Personal Stories
Submitted by PT Veterans

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From Peter Tare Reunion Guide 1997
by Earl P. Brown, Skipper of PT-122

It's been more than half a century since we rode the boats and here we are – older, fatter, grayer or balder, and hopefully wiser – telling sea stories on the Baltimore waterfront. Whatever – those plywood jockey days of the first half of the Nineteen Forties represented, for most of us, some of the defining moments of our lives.

When we received our orders to Melville we felt that being selected for duty with the Mosquito Fleet was like a coronation: we were so proud. We had bought one of those silver tie clips even before we reported. However, when we first strolled down the hill toward Narragansett Bay and saw those deadly looking boats nestled in the lagoon, some of us wondered just what we had gotten ourselves into by volunteering.

We started out not knowing a heat exchanger from an auxiliary generator or a lazarette from a flux gate or a vee drive from a butterfly muffler. But we learned quickly at the hands of those salty Ron Four boat captains who never missed a chance to tell us how rugged life was "out in the area" or criticize our boat handling and station keeping. They spent most of their time drinking coffee in the chart room and arguing with the equally-salty Instructors about the relative merits of the Elco over the Higgins or vice versa.

We regularly made Torpedo runs on the Vineyard Haven light ship, patrolled outside the anti-submarine nets, ran missions to Block Island, and practiced boat handling at the decrepit dock in Fall River. We learned what made a Torpedo run, field stripped a 50 caliber, passed aircraft and ship recognition but, if truth be told, most of us never became proficient in blinker.

Our nights and weekends were spent at the Newport Casino officers' club or the Skoll Room of the Viking with that IITYWYBMAD slogan over the bar. For a change of pace we would go to Providence to admire those waitresses in the transparent skirts at the Bacchante Room of the Baltimore or go sailing at the Bristol Yacht Club.

Then suddenly one day – unless we were lucky enough to draw new construction at Bayonne or New Orleans – we found ourselves actually "out in the area" in the Channel or the Med, the Aleutians, the Southwest Pacific or the Philippines or elsewhere. We spent our tours of duty nursemaiding LCI's and LST's, laying water-hugging smoke for invasions, sinking barges, fighting E-boats, strafing beaches, ferrying admirals and correspondents, scouting up rivers, dodging Kamikazes, dropping off coast watchers or guerrillas behind enemy lines, evacuating wounded, gathering local intelligence, fishing downed pilots out of the water, drawing shore battery fire for the fly boys – in other words everything except that for which the boats had been designed.

Who would trade the memory of returning from a successful patrol under a fuschia and magenta dawn sky with a broom tied to the radar mast and the engines whining and the boat skimming over a sea as smooth as glass. She was up on her step because the Chief Motor Mac conned the Exec by saying "let's wind 'em up and burn out the carbon."

Remember that sense of pride when that grease-stained guy riding the center engine stuck his head out of the engine room to shout "that was great Skipper, you docked her with only two shifts."

What a panoply of memories come rolling back: splitting the watch with the other boats in the nest, the boredom of refueling (usually the Exec's job), the awful smell of Copperoid bottom paint, the perpetual game of hearts, torpedo juice, the day we got radar and learned a new form of navigation, that movie we saw so many times that we still recite the lines, powdered eggs, atabrine tables, drawing diesel-tasting chow from the tender in tureens, stingy supply officers, tired engines and nicked wheels, the beer rations, censoring the crews mail, Tokyo Rose or Axis Sally, the abrasiveness of salt water soap, the sluggish pump in the officers head, the speed spoke on the wheel, how we grew to like the guys on our tender, the taste of Spam covered with Chutney, how we preferred faded khakis over those hated gray uniforms, the wonder of how our tiny boats withstood the pounding of a North Sea storm or a Sulu Sea typhoon.

Then one day they dropped the big one and it was all over. We traded our silver tie clips for a ruptured duck and back in our hometown bars or at the local Rotary Club we were always eager and proud to answer the question "what did you do during the war?"

We got a brief repuance in 1946 when we took our wives or girlfriends to the local theater to see "They Were Expendable" – at least twice. The girls might even have been wearing one of our silk survival maps as a scarf. We had an additional 15 minutes of fame when one of ours was elected President and recruited many of his former shipmates for duty in Washington. Then in 1963 Hollywood made "PT 109" and this time it was our kids we took to see it – at least twice.

Every TV rerun of "They Were Expendable" or "PT 109" provided us with bragging rights at the office or the country club, but deep down in our souls the show we really identified with was "McHale's Navy." That was us: unshaven, dressed in cutoff remnants of uniforms, baseball capped, impertinent, irreverent, close to our crews. Like them we were world class scavengers, whether looking for a case of ice cream mix, a couple of new gun barrels for the 50's or a new screw for the starboard engine. We were also world class traders on the hunt for samurai swords, pearls, lugers, maps, rising sun or swastika flags, enemy uniforms – anything we could swap for a case of cigars, a fifth of bourbon, or a late movie with those big ship sailors who never got ashore.

Like Borgnine's boys we bastardized the sleek beauty of our boats by those canvas tents we erected on our foredecks, those privies extending over the stern, and those mattresses on top of the day room and like Lieutenant McHale we allowed our cook to go fishing with depth charges.

Recently I took my new wife to Battleship Cove to see the reconstructed Elco. Her reaction was "I didn't realize they were so small" while all the time I was thinking I didn't remember my boat being so big.

Today our proud plywood navy is as obsolete as the Yankee Clipper, the Merrimac, or the four pipe Destroyer. A relic of another war in another era. Even Peter and Tare don't exist anymore. In today's Navy we would be Papa Tango – at least it's not the Macarena.

But for us – riding the boats was a never to be forgotten rite of passage.


Extracted from
by Kenneth L. Campbell

June 9, 1944

At 1640 hours, PT518, along with PT511, PT512 and PT517, departed from Portland Harbor en route to the invasion shores of France. Upon arrival, the boat skippers reported to CTG 122.9 for station assignment along the "Mason Line". The Mason Line was a straight line, about 6-1/2 miles long, which extended outward, perpendicular from the eastern shore of the Cherbourg (Cotentin) Peninsula. Its purpose was to provide the invasion landing forces protection on their eastern flank against German E-Boats and other small craft operating in the area. Along this line, ten positions had been marked and designated Stations "A" through "J". A PT boat was assigned to each station and, during the day light hours, would anchor at the station. During the night hours, some of the boats would leave the line to go on patrols.

The War Diary indicates that there were generally 18 to 20 boats on duty at the Mason Line. Presumably, the added boats were assigned positions between the ten designated stations. That would have placed the boats about 1/4 mile apart. When LT(jg) DuBosque and the captains of the three boats accompanying it drew straws for the available stations, DuBosque drew the "J" station; the one nearest to the French Coast and within easy range of the rifle of any German soldier who might still be on the beach.

In maneuvering to get on Station "J" and preparing to drop anchor, PT518 ran aground! As soon as the skipper felt the boat touch bottom, he put the engines into reverse and backed into deeper water. The anchoring maneuver was resumed. Shortly after the grounding, the engineer on duty in the engine room sounded an alarm and called for assistance. When other crew members arrived at the engine room hatch, they could see the deck plates in the engine room bobbing up and down. The boat was taking on water!

The crew formed a bucket brigade and, using helmets, buckets and anything else that would hold more than a pint of water, began bailing water from the engine room bilge. A quick decision was made to beach the boat on a small island lying a few miles off the French coast. The plan was to beach it there in preference to beaching it on the beach near Station "J" where the shore line was still under German control. The Captain ordered all engines full ahead and the boat sped toward the island. Before it reached the its destination, the water in the bilge started to recede; even when the brigade terminated its effort.

It was determined that, when the boat had backed down while in shallow water, the self-bailing pipe started acting as a siphon and the boat began taking on water from the sea.

The self-bailing system was a very simple device consisting, primarily, of a bent pipe. The bottom most part of the pipe extended just beneath the hull and was bent to face aft. The long length of the pipe past through the hull and extended upward so that its highest point was just above the water line. Finally, at the top, the pipe had two 90-degree bends, making the other end of the pipe extend downward almost to the hull.

Between these two bends, in the top surface of the pipe, there was a very small pin hole. The top of the pipe was barely above the water line when the boat was at rest and fully loaded.

The system worked on the venturi principle. When the boat was underway, the water passing over the opening under the hull caused a vacuum at the open end inside the hull and sucked any bilge water, that might be present, out of the boat.

The purpose of the small pin hole was to prevent the siphoning of water from the sea into the boat from occurring. The pin hole had become clogged, permitting the siphoning to occur so long as the boat was stopped or moving slowly in the water.

The skipper turned the a boat about and returned to anchor at Station "J" on the Mason Line. It remained there continuously for about a week.

Note: The date, June 9, 1944, was taken from the Squadron War Diary. Several members of the crew of PT518 remember this departure from Portland as having occurred on June 8th.


The Battle of Leyte Gulf
The Battle of Surigao Straits - 24-25 October 1944

October, 24-25, 1944 - Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 36

Guarding the eastern entrance to the Surigao Straits were the three Squadron 36 boats. 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. Cmdr. Francis D. Tappaan. Our boats patrolling near the Sumilon Islands (Section 8) picked up radar targets eight miles away. When our boats had closed to within a mile, the enemy fired star shells to the west at other attacking PT boats. In doing so, it silhouetted his ships to our boats, on the command to attack. The three boats began our torpedo run with the boats abreast of each other, moving towards the southwest, and down the throats of the enemy guns at 02:15, 25 October 1944.

The closer we confronted the enemy, engaging them under the tensest and toughest type of naval engagement "Night Combat", star shells, searchlight illumination, heavy gunfire and a frantic terror-stricken radio call by other PT boats under heavy and accurate gun fire by an enemy destroyer, added a surge to our adrenal glands. Also there was the ever increasing size of the outline of the enemy ships, consisting of the battleships Fusi and Yamashiro and trailing behind the formation the heavy cruiser Mogami, escorted by four destroyers Asagumo,Mitsushio, Shigure and Yamaguno. The dream and resolution of every PT Boat Skipper was echoed by Lt. Wolf (PT 524), who's heroic, valiant, and bold words were uttered defiantly over the radio for all to hear "Lets Get in Closer."

Commander Tappaan aboard PT 523 gave the order for all boats to launch both of their torpedoes at 02:32 towards the leading battleship, the Yamashiro, 1000 yards away, with no apparent damage inflicted on the enemy.

My battle station aboard PT 524 during this torpedo attack was the port side torpedo. In my eagerness and haste, after pulling the lever to release the torpedo, I lost my balance and was falling over the side along with the torpedo. The individual TM3/C Robert Wingfield that was there to assist me during this time noticed my predicament and grabbed me by my belt and pulled me back aboard, saving me from the narrow seas, a precarious and dangerous environment, the Surigao Straits.

Up to this time the boats had been undetected. It was only after the Japanese ship personnel saw the wakes of the six torpedoes that they began to start shooting in the direction from which they came. First with their secondary weapons, 5- and 6-inch guns, and then with their main battery, 14-inch gun. By this time the 523, 524 and 526 were retiring in column at top speed, shielding our escape with a smoke screen which absorbed most of the enemy fire, but prevented the boats from observing the effect of the torpedoes. During their retirement, all three boats saw five more pips on their radar screens following three miles astern of the first group of enemy ships.

After our safe departure from the battle we found shelter in a cove behind an island where we watched with awe, the continuation and the end of the Battle of Surigao Straits.


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