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


Responses

  1. Hi Steve, thanks for sharing. Do you mind sharing your email address with me? I have a few things I would like to share with you… you can email me at lorenweeks@outlook.com. Thanks, Loren

    • Loren, Will do. Sorry for the delayed response. Thanks for visiting the blog. I’ll be in touch soon. Steve

  2. Lest We Forget.

    • Amen. Thanks, Lloyd.


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