PT BOAT HISTORY

 

Motor Torpedo Boat development had its beginning in the early 1900's culminating with actual combat use in the first world war. It was the British, French and Italian navies who led the way in development and deployment of this specialized craft. However it wasn't until the late 1930's that the U.S. Navy seriously took on the challenge to create their own Patrol Torpedo Boat program.

The United States originally developed three designs, two from distinguished naval architects and one from the navy. Eight boats (PT's 1 through 8) were built from these designs. Unfortunately, by the time most of these boats were built and readied for testing, their design and performance was found to be inadequate.

In the mean time the Electric Boat Company (ELCO) purchased a British 70 foot boat, designed by Hubert Scott-Paine. This boat was subsequently shipped to the United States and numbered PT 9 by the Navy. During preliminary testing the Navy was impressed enough to award ELCO a contract to build 10 PT boats (PT 10 through 19) based on the PT 9 design. The contract specified some minor to moderate changes however, which included changes to upper deck structures and replacing the engines with the newly designed 1200 hp. Packard Marine engines.

Upon completion of these boats, Navy test trials revealed that these new boats were too lightly constructed to withstand the rigors of open seas. It was also realized that the boat's designed length was not sufficient to utilize the longer U.S. torpedo versus the shorter British torpedo. Not withstanding the shortcomings of these initial 70-foot boats, the Navy was convinced that they had a real need for this type of small attack craft. It was recommended that the overall length be increased to accommodate the standard U.S. torpedo and the hull structure be re-engineered to strengthen it for heavier seas.

ELCO was again awarded a contract to build 24 new boats (PT 20 through 44) with the recommended modifications, which increased the length to 77 feet. Unbeknownst to anyone at that time, some of these new PT boats would actually become the first U.S. PT boats to see action in World War II ( Pearl Harbour & the Philippines).

During the time ELCO was building the new boats, two other companies involved in boat building were developing PT boats at there own expense, to compete with ELCO. These two companies were Higgins Industries and Huckins Yacht Works. Higgins was working on a 76-foot design (PT 70) and Huckins was developing a 72-foot boat (PT 69). Eventually all three companies would build PT boats for the war effort. However, just prior to the start of the war, the Navy Department held competition trials known as the "Plywood Derby". This was a shakedown to see which company would be contracted to build the Navy PT boats. At the completion of the trials the Navy was impressed with all three designs, with the ELCO 77 footer coming out on top, followed by the Higgins 76 footer and Huckins 72 foot boat. Although ELCO came in first, the Navy saw the merits of the other two boats and decided to offer all three companies contracts. ELCO received the lion share (385 boats by the end of the war), Higgins was second (199 boats by the end of the war) and Huckins with the smallest contract (18 boats by the end of the war).

With contracts awarded, the U.S. Navy's PT Boat program was in full swing. However Higgins increased its boat length to 78 feet and Huckins added six feet to its boat length also resulting in a 78 footer. ELCO would build another 24 boats at 77 feet, and by Navy request, designed a larger boat of 80 feet in length with a larger capacity to carry more armament. Thus the ELCO 80 foot PT boat was born and destined to become the most numerous in service.

Throughout the Second World War the PT boats would see many transformations enabling the original designs to be modified to fit the mission they would be called upon to perform. It appears most of the ELCO designed boats served in the Pacific theatre, with a small number used in the English Channel and Mediterranean Sea. Approximately half of the Higgins designed boats served in the Mediterranean Sea and English Channel with the other half serving in the Pacific and Aleutians. Huckins designed boats were assigned to the training squadron, in Melville Rhode Island, the Panama Canal zone and Hawaii.


 

PT BOAT DEVELOPMENT

 

The photos below are a sample of the various development and experimental boats as discussed earlier on the History Page. The PT 9 photo is the original Scott-Paine boat purchased by ELCO from the British and culminated in the development of early ELCO's 70 and 77 foot PT Boats.

 



THE ELCO 70' PT BOAT

The ELCO 70 foot boats were based on the Scott-Paine (PT-9) boat, with minor design modification. Although built in the United States, these boats were not used by the U.S. Navy; instead they were converted to MTB's and shipped to Britain.


PT-17 Above - an Early Elco 70'


PT-10 Early Elco 70'

 

Another Photo of PT-10 - Elco 70'

 

THE ELCO 70' PT BOAT
Number Built: 10
PT Boat Numbers PT's 10 - 19
Service: Sent to Britain in 1941 and renumbered MTB's 259 - 268
Basic Specifications:  
Length 70'-0"
Beam 9'-11"
Draft 4'-4"
Weight 40 Tons
Speed 45 Knots
Engines 3 - 1100 hp

 


THE ELCO 77' PT BOAT

 

The ELCO 77 foot PT boats were the first to see combat in WWII. The first squadron, RON 1, was stationed in Hawaii when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941. RON 1 bravely used their available resources on that infamous day to combat the attacking enemy aircraft. The second squadron, RON 3, was stationed in the Philippines on December 10, 1941 when they encountered the attacking Japanese. Within several months they evacuated General Douglas MacArthur, his family and staff from Corregidor and then courageously stayed on line until all their boats had been expended. Squadron Ron 3 was commanded by Cmdr. John D. Bulkeley (VADM. John D. Bulkeley 1911-1996) who received the Medal of Honour for evacuating General Douglas MacArthur from Corregidor on March 12, 1942. Cmdr. John D. Bulkeley was the first of two PT Boaters to receive the Medal of Honour.

PT-20, the first Elco 77' boat built from the redesign of the Elco 70', it was stationed
at Pearl Harbour prior to December 7th 1941 and remained until decommissioned in 1944.


PT-31, an Elco 77' saw action at the beginning of the war in the Philippines as part of Squadron 3
"They Were Expendable", it was destroyed to prevent capture.


PT-68, an Elco 77' originally part of the Training Centre, was transferred to Squadron 8
and saw action in the New Guinea area, was destroyed to prevent capture.

 

THE ELCO 77' PT BOAT
Number Built:: 49
PT Boat Numbers PT's 20 – 68
Service: 39 used by U.S. Navy, 10 sent to Britain in 1942
Basic Specifications:  
Length 77'-0"
Beam 19'-11"
Draft 4'-6"
Weight 46 Tons
Speed 42 Knots
Engines 3 - 1200 hp
Basic Crew: 2 Officers, 8 Enlisted Men

 


THE ELCO 80' PT BOAT

 

Throughout the war the ELCO 80' boats were periodically updated and reconfigured for missions they were call upon to perform. Due to the nature of wartime tactics in the Pacific, PT boats actually assumed a gunboat configuration, rather then their traditional torpedo role. Many PT boats were given the tasks of harassing and controlling the enemy left behind on islands that were skipped over by the advancing allied forces. With this leapfrog approach of Allied advancement, it became critical for PT boats to take the action to the enemy. This new PT boat activity of relentless attacks on enemy barges and boats used to supply and ferry the enemy from island to island earned the boats and their crews the "Barge Busters" nickname. In addition to this offensive role, the boats and their crews were also enlisted to support troop landings as well as to perform land and sea rescues.

Elco boats also played a roll in the Mediterranean Sea area combating enemy shipping. Including duels with German E-boats or S-Boats (Schnellbooten) and heavily armoured and armed barges known as F-lighters.


PT-117 - an Early 1942 Elco 80' PT Boat


PT-352 with experimental Rocket Launcher on Forecastle


PT-559 with Radar and carrying a Thunderbolt gun system


PT-579 with Jungle Camouflage for the Pacific

 

THE ELCO 80' PT BOAT
Number Built: 32
Service: 296 used by U.S. Navy . 30 sent to Canada and renumbered . 1 sent to USSR
1943 Series Basic Specifications:  
Length 80'-0"
Beam 20'-8"
Draft 5'-3"
Weight 51 Tons
Speed 43 Knots
Engines 3 - 1350 hp.
Basic Crew: 2 Officers, 9 Enlisted Men
1945 Series Basic Specifications :  
Length 80'-0"
Beam 20'-8"
Draft 5'-6"
Weight 61 Tons
Speed 41 Knots
Engines 3 - 1500 hp.
Basic Crew: 3 Officers, 14 Enlisted Men

* ELCO 80' boats 623, 624 and 731-790 construction contracts were cancelled - war ended.

 


THE HIGGINS 78' PT BOAT

 

Like the Elco's, Higgins 78' boats were periodically updated and reconfigured for the missions they were call upon to perform. These boats also took on a gunboat configuration, rather then their traditional torpedo role, because of the nature of wartime tactics in the Pacific. Many PT boats were given the tasks of harassing and controlling the enemy left behind on islands that were skipped over by the advancing allied forces. The PT boats became "Barge Busters" with their relentless attacks on enemy barges and boats used to supply and ferry the enemy from island to island. They were also called upon to support troop landings and rescues.

Higgins boats played a large roll in the Mediterranean Sea area combating enemy shipping. Including duels with German E-boats or S-Boats (Schnellbooten) and heavily armoured and armed barges known as F-lighters.


PT-78, one of the first series of Higgins 78' boats, saw action in the
Aleutians then later in the Southwest Pacific - 78'

 

PT-211 tied up in Bastia Harbour, Corsica in the Mediterranean

 

PT-631, a second generation Higgins boat, originally commissioned for
Squadron 43, but decommissioned for transfer to the USSR

 

THE HIGGINS 78' PT BOAT
Number Built: 200
PT Boat Numbers: 71-94, 197-254, 265-313, 450-485, 564 (Exp.), 625-660*
Service: 146 used by U.S. Navy 7 sent to Britain 46 sent to USSR
1943 Series Basic Specifications:  
Length 78'-6"
Beam 20'-1"
Draft 5'-3"
Weight 43 Tons
Speed 40 Knots
Engines 3 - 1350 hp
Basic Crew: 2 Officers, 9 Enlisted Men
1945 Series Basic Specifications:  
Length 78'-6"
Beam 20'-1"
Draft 5'-3"
Weight 48 Tons
Speed 40 Knots
Engines 3 - 1500 hp
Basic Crew: 3 Officers, 14 Enlisted Men

* Higgins 78' boats, 657-660 cancelled - war ended.

 


THE HUCKINS 78' PT BOAT

 

None of the Huckins Boats were used in combat, instead PT's 95 - 97 were assigned to the training squadron, PT's 98 -104 served in the Panama Canal Zone and PT's 255 - 264 were stationed in Hawaii.


PT-95, a Huckins 78' boat, stationed with the Motor Torpedo Boat Training Centre, Squadron 4,
Huckins boats also carried out patrol duties in the Hawaiian Islands, Panama Canal Zone
and reportedly saw no combat action - 78'



THE HUCKINS 78' PT BOAT
Number Built: 18
PT Boat Numbers: PT's 95 - 102, 255-264
Service: 39 used by U.S. Navy, 10 sent to Britain in 1942
Basic Specifications:  
Length 78'-0"
Beam 19'-5"
Draft 5'-0"
Weight 42 Tons
Engines 3 - 1350 hp
Basic Crew: 2 Officers, 9 Enlisted Men

 


PACKARD V-12 MARINE ENGINE

 

The Packard 4M-2500 engine was utilized in all U.S. Navy World War II PT boats. This engine was based on the 1925 Liberty aircraft engine, which was earlier converted for marine use in racing boats. During the war the Packard engine went through various performance updates and modifications. With early engines rated at 1100 hp. and progressing to 1500 h.p. during the war. The Packard 4M-2500 engine was a supercharged, water-cooled, gasoline powered V-12 engine, weighing approximately 2900 pounds.

The Packard 4M-2500 marine engine was not the Rolls-Royce Merlin, nor did U.S. Navy PT boats use the R.R. Merlin engines, which are sometimes misstated. However, Packard did built a version of Merlin Engine under contract by Britain for British aircraft use.


Packard 4M-2500, Super Charged V-12 Gasoline Marine Engine



Another view of the Packard 4M-2500, Super Charged V-12 Gasoline Marine Engine


 

The Packard 4M- 2500 - PT Boat Engine
Cylinders: 12 - V angled arrangement
Supercharger: Gear driven - centrifugal
Cooling: Fresh water
Maximum RPM: 2400 rpm , 2000 rpm sustained
Rating: 1200, 1350, 1500 depending on year of manufacture
Fuel: 100 Octane gasoline
Consumption at maximum rpm Running three engines. 474 gallons per hour.
Duration at maximum rpm 6.3 hours. (3000 gallons)
Consumption at sustained rpm Running three engines, 292 gallons per hour.
Duration at sustained rpm 10.3 hours (3000 gallons)
Range (3000 gallons) Radius of 259 miles at 35 knots, 518 miles total.

 


PT BOAT ARMAMENT

 

Throughout the war PT boat armament was an ever changing condition. This was mainly due to the diverse combat and tactical roles these boats were called upon to perform. In the early days with the Elco 77' boats, armament compliment was minimal compared to the late war configuration. The early boats carried 4 Mk-XIV torpedoes, and dual mounted 50cal machine guns in each of its two turrets, with an occasional 30cal Lewis machine mount forward. Compare this with a typical late war configured boat with two to four Mk-VIII torpedoes, two dual 50cal machine guns in the turrets, a 40mm Bofors cannon mounted aft, a 37mm cannon far forward, flanked by two 20mm cannons and an assortment of other weapons such as deck mounted mortars, additional 30 and 50 calibre machine guns including two multiple 5" rocket launchers.


Dual 50cal Browning Machines Guns mounted into hydraulic powered turrets
Early PT's carried 4 - MkIV Torpedoes in Tubes,later PT's were equipped with Mk-VIII Torpedoes

 

Bofors 40mm cannon, operated by a crew of four


Left; 2- 5 inch Rocket Launchers, Centre Top; 1 - Mk4 20mm automatic cannon,
Right; 1- 37mm automatic canon, early field installations utilized the canons removed from P-39 Air cobra fighters

 

Type of weapons found on PT boat included but not limit to the following: Lewis - 30 cal machine guns, Browning - 50 cal machine guns, Oerlikon - 20 mm gun, Bofors - 40 mm cannons, M3 & M9 - 37 mm rapid fire cannons, Thunderbolt System, 4 - 20 mm guns in turret mount, Mark VII & VIII Torpedoes, (long - tube discharged), Mark XIII Torpedoes (short - roll-off rack), 300 & 600 lb. depth charges, 8 tube-rocket launcher for 5" rockets, Hedgehog rocket launchers, Deck mounted mortars, Miscellaneous side and shoulder weapons.

 


THE FATE OF PT BOATS AT WAR'S END

 

US Navy PT's surviving World War II were auctioned and sold by the Maritime Commission. Unfinished boats were in various states of completion at the end of the war. Some of these were completed even though Navy contracts were cancelled; these would not have been finished out as combat-ready boats. Boats in "theatre" were disposed of in sales to other countries or destroyed. China is have thought to have gotten some. Some were given to Yugoslavia, Cuba appears to have gotten at least one somehow. Others have turned up in Finland, Great Britain, Argentina, and the Philippines.

Some Lend-Lease boats that went to the USSR were returned in Turkey; but dates and places are unknown. Others stayed in Russia; but because of the Cold War, tracing them was impossible. Four were given to the Republic of Korea. The ROK Navy gave one of those, PT 619, to J.M. Newberry, founder of PT Boats, Inc., in 1969. He arranged for her transport back to the States and brought her to his home in Memphis where the boat was cannibalised and then destroyed in the mid-80's.

 

PT Boat burning November & December 1945, Samar, Philippines

 

According to "At Close Quarters", 99 were losses of one kind or another, 121 were burned at Samar in the Philippines, after decommissioning of squadrons. Some Lend-Lease boats, which included Vospers as well as Elco and Higgins, were destroyed by Great Britain. (Boats in the US Navy were Higgins, Huckins and Elco.)

At this point it is wise to remember that PT boats were only inventory to the Navy Department. They were intended to be expended, like pencils or paper clips. At the time it was deemed far too expensive to maintain small wooden vessels that no one could see any use for. Jeeps and aircraft suffered the same fate, many unceremoniously dumped off decks of aircraft carriers.

New owners transformed PTs into diving Platforms, sightseeing boats, dinner cruisers, and yachts. They were used for fishing, salvage, oystering, ferrying. The Elco boat that PT Boats, Inc. restored and now on exhibit, was rumoured to have been used to make porn movies.

 


MOTOR TORPEDO BOAT SQUADRONS

 

The U.S. Navy in 1940 decided to organize PT Boats into squadrons and commission a squadron rather then individual boats. Because of the expected quantity of PT Boats, it would be more efficient to place boats into service in a commissioned squadron rather than commissioning hundreds of boats.

The Navy's official squadron designation was Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron, however it was regularly shorten to a nickname of RON. A total of 45 Rons were commissioned, but two of them never made it to a combat area prior to the end of the war (RONS 41 and 42). Another three squadrons were decommissioned for transfer to USSR on lend-lease (RONS 43, 44, 45). Also notable, three RONS were shipped to the Philippines but arrived too late to participate in any combat action (RONS 38, 39, 40).

Squadrons were generally made comprised of 12 to 16 boats each, but a few were larger. Also squadron would contain all the same type of boats, such as all ELCO’s or Higgins, although there were some squadrons made up of mix and match boats including 77' ELCO’s, 80' ELCO’s and 78' Higgins.

Squadrons comprised of Huckins boat were few, manly due to the limited number of Huckins boats manufactured. Two RONS were made up of Huckins (RON 14 and 260), and were based in the rear. RON 4, the Motor Torpedo Boat Training Centre squadron had the four Huckins of RON 14 transferred to in September 1944.



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