In the dark days of the American Revolution when the strongest efforts on land seemed always frustrated by British seapower, General Washington said,

"In any operation, and under all circumstances, a decisive Naval superiority is to be considered as a fundamental principle, and the basis upon which every hope of success must ultimately depend."

The next year the French fleet defeated the British off the Virginia Capes making possible the victory at Yorktown. Since that day the destiny of our country has been inextricably interwoven with the sea. This was never more true than in the giant World War II that involved all seas and most of mankind. To fight the sea war we needed many types of ships, large and small, from aircraft carriers and battleships to PT boats.

Small though they were, the PT boats played a key role. Like most naval ships, they could carry out numerous tasks with dispatch and versatility. In narrow waters or in-fighting close to land they could deliver a powerful punch with torpedo or gun. On occasion they could lay mines or drop depth charges. They could speed through reefs and shark infested waters to rescue downed pilots or


secretly close the shore to make contacts with coast watchers and guerrilla forces. PT boats were an embodiment of John Paul Jones' words:

"I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast for I intend to go in harm's way."

Naval strength must function from shore to shore and on inland waters where the mobility and flexibility provided by ships can be employed to support land operations. PT boats filled an important need in World War II in shallow waters, complementing the achievements of greater ships in greater seas. This need for small, fast, versatile, strongly armed vessels does not wane. In fact it may increase in these troubled times when operations requiring just these capabilities are the most likely of those which may confront us.

The thorough and competent account herein of over-all PT boat operations in World War II, compiled by Captain Robert Bulkley, a distinguished PT boat commander, should therefore prove of wide interest. The widest use of the sea, integrated fully into our national strength, is as important to America in the age of nuclear power and space travel as in those stirring days of the birth of the Republic.


[B L A N K]



"Histories" may or may not "make men wise." Certainly one of the hopes of the Navy Department in recording them in World War II and since has been that from the recorded facts men would learn for future leadership to serve our beloved nation.

Detailed action reports and war diaries were required from ships and higher commands in World War II. These were not only for clearer analysis that we might better fight the war but were to serve as source material for studies and histories in the future. To supplement these fundamental building blocks of history, the Navy prepared in manuscript many command and administrative histories. For the most part the commands themselves prepared these histories. Some are outstanding, some are dreary; but all are akin in that they were prepared by participants who had just lived through the events recorded. The writers also had at hand the maximum amount of the command's file material likely ever to be available since most of the never ebbing tide of paperwork must be "given the deep six." Therefore they should have captured information on events which is not now discoverable.

These histories were prepared "for the record," not for publication. They have served their purpose admirably as a fount of irreplaceable information. We in the Navy turn to them constantly for "how it was done" in the Tenth Fleet, in the Mediterranean, in the Pacific, in the South Atlantic -- in the many parts of the world where the complex, many faceted Navy serves America and freedom. Organization, procedures followed, lessons learned as in antisubmarine warfare -- these we daily profit by in many parts of the Navy. The manuscripts have also been invaluable to serious civilian historians.

Some of the manuscript histories reached a quality of excellence that merited publication when the need and demand should arise. One of this select group appears in the following pages. This thorough and objective account of the operations of PT boats in the U.S. Navy in World War II was prepared in the year after V-J Day by an officer who served in them through most of the war in the far reaches of the Pacific.


He knew and loved these small, fast craft with hornet sting. They played their part with zest in the far reaching, powerful Navy team. He gave to the research into the records, into the memories of other participants, and to the writing itself the same zest. As a result he produced a shipshape manuscript.

Over the past 16 years a steady flow of researchers have gone to this manuscript for information, some for naval studies in the important area of close in fighting, some to write for publication. The number interested in it has grown measurably recently, hence publication seemed appropriate so that it will be readily available wherever needed.

Preparation for publication has included careful reading and some slight revision by Capt. F. Kent Loomis and Mr. Dean Allard of this office and by Captain Bulkley. Mr. Allard and his colleague, Mr. Bernard F. Cavalcante, also checked the manuscript for accuracy against the large body of records in our possession which now include captured ones not available to the author in 1945-46.

Captain Bulkley has also generously given his time in helping Comdr. D. V. Hickey and Lt. Comdr. Mary J. Linderman of the Curator Section of this office select the illustrations and in providing some not available in our large collection. Mr. Jesse B. Thomas has supervised the proofing, make-up, indexing, and other problems in voyaging from manuscript to finished book, assisted by Mr. Donald R. Martin.

This manuscript was prepared under the same overall "rules of the road" as the incomparable Samuel Eliot Morison series. That is to say, this office provided the source material, space and support in writing, checking of facts, review of manuscript and other aid helpful to a writer. The fabric of the story, its presentations and conclusions, however, are Captain Bulkley's.

It is really, of course, the book of the PT boat sailors. The Navy list in World War II included at the height some 7,000 ships of PT Boat-LCI size and up. Yet so vast were the duties throughout the world that ships were almost always in short supply for any task. Over 80 types of warships made up this global fleet. Sailors on mighty aircraft carriers and battleships or even minesweepers and LSTs called PT boats "spit kits," only partly in jest. Not so with most career officers in the Navy and especially not those who had long served America at sea -- like Admiral Nimitz. He knew that the responsibilities of the fleet were great and the ships too few for far spreading tasks. He knew that PTs could not, of course, do the tasks of the mighty aircraft carriers, the battleships, cruisers, the workhorse destroyers, the silent submarines, or the many necessary special types like the amphibs,


the net ships, the degaussers, the rocket ships. He knew the thousand and one duties that had to mesh in successful accomplishment to win the war -- and that some of these could be accomplished best only by the small, daring PT boats.

This book tells how this particular type valiantly carried out necessary duties as their crews, mostly "citizen sailors," rose to the desperate challenge to freedom in the highest traditions of patriotism, skill and courage that have served America well at sea from her earliest struggles. It is hoped that readers will find in this book fuller appreciation of this stirring tradition of sacrifice and service without which our nation cannot endure as the leader of the hopes of men.

Rear Admiral, USN (Retired),
Director of Naval History.


In Memoriam


Just as we received advance page proofs, and a few hours before he was to come to this office to assist us in putting the last touches on his fine history, soon after 0300, 23 November, Captain Bulkley sailed on to broader seas than those he cruised valiantly for America in World War II. Fittingly, his departure was in the last hour of the mid-watch -- an hour that in many ships in many seas in World War II called American sailors to General Quarters as they prepared for dawn action. Many who read this book will know that in Captain Bulkley we have lost a gallant sailor, a true gentleman, and a fine American.



[B L A N K]



My involvement with PT boats began on a bright autumn day in 1941, when I cadged a ride on one of the new Elco 77-footers being fitted out for Squadron 2 at the New York Navy Yard. It was love at first sight. The deep-throated roar of the engines, the speed and maneuverability, the powerful armament, the obvious enthusiasm of the officers and crew would have been quite sufficient to win a convert, even without the proselytizing of Lt. Earl Caldwell, the squadron commander, who spoke with rapid intensity about the new "weapons of opportunity."

In June of 1942 I received orders to report to the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons Training Center at Melville, R.I. From then until the end of the war, except for a few months temporary duty in New York, I served in PT's, mostly in the Southwest Pacific -- New Guinea and the Philippines. On V-J Day I was in Leyte Gulf. Soon thereafter a dispatch arrived from Washington asking if I would remain on active duty to write a history of motor torpedo boats. This book is the result.

The manuscript was delivered to the Navy Department at the end of 1946 as one of a number of manuscripts the Department had prepared on the Navy's widespread operations while these were fresh in participants' minds. Each became an important supplement to the source materials of the records.

Since the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy, when a PT boat was hauled down Pennsylvania Avenue in the inaugural parade as a reminder of Lieutenant Kennedy's wartime heroism, the public has shown renewed interest in PT's. Stories about the boats and the President's naval career have appeared in the public press, and several authors have published books on Lieutenant Kennedy and motor torpedo boat operations in the Solomons campaign.

People have been touched by these accounts, I believe, because they deal with basic and enduring qualities -- courage, pertinacity, endurance, devotion. These qualities Lieutenant Kennedy possessed in high degree; they also were common property of officers and men of the PT service in every area of operations. It is appropriate that the record of their performance should now be published. PT's were indeed "weapons of opportunity" and the men who ran them seized opportunity aggressively, carrying the fight to the enemy in an astonishing variety of missions.


One of the few changes I have made in readying the manuscript for publication is its title. Originally I had called it PT: A History of Motor Torpedo Boats in the United States Navy. This was descriptive, but stodgy. The new title conveys the spirit better: PT's met the enemy at closer quarters (and with greater frequency) than any other type of surface craft. The crews of no other vessels experienced so high a degree of personal engagement with the enemy.

Also, the crews lived at close quarters. Two or three officers and 12 to 15 men on a small boat got to know each other very well and, of necessity, became a close-knit organization. The intimacy of close quarters, the fact that each man was individually important to his boat's success, together with the shared experience of close combat, made for an extraordinary esprit de corps.

I have tried to be conservative in dealing with claims of damage to the enemy. Damage to any major ship has been claimed only when it can be substantiated from enemy records. Some of the boats, particularly in the early days of the war, made claims of damage or sinking which cannot be substantiated. This is not surprising. The boats fought in the dark, usually under enemy fire. The boat captains and crews were eager to do damage and honestly thought they had done damage. There were heartbreaking cases like that of Lieutenant Kelly in the Philippines, who was certain he had torpedoed a Japanese cruiser. From Japanese sources we learn that he did, indeed, hit the cruiser, but the torpedo failed to explode.

Long as this book is, it involved selection and rejection. To those PT veterans whose exploits are unrecorded here, I apologize. More or less arbitrary pruning became necessary to keep the manuscript within reasonable bounds.

The faults of this book are my own; I had a completely free hand in writing it. If it has merit, it is because I have tried to set forth as simply as I know how the actions of brave men who fought at close quarters.

I should like to acknowledge my great indebtedness to my three commanding officers in the PT service, Captain John D. Bulkeley, USN; Rear Adm. Morton C. Mumma, Jr., USN (Retired); and Rear Adm. Selman S. Bowling, USN (Retired), all of whom have given generous assistance in preparation of this manuscript.

During my tour of duty in the Office of Naval History in 1946, my immediate superior was the late Capt. Archibald D. Turnbull, USNR (Retired), for whose kindness and encouragement I shall be forever grateful. At that


time I received valuable help from Comdr. Walter M. Whitehill, USNR, and from the Misses Philibert, whose knowledge of Navy files and records was encyclopedic.

Lt. Frank A. Tredinnick, Jr., USNR, and Lt. Comdr. Harrison L. Bennett, USNR, prepared an administrative history of PT boats and gave me access to their manuscript, their records, and their time. Much of Part II of this volume, covering development of PT boats, is based on their work.

Many PT officers passed through Washington in 1946, and I was able to review their action reports and other records with them. I have corresponded with many others. My thanks to all of them, in particular to Capt. Stanley M. Barnes; Comdr. James A. Danver, USNR (Retired); Comdr. Richard J. Dressling, USN (Retired); Lt. Comdr. Joseph R. Ellicott, USNR; Rear Adm. John Harllee, USN (Retired); Capt. Ronald K. Irving; Capt. Robert B. Kelly; Comdr. A. Murray Preston, USNR (Retired.); Lt. Comdr. Weston C. Pullen, USNR (Retired); Capt. Hugh M. Robinson; the late Comdr. L. K. Scott, USN (Retired); Lt. Richard C. Simpson, USNR; Lt. Comdr. Henry S. Taylor, USNR; Lt. (jg.) Vance W. Torbert, USNR; Lt. George O. Walbridge II, USNR (Retired); Rear Adm. Thomas G. Warfield, USN (Retired); Lt. Comdr. Robert C. Wark, USNR; and Comdr. John K. Williams, USN (Retired).

I am indebted to John L. Page, RdM2C, USNR, who gave me the his of the destruction of PT 509. Since he was the sole survivor, the story was available from no other source.

I wish to express appreciation to Rear Adm. Ernest M. Eller, USN (Retired), Director of Naval History, and his assistant, Capt. F. Kent Loomis, USN (Retired), for bringing the manuscript to publication. Special thanks are due to Dean C. Allard, Jr., of the Naval History Division, for invaluable assistance in editing the manuscript and for a monumental job of checking it against original sources -- including enemy records not available to in 1946 -- to insure accuracy. Mr. Jesse B. Thomas of Naval History prepared the thorough index to this book and handled many other matters, while his associate, Mr. B. F. Cavalcante, assisted in preparation of charts and checking the manuscript.

Finally, to the officers and men of the PT service, my friends and former shipmates, this book is dedicated with affection, admiration, and respect.

Captain, USNR (Retired).

CHATHAM, PA., June 2, 1962.


Table of Contents

Transcribed and formatted for HTML Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation