Posted by: SJS | December 7, 2018

PT action on December 7, 1941

The first encounter between the PT boats of the US Navy and the forces of Imperial Japan occurred on December 7, 1941 during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  On that fateful Sunday morning, PT crews of Squadron (Ron) 1 were just finishing breakfast when the Duty Officer, Ensign N.E. Ball, spotted the insignia of the Rising Sun on the the low flying planes and immediately gave the order to “man the guns!”  The crews quickly returned to their boats and the Machinist Mates dashed into the engine room to start the air compressor which provided air for the two twin .50 caliber machine gun turrets.  As some PT sailors manned the guns, other crewmen started breaking out and belting ammunition.  They worked as highly efficient teams as they jumped into action.

They soon opened fire on the Japanese torpedo plans as they flew over the PT boats on their flying patterns to bomb the American battleships berthed in the harbor.  As the planes were flying away from the PTs, gunners on PT 23 were able to draw a bead on them and then maintain a steady stream of tracers onto the underside of the planes,  One plane burst into flames and crashed near Kuahua Island.  The tracer streams from other PT boat guns found a second torpedo plane, which was seen to fall to the sea in flames in the vicinity of Halawa.

It was later confirmed that the PT boats were the first vessels that opened fire on the enemy and the first to knock Japanese planes out of the sky.  December 7th, 1941 was the first day that the PTs would tangle with the forces of Imperial Japan.  Their success against those enemy planes that day was a portent of greater things to come.

My thanks to my son, Thomas, who turned up this remarkable piece of PT history as part of a research paper he recently completed for an American history course he is currently taking in college.  He discovered the Pearl Harbor information in: American PT Boats in World War II by Victor Chun–a superb volume loaded with valuable PT history and photos. Thomas turned up many other valuable pieces of PT history through his careful investigation.

The photos from the vast archives of PT Boats, Inc. show the legendary “Twin 50s” machine guns.  The Twin 50s were the standard armament on all PTs in WWII.  They were a  potent weapon that every PT officer and enlisted sailor could use at a moment’s notice–especially against enemy aircraft.


  1. Thomas seems to be following in Dad’s footsteps – that is great to hear!

  2. Congratulations to your son, Thomas for doing the research that provided this information about the role of PT boats during the attack on Pearl Harbor. The description you provided about the action was powerful.

  3. Congratulations to Thomas, great research!

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