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PTGBs (PT Gunboats)

In late 1943, the USN saw that the Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands were beginning to supply their troops in heavily armed and armored landing barges. The standard gun armament package of the early PT boats, consisting of two twin .50 caliber machine guns in turrets and the Oerlikon 20mm gun were seemingly not having much luck against the armor of the barges. Something had to be done and it was found that the 110' PGMs (Patrol Gunboat, Motor) that were built on the hulls of the 110' wooden hull SC were too slow to accompany the PT boats. What was needed was a vessel that could keep pace with the PT boats. The only answer to that problem was another PT boat.

Originally, PT-59, 60 and 61 were set aside to be modified in the field to the all-gun gunboat configuration once the Elco eighty-foot boats superseded their effectiveness as torpedo boats. The torpedo tubes were removed and were replaced with three shielded machine gun mounts on each side and a shielded Bofors 40mm gun (Army type) was placed fore and aft on the centerline. The original two turrets containing the twin .50 caliber machine guns were retained and the boats received SO Type radar sets and the machine guns, Bofors guns and some of the upper works was plated with STS armor plating.

PT-60 and 61 received twin .50 caliber machine guns along their sides where the torpedo tubes were, however the 59 just had single mounts. But, on the 59, possibly left over from her days as a PT, at frame 22, were (on both sides of the boat, just forward of the cockpit) two twin .50 caliber machine guns. This can be backed up and verified by the accompanying photographs secured by Chip Marshall from the National Archives.

The 59 boat was assigned to Lt. J.F. Kennedy as his second combat command after losing PT-109 and third overall command, as an instructor at the PT Training Center at Melville, Rhode Island, he commanded the seventy-eight foot Huckins PT boat, PT-102. However, PT-59 was his second command in a combat zone. She was, according to Robert Donovan's book, undergoing conversion whilst Kennedy was recovering from his ordeal after having the 109 rammed.

When Kennedy fell victim to sickness due to stress and all that, he was rotated back home. The 59 soldiered on until mid-1944 and ultimately taken out of combat service and sent back to Norfolk NAS as an air sea rescue boat. In this role, she received an eight-inch searchlight. On 15, December 1944, she was transferred to the Naval Station in Philadelphia. Once there, on 18, January 1945, she was used on dehydration equipment tests. She was reclassified as small boat C-102583. After the war, on 21, March 1947, the 59 was sold into private ownership and was sent to New York City to become either an excursion boat or a fishing boat. But, she languished at a pier on the East River and sank at the pier, after she caught fire.

The 60 and 61 soldiered as well and was sent home around the same time as the 59. But, as seen from data provided by Chip Marshall and PT Boats, Inc., the 60 and 61 ended the war being utilized as Air/Sea Rescue Boats along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. PT-60 was stricken from the Navy Register because of obsolescence on 21, March 1944 and scrapped.

PT-61 was reclassified as C-68371 on 16, March 1944. This information came from Chip Marshall.

To carry on the job started by the three Elco seventy-seven footers, three seventy-eight foot Higgins PT-71 Class boats of the 280 sub-series were designated to be converted to gunboats. These originally were PT-283, PT-284 and PT-285. However, at some point, the 284 was destroyed in action and was subsequently replaced by PT-282.

These boats were armed just as the Elco seventy-seven footers were, with two Bofors 40mm guns, fore and aft, their torpedoes were removed and they had three sets of twin .50 caliber machine guns, mounted along the centerline, between the SO-Type radar mast and the aft 40mm gun. The standard turreted twin .50 caliber machine guns were also retained. This configuration can be seen in the accompanying drawings and the few photos supplied by modeler Wayne Traxel.

The three boats received two Army antiaircraft 40mm Bofors guns. One of these was mounted on the centerline on the foredeck, and the other was placed on the centerline on the stern. Four additional twin .50 caliber machine guns were mounted on pipe mounts along the centerline fifteen aft of the radar mast with enough space between the guns to allow them to be traversed.

The 283's 40mm guns and twin .50s were unshielded. Former crewman Robert Hill gave this information. The 285 had shields on the two 40mms similar to those on the 40mms on PT-59. The shields for the twin .50s also served as shelves for the ammo boxes. PT-283 was lost in action and was replaced by PT-282. After being used as PTGBs, the three Higgins were reverted to the PT role.

The crew of the Tender USS Argonne did the conversions done to these six boats.

As built, PT-221 was armed with four twenty-one inch diameter torpedo tubes, two depth charge racks aft, a single 20mm Oerlikon gun on a Mark IV mount, two turrets containing twin .50 caliber machine guns. Before the boat left for the Aleutians as part as PT Squadron 16, the 221 received a SO Type radar set and was modified by the addition of two single .50 caliber machine guns located amidships on both sides mounted on tripod mountings.

PT 221 Crew
PT 221 Crew Signatures
click thumbnails for larger view
courtsey of Mike Crawford

PT-221 was converted to a semi-gunboat configuration at Hunters Point, in San Francisco in California after returning from action in the Aleutians in the summer of 1944. She had the after torpedo racks removed and had a Bofors 40mm gun mounted on the stern and had a single 20mm on a Mark XIV mount installed on her foredeck on the port side - just forward of the cockpit. Once Squadron 16 reached New Guinea in the Fall of 1944, the 221's crew removed the 20mm gun on the foredeck and replaced it with another single Bofors 40mm gun. The interesting thing to note about this installation was that the gun was mounted on the starboard side of the foredeck. This can be seen in the accompanying photograph of the 221. Alex Johnson supplied the information about PT-221 as well as the photograph od PT-221.

There is some evidence that leads one to think that three of the eighty-foot Elco boats (of the 580 series) were converted after the three Higgins boats were reverted back to PT boat configuration, but I have not uncovered any information on them, if they were in fact were converted to PTGB configuration.

PT-174’s 40mm Bofors

PT-174 had a 40mm Bofors gun mounted on her foredeck at Elco’s Bayonne
factory. Elco strengthened the deck under where the gun was to be
mounted. In addition to the gun, the factory fashioned a “V” shaped
shield forward of the mount and a short wall that surrounded the gun, on
three sides. On the inside of this wall, additional ammunition clips
could be hung for easy access.

This particular gun was on the 174 when her Adaptor scheme was applied.
However, the gun and shield was not on the boat when it was shipped to the
Solomon Island with Squadron 10. Remembrances of some of the 174’s first
crew, Squadron 10’s commander knew of the boat’s reinforced foredeck and a
second 40mm was installed. This gun was an Army type and also had a
shield, but a very crude one without a wall.

This information was supplied by Wayne Traxel.

If I find anything additional, I will post it.

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