All Because of Wax: Remembering the Lost Crewmembers of the 31 Boat

As the war began in 1941, there were many surprises for Fil-Am forces. Not all of them were from the Imperial Japanese forces, however. One nasty surprise affected the torpedo boats the US Navy had only recently deployed to the Philippines.

US Navy oiler Guadalupe (AO-32) circa September, 1941, bound for the Philippines with a deck cargo of six PT boats of MTB Squadron 3 (PT-31, PT-32, PT-33, PT-34, PT-35 and PT-41).  Courtesy NavSource)

US Navy oiler Guadalupe (AO-32) circa September, 1941, bound for the Philippines with a deck cargo of six PT boats of MTB Squadron 3 (PT-31, PT-32, PT-33, PT-34, PT-35 and PT-41).  (Courtesy NavSource)

In December of 1941, as US Navy forces took stock of their situation at Mariveles, sabotage was discovered in the fuel and oil supplies. Fifth columnists has placed a wax into the gasoline and sand into the lubricating oil needed by the high performance engines that powered the six PT boats of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Three, commanded by Lieutenant John D. Bulkeley.

Lieutenant John D. Bulkeley, USN, standing in front of a map of the Pacific. Taken soon after his return to the United States from the Philippines.  (Courtesy Wikipedia)

Lieutenant John D. Bulkeley, USN, standing in front of a map of the Pacific. Taken soon after his return to the United States from the Philippines. (Courtesy Wikipedia)

Without alternate sources, the contaminated fuel had to be used, and though it a soluble wax that clogged gas strainers and fouled carburetors jets. As a result, these parts had to be frequently checked and cleaned, impeding operational efficiently of the squadron.
It was just such a problem caused by a domestic enemy, which could take an engine offline at any time, which reared its ugly head on the night of 18 January 1942, and in the end cost the lives of three good men.

The mission that day involved the PT 34 and the PT 31, which were ordered to attack enemy shipping reported at Binanga Bay, on the west coast of Luzon between Moron and Subic Bay. The boats headed north together, then split before reaching Binanga Bay to make attacks from different directions. But as things turned out, the 31 Boat, commanded by Lieutenant Edward G. DeLong never made it there. The 34 Boat continued the mission and made an attack at Binanga Bay alone.

Graphic depicting PT-41, LT. Bulkeley's flagship from which he commanded MTB Squadron 3.  PT-31 was similar.   (Courtesy US Naval Institute)

Graphic depicting PT-41, LT. Bulkeley’s flagship from which he commanded MTB Squadron 3. PT-31 was similar. (Courtesy US Naval Institute)

As the 31 boat cruised slowly on the eastern side of Subic Bay two of her engines stopped, the gas strainers fouled with wax. And to compound the trouble the remaining engine experienced an unrelated mechanical failure – the squadron suffered from a spare parts shortage as well as petroleum problems, given the heavy Japanese bombing of Cavite and other points.

It wasn’t long before the 31 Boat drifted onto a reef and became stuck. The men worked to repair the engines which enabled them to try and pull themselves off the reef. But after three hours of trying to back off the reef, the reverse gears burned out. Still stick on the reef, with daylight approaching, Lieutenant DeLong ordered the crew to abandon ship and make for the shore.

Improvising a raft from mattresses and the canopy of the engine compartment, Ensign William H. Plant, USNR, the second officer, and 11 of the crew made for shore. DeLong remained behind to destroy the boat, which he did successfully. He then made it to the shore himself, and searched for his crew.

Shortly after dawn, a half a mile to the south, DeLong spied tracks in the sand and traced them to some foliage near the beach, where he discovered nine of his crew. But three men, Ensign Plant, Machinists Mate First Class (MM1c) Rudolph Ballough, and Quarter Master Third Class (QM3c) William R. Dean, were not with them. They remain missing since then.

The rest of the DeLong crew eventually made it back to friendly lines on the west coast of Bataan, but the three missing crew were never found. Today, their three names are carried on the Tablets of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery, Manila, Philippines. All three were awarded the Purple Heart for their sacrifice.

On this Memorial Day, 2015, among the many who fought and died in the Bataan Campaign, we remember the officer and men of the DeLong crew that didn’t come home from the war. We salute the service and sacrifice of all of those who died in the Bataan Campaign.
References:

Motor Torpedo Squadron Three,” Wikipedia entry, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motor_Torpedo_Boat_Squadron_Three

Bulkley, Robert J., Jr. “At Close Quarters: PT Boats in the United States Navy,” at: http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USN/CloseQuarters/PT-1.html

“John D. Bulkeley,” Wikipedia entry, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_D._Bulkeley

PT-34 Profile, US Naval Institute, at: http://www.usni.org/magazines/navalhistory/2014-08/navys-gallant-sentries

American Battle Monument Commission Burial and Memorializations database, at: http://www.abmc.gov/search-abmc-burials-and-memorializations

NavSource Motor Torpedo Boat Archive for PT-31, at: http://www.navsource.org/archives/12/05031.htm

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