"They were Expendable"

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McGraw has reprinted Bob Donovan's PT 109---JFK IN WORLD WAR TWO with more than 50 pictures and a new forward and epilogue.

It is available from booksamillion.com for $15.95


Bob Bulkley's "At Close Quarters", the bible of PT operations in the Pacific during World War 2 is being reprinted by popular request. It will be available in May or June for $36.95 from PT Boats, Inc.

PT Boats, Inc. maintains a reference library of more than 170 books and other printed materials about PT boats and operations. In addition, they offer for sale many of the publications still in print. Prices include shipping and handling.


Official reports and other writings about the joint operations of British MTB's and American PT's in the Mediterranean during WW2 have depicted them as controversial at best.  

"Flag 4", a book about " The Battle of Coastal Forces in the Mediterranean 1939-1945" by Dudley Pope presents the British side of the story.  The book points out that "from 1940 to 1943 these smallest fighting ships of the Royal Navy were the only surface craft continually able to seek out and attack the enemy."

A preface to the books notes that " Circumstances have caused the Mediterranean Sea to play a greater part in the history of the world, both in a commercial and military point of view, than any other sheet of water of the same size."

"Flag 4" was published by Chatham Publishing of London and is available from www.booksamillion.com for $19.75.


Ed Hoagland, former ComRon 24 and third president of Peter Tare, has written a fascinating yarn about his experiences with the boats in New Guinea, the Philippines and Borneo.  The Sea Hawks is a no-frills tale of what we did; barge busting, ship attacks, landing support, pilot rescues, intelligence gathering, and reconnaissance.  It is detailed and specific and in one reviewer's words "a paean to the entire PT-boat war with interesting anecdotes of the history of these boats."

You may order it from almost any US bookstore for $24.95. The code is 0-89141-684-6. However, if you are computer literate you can purchase the book  from www.booksamillion.com  for only $15.71. 


Dick Keresey's book "PT 105" sheds new light on the unique contributions made to the war effort in the South Pacific by PT's.  As skipper of the 105 boat in Ron Five, Keresey was personally engaged in the Battle of Blackett Strait where JFK's PT 109 was rammed and sunk by a Japanese destroyer.  That famous incident, Keresey says, has often been described inaccurately and PT's depicted as unreliable and ineffective.  This book presents the facts to set that record straight. 

"PT 105" also paints an authentic picture of the boats operations in the South Pacific.  It offers an action-filled account of life on a PT boat: evading deadly night bombers, rescuing coast watchers, fighting barges and small freighters, and supporting invasions.  All the time contending with heat, disease and loneliness.  He describes PT 105's controversial rescue of Japanese sailors and his poignant reunion with one of them 50 years later.

The book's ISBN number is 1557504601 and is available from the Naval Institute Press in Annapolis for $29.95 ($23.96 if you are a NIP member).  For the computer literate the book is available for $18.96 at www.booksamillion.com

A distilled version with great photographs was published under the title "Farthest Forward" in the July/August 1998 issue of American Heritage with the editorial comment that "Keresey's article on PT 105 and her sisters gives them their belated due."  You may order that back issue by sending an e-mail to [email protected]


Roger Jones, ex-skipper of the 163 boat, has written PT Boat Episodes, the first Peter Tare book of the new millennium.  It is a personal memoir of his experiences riding the boats -- in war and peace.

A coffee table sized book with lots of photographs, it relates the experiences of Ron 10 in the northern Solomons i.e.: Green Island, Rabual, New Ireland, New Britain and the rest of the Bismarck Archipelago.  In April of 1944 the squadron moved to New Guinea and operated from our base at Saidor.  There's an interesting chapter on a firefight with a motorized gunboat protecting a Japanese barge run and an all too familiar tale of a struggle behind Japanese lines to pull a boat off a reef before daybreak.

Ron Jones finished his Ron 10 tour at Morotai and the Spice Islands and returned to Melville and then to new construction at the Elco shipyard.  He was assigned to the 603 boat in Ron 41 and cruised down the inland waterway to Miami for shakedown; there were even four days and nights in Havana.

After V-J Day, Ron 41 was selected to take its boats up the Mississippi to celebrate Navy Day in places like Cincinnati, Memphis, St. Louis, and Chicago.  If that wasn't cushy enough, they next went to the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard for the world movie premiere of "They Were Expendable".

PT Boat Memoirs is available from Merriam Press, 218 Beech Street, Bennington, VT 05201 for $24.95 in soft cover and $36.95 in hard cover.  It can be ordered on line at: www.merriam-press.com



The Naval War College in its spring 2000 Review has chosen three recent books about PT Boats.  They are:

  1. Hunters in the Shallows by Curtis L. Nelson, Washington, DC, Brassey's 1998, 242 pp. $28.95.

  2. PT Boats at War; WWII to Vietnam, by Norman Polmar and Samuel Loring Morrison, Osceola, WI, MBI Publishing, 1999, 160 pp. $19.95.

  3. The Sea Hawks by Edgar D. Hoagland, Presidio Press, Novato, CA, 1999. 234 pp. $24.95. 

For many readers, PT boats stir up images that are based on a pair of black-and-white movies and a corny television series, in which the PT crews are portrayed as nonconformist, courageous, and usually successful in near-suicidal torpedo attacks on swift and deadly enemy cruisers and destroyers.  While these stories are entertaining, the reality of PT operations and the true effectiveness of the dreaded "mosquito boats" can be found in the three books discussed in this review.  

The two books by Curtis Nelson, Norman Polmar and Samuel Morrison are excellent overviews.  They give detailed descriptions of the programmatic background and design of the classic World War II Higgins and Elco boats.  Both books begin with the U.S. Civil War, when Lieutenant William Cushing, USN, attached the Confederate ironclad CSS Albemarle with a spar-torpedo rigged on a small picket boat on the night of 27 October 1864.  Nelson points out that Cushing's attack was prototypical of the standard World War II PT attack, in that it occurred at night against an assumed superior, but unalerted opponent, prompting vigorous counter fire. 

Cushing's success notwithstanding, the use of smaller craft against larger craft was not seen as feasible, as survivable by attacking crew, until the invention and marketing of the autonomous torpedo by Robert Whitehead.  Whitehead's early torpedoes were lacking in range and reliability, but he and his team had shown the world's navies a revolutionary weapons system.  Still, while some European navies adopted and refined the torpedo and created launching craft, the U.S. Navy was focusing on building the Mahanian blue-water fleet.  Coastal warfare seemed to be irrelevant to this massive and costly effort.

Nelson does a creditable job in his description of the employment of motor torpedo boats, MTBs, in WWI.  There were some spectacular successes.  For example, many readers may be unaware of the films of the demise of an Austro-Hungarian dreadnought battleship Szent Istvan rolling over in the Adriatic after suffering torpedo damage inflicted by Italian MTBs in 1918. 

The real PT story begins during the U.S. Naval buildup in the late 1930s.  The pivotal role played by Secretary of the Navy Charles Edison (son of the inventor) in carrying out President Franklin Roosevelt's explicit orders to build warships of all types as quickly as possible is described in detail.  While Nelson does a particularly good job of relating the "scandal" of Edison's purchase of a proven and excellent British MTB design while competition between U.S. builders was still going on, Polmar and Morrison are more technically oriented and show in detail the design elements of the the U.S. prototypes and the British import.

In the first months of the Pacific War, the only U.S. assets acting offensively were the six PTs of MTB Squadron 3 in the Philippines, under Lieutenant Commander John Bulkeley.  While the actual tactical impact of these craft was slight, the crews demonstrated the hallmark attributes of all PT sailors-courage, innovation, and persistence.  They also found that the boats' gunnery was at least as important a tactical asset as their unreliable torpedoes.  This was a fact borne out later in the Solomons, New Guinea, and the Mediterranean, where U.S. PT boats acted more like small, fast gunboats and interdicted coastwise enemy barge traffic. 

While the above two works are overviews of PT design and tactics, Hoagland's book offers a rare, personal memoir of PT combat from the perspective of a young officer. He provides the human side of PT-boat warfare and his memory seems fresh after fifty plus years.  Perhaps the best part is Hoagland's retelling of the PT operations in the Philippines in 1945, when the boats acted as light littoral warships, scouting pockets of Japanese resistance and engaging shore batteries with their ever-increasing gun armament.  This book does an excellent job of describing what life was really like on PT boats in the Pacific.  It was indeed a very different navy. 

The post-World War II use of PT boats was brief, since the Navy discarded virtually all of them by 1946.  However, several prototypes were built, and they are well described by Polmar and Morrison.  The use of South Vietnamese PTFs in 1964 is also recounted, with note of their missions in the Gulf of Tonkin.