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Motor Torpedo Boats (PT)

Always associated with President John F. Kennedy, who had commanded PT 109 in the Solomon Islands in 1943, PT boats were designed to interdict enemy supply lines and attack enemy shipping, but rarely limited themselves to just these activities during World War II. Actions ranged from the pursuit and capture of the Italian Naval Staff in 1943 to a machine gun duel with a Nazi shore battery during the Normandy invasion.

PT boats, as they were known in World War II, were a British invention, adopted and used by the U.S. Navy. The idea of the PT boat was that of the small, fast--and ultimately, expendable--interdiction ship, armed with torpedoes and machine guns for cutting enemy supply lines, for harassing enemy forces, and for short-range oceanic scouting. American PT boats served during World War II in the Philippines and the Southwestern Pacific areas, in the English Channel, off Normandy, and in the Mediterranean Sea.

There were 43 PT squadrons, with a normal complement of 12 boats. Some 300 PT boaters were killed in World War II, an extremely high loss rate for this comparatively small, elite service.

Originally conceived as antiship weapons, PTs were publicly, but erroneously, credited with sinking Japanese warships during the early months after Pearl Harbor. During the long Solomons campaign, they operated usefully at night and times of low visibility against Japanese barge traffic in the "Slot." Throughout World War II, PTs operated in the southern, western, and northern Pacific, as well as in the Mediterranean and the English Channel. Some served off Normandy during that invasion. Though their primary mission continued to be seen as attack of surface ships and craft, PTs were also used effectively to lay mines and smoke screens, to rescue downed aviators, and to carry out intelligence or raider operations.

PT boats were a significant American naval warship type in World War II. They were responsible for numerous enemy losses, in warships, materiel, and personnel. They spawned a number of offshoots - the Japanese "Shinyo" suicide boat; the fast, hydrofoil missile ships of today; and the numerous inshore patrol craft used by many navies of the 1980s.

PT 109 was one of the hundreds of motor torpedo boats (PT) of the PT 103 class completed between 1942 and 1945 by Elco Naval Division of Electric Boat Company at Bayonne, New Jersey. The Elco boats were the largest in size of the three types of PT boats built for U.S. use during World War II. Wooden-hulled, 80 feet long with a 20-foot, 8-inch beam, the Elco PT boats had three 12-cylinder Packard gasoline engines generating a total of 4,500 horsepower for a designed speed of 41 knots. With accommodations for 3 officers and 14 men, the crew varied from 12 to 14. Its full-load displacement was 56 tons. Early Elco boats had two 20mm guns, four .50-caliber machine guns, and two or four 21-inch torpedo tubes. Some of them carried depth charges or mine racks. Later boats mounted one 40mm gun and four torpedo launching racks. Many boats received ad-hoc refits at advanced bases, mounting such light guns as Army Air Forces 37mm aircraft guns and even Japanese 23mm guns. Some PTs later received rocket launchers. Almost all surviving Elco PTs were disposed of shortly after V-J Day. One Elco boat, PT 617, survives at Battleship Cove, Fall River, Massachusetts.

Although more 80-foot Elco boats were built than any other type of motor torpedo boat, other types were built by the US. The British-designed 70-foot Vosper boats which were built for Lend Lease fired 18-inch torpedoes. Since the U.S. produced the heavier and longer 21-inch torpedoes, the U.S. Navy wanted a larger PT boat. After experimentation, the first PT boat built in any quantity was the 77-foot type built by Elco. These boats were used early in World War II. In 1943 in the Solomons, three of these 77-foot PT boats, PT 59, PT 60 and PT 61, were even converted into gunboats by stripping the boat of all original armament except for the two twin .50 caliber gun mounts, and then adding two 40mm guns and four more twin .50 caliber machine guns. LTJG John F. Kennedy was the first commanding officer of PT 59 after the conversion.

Although the Huckins Yacht Company of Jacksonville, Florida, built a few 78 foot boats of the PT 95 class, the 80-foot Elco boats and the 78-foot Higgins boats became the standard motor torpedo boats of World War II. The Higgins boats which were built by Higgins Industries in New Orleans, Louisiana, were 78-foot boats of the PT 71 class. The Higgins boats had the same beam, full load displacement, engine, generators, shaft horsepower, trial speed, armament, and crew accommodations as the 80-foot Elco boats.

Special Boat Units trace their history back to WWII. The Patrol Coastal and Patrol Boat Torpedo are the ancestors of today's PC and MKV. Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron THREE rescued General MacArthur (and later the Filipino President) from the Philippines after the Japanese invasion and then participated in guerrilla actions until American resistance ended with the fall of Corregidor. PT Boats subsequently participated in most of the campaigns in the Southwest Pacific by conducting and supporting joint/combined reconnaissance, blockade, sabotage, and raiding missions as well as attacking Japanese shore facilities, shipping, and combatants. PT Boats were used in the European Theater beginning in April 1944 to support the OSS in the insertions of espionage and French Resistance personnel and for amphibious landing deception. While there is no direct line between organizations, NSW embracement is predicated on the similarity in craft and mission.

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