Posted by: SJS | August 6, 2020

All hands on deck

PT 552 throttles up

PT 552 hits full throttle and executes a smooth starboard turn.  The crew, in helmets and at battle stations, are on their way to engage the enemy.

Photos like this always cause me to take a deep breath as I realize that my father frequently found himself moving across the ocean on PT 373, heading into harm’s way with every crewmember getting themselves prepared for what lay ahead.

This photo is from the extensive collection of Frank Andruss who has generously shared the photos with the wider PT community.  Few people have done more to preserve and promote the legacy of the Navy’s WWII PT boats than Frank and I am deeply grateful for all his hard work.

I’ve acquired several of Frank’s books and they are excellent–I highly recommend them.

Posted by: SJS | July 14, 2020

Happy Bastille Day

French flag

On July 14, 1789 the military fortress and prison, the Bastille, was stormed during a violent uprising that added momentum to the violent upheaval of the French Revolution.

This year, France has honored its health workers at scaled-down events to mark the national celebration of Bastille Day amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.  The French authorities cancelled the traditional military and instead held a tribute to those fighting the virus.  This is the first time officials have called off the annual military parade through the capital Paris since the end of World War II in 1945.

On this most important French holiday, we gratefully remember how that nation came to the aid of our fledgling American democracy and played such a crucial role in the successful outcome of the American Revolution.  Few allies of the United States have been as loyal and steadfast as the French over the course of our history.

 

Posted by: SJS | June 29, 2020

PT 506 – in color

PT 506 in color

PT 506 hits full acceleration in this stunning, very rare color photo that was recently posted by Frank Andruss.  The speed, sleekness, and deck details of the PTs are  accentuated through the use of color film.  With vivid immediacy, the power and seaworthiness of the PT boats is perfectly captured in this compelling image.

My thanks to Frank for sharing this treasure with the extended PT boat network.  Frank’s extensive work to preserve and promote the legacy of the Mosquito Fleet has been a great gift to us all.  Keep up the great work, Frank!

 

 

Posted by: SJS | June 21, 2020

A Father’s Day salute

George Jr. & Phil Cameron in tuxes for Bill Sweeny's wedding

By the time my father graduated from Philadelphia’s Northeast Catholic High School, he had already enlisted in the US Navy and would soon begin his arduous training in preparation for his role as a Radioman in the Navy’s famed “Mosquito Fleet.”  Entering the US Armed Forces as hostilities in Europe and the South Pacific were becoming more intense and dangerous was an act of courage, boldness, and authentic patriotism.

As my research continues on my father’s remarkable career as an enlisted sailor during some of the darkest days of WWII, I am in awe of what he accomplished before he reached the age of 21.  Along with his young comrades in the Navy, the Marines, the Army, the Army Air Force, the Coast Guard, the WAVES, the WACS, and the Seabees–he was part of “The Greatest Generation” that changed the history of the world.

Doing his duty, not talking very much about it, and getting on with his life–that’s how things went as Red Stahley completed high school and stepped into the tumultuous  world that awaited him in 1943.  It’s always an honor to pause on Father’s Day and recognize his enduring legacy.

Wishing a very happy Father’s Day to all the dads, grandfathers, and father figures who contribute–and have contributed–to making our world a better place.

In the photo, George “Red” Stahley poses with his friend and fellow North Catholic buddy, Phil Cameron, on the wedding day of their friend, Bill Sweeney in Philly in 1948.  Like Red, Phil served in the USN as part of a destroyer crew.

Posted by: SJS | June 6, 2020

A day to honor courage – and remember

Commissioning of USS HILO AGP 2 on June 1, 1942. 90% were PH survivors

As we commemorate  D-Day and the astounding courage of the American Armed forces which participated in the Normandy Invasion on this day in 1944, we remember also the unshakable courage of other members of the US Military–past and present–who model the virtue of courage and inspire us to embody it in our own lives.

Pictured above is the commissioning ceremony for the USN crew of USS HILO AGP 2 on June 11, 1942.  As a PT tender, the USS HILO would serve numerous PT crews over the course of the war.

All of the petty officers and 90% of the enlisted men in this crew were Pearl Harbor survivors.  As sailors who experienced that horrific attack of December 7, 1941, they demonstrated their bravery, determination, and resilience as part of the Navy’s Mosquito Fleet.  Their hard work made sure that the PT boats were well maintained and supported for their missions.  These brave sailors never forgot for a moment what they were fighting for and all those they lost at Pearl Harbor.

 

Photo courtesy of PT Boats, Inc.

 

Posted by: SJS | May 22, 2020

Memorial Day 2020

USN graveyard unknown location

The final resting place of unknown US sailors who made the ultimate sacrifice somewhere in the South Pacific.  This photo is from the vast archives of PT Boats, Inc. and is included here with gratitude and deep respect.

This Memorial Day, as we honor the sacrifice of all the men and women who have worn the military uniform of our country and given their lives for us, let’s also keep in mind the extraordinary service of healthcare professionals and essential workers who are serving us now on the front lines of the ongoing battle against the COVID-19 menace.  The courageous work of the nurses, doctors, store clerks, EMT crews, postal workers, military personnel, and public safety officials are shining examples of the highest qualities of public service and heroism.

Our gratitude to those who serve so generously is profound and beyond the capacity of words to express.  May God bless them all.

Posted by: SJS | May 12, 2020

PT base at Teguchi Harbor, Okinawa

1945 PT base in Okinawa

While VE Day (Victory in Europe) was celebrated on May 8, 1945, heavy fighting in the Pacific continued against a fierce and entrenched adversary.  In anticipation of the invasion of the Japanese mainland, a PT base was established at Teguchi Harbor on Okinawa.  PTs from Squadrons (RONs) 31, 32, and 37 were assigned to Okinawa in preparation for the coming battles.

The Marines and the Navy knew that their war was a long way from over as spring turned to summer in 1945.  The forces of Imperial Japan were dug in and determined to fight on as the Allies moved ever closer to the Japanese homeland.  As the prospects of the ultimate Allied victory grew ever more certain, the resistance of the Japanese fighting forces became more intense–and suicidal.

The PT sailors in Ron 27 knew clearly what they were up against.  After Red Stahley, Tom Saffles, and their crewmates on PT 373 and PT 359 went through a ferocious engagement on Balabalangan Island on a remote Borneo jungle river, it was clear that the Japanese forces would surrender nothing without a fight to the death.  And the closer that fighting got to mainland Japan, the worse it would get.

As the sailors on PT 373 and PT 359 returned to the USS Mobjack, the PT Tender that was their temporary base, they were carrying one dead crewmate, one severely wounded crewmate, and the exhaustion of a night filled with heavy machine gun fire coming from an enemy they could not even see in the darkness and smoke.

Over the night of July 9-10, 1945, my father and his fellow sailors got a bitter taste of the experience that the Marines were encountering on Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and the other hotspots of the island hopping campaign.  From the vantage point of mid-July, 1945, the weeks and months ahead of the PT crews looked bleak and filled with one blood-drenched battle after another.  Three PT squadrons were already assigned to the new base in Okinawa and it is likely that the sailors of Ron 27 expected a similar posting.

Everything would change dramatically in the early part of August when President Harry Truman ordered the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on mainland Japan.  The unconditional surrender of Imperial Japan quickly followed the second bombing on August 9, 1945.

The unleashing of atomic weapons was, and will remain, among the most controversial decisions in American history.  There are compelling arguments to be made for and against.  The Atomic Age was ushered in with two massive blasts that changed the course of human history.

One thing, however, is beyond dispute.  Had the Allied forces been handed the duty of invading mainland Japan, the cost in American lives would have been very, very high.  And part of that toll would have been paid by the PT sailors in the South Pacific.  Like the Marines, they were resigned to their fate and accepted the grim path that lay before them.  Like the Marines, the PT sailors were realists about war and its costs.

And if it had become necessary to invade mainland Japan in the brutal summer of 1945,  I can only wonder if I would even be here typing these words.  It most certainly gives one pause…

Photo courtesy of PT Boats, Inc.

 

 

 

 

PT 359 and 373 Action Page_3_World_War_II_War_Diaries_19411945[6982]PT 359 and 373 Action Page_3_World_War_II_War_Diaries_19411945[6982]PT 359 and 373 Action Page_4_World_War_II_War_Diaries_19411945[6983]evening patrol (2)Heading out for night patrol

As promised, this is the second of two After Action Reports (AARs) for the PT engagement on the night of July 9-10, 1945 at Balabalangan Island, part of the Borneo Archipelago in Indonesia.  This report was submitted by the Skipper of PT 373, Lt. Alexander W. Allison.  These recently declassified reports were located by a good friend, Dave Waite, who found them as part of his research on his father’s WWII USN service.

I will be eternally grateful to Dave for forwarding these precious documents to me.  They detail the events of the most crucial twenty four hours of my father’s service during the war–a night that left one PT sailor dead, another wounded, a damaged cockpit (as seen in the photo with my father standing next to the bullet hole near the 373 marking), and enough combat turbulence to inhabit the soul of a young man for the rest of his life.

In the bureaucratic prose typical of these reports. Lt. Allison describes the role his boat played in the assault on the Japanese radar tower on the island over the course of that fateful night.  The crew of PT 373 used flares to illuminate the target.  The light gave the gunners on the starboard side of the 373 a clear target.  The machine gun fire from PT 373 and PT 359 was heavy and sustained.  The return fire from the Japanese installation appears to have been heavier than expected, resulting in the death of a gunner on the 359 and the serious wounding of a gunner on the 373.

In both reports, the skippers make clear that there was heavy machine gun fire going both ways over the course of the encounter.  It was a battle between an entrenched Japanese unit and two heavily armed American boats.  Neither adversary seemed willing to stand down.  When the PT boats withdrew, it was only after the skippers determined that sufficient damage had been done to take out the communications capacity of the tower.

Near the conclusion of the report, Lt. Allison states that “all personnel performed creditably, the 40 mm crew with distinction.” With typical military understatement, the skipper pays tribute to the work of his crew over the course of a night filled chaos, damage, death, and immense courage.  All in a day’s (or night’s) work for the PT crews on the 373 and the 359.

In another era, Admiral Horatio Nelson of the British Royal Navy sent a message to his fleet of warships as they entered into battle with the Napoleonic Fleet off the Spanish coast in 1805.  “England expects that every man will do his duty,” the semaphore flags on Nelson’s flagship, the HMS Victory, spelled out as the British prepared to engage the combined fleet of French and Spanish warships.  And at the Battle of Trafalgar, the British Royal Navy–heavily outnumbered and outgunned– did just that.  It was one of the most stunning naval victories in recorded military history.  And it cost the life of Admiral Nelson who was killed by a bullet fired by a French marine.

Doing one’s duty–and doing it well–was a hallmark of the PT crews.  These AARs spell out in precise detail what these young men did on that memorable night in July of 1945.  Every member of both crews executed their duty with boldness and bravery.

In the photo, courtesy of PT Boats, Inc., an unidentified PT boat heads out in the early evening on a mission in the South Pacific.  That evening sky like the one in the photo was one that my father, and all PT sailors, must have known very well.

Posted by: SJS | April 21, 2020

After Action Report (1): July 9-10 PT 359

PT 359 and 373 Action Page_1_World_War_II_War_Diaries_19411945[6980]PT 359 and 373 Action Page_2_World_War_II_War_Diaries_19411945[6981]

Tom & Red 1945

Tom Saffles and Red Stahley 1945

I have recently come into possession of two crucial After Action Reports from the US Navy which were declassified at the end of 2012.   The reports detail an engagement between two PT boats, the 359 and the 373, on the overnight of July 9-10, 1945.  Reading these documents, written by the two PT Skippers– Lt. Charles S. Welsh, USNR (359) and Lt. Alexander W. Allison, USNR, (373), has been an electrifying experience.

A good friend, Dave Waite, discovered these stunning documents while doing research on his father’s WWII Navy career and was kind enough to send them to me.  Dave has my eternal gratitude for passing along these remarkable documents–bursting with action, pathos, nautical information, precise accounts of firepower expended and a few phrases that verge on the poetic.

The reports flesh out the details of a story that I first heard as a child from my father in 1956 and listened to again, and again, and again at my urgent request.  I craved to hear this story more than any fairy tale or nursery rhyme as a child.  It was the story of the attack on the Japanese communications station on a dark night up a dense jungle river.  I knew that a PT sailor on another boat had been killed.  I knew that machine gun fire had torn through the cockpit on my father’s boat.  I knew that the mission had achieved its objective.

I learned later–much later–that the sailor who was killed on PT 359, George D. Emmons–had just relieved my father’s best friend, Tom Saffles in the bow turret gun when Emmons took a fatal shot from a machine gun on the Japanese tower.  Tom was racked by survivor’s guilt over the loss, a heavy burden that he carried for the remainder of his life.  He shared the story for the first time with his wife, Irene, and my sister, Maryellen, and me when we visited him in Springville, Alabama in 2011.  I am still haunted by the wracking sobs that overwhelmed Tom as he verbalized the story for the first time.  His only solace was the exchange of Morse Code messages he had with his best friend and fellow PT radioman–Red Stahley–on PT 373 over the course of those terrifying hours on that dark river with machine gun fire ripping the water and shredding the air all around them.

The new details of the raid on Balabalagan Island up a dense jungle river in the Borneo archipelago do more than flesh out the story.  The tense narratives, written by the two skippers, convey the bureaucratic cost of the mission in terms of human life, ammunition used, damage taken, and enemy equipment destroyed.  Reading between the lines, however, the toll taken on officers and crew by the chaos, enemy fire, confusion, and loss of a crewmate becomes powerfully clear.

Lt. Walsh concludes his report with this brief paragraph,

“The crew responded remarkably well under fire and showed coolness and presence of mind in the face of a serious personnel casualty.”

With an economy of language, clarity, and a military directness akin to the legendary  dispatches of Union General Ulysses S. Grant during the Civil War, the Skipper of PT 359 lets his superiors know that his crew did their job with discipline, competence and an uncommon level of courage.  And now, the whole world can know it, too.

There can be no higher praise.

Next:  After Action Report (2): July 9-10 PT 373

Posted by: SJS | April 14, 2020

Supportive services–absolutely essential

lifting up a PT for repairs 07-15-2019_17-51-36-954 (2)Key to the success of the PT boats as a fighting force in WWII was the great support the PTs received from the PT Tenders and the PT Base Crews.  These supportive services kept the crews supplied, the boats in good repair, and–when necessary–additional fire power to fight off enemy attacks, especially from hostile aircraft.  The USN sailors who were assigned to the tenders and the bases shared the same fighting spirit as their fellow sailors who were assigned to the PT crews.

I lost track of the number of time my father praised the work of the tender and base crews.  “We relied on those guys to keep us going,” Red said, “we would have been in big trouble without them.”

Our nation is now engaged in an all-out war against a fierce, invisible enemy–the COVID-19 virus.  On the front lines of this war, fighting with all their might to protect us are the nurses, doctors, health technicians, hospital staff, and EMT crews.  Their heroism and selfless service are on full display every day.  They are putting their lives on the line, using their considerable skills to serve the sickest among us.  Along with the healthcare professionals, we rely on the hard work and bravery of  law enforcement professionals, grocery store workers, mail carriers, pharmacy staff, waste removal workers, and so many others who do the day-to-day necessary work to keep our society functioning.

To paraphrase Red Stahley, we rely on these fine people to keep us going and we would be in big  trouble without them.

God bless them all for their courage, their selfless service, and their tireless work to heal, to protect, and to supply us with life’s necessities.  They truly represent the best of who we are as Americans.  We owe them an immense debt of gratitude.

In the photo, a PT boat is hoisted onto a PT tender for repairs.

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