They Were Expendable Too: The Torpedo Boats of the Off-Shore Patrol

When many people think of torpedo boats, (also known as PT Boats) they may think of the U.S. Navy’s Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Three, whose story was told in the book and later a movie, “They Were Expendable.”

"They Were Expendable," written by William L. White, told the story of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 3 in the Philippines, 1941-42.

“They Were Expendable,” written by William L. White, told the story of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 3 in the Philippines, 1941-42.

That is fine, but hardly complete, for there was another unit of torpedo boats in the Philippines which belonged to the Philippine Army’s Off-Shore Patrol (OSP), the forerunner of the Philippine Navy.

On December 21, 1935, President Quezon signed a bill from the Commonwealth Legislature called the Philippine National Defense Act.  It was the work of General MacArthur, Military Advisor to the Philippine Commonwealth, assisted by two key members of his staff, Majors Dwight D. Eisenhower and James B. Ord.  This act called for the creation of a force of 36 torpedo boats, to be designed and built by British shipbuilders, by 1946.

By 1939, when the war in Europe began, two of the boats had been delivered. By October 1941, a third boat was assembled in the Philippines by October, 1941.  Sources indicate that three boats were in service before the war began, and suggest that eventually five boats were built.  They were attached to the US Forces Far East, but were not always listed in the order of battle.

The OSP’s boats were high-speed Thorneycroft Coast Motor Boat (CMB) 55-foot and 65-foot torpedo boats.  With their light weight and powerful gasoline engines, they were expected to have a high speed, up to 41 knots and at least 30 knots when fully loaded.  Critics called them “Suicide Boats,” and officers were supposedly taught to even ram their small craft against an enemy vessel to ensure their torpedoes hit their target.  Each boat was assigned two crews, which alternated duty after each day of patrol. At the start of the war more than 60 men were in the squadron.

Men load a torpedo aboard the Off-Shore Patrol's torpedo boat Q-113 shortly before the war began in the Pacific (LIFE, Carl Mydans)

Men load a torpedo aboard the Off-Shore Patrol’s torpedo boat Q-113 shortly before the war began in the Pacific (LIFE, Carl Mydans)

These PT Boats were also called “Q-boats.” Officially the “Q” stood for “Quest of Mystery,” though unofficially it was for “Quezon.” Given their diminutive size, serving on Q-boats was challenging.  “…Crammed quarters, no privacy, no laundry, thunderous engines, churning propellers, gulping food on the run — clutching the boat for safety — and getting hit in the face with shards of whipped water. “ (“Wartime Coastal Patrol – – December 1941,” article posted online at:  http://www.orosa.org/WARTIME%20PATROL1941-3.pdf)

The OSP torpedo boats were based at Cavite, though berthed with maintenance facilities at “Muele del Codo” Engineer Island in Manila’s Port Area.

Q-boats of the Off-Shore patrol are seen here out of the water at the OSP's berthing facility at Engineer Island in Manila's Port Area in this November, 1941 view (LIFE, Carl Mydans)

Q-boats of the Off-Shore patrol are seen here out of the water at the OSP’s berthing facility at Engineer Island in Manila’s Port Area in this November, 1941 view (LIFE, Carl Mydans)

They participated in joint maneuvers with MTB Squadron 3 in late 1941.  Once the war began, they operated out of Sisiman Cove in southern Bataan, from where they participated in the Bataan Campaign.  On December 4, 1941, Major Enrique L. “Henry” Jurado (1911-1944), U.S. Naval Academy graduate (Class of ’34) became the officer-in-command of the OSP. The OSP torpedo boat squadron of the following boats:

PT Q-111 Luzon, commanded by Captain Navarette

PT Q-112 Abra, commanded by Lieutenant R. Alcaraz

PT Q-113 Agusan, commanded by Lieutenant S. Nuval

PT Q-114 Danday, commanded by Lieutenant A. Campo (salvaged and repaired after damage from a Japanese air attack – Major Jurado named it after his wife)

PT Q-115 Name?, commanded by Lieutenant C. Albert

During the campaign, the OSP patrolled the waters of Manila Bay and the coast of Bataan, ferried key personnel, conducted logistics runs and other tasks. Said U.S. Navy Commander John Morrill, captain of the American minesweeper/gunboat QUAIL, lauded the efforts of the OSP: “The Philippine Q-boats patrolled further than we did out in the bay and nothing ever got by them. They were fighting terrors and loved nothing better than chasing Jap armored barges.”

This view shows two of the Q-boats, with Q-113 in the foreground, on maneuvers shortly before the war began (LIFE, Carl Mydans)

This view shows two of the Q-boats, with Q-113 in the foreground, on maneuvers shortly before the war began (LIFE, Carl Mydans)

Of all the tasks accomplished by the Off-Shore Patrol, perhaps the most heroic came Jan. 17, 1942. This date will always be remembered in the history of the little patrol-boat squadron with pride The Off-Shore Patrol’s Q-111 LUZON and Q-112 ABRA were patrolling off the east coast of Bataan when enemy aircraft spotted them and quickly took the offensive.

Nine Japanese dive bombers attacked the two torpedo boats. Capt. Navarrete, Major Jurado’s Squadron Commander and skipper of the Q-111 LUZON, the OSP’s flagship, was later awarded the Distinguished Conduct Star for his successful response to the attack, cited as follows: “Without thought of seeking cover, Navarette maneuvered the boats of his squadron at high speed to positions from which he could attack the hostile planes. When subjected to a dive-bombing attack by the enemy planes, he continued the fire of his machine guns with such accuracy that three hostile aircraft were hit and badly damaged and the enemy was forced to discontinue the attack.”

Other OSP officers involved in this sea-air battle also received medals of valor.  Capt. Navarrete’s Executive Officer on the Q-111 LUZON, Lt. Alano, and to the two top officers of the Q-112 ABRA — Lt. Alcaraz, Commanding Officer, and Lt. Gomez, Executive Officer, all received the Silver Star.

PMA Class of 1940 Graduate Lt. Ramon A Alcaraz distinguished himself in the January 17, 1942 action against Japanese dive bombers off the east coast of Bataan. (Wikipedia)

PMA Class of 1940 Graduate Lt. Ramon A Alcaraz distinguished himself in the January 17, 1942 action against Japanese dive bombers off the east coast of Bataan. (Wikipedia)

Though combat action was the most intense action, some of the OSP’s most vital tasks transporting food, ammunition, medicines, and other essential supplies from nearby provinces to the battered, isolated troops on Bataan and Corregidor.

But in between the battles of the campaign there were long periods of boredom, as evidenced by a post-patrol summary submitted by Nuval of the Q-113 AGUSAN to Headquarters:  “Area covered: 7 to 8 miles off Lukanin Point and 7 to 8 miles off Balanga shore, a distance of about 15 miles. Time: 10 hours.  “Observations: No bancas, barges, boats or ships were sighted … No lights were seen around the vicinity. … No tracers or artillery shells were observed from floating objects. … Regular radio communication was made with the shore units.”

None of the OSP’s three Q-boats was lost to enemy action during the three months of Allied resistance on Bataan.  Some 66 percent of the officers and men received the Silver Star from General Douglas MacArthur in January, 1942, making this small unit one of the most recognized for heroism and gallantry in action.

 Sources:

“Offshore Patrol,” article in Wikipedia at:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Offshore_Patrol

“Wartime Coastal Patrol – – December 1941,” article posted online at:  http://www.orosa.org/WARTIME%20PATROL1941-3.pdf

“Ramon A. Alcaraz,” article in Wikipedia at:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramon_A._Alcaraz

“John Wayne Bibliography,” at:  http://dukefanclub.weebly.com/complete-john-wayne-bibliography.html

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