Posted by: SJS | April 30, 2020

AAR # 2– Red Stahley’s most eventful 24 hours in WWII

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.

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