Thursday, December 15, 2016

One More PT Boat Book

I may be at risk of alienating what few regular readers I have, but for the fourth time over the last few months, I'm going to write about a young adult novel that deals with PT boats during World War II.

Two of the novels (HERE & HERE) were among some books I read as a kid and only recently identified and read again. During that quest, I also stumbled across two other PT boat books that might have been among those books, but it turned out they were not. So I was reading these two for the first time. One of them was Torpedo Run, by Robb White. The other is Thunderboats, Ho!, written by Rutherford C.Montgomery in 1946. 

Like The Hostile Beaches and Torpedo Run on Iron Bottomed Bay, this one is set during the Solomon Islands campaign. That probably is the most interesting setting for a PT boat story--there was a variety of different missions on which the little craft could be sent. For instance, in the other novels, we've seen  them attack large warships, hunt barges sneaking supplies to the Japanese on Guadalcanal, and deliver equipment to coast watchers on enemy-held islands. 

In Thunderboats, Ho!, the PT boat crewed by the main characters is sent out night after night after the Japanese ships that are bombarding the marines on Guadalcanal. Montgomery was writing this right after the war and only a couple of years after the Guadalcanal campaign. It's obvious he did his research, presenting the action against an historically accurate background. (I'm afraid I don't know anything about him, so I don't know if he himself served.) In fact, like John Clagett did in Torpedo Run on Iron Bottomed Bay, he also shows us that the PT boat crews had ringside seats to watch the naval Battle of Guadalcanal, in which battleships and cruisers shot each other to pieces.

I will say that the nature of a secret mission on which the boat is sent halfway through the novel does not exactly drip with realism (it involves an unlikely way for the Japanese to deploy an aircraft carrier), but if you just go with it, you'll have fun. 

Montgomery handles action sequences extremely well, generating excitement and suspense as needed to keep us interested as we read. He might use the "PT Boat must zig-zag to avoid gunfire from warships" scene one or two times more than he should, but he manages to get some variety in when the boat is sent on a mission that takes them well into enemy territory. After they complete the mission, the need to conserve fuel and find more fuel when they run low is effectively used to drive the action. An attempt to steal gasoline from a Japanese base and later take out a sniper are particularly tense scenes. The climatic action scene is a ground combat action on a beach with some of the crew against enemy troops that does keep you on the edge of your seat.

The book's weakness, especially compared to the other PT boat books I've read, is the lack of characterization. The point-of-view character is Mike Moran, the boat's captain. He and the rest of the crew are likable enough, but the only thing that differentiates them from each other are their names. No real effort to give them individual and real personalities exist.

The one exception to this is Malope, a native who joins the crew to act as their guide during their secret mission. Malope is awesome. We're never told if there is an English translation for his name, but it pretty much has to be "Death to All Japanese." Like most natives of the Solomon Islands, Malope has little reason to love the Japanese and he makes good use of his knife to show his displeasure with them. Speaking in pidgin English, Malope can superficially be seen as the sort of racial stereotype common in fiction of that time. But he's accepted as an equal by the crew and probably does more to get help them complete their mission than anyone else. Malope is indeed awesome and the most memorable character in the book.

Well, that's it for PT boats. I promise. I've run out of PT boat novels. FOR NOW!


  1. You're not alienating this regular reader. Your fascination with PT boats is a new one on me--but I'm always interested in other people's passions. The way you describe this story makes me want to read it.

    My personal favorite boat is a keelboat, including but not limited to the ones at Disneyland and in "Davy Crockett and the River Pirates."

    Any time you want to post more PT boat stuff is fine with me! (And if you have any keelboat stuff, I will definitely be on board with that!)

    1. Thank you. Coincidentally, I recently hosted a kids' movie night at my church (so parents could have a date night or go Christmas shopping) and showed "Davy Crockett and the River Pirates" to great success. That put me in a keelboat mood and a little research turns up at least four novels set in the early 19th Century involving keelboats. I'll be reading through them over the next few months.

      Click on the Davy Crockett label in the list on the right side of the blog and you'll be able to see my comments on "Davy C. and the River Pirates."


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