Posted by: SJS | April 7, 2011

Stealth and speed

The early deployment of PT boats in WWII was with the plan that their main job was to fire torpedos at enemy warships and barges.  By the time Red Stahley, Tom Saffles, and their buddies reported for service, the mission of the PTs had changed signficantly.   The history of the PT boats indicates that the small boats and the large torpedos they carried were never a “good fit.”  As a result, the original plan for deploying the PTs changed over time.   

By 1944, PT boats had become high-speed gunboats. Their decks were outfitted with weapons to protect them from strafing by enemy planes and to allow them to exchange fire with enemy ships.  When Red and Tom received their boat assignments in Squadron (Ron) 27, they were expected to be as comfortable operating a machine gun on the deck of their boat as they were spinning the dials of their radios below deck.  Whether it was in the turret of the famous “Twin Fifties” machine gun or operating 20 mm machine gun on the fantail of the boat, every sailor knew how to play defense as well as offense. 

PT crewman on the twin 50 machine gun

PT sailor on the Twin 50s

The 80 foot Elco PT boats of Ron 27 were designed for speed.  They carried out their patrols under cover of darkness.  By 1945, the work of the PTs had evolved in a way that could never have been foreseen in the early days of the war.  Among their tasks:  attacking shore installations, escorting and guiding landing craft, recovering downed aircrews, transporting commandos to landing sites, reconnaissance in shallow waters, shadowing enemy ships,  submarine patrols, and multiple other duties that are too numerous to mention.  For whatever they were needed, they performed their duties with a remarkable record of accomplishment. 

The small PT crews relied on stealth, surprise, and speed.  What they relied on the most, however, were their wits and calmness under fire.

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