Forget Atomic Bombs and Tanks: How America's PT Boats Helped Win World War II

December 26, 2019 Topic: History Region: Asia Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: World War IIPT BoatsU.S. NavyImperial JapanAmerica

Forget Atomic Bombs and Tanks: How America's PT Boats Helped Win World War II

PT boats were active in several areas of the European and Mediterranean Theaters.

On May 11, 1943, units from 17th Infantry of Maj. Gen. Albert Brown’s 7th U.S. Infantry Division landed on Attu to retake it from Japanese Imperial Army forces led by Colonel Yasuyo Yamasak. PT boats assigned to the mission had orders to protect the amphibious forces from possible enemy counterattacks. The Aleutians Campaign entered its final phase in mid-August when U.S. forces seized Kiska Island. The PTs were part of a feint to mislead the Japanese; however, the U.S. forces found that the Japanese already had abandoned the island. After the campaign, the U.S. Navy returned the PT boats to Seattle.

PT boats were also active in several areas of the European and Mediterranean Theaters. The U.S. Navy shipped a number of PT boats to Great Britain and the Soviet Union through the Lend-Lease program. In the Mediterranean Sea PT boats patrolled the coasts of southern France and northern Italy. The squadrons focused on disrupting and destroying enemy supply ships, particularly German vessels supplying their troops in North Africa. In carrying out this mission, the PTs were opposed by German Navy E-Boats and S-Boats. These vessels were up to 50 percent longer and sleeker than the PTs. Despite their shorter length, the PT boats held their own against the Germans.

PT also were used to support the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944. The boats harassed shore installations in support of Allied troop landings, destroyed floating mines, rescued downed pilots, and landed partisans behind enemy lines. On the night of May 19-20, the first PT boat crossed the English Channel carrying agents and equipment to the French coast. PT Squadron 2 performed 19 of these missions for the Office of Strategic Services without once being detected by the Germans. These types of operations would continue until the majority of the French coast was in Allied hands. As the war in Europe ended with the German surrender, the PTs began returning to the United States. A number of the PTs were overhauled in anticipation of being sent to the Pacific. But the war ended before this became necessary.

 In August 1945 the U.S. Navy had 30 PT boat squadrons still in commission. By year’s end all had been decommissioned except Squadron 4, a training squadron, and Squadron 41, a new squadron. The only squadron to be commissioned after the war was Squadron 42.

The U.S. Navy ended up destroying most of its PT boats because the light wood from which they were made could not be stored for future use as could the steel used in decommissioned warships. Before being scrapped the PT boats were first stripped of their valuable armament.

In the aftermath of World War II the United States and other countries have experimented with missile-carrying, next-generation fast patrol boats. These feature hydrofoils to lessen drag and increase speed. Air-cushioned hovercraft vessels also achieve the same outcome.

Many major powers have experimented with these kinds of vessels, including Great Britain, United States, Russia, Italy, Japan, Germany, and Canada. These next-generation patrol boats, which improve on the design of the World War II-era PT boat and continue that tradition, are an important way to protect coastal waters.

Originally Published December 27, 2018.

This article originally appeared on the Warfare History Network.

Image: Wikipedia.