, the central Philippines had been turned into a vast trap. Embattled conquerors but a few months before, the Japanese garrisons in the islands were now condemned prisoners facing ultimate capture or annihilation."
The PT's at Ormoc already were lending support to the Army's mopping-up operations in the eastern part of the central Philippines. On March 18, when elements of the Eighth Army landed in the Tigbauan area of the island of Panay, Squadron 33, under Lt. A. Murray Preston, USNR, arrived off the southwestern coast of Panay with tender Portunus (Lt. Comdr. Ralph E. McKinnie, USNR) to support the consolidation of the western portion of the central Philippines. After the Army took Iloilo City on March 20, a small advance base was installed there for the PT's, permitting withdrawal of the Portunus on April 2.
Since the Japanese in the islands were, as Lieutenant General Eichelberger said, "condemned prisoners" and had no hope of reinforcement, there was little for the PT's to do. Although they patrolled the coasts of Panay and Negros religiously from the middle of March to the middle of July, they found less than a dozen surface craft, all of which they sank or destroyed.
19. EAST TO DAVAO
Our holdings in Mindanao were advanced 140 miles eastward on April 17, when the 24th Division landed at Malabang and Parang, across Moro Gulf from eastern Zamboanga. Accompanying the invaders were Squadron 24,
under Lt. Edgar D. Hogland, USNR, and Portunus (Lt. Comdr. Ralph E. McKinnie, USNR). A small advance base was shipped in, for installation at Polloc Harbor, but in view of the Army's rapid overland advance to the east and the complete absence of enemy waterborne traffic, the base equipment was not even unloaded.
Since there was little likelihood of encountering Japanese aircraft or submarines off the southern Mindanao coast, Captain Bowling tried a new experiment: using a tender as a mobile base to support a long-range strike into Davao Gulf and at the islands off the southern tip of Mindanao. On the morning of April 26, Oyster Bay (Lt. Comdr. Walter W. Holroyd, USNR) rendezvoused with PT's 343, 332, 334, 336, 340 and 342 of Squadron 24 twenty miles south of Matil Point, Mindanao, and began fueling them. That night Oyster Bay retired to sea and two sections of PT's patrolled in Davao Gulf, the first Allied surface units to enter the gulf since the Japanese occupation. Each patrol was bombed ineffectively by a Japanese plane, in the first and last attacks on PT's by enemy aircraft in the Davao area. After the first night, Oyster Bay moved into Canalasan Cove in Sarangani Bay, which was found to be held by guerrillas, but continued to retire seaward at night after she had finished fueling and servicing the boats. The experiment was entirely successful, though something of a disappointment, since the PT's found no enemy shipping.
Oyster Bay and the six boats returned to Polloc Harbor on April 30. Two days later the entire squadron moved with Portunus to Sarangani Bay. In the meantime the Army's overland drive had reached Davao Gulf, and by May 6 Portunus was able to move into the gulf and drop anchor in Malalag Bay.
Lacking enemy surface contacts, the PT's performed many special missions, landing Army scouts and Navy intelligence personnel around Davao Gulf to gather information of Japanese troop movements. They also launched a series of air-sea strikes with Navy bombers, damaging shore installations in Davao Gulf and the Sarangani Islands.
The most spectacular of these strikes, which developed into a series of actions continuing over a period of 7 days, began on May 14, when Lieutenant Hogland, with Lt. (jg.) Luther C. Evans's PT 343, Lt. (jg.) Byrne C. Fernelius's PT 335, and the LCI gunboat 21, rendezvoused with a Navy Mitchell bomber in northeastern Davao Gulf. At Piso Point the PT's destroyed a cargo barge and launch on the beach and all units of the group strafed buildings and three pillboxes. The PT's approached a little cove
behind Piso Point but did not enter because of shoal water at the entrance. Hogland surveyed the shoreline of the cove with binoculars at a distance of 400 yards. Seeing nothing but a dense growth of mangroves, he pulled out and continued his patrol to the north. The LCI, remaining behind, destroyed a 50-foot launch and set fire to an oil dump at nearby Pangasinan Point. Just before noon the Mitchell bomber reported that it had discovered two enemy PT's hidden in the mangroves at Piso Point.
PT's 343 and 335 returned, and searched out a deep narrow channel leading through the shoals into the cove. There they found six Japanese PT's tucked away under the mangroves, so cleverly camouflaged with green netting, freshly cut brush, and palm leaves that they could not be seen at a distance greater than 100 yards, and then only with the aid of binoculars. Soon after the boats opened fire they shot away the camouflage from an enemy PT, which was then seen to be resting in a graving dock. A moment later they exploded its gasoline tanks with 40mm. hits. The boats discovered some gasoline drums on the beach, hit them and set them ablaze. This fire spread to an ammunition dump. There was a tremendous blast of flame, smoke, and debris, rising 300 feet in the air, followed by a series of lesser explosions for the next 3 hours. A second enemy PT blew up with the ammunition dump, and two torpedoes with freshly painted warheads were engulfed in the flames. The boats poured 40mm. shells into four more enemy PT's and a 30-foot launch, and set fire to a chemical dump which threw out billowing clouds of pure white smoke. After our boats had been in the cove for nearly 3 hours, three more Mitchell bombers arrived. Hogland withdrew and directed the planes to the targets. They bombed, rocketed, and strafed the area, exploding an inland gasoline and ammunition dump and setting fire to an oil dump.
Early the next morning, Ens. John Adams, USNR, returning with PT's 332 and 334 from a night patrol in northern Davao Gulf, approached Piso Point. He observed seven small explosions in the inner cove and a huge explosion of an ammunition dump near a dock in the outer cove. The enemy apparently was destroying his own material. PT's 332 and 334 strafed the shoreline of the outer cove and returned to Malalag Bay.
Two hours later Lieutenant Hogland, in Lt. (jg.) Donald Maley's PT 106, with Ens. D. A. Zoeller's PT 341, rendezvoused off Piso Point with the destroyer escort Key, the LCI gunboats 21 and 22, and four Navy Mitchell bombers. Hogland took PT 106 within 400 yards of the cove and began strafing to feel out the enemy. Whereas he had met no return fire the day
before, this time he was greeted by steady streams of machine-gun and rifle fire. With bullets splashing 10 feet from the 106, he withdrew and boarded the Key to spot targets. The Key shelled the cove at 1,800 yards range, starting three large fires and blowing up a gasoline dump. Hogland then transferred to LCI gunboat 21 and took her within 400 yards of the beach for closer bombardment. Her guns exploded a chemical dump and set fire to an oil dump. After the bombardment Hogland took PT's 106 and 341 into the inner cove under close air support, and at 75 yards range shelled the four enemy PT's damaged the previous day. Three of them caught fire and burned with heavy explosions. The fourth was seen to be one-third consumed by fire from the previous day's shelling. The boats riddled the remaining portion with 40mm. hits and it was considered destroyed. The boats discovered still another heavily camouflaged PT, and it, too, was set afire and burned with many explosions. By the time the PT's withdrew, the destroyer Flusser had arrived. With Hogland aboard to spot targets, the Flusser shelled the cove from 4,000 yards, exploding a chemical dump. The Mitchell bombers touched off an ammunition dump.
On the morning of May 16, Hogland was back at Piso Point with PT's 334 and 340. Since it was raining hard and visibility was poor, he did not enter the inner cove, but stood off and strafed the point. At noon four Corsair fighters bombed and strafed the cove, starting an oil fire. Then, as the weather continued to close in, the boats and planes departed.
The next morning Hogland returned with Lieutenant Evans's PT 343 and Lt. (jg.) R. J. Lewis's PT 336, under cover of four Navy Mitchell bombers. Hogland and his squadron intelligence officer, Lt. Hugh Kenworthy, Jr., USNR, paddled toward shore in a canoe to inspect the enemy PT hulks. Twenty yards from shore, five sniper bullets splashed near the canoe. Startled, the officers capsized their craft. They righted it and took shelter on the offshore side of one of the hulks. They were about to board it when they discovered that it was boobytrapped, with wires leading to two mines in the water. Before further sniper fire persuaded them to return to PT 343, they saw a camouflaged barge hidden away 10 yards inland. The boats fired 100 rounds of 40mm. in the direction of the barge, though they were unable to see it. The planes, trying to hit the barge with bombs, touched off another ammunition dump.
On the morning of May 18, Hogland, with Ens. John Adams's PT 332 and Ens. R. M. Brittingham's PT 334, covered by three Dauntless scout bombers.
discovered and sank two more camouflaged barges, and, with the help of the planes, located the barge they had been firing at blindly the previous day. The boats had damaged it severely when a Navy Mitchell bomber arrived and made a direct hit with a 250-pound bomb. On the same day other PT's on an intelligence mission at the nearby village of Magdug interrogated a local resident of Russian extraction, who told them that the Japanese had been evacuating Piso Point since the first strike on May 14.
Hogland again brought two PT's, the 343 and 106, to Piso Point on the 19th and strafed the entire area at range of 100 yards, receiving no return fire. he boats destroyed a 30-foot sailboat on the beach 1 mile north of the point. The climactic end of the strikes against Piso Point came on the following morning, May 20, when Hogland, with the same two PT's, vectored 24 Liberator bombers onto the target. The planes saturated the entire area with 36 tons of bombs. Subsequent inspection by the PT's revealed that the enemy's PT base had ceased to exist.
Thereafter the Davao boats continued their scouting missions and strafing of shore installations, and supported several minor landings by Army units in mopping-up operations, but they had almost no contacts with enemy surface craft.
With the Philippine campaign drawing to a close, the Allied invasion of Borneo was ready to get underway. An American Naval Task Force under Rear Adm. Forrest B. Royal was to transport Australian troops from Morotai and land them on the island of Tarakan, northeast Borneo, on May 1, 1945. Admiral Royal requested that PT's start operations in the Tarakan area in advance of the landings as a precaution against suicide boats and enemy PT's, and to prevent the Japanese from repairing the gaps which Allied Engineer Assault Teams were to make in the beach obstacles in preparation for the invasion.
Squadron 36 and Wachapreague, under tactical command of Lt. Comdr. Francis D. Tappaan, USNR, arrived at Tawi Tawi in the Sulu Archipelago on April 27. PT's began moving down to Tarakan on the 28th to illuminate and strafe the beaches at night to prevent the Japanese from repairing their obstacles. Until the arrival of the Wachapreague on May 1, these boats refueled from cruisers of the covering force.
A 5-inch rocket blazes ahead of a PT in test firing in the Philippines.
Tubes of the port rocket launcher may be seen at extreme left. Just to their right is a 20mm. gun. In center is a mortar, used for firing illuminating flares and lobbing explosive shells. On bow is a 37mm. gun and aft of it another 20mm. The boat also carries a rocket launcher and 20mm. gun on the starboard side, two pairs of 50-caliber machine-guns, a 40mm. gun, and two depth charges.
On the night of April 29/30, Lt. John W. Morrison, USNR, the squadron commander, patrolled Tarakan Roads with Lt. N. J. Russell, Jr.'s PT 523 and Lt. (jg.) B. M. Stephens's PT 532. Early in the evening they set fire to a small anchored freighter with a 37mm. hit. It burned for more than 9 hours, emitting great clouds of dense black smoke. Ten minutes after setting the freighter ablaze, the boats found five luggers and a motor launch near a pier at Lingkas Town on Tarakan. Because of reported minefields near the shore, Morrison stood off at 800 yards and opened fire on the luggers, but scored only a few scattered hits. He decided to try the new 5inch spin stabilized rockets carried by the 532. The 532 fired a full load of 16 rockets, sinking I lugger and damaging 2 others beyond repair. The 523 then sank the motor launch and damaged the other two luggers with 40mm. hits. On the following night Lt. (jg.) A. J. Hanes's PT 525 together with 529, 522 and 531, found one of the two damaged luggers and finished it off with gunfire.
The landings went off on schedule and with little opposition. The PT's found no suicide boats or enemy PT's, but during their first 10 days at Tarakan sank or destroyed a dozen or more small craft -- luggers, barges, and lighters -- in addition to those destroyed during the preinvasion patrols. In May the PT"s found that they had to search out their targets by patrolling up the Sesajap and Sekata Rivers and in the narrow channels of the deltas of these rivers. On May 8, Lt. G. S. Wright's PT 528 and Lt. (jg.) B. M. Stephens's PT 532 found a small freighter 4 miles up the Morutai River and sank it with gunfire.
On most of their patrols the PT's carried NICA interpreters who interrogated natives and asked them to capture and hold Japanese prisoners for the PT's. The natives, friendly to the Dutch, were only too happy to comply. A prize catch came on June 12, when natives handed over a prisoner who had in his possession an excellent map of the remaining Japanese defenses on Tarakan Island.
As Japanese resistance on Tarakan came to an end, the Australian Army requested the PT's to patrol the northeastern side of the island to prevent the escape of enemy personnel to the Borneo mainland. The boats captured many Japanese trying to paddle away in dugouts and canoes, and killed others who resisted capture. One morning shortly after dawn, a PT patrol spotted a floating clump of nipa palms, a sight not unusual in those waters. The boats investigated it and found that it was actually a camouflaged raft, with nine Japanese in the water clinging to one side. The Japanese fired at the PT's with rifles. The PT's killed four of them and took the other five prisoner.
21. TAWI TAWI
While the Tarakan PT's patrolled the Borneo coast as far north as Cowie Bay, the boats from Zamboanga, fueling from Pocomoke at Tawi Tawi, were striking at targets along the coast above Cowie Bay, principally in the Darvel Bay region. In order to facilitate these operations and to extend the range of the patrols along the northeastern Borneo coast, Squadron 8, under Lt. William C. Godfrey, moved on May 21 with the Oyster Bay to an anchorage in Chongos Bay, Tawi, Tawi. Boats of Squadron 9, under Lt. Richard M. Monahon, USNR, arrived in Chongos Bay 2 days later.
The most successful of their early operations began at dawn on May 27, when Lieutenant Monahon led nine PT's, covered by eight RAAF Kittyhawk
fighters and four Navy Mariner bombers, into the harbor of Sandakan. 40 The PT's ran at 35 knots through the narrow harbor entrance, laying smoke as a protection against the enemy fortifications. Several 75mm. shells dropped near the boats without causing damage. PT's 126, 154, and 155 each fired two torpedoes at harbor installations. Two hit the government dock, shattering pilings, leaving the dock sagging, and sinking three small launches alongside. Another overturned a 300-foot finger pier, sank three launches alongside, ripped up the tracks of a marine railway, and blew the stern off a small freighter on the railway. For 21/2 hours, under spasmodic machine-gun fire from shore, the PT's strafed and rocketed harbor installations. They destroyed three more launches, heavily damaged a 100-foot lugger, and set fire to warehouses, buildings, and a sawmill which was reported to house enemy suicide craft. The planes strafed and bombed the town heavily, damaging other buildings and knocking out a shore battery that was giving the boats trouble. The cost to the PT's was minor wounds to one officer and three men.
Two days later Lt. (jg.) F. W. Weidmann's PT 130 and Ens. B. E. Burtch's PT 144 entered Sandakan Harbor and observed nine large fires burning in the town. The boats destroyed a canoe and damaged a 60-foot sea truck, two barges, three sloops, two canoes, a motor launch, and a gig. These and subsequent raids caused the enemy to evacuate the town.
During their first 2 weeks at Tawi Tawi, the PT's destroyed or damaged upwards of 70 surface craft. Thereafter most of their activity was restricted, for lack of other targets, to strafing and rocketing shore installations, usually in cooperation with aircraft. These strikes eventually resulted in Japanese evacuation of Lahad Datu and several other coastal towns.
The PT's performed many special missions for guerrilla forces and for the Australian Intelligence Bureau. A few examples:
On June 3, Lieutenant Weidmann's PT 130 and Ens. George J. Larson's PT 189, escorted by PT's 142 and 143, towed four native craft loaded with guerrilla troops to Banguey Island, where the guerrillas landed and captured a Japanese fish cannery.
On the mornings of June 26 and 27, Lt. Mack L. Kennedy, USNR, led Lt. (jg.) Richard M. Dicke's PT 187 and Lt. (jg.) Charles J. Moran, Jr.'s PT 160 in close-range strafing of the town of Beluran in Labuk Bay to
distract attention from the landing of an Australian scouting party at nearby Samarang Point. The diversionary operation was entirely successful and the boats did considerable damage to buildings in Beluran. During the runs on the second morning, made only 50 yards offshore in daylight, one man was killed by a rifle bullet and two were wounded by shell fragments.
Lt. (jg.) J. Harvey DuBose's PT 154, searching for a downed Navy Mariner patrol bomber on July 2, found it north of Labuk Bay, afloat but unable to take off. PT 154 towed the plane back to its tender, the Pocomoke, at Tawi Tawi, covering the distance of more than 200 miles in a little less than 23 hours.
22. BRUNEI BAY
Troops of the 9th Australian Division landed at Brunei Bay, on the western coast of Borneo, on June 10. PT's 78, 81, 82 and 84 which had staged from Mindoro and refueled at Puerto Princesa on Palawan patrolled the assault area on the night before the invasion, and were joined at Brunei Bay on the 10th by other boats of Squadrons 13 and 16 and the tender Willoughby.41
PT advance base at Brunei Bay, Borneo. The terrain was low and swampy, so most of the men lived in tents on the dock.
During the first few days the boats destroyed a 60-foot sailing vessel and damaged half a dozen barges. On the night of June 18, in a heavy rain with low visibility, PT's 241 and 223 on patrol twice sighted the periscope of a midget submarine and attacked with depth charges, but the water was so shallow that the charges, set to detonate at 30 feet, did not explode.
After that the PT's ran out of targets. The disheartened Japanese were making their retreat to the southward by land, and little remained for the PT's to do except strafe and mortar enemy positions along the coast and make strikes with RAAF planes against shore installations at enemy-held oil centers such as Jesselton, Miri, and Kudat.
The final invasion in the Southwest Pacific Area was made on July 1, 1945, when troops of the 7th Australian Division were landed at the great oil port of Balikpapan in southeastern Borneo. As at Tarakan, the amphibious attack group commander wished PT's to start patrolling before the landings to prevent the enemy from rebuilding beach obstacles destroyed by our underwater demolition teams, and to forestall any attempt by the enemy to molest navigational buoys laid by our minesweepers. Accordingly, four PT's of Squadron 10, four of Squadron 27, and the tender Mobjack, under tactical command of Lt. Comdr. Francis D. Tappaan, USNR, arrived in the assault area on June 27. The boats had no contact with enemy surface craft in the immediate vicinity of Balikpapan. By strafing and rocketing the shore, however, they accomplished their primary mission of keeping the enemy away from the beaches.
On the day of the landings, Varuna arrived with eight more PT's, and the task unit was brought up to full strength on July 6 with the arrival of the last seven boats of the two squadrons.42
Early in July, patrols were extended to the Little Paternoster Islands in Macassar Strait and to the western coast of Celebes, across the strait from Borneo. On the night of July 9/10, Lt. Alexander W. Allison's PT 373 and Lt. (jg.) Charles S. Welsh's PT 359, with Lt. Frank I. Manter, USNR, as section leader, were sent to destroy a reported enemy radar station on
Balabalagan Island in the Little Paternoster group. The boats did a thorough job of strafing huts and buildings and a 130-foot tower on the island, in the face of machine-gun and rifle fire that killed one man and wounded another. On the morning of July 14, Lt. Rogers V. Waugh, in PT 163, with Lt. (jg.) Harold A. Sparks's PT 167 and Lt. E. L. Harrison's PT 170, returned to the island and gave the buildings and tower a working over with rockets and mortar shells as well as with guns. A subsequent landing on the island revealed that electronic equipment in the buildings and tower had been destroyed. There were six fresh graves and one dead Japanese soldier on the island.
The patrols to the western coast of Celebes were so long that the boats had to run to and from station on two engines to save fuel. Yet it was only along the Celebes coast that the PT's found any enemy shipping, and even there the traffic quickly dried up after the boats sank a few large prahaus. The boats had their most rewarding action on July 22 when Lieutenant Waugh's PT 163, Lieutenant Harrison's PT 170, and Lt. (jg.) Robert L. Baker's PT 174 made a daylight strike on Paloe Bay, Celebes, with RAAF Kittyhawk fighters. The combined boat-and-plane attack resulted in the destruction of four prahaus and heavy damage to a hotel, a dock, and many houses in Dongala town. As the boats made their way back to Balikpapan, they could see smoke from four large fires 30 miles at sea.
The period of June and July 1945 was characterized by the disappearance of PT targets in all operating areas of the Southwest Pacific except for Morotai, where the boats continued to encounter enemy small craft because of the static land situation and the imminence of large enemy concentrations on Halmahera. As the Philippine campaign drew to a close, plans were made to transfer squadrons and tenders from the Seventh Fleet to the Pacific Fleet for operations to the North in which the Seventh Fleet would not take part. The command, Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons Pacific Fleet, had been revived after a period of desuetude, and was preparing to assume the major burden of PT warfare in the Pacific.
This command had its beginning on May 1, 1944, when Commodore Edward J. Moran reported for additional duty as Commander Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons Pacific Fleet (ComMTBRonsPac). In effect,
Commodore Moran acquired a title only, since he was already Commander Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons South Pacific, and he did not gain jurisdiction over any more squadrons in his new command than he had in his old one. By the first of December 1944, he had transferred all of his old squadrons and tenders to the Seventh Fleet, and his command was reduced to Squadrons 31, 32, and 37, and the tenders Acontius and Silenus, newly arrived in the Solomons from the United States.
By March 1, 1945, Squadron 31 had been sent to Palau, under operational command of the local naval commander, and the other two squadrons were at Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, under operational control of the Commander South Pacific Force, awaiting transportation to an operating area. Commodore Moran had been given administrative control of a fourth squadron, Squadron 26 at Pearl Harbor, but this unit was under operational control of the Commander Destroyers Pacific Fleet.
Commodore Moran left the Solomons in March under orders to report to the Navy Department for temporary duty. Since only four squadrons remained under the administrative control and none under the operational control of ComMTBRonsPac, and no decision had been reached as to the future of the command, he detached all his staff personnel except one supply officer, Lt. J. I. Everest, USNR, and one chief yeoman. He ordered Lieutenant Everest to assume temporary additional duty as ComMTBRonsPac (Administrative), and to hold down the fort until such time as the status of the command might be clarified.
Lieutenant Everest held down the fort until May 20, 1945, when Commodore Richard W. Bates assumed duties as ComMTBRonsPac. After inspecting the units of his command, Commodore Bates prepared for the Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet an estimate for motor torpedo boat operations in the invasion of the Japanese home island of Kyushu. He then went to work to form his staff organization aboard his flagship, Acontius, which he had had moved to Leyte Gulf.
In June, Commodore Bates began moving his squadrons to Okinawa. Squadron 31, commanded by Lt. Robert L. Searles, USNR, had moved from Palau to Leyte Gulf in March. Its first boats, shipped from Leyte by LSD Whitemarsh, arrived in Okinawa on June 18. During July, PT's of Squadron 31 carried out several successful air-sea rescue missions and maintained nightly "fly-catcher patrols" to stop evacuation from Okinawa. In the course of these patrols they sank a lugger and six canoes, all loaded with troops seeking to escape.
PT's of Squadron 37 being eased into their cradles in Oak Hill (LSD 7) at Espiritu Santo on July 24, 1945, for shipment to Okinawa. The LSD submerges to let the PT's enter her well deck. When six PT's are safety aboard in their cradles, the LSD refloats herself and is ready to get underway.
The first boats of Squadron 37, shipped by LSD Oak Hill from Espiritu Santo, arrived at Okinawa on August 8. They had no action with the enemy. Squadron 32, the rest of Squadron 37, and the tenders Silenus and Antigone, did not reach Okinawa until after the end of hostilities.
Besides these three squadrons, Commodore Bates had two new squadrons, 39 and 40, en route to Leyte from the United States, and the Huckins Squadron 26, a permanent fixture at Pearl Harbor.
Captain Bowling was ordered in June to transfer a tender to Commodore Bates to take care of Squadron 31. The Portunus was transferred on July 15, and arrived at Okinawa on July 21. On the same day Captain Bowling received orders to prepare to transfer eight squadrons of Elco PT's, three squadrons of Higgins PT's, and five tenders to ComMTBRonsPac. Commodore Bates requested, however, that these squadrons and tenders remain in the Seventh Fleet organization until such time as he might need them for combat operations.
The original plans for Operation Olympic, the projected invasion of the Japanese home islands, made no provision for PT operations. Subsequent to the drafting of the operation plan, however, the Commander Amphibious Force Pacific Fleet asked Commodore Bates to submit a plan for use of PT's off Japan, and subordinate commanders of the Amphibious Force made requests on him to provide more than 200 PT's for use in connection with the invasion. Hostilities ended before the plan could be submitted.
After the cessation of hostilities, the Seventh Fleet prepared to move westward from the Philippines to patrol Chinese and Korean waters. Admiral Kinkaid, foreseeing no need for PT's in this assignment, ordered Captain Bowling to report with his squadrons and tenders to the Commander Philippine Sea Frontier for duty. On the morning of August 28, 1945, Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons Seventh Fleet became Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons Philippine Sea Frontier.
The shooting was over, but there were still a few jobs for the boats to do in connection with the surrender of Japanese forces in the islands.
At Morotai, on the morning of August 25, 16 PT's under Lt. Comdr. Theodore R. Stansbury, USNR, got underway for a rendezvous with the
commanders of the Japanese forces on Halmahera. With Stansbury on PT 115 were Maj. Gen. Harry H. Johnson, Commanding General of the Morotai-based 93d Division, and members of his staff. Near Miti Island off northeast Halmahera, the PT's met a party of Japanese officers in two small barges. The meeting was a disappointment, as the Japanese commanding general had not come himself, but had sent his chief of staff and operations officer. General Johnson gave the Japanese firm instructions to have the Army and Navy commanders present on the following morning.
The next day General Johnson sent Brig. Gen. Warren H. McNaught with six PT's to fetch the Japanese. This time Lieutenant General Ishii, Commanding General, Japanese Forces, Halmahera, and Captain Fujita, Naval Commander, Japanese Forces, Halmahera, were waiting for the PT's. The boats carried them to 93d Division headquarters on Morotai, where they surrendered 37,000 troops, 4,000 Japanese civilians, and a vast quantity of equipment, including 19,000 rifles, 900 cannon, and 600 machine-guns. Such was the size of the force that the Morotai PT's had held at bay for almost a year.
While the PT's took no part in the surrender of the Morotai garrison, this surrender brought them an interesting bit of news. The garrison commander, Colonel Ouchi, reported that since May 12, when three barges brought sorely needed supplies from Halmahera, not a single barge had crossed the 12-mile strait between the two islands. And of those three barges, two were destroyed by PT's while attempting to return to Halmahera.
In the central Philippines, PT's 489 and 492 of Squadron 33 under Lt. Comdr. Edwin A. DuBose, USNR, carried U.S. Army personnel and members of a Japanese surrender commission to isolated enemy outposts on the islands of Samar, Masbate, and Romblon, to accept surrender of more than 500 Japanese troops.
At Balikpapan on the morning of September 8, Lt. Comdr. Henry S. Taylor, USNR, led seven PT's to a rendezvous in the delta of the Koetai River with Vice Admiral Kamada and his party. The boats carried the Japanese to HMAS Burdekin at Balikpapan and slowly circled the ship as Admiral Kamada signed documents surrendering all Japanese forces in the area.
The most extensive operations in connection with the surrender were carried out by Willoughby and the Brunei Bay PT's, under Lt. Comdr. Alvin W. Fargo, Jr., USNR, in the vicinity of Kuching, capital of Sarawak.
"On 10 September 1945," Captain Bowling reported, "the USS
Willoughby, after loading 50 tons of supplies and embarking 38 officers and 318 men of the 9th Australian Division at Labuan Island [Brunei Bay], got underway for Tanjong Po, off the mouth of the Sarawak River. Six PT's rendezvoused en route. Upon arrival at Tanjong Po, on the 11th of September, five of the PT's took aboard 180 troops from the USS Willoughby. The sixth boat embarked Capt. W. C. Jennings, USN; Comdr. J. P. Engle, USNR, and Lt. Comdr. A. W. Fargo, USNR, who were the naval officers invited to attend the surrender ceremonies set for 1400 the same day aboard HMAS Kapunda, an Australian corvette. This latter PT also carried officers and men charged with press coverage of the surrender. The six PT's and HMAS Kapunda then proceeded up the Sarawak River to Pending (the junction of the Kuap and Sarawak Rivers) where the Japanese surrender party was scheduled to board the Kapunda. After arrival at Pending, three of the PT's continued up river to Kuching, for reconnaissance purposes, then returned to Pending. Although both river banks and the docks at Kuching were found crowded with cheering natives and scattered Jap troops, no incident occurred.
"At 1430 the Japanese surrender party had not yet arrived and an Australian crash boat was despatched to bring Major General Yamamura, the Jap
In September 1945, PT's from Brunei Bay evacuated hundreds of internees,
including women and children, from Kuching, Borneo.
commander, and his party to HMAS Kapunda. When the boat returned and reported General Yamamura was indisposed, Brigadier T. C. Eastrick, commander of the Kuching force, ordered Yamamura aboard. At 1500 the Jap commander, his chief of staff and two other officers arrived. After a short discussion the surrender was signed. The Jap party left the ship at 1600. Shortly thereafter the six PT's proceeded to Kuching and disembarked the first Australian reoccupation troops in the Sarawak capital.
"On the following morning the majority of the remaining Australian troops on the USS Willoughby were taken aboard the PT's and transported to Kuching. Two LCT's unloaded the Willoughby's 50 tons of stores and few remaining troops.
"On the 12th and 13th of September the PT's evacuated 210 Allied prisoners-of-war and internees from Kuching and loaded them aboard the USS Willoughby. Included in the group were Harry H. Stone, SC2c, of Peoria, Ill., and Harold E. McManus, S1c, of Cherokee, Iowa, two enlisted survivors of the USS Houston, who had been captured 2 March 1942. Several additional stretcher cases were discharged by the boats aboard the Australian hospital ship Manunda off Tanjong Po. The USS Willoughby and her PT's got underway on the afternoon of 13 September for Labuan Island. On the evening of the 14th, the Willoughby stood into Victoria Harbor, Labuan Island, and discharged all evacuees.
"On the 18th the USS Willoughby, with 15 officers and 325 men of the 9th Australian Division and 50 tons of supplies, departed Labuan Island for Tanjong Po. The tender was joined en route by four PT's. All arrived on the morning of the 19th. Each of the 4 PT's took aboard so troops from the Willoughby and proceeded to Kuching when they backloaded with 97 evacuees, including 2 women, all of whom were transferred to the Willoughby. The Willoughby's 50 tons of supplies were loaded on the Australian corvette. That afternoon the four PT's returned to Kuching and the USS Willoughby got underway for Brunei Bay.
"On the afternoon of 20 September the Willoughby arrived at Victoria Harbor, Labuan Island, and discharged her 201 evacuees.
"Again on 22 September, the Willoughby stood out of Victoria Harbor with 8 officers and 194 men of the 9th Australian Division and another 50 tons of supplies aboard, for Tanjong Po. She arrived on the morning of the 23d and rendezvoused with the four PT's previously left behind. The 4 boats immediately loaded 182 of the Willoughby's troops and transported
them to Kuching. An Australian lugger removed the Willoughby's 50 tons of supplies and remaining 20 troops. On that afternoon the four PT's returned from Kuching with 133 Allied prisoners-of-war and internees Plus 34 Australian Army personnel, all of whom were transferred to the Willoughby. At 1330, the Willoughby and the four PT's departed Tanjong Po for Brunei Bay. They arrived on the 24th, and the evacuees and Australian personnel were disembarked at Victoria Harbor, Labuan Island."
26. THE END AND THE BEGINNING
In mid- August 1945, 30 squadrons of PT's were in commission. Nineteen were in the Seventh Fleet, six in the Pacific Fleet, three were being reconditioned in the United States for Pacific duty after combat in the European theater, one was shaking down in Miami, and one was the training squadron at Melville. By the end of the year all had been decommissioned except Squadron 4, the training squadron, and the brand new Squadron 41. In addition there was Squadron 42, which had been fitting out in New York in August, and which was the only PT unit placed in commission after the end of hostilities.
The Navy Depariment properly got rid of most of its PT's. Their job was done, and because of their light wooden construction, they could not be stored away against future need as the steel-hulled ships of the fleet. Indeed, many of the older boats, which had been kept running because of combat necessity, were no longer worth saving for any purpose. All the boats in the western Pacific were carefully surveyed. It was found that 118 hulls were defective because of broken frames, worms and dry rot, broken keels, cracked longitudinals, or battle damage. These boats were stripped of all salvageable material and the bare hulls were burned on the beach at Samar.
The serviceable boats in the Pacific, after being stripped of armament and other military equipment, were turned over to the Foreign Liquidation Commission, and those in the United States to the War Shipping Administration, for disposal.
Squadrons 4, 41, and 42 were being saved for training purposes but, early in 1946, the Navy Department decided to retain only a few PT's for experimental work. Squadrons 41 and 42 were decommissioned in February and Squadron 4 in April. PT's 613, 616, 619, and 620, new Elco boats originally in Squadron 42 and later in Squadron 4, were transferred to the Operational Development Force -- the last PT's remaining in service.
Behind the decision to cut the PT force so drastically there was, besides the obvious reason of economy, a realization that in the end of the old boats was the beginning of a new PT. Because of wartime need for standardization, there had been no major changes in PT design since adoption of the 80-foot Elco and 78-foot Higgins designs in 1941. With the war ended, the Navy could afford to take time to redesign its PT's in the light of 4 years of combat experience.
With increased speed in other combat types, particularly destroyers, PT's too should have more speed. It would be highly desirable to increase their range and improve their sea-keeping qualities as well. At the same time, they should retain their high maneuverability and small size for their own protection, and their shallow draft to permit them to work close to shore. These requirements suggest the possibility that gas turbines may someday replace the present gasoline engines as a method of propulsion.
There undoubtedly will be many developments in armament. Torpedoes should be faster, more powerful, and more reliable. And it may be that rockets someday will supplant torpedoes as the heavy armament of the PT's. This possibility was foreseen by Captain Bowling in October 1944, when he wrote: "Rockets are generally regarded in the Task Group as the greatest potential PT weapon of the war. Their high fire power and low recoil make them ideal for MTB armament. Because of the continuing development of larger caliber and greater range rockets, it is impossible to standardize on a particular type for use by MTB's at this time. However, rockets of sufficient size, power, and range are now available or under development to make replacement of the torpedoes and heavy automatic weapons seem entirely feasible.
"Commander Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons Seventh Fleet has requested that every rocket development be thoroughly investigated with a view to possible employment by PT's and that the development of a 'motor rocket boat' be considered. If the present ratio of launcher to projector weight is maintained, and all PT armament except the turret twin fifties is removed, it would be possible to carry 5 tons of rocket equipment and deliver 4 tons of projectiles at the target at ranges in excess of 5,000 yards. This would give PT's tremendous fire power -- greatly in excess of what they now have.
"The speed of rockets as compared with that of torpedoes should make them easier to hit targets with. With the development of radar on enemy ships, it may be difficult to close them to a few hundred yards for a torpedo hit. Also the reliability of rockets would seem to be much greater than that
of torpedoes and they will not require the same painstaking care. It is believed that all these advantages plus the greater weight of explosive which can be delivered to the target, more than compensates for the torpedoes' single advantage of underwater destructive power."
Whatever the details of their construction and armament, the PT's should always be small, fast, shallow draft, highly maneuverable craft, elusive targets themselves, able to hit the enemy hard, and possessing a high degree of versatility. For such craft, until either "pushbutton war" becomes a reality, or until we have achieved everlasting peace, there always will be a use.
Finally, it must be remembered that the best PT is no better than its crew. The success of the PT's depended and always will depend on the ability and valor of their officers and men, on their eagerness to seek out the enemy and to engage him at close quarters. The spirit of their courage and determination, a spirit old in the Navy, was expressed on a sign at the PT base at Bougainville in the Solomons:
Table of Contents
Previvous Part (7) * Next Part (Postscript)