|Mystery 77' Elco PT's|
|Of all the US motor torpedo boats built, the Electric Boat Company's 77-foot PT has always been a favorite of mine, with the Higgins 78' running a close second. Above are pictured several Elco 77's running in formation off of the East Coast. I originally saw this picture in 1980 when I bought a copy of Frank Johnson's "United States PT-Boats of World War II". The caption described the boats as being several of the Elco-77's numbered BPT (British PT) 1-10 that were sent to the Royal Navy under Lend-Lease. The caption also mentions that the boat in the foreground was BPT-8. Not knowing any better at the time, I accepted that explanation at face value...until I came across the picture below in the spring of 2001.|
|Above are several Elco 77's moored to the pier during commissioning ceremonies at the newly established motor torpedo boat base at Taboga, an island located ten miles off the Pacific side of the Panama Canal. The photograph in my possession is dated August 8 1942, but it was actually taken on August 1st. Note the boats numbered '1', '9', and '3'. The boat last in line, one can just make out the number '2'. The only boat number that made any sense to me was PT 61, third in line. I also knew full well that PT's 1-8 were experimental boats of varying designs, none of which were built by Elco...while PT 9 was a 70' British Power Boat Company design that was purchased by Elco, and was the genesis of the American boat-building firm's' 70' and 77' PT's. I then began to wonder if there were any other pictures with similarly numbered 77-footers, and also if it were possible to figure out why they were numbered in this fashion. I did a little digging, and sure enough, I found a few more...|
|Above, 'PT 8'. Below, 'PT 10' These photos were taken off the US East Coast, about the same time the top picture was taken (November 1941)|
| Above shows another shot of 'PT 8', with 'PT 2' to the left, in November 1941...unfortunately, I can't make out the numbers of the other boats. The '8' boat seems to be the most photographed boat in this series, probably because it is flying the pennant of the squadron commander. By the time I found these photos, I already knew that these were Elco 77's belonging to MTB Squadron Two, commanded at the time by Lt. Earl Caldwell USN. The boats in the squadron at this time were PT's 36-40, and PT's 43-48. PT's 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 43, and 44 were of the early Elco-77' series, while PT's 45-48 were of the later series with the modified trunk cabin.
Either in October or November 1941, it was decided to transport Squadron Two (still fitting out in the New York Navy Yard) to Panama in order to augment the defenses of the Canal Zone. According to a letter sent to me by Hugh Robinson (former ComMTBRon Three), to mislead possible Japanese spies in Panama (and presumably German undercover agents in New York) the numbers displayed on the boats' cabins were changed. The eleven boats of the squadron were numbered 0-10; my best guess at the order was:
#4-possibly PT 47
#6-possibly PT 36
#9-possibly PT 40
#0-possibly PT 44
My reasoning is based in part on entries made in several boat logs--and I have been told that the PT boat logs can be somewhat unreli- able. Frankly, I feel that depends on the diligence of each individual boat's quartermaster (the sailor responsible for keeping the log) and the boat captain (who signed off on it). One of the best kept logs I found was that of PT 44, when she was skippered by Lt. Frank Freeland, USNR. From the time he reported aboard the 44 boat in the spring of 1942 until the boat's last preserved log (September 1942) Lieutenant Freeland's (or his quartermaster's) entries, while brief, gave me a few hints as to which boat may be which. A prime example of such an entry, dated 19 July 1942, is as follows:
Reid, W.L., TM1/c transferred to PT 10 for temporary duty.
Right, here's a possible clue--so I checked each of the Squadron Two boat logs on that date to see which boat Torpedoman Reid reported to; it turned out to be PT 43.
In regards to the 44 boat being numbered '0'--I have no explanation except for that the 44's log from March 1942 until July of that year the top of each page started with the header 'Log of the USS PT (0) of MTB Squadron Two' handwritten at the top; once it read 'USS PT 44 (0)'. I'll be posting a copy of the actual page a little later.
The boats remained numbered in this fashion until the creation of a new Ron Three in July 1942 (so numbered because the original squadron had been destroyed in the Phillippines three months earlier). In May 1942 the squadron had been beefed up to 14 boats with
the arrival of PT's 59, 60, and 61 from MTB Squadron Four at Melville. These new boats had not been assigned any new numbers...yet. The boats transferred to the new squadron were PT's 46 (#1) 45 (#2) 48 (#3) 37 (#5) 38 (#7) 39 (#8), along with PT's 60 and 61. For the trip to the combat zone, PT 60 was renumbered #6, and PT 61 was given the number 4. In the meantime, the boats that remained with Squadron Two--PT's 36 (#6) 40 (#9) 43 (#10) 44 (#0) and 47 (#4) had (along with PT 59) their original numbers painted in black on the cabins. For this information, I was helped again by the log of the PT 44, PT tender Jamestown, and a photograph showing PT 47 being unloaded from a transport ship in the combat zone, with her original number showing.
A lot of this is pure speculation on my part; but I'm sure I am on the right track. A final question is--how did each boat get the number assigned to it? That answer is lost to history. When doing historical research, especially on events that happened over 60 years ago, the participants in those events can most likely remember broad, general things, but trivial minutiae can be (in most cases) a bit more difficult. Also remember that those same participants are in the twilight of their lives, so we as researchers should be lucky for what information we can get. I don't expect my explanation to be the last word, either...so if anyone else has anything else to add, how 'bout shooting me a note at PT_King@yahoo.com and sharing the knowledge?
|PT 39 (or 'PT 8', if you prefer) sailing out of New York, November 1941|
|Squadron Two PT's in column, November 1941|
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