Thursday, September 22, 2016

PT Boats from My Childhood, Part 1

It's finally over. My life-long quest--a quest for which I would have spent my fortune and gladly betrayed friends and family--has at last been fulfilled.

As I mentioned a few weeks back, I have been trying to identify and re-read a particular book I originally read when I was about 11-years old. It was one of two young adult novels involving PT boats during World War II. For years, my search was confused by the fact that I didn't remember that there were indeed two different PT boat novels and I was mixing together plot points when I searched for it.

But finally, I discovered one of them: Torpedo Run in Iron Bottomed Bay, by John Clagett. I'll actually be reviewing that one soon in a second "PT Boats from My Childhood" post.  It was reading Clagett's book that convinced me there was a second young adult PT novel out there, containing the plot points I remembered (the first name of one of the characters and a general memory of several of the battle scenes) which weren't in the Clagett book.

With a vital clue recently provided from Goodreads "What's the Name of That Book" forum, I was finally able to find the other PT boat novel. This is actually the second in a series of six books featuring young sailors Bob Dunbar and Gary Lunt, who end up serving on different types of vessels over the course of the series.

The Hostile Beaches (1964), by Gordon D. Shirreffs, is further proof that I had impeccable taste in reading materials and films when I was a kid. Whether it was a TV series novelization, my first comic book, or a movie that I enjoyed as a child, when I revisit them as an adult decades later, they always turn out to be great.

Bob and Gary start out the novel on a destroyer during the Solomon Islands campaign. After a night action,  in which their ship and two other destroyers attack and sink some Japanese vessels, their ship hits a mine and also sinks.

Circumstances lead to Bob and Gary being reassigned to a PT boat. Bob is a signalman, but also has a lot of experience handling small craft. Gary is known for running off at his mouth when he should shut up and does something incredibly stupid from time to time, but is one of the best Gunner's Mates in the Navy. In fact, he convinces the PT boat's commander that he's worthwhile when he uses one of the boat's twin-barreled .50 caliber machine guns to shoot down a Japanese bomber.

This leads to the action scene I still remembered vividly years later. During the Solomon campaign, the Japanese would use barges to sneak reinforcements and supplies to contested islands at night. PT Boats were often assigned to "barge-bopping," which meant finding and sinking these small craft before they reached their destination. This was made dangerous by the fact that the barges were armor-plated and equipped with cannon and machine guns.

So when the American boat attacks what turns out to be eight barges, they have a fight on their hands. And it is an exciting, suspenseful fight in which the PT boat takes damage and loses a man, but sinks five of the barges and drives the others into the hands of other PTs.

The next job involves sailing into enemy waters, hiding out in a small river on an island during the day and barely avoiding discovery by Japanese troops. They are delivering radio equipment to an Australian coast watcher, but bad luck leaves Bob and Gary stranded on the island with the coast watcher. They begin to help out, taking over the job completely when the coast watcher grows too sick from a bullet wound to keep working. And, since the Japanese are building a large base on the island, getting a steady stream of information out to the Allies is vital--even if this means dodging enemy soldiers & guard dogs, working with an unreliable radio and risking attacks by various poisonous animals that live in the thick jungle. These last few chapters are incredibly tense.

The Hostile Beaches also includes technical accuracy in terms of equipment and weapons, an understanding of realistic military tactics, likable characters and just the right amount of humor seeded throughout the story to make it seem real.

I really did have great taste in stuff as a kid.


  1. Like your little pt boat story. Always had a feeling for the South seas ! The little kids room has a 40's feel, like I had back then ··· Have a whole new look on the world,
    But can reminisce,Eh ? Leave message on face book... Same name

  2. Like your page about the South seas... Reply @ Eugene mroczko on face book ! Eh?


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