BY FREDERICK W. ROSEN    

A BIOGRAPHY OF MTB RON FIFTEEN

         

During World War 2 the Motor Torpedo Boat was designed to offer a torpedo firing platform on a 78’ low profile fast boat with a cruising range of approximately 550 miles.  Fully war loaded, the boat displaced 60 tons, and would draw a maximum of 6” which would enable it to operate up rivers and in coastal waters as well as in off shore waters.  Armament consisted of two twin 50 cal machine guns, one 20MM cannon, four Mark 8 21’ 27 knot (circa 1914-1918) torpedoes, one depth charge, and one smoke screen generator.

 

            The original boats was propelled by three 1350 H.P. super-charged Packard engines burning 100 octane aviation gasoline.  It was manned by two officers and a crew of nine.  Later versions with more sophisticated radar, electronic equipment and advancer armament might carry three Officers and 15 crew.

 

            Designed to operate similar to a submarine, except that it could not submerge, it had a 550 mile cruising range, unless extra fuel was carried on deck in 50 gallon drums.  The basic tactic was for the boat to operate on patrol station only in hours of darkness; and to play the singular role of the hunter, in the enemy’s back yard.  Its original mission was to seek out and destroy any and all enemy sea traffic encountered.

 

            At the out break of the World War II only one squadron, Ron 3 in Manila, was able to operate against the enemy.  When the C.O. Lt. Commander John Buckly USN, was ordered to take General Douglas McArthur and his Command Party including the Senior Philippine Civilian Party to Mindanao for evacuation to Australia, there were only four operational boats left in the Squadron.  This escape role played by Ron 3 added to the versatility of the boats.  The extensive publicity the boats received for this feat and their combat record caused the Navy to increase and expedite the PT Boat Building Program and major contracts were placed with two companies, Elco in Bayonne, N.J. and Higgins in New Orleans, Louisiana.

 

            In as much as the Navy had only four operating Squadrons on December 7, 1941, it would be impossible to man the dozens of boats coming off the ways with experienced PT Officers from the Regular Navy.  At MTBS Training Center was established in April 1942, at Melville, R.I. to train officers and crews.

 

            To offer some semblance of experience to the new squadrons, regular Navy Officers from other type vessels were assigned as Squadron Commanders and Executive Officers.  The balance of the Officer personnel to man the new boats was made up of recent graduates from the two USNR Midshipmen’s Schools, Prairie State and Northwestern University, who volunteered for duty in PT Boats.  All were assigned to the MTB Training Center for sixty days of highly specialized training as were the warrant officers, chief petty officers, petty officers and seamen, who had volunteered for PT duty. 

 

            Melville’s 5th and 7th class were made up mostly of officers who had been commissioned directly from civilian life and assigned to shore billets, but who wanted to go to sea.  The Navy set up a special school June – September ’42 at Northwestern for these direct commission officers who had volunteered for sea duty.  Their training term was sixty days instead of ninety days for regular midshipmen.

 

            All PT personnel were selected from volunteers in the same manner as the Submariners and Naval Aviators were chosen.  Lt. Commander John Buckeley USN personally did the selecting of the MTBTC’s 5th and 7th class Officers.  Members of the 6th class at MTBC were selected in the same manner from the Prairie State and Northwestern Midshipmen Schools.

 

            The underway training that the original classes at MTBTC received was conducted by training squadron Ron 4 which was composed of men and officers who were able to find their way out of the Philippines and part of the original personnel of Rons 1 and 2.  Even though the training was intense and the pupils very receptive the  officers and crews still lacked that practical knowledge which could only come from experience.  Upon graduation from the MTBSTC, the Officers were assigned as either Boat Captains or Executive Officers.  The tradition that the Captain is accountable for everything is as old as the Navy, an age old tradition that is a necessary part of going to sea.  The acceptance of this responsibility by the first classes at Melville until experienced people were able to be rotated to new construction, only adds luster to the caliber and statue of people who were chosen for PT duty.