Action Reports Series 1
Into Action - Pearl Harbor and the Philippines

Below are two of the twenty Action Reports included this section "Into Action - Pearl Harbor and the Philippines." If you would like to read more please order the recently re-published book available from the Ship's Store.


Report 1-1 - The Line up
When Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941, there were three squadrons of PT's in the U.S. Navy. Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 1, commanded by Lt. Comdr. William C. Specht, had 12 boats based at Pearl Harbor, all of which opened fire on the attackers.

Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 2, under Lt. Comdr. Earl S. Caldwell, was in the New York Navy Yard, completing the fitting out of 11 boats which, loaded on the aircraft ferry ships Hammondsport and Kitty Hawk, were to leave New York 10 days later to augment the defense of the Panama Canal. These boats were not to meet the enemy until nearly a year later, when, with desperate optimism, they were to stand out night after night in the path of the mighty Tokyo Express at Gaudalcanal.

Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 3, six boats commanded by Lt. John D. Bulkeley, had arrived in Manila Bay on September 28. During the 4 dark months of hopeless defense of the Philippines, the officers and men of Squadron 3 carried the fight to the enemy with determination and shining courage until the boats could fight no more.

Until war came, PT's in the U.S. Navy were an untried type. They had never met the test of action, and no standard doctrine for their employment had been established. But by the end of January, 1942, Rear Adm. Francis W. Rockwell, Commandant of the 16th Naval District, was able to write from Corregidor, "These boats are proving their worth in operations here, having sunk two ships of three to five thousand tons and three landing boats."

These boats did prove their worth: the Navy built more of them. On December 7, 1941, there were 29 PT's in three squadrons; on December 7, 1943, there were more than 29 squadrons. PT's met the Tokyo Express at Guadalcanal. They cut enemy barge supply lines in the upper Solomons and along the New Guinea coast. They torpedoed German cargo lighters in the Mediterranean, and overcame E-boats in gunnery duels in the English Channel. They contributed to the rout of Japanese task forces in the Battle of Surigao Strait, and successfully countered vicious Kamikaze attacks at Mindoro. Under cover of darkness they freely landed agents, scouts, and reconnaissance parties throughout the Solomons, New Guinea, and the Philippines, and on the coasts of France and Italy. PT's were in more frequent contact with the enemy, and at closer rang, than any other type of surface craft. They specialized in close-range, close-to-shore attacks, and everywhere demonstrated that they could hurt the enemy with proportionately small damage to themselves.

Report 1-2 - "They Look Like. . . . . . ."
On the morning of December 7, 1941, six PTs, the 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, and 25, were moored at the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base in three nests of two boats each, alongside and ahead of the YR-20, a covered barge which served, for lack of anything better, as tender for Squadron 1. Aboard the barge the boat crews were eating breakfast. The Squadron Duty Officer, Ens. N. E. Ball, USNR, was standing on the edge of the barge. Looking out across Kuhua Island, he saw planes in the sky, and watched them idly for a moment as they started to dive toward Battleship Row and Ford Island just beyond. Then four things happened, almost simultaneously. Ensign Ball recognized Japanese insignia on the wingtips; a chief petty officer at his elbow remarked, "They look like . . . . . . . . ."; the first bomb dropped, and Ensign Ball plunged into the mess hall, shouting, "Man The Guns!"

PTs in those days were lightly gunned – two pairs of .50-caliber machine guns mounted in power-driven turrets, but in a matter of seconds all were firing. Joy Van Zyll de Jong, GM1c, and George B. Huffman, TM1c, who had been sitting on deck of PT 23, got a slight head start on the men from the mess hall. They vaulted into the 23 boat's turrets and claimed first blood with hits on a low-flying plane carrying one torpedo, which crashed in flames near Kuahua Island. They also hit a torpedo plane flying over Magazine Point. It burst into flames and fell near Halawa, behind the Submarine Base.

Across Southeast Loch from the Submarine Base, about halfway to Ford Island, the other six boats of the squadron were being loaded aboard the USS Ramapo, an oiler, for shipment to the Philippines. PTs 27, 29, 30, and 42 were in cradles resting on the Ramapo's deck. PTs 26 and 28 were in cradles on the dock beneath the huge hammerhead crane which had been about to hoist them aboard the oiler. To reduce fire hazard during shipment, the gasoline tanks of all six PTs had been blanketed with carbon dioxide. Consequently the crews could not start the gasoline engines to compress the air which in turn forced oil through cylinders to move the power turrets. The boat crews quickly cut the hydraulic lines, freeing the turrets from the brake of residual hydraulic pressure. Then each pair of .50-caliber machine guns went into action with a four man crew: one man to fire the guns, two men to slew the turrets around by hand, and an officer to direct and coordinate the slewing and firing. The Ramapo's guns were firing too. Though her starboard 3-inch guns were blanked off by the hammerhead crane on the dock, they managed to fire from time to time, to the acute discomfort of the crews of the PTs in cradles on the dock, whose decks were just high enough to catch the muzzle blast. One bomb struck near the port bow of the Ramapo, midway between the repair ship Rigel in the berth ahead and the heavy cruiser New Orleans just opposite. The PTs, undamaged, poured out more than 4,000 rounds of .50-caliber. They appeared to be hitting Japanese planes, but so many ships were firing simultaneously that it would be futile to attempt to make specific claims.

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