Motor Torpedo Boat development had its beginning in the early 1900's culminating with actual combat use in the first world war. It was the British, French and Italian navies who led the way in development and deployment of this specialized craft. However it wasn't until the late 1930's that the U.S. Navy seriously took on the challenge to create their own Patrol Torpedo Boat program.

The United States originally developed three designs, two from distinguished naval architects and one from the navy. Eight boats (PT's 1 through 8) were built from these designs. Unfortunately, by the time most of these boats were built and readied for testing, their design and performance was found to be inadequate.

In the mean time the Electric Boat Company (ELCO) purchased a British 70 foot boat, designed by Hubert Scott-Paine. This boat was subsequently shipped to the United States and numbered PT 9 by the Navy. During preliminary testing the Navy was impressed enough to award ELCO a contract to build 10 PT boats (PT 10 through 19) based on the PT 9 design. The contract specified some minor to moderate changes however, which included changes to upper deck structures and replacing the engines with the newly designed 1200 h.p. Packard Marine engines.

Upon completion of these boats, Navy test trials revealed that these new boats were too lightly constructed to withstand the rigors of open seas. It was also realized that the boat's designed length was not sufficient to utilize the longer U.S. torpedo versus the shorter British torpedo. Not withstanding the short comings of these initial 70 foot boats, the Navy was convinced that they had a real need for this type of small attack craft. It was recommended that the overall length be increased to accommodate the standard U.S. torpedo and the hull structure be re-engineered to strengthen it for heavier seas.

ELCO was again awarded a contract to build 24 new boats (PT 20 through 44) with the recommended modifications which increased the length to 77 feet. Unbeknownst to anyone at that time, some of these new PT boats would actually become the first U.S. PT boats to see action in World War II (Pearl Harbor & the Philippines).

During the time ELCO was building the new boats, two other companies involved in boat building were developing PT boats at there own expense, to compete with ELCO. These two companies were Higgins Industries and Huckins Yacht Works. Higgins was working on a 76 foot design (PT 70) and Huckins was developing a 72 foot boat (PT 69). Eventually all three companies would build PT boats for the war effort. However, just prior to the start of the war, the Navy Department held competition trials known as the "Plywood Derby". This was a shakedown to see which company would be contracted to build the Navy PT boats. At the completion of the trials the Navy was impressed with all three designs, with the ELCO 77 footer coming out on top, followed by the Higgins 76 footer and Huckins 72 foot boat. Although ELCO came in first, the Navy saw the merits of the other two boats and decided to offer all three companies contracts. ELCO received the lion share (385 boats by the end of the war), Higgins was second (199 boats by the end of the war) and Huckins with the smallest contract (18 boats by the end of the war).

With contracts awarded, the U.S. Navy's PT Boat program was in full swing. However Higgins increased its boat length to 78 feet and Huckins added six feet to its boat length also resulting in a 78 footer. ELCO would build another 24 boats at 77 feet, and by Navy request, designed a larger boat of 80 feet in length with a larger capacity to carry more armament. Thus the ELCO 80 foot PT boat was born and destined to become the most numerous in service.

Throughout the Second World War the PT boats would see many transformations enabling the original designs to be modified to fit the mission they would be called upon to perform. It appears most of the ELCO designed boats served in the Pacific theater, with a small number used in the English Channel and Mediterranean Sea. Approximately half of the Higgins designed boats served in the Mediterranean Sea and English Channel with the other half serving in the Pacific and Aleutians. Huckins designed boats were assigned to the training squadron, in Melville Rhode Island, the Panama Canal zone and Hawaii.


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Monday, April 4, 2005
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