It’s hard to do justice where it is deserved especially when it comes to the guys from the WWII era. I would like to tell you about missions that dealt with inserting swimmers in the dark hours of the night in the Pacific behind Japanese lines. You know how it goes, the boat guys insert the Frogs, the Frogs blow something up and swim back, then the boats start blazing away and causing all sorts of mayhem and destruction. Death from the water. I would love to but it would be a work of fiction.
Interestingly the PT Boat’s did not do much with the UDT’s during WWII, so what did they do? My last article was about the SEAL water taxis and to follow up I decided to get into the history and tell the story of the BOAT GUYS, but what I was putting down wasn’t measuring up. This is SOFREP and we just don’t write term papers on tactics and opinions, we tell stories and give insights on what works and what is crap. We learn from each other.
With that, “SWCC ORIGINS” will start with the beginning ( torpedo boats ) and end with today’s crewman ( Grey Team ). What you won’t get is a rehash of Google and Wikipedia info but the down and dirty from the men who were there and done that. Check out the LOADOUT ROOM for detailed info on types of crafts, weapons and tactics used.
“Splinters and now even Slivers are standing the watch as we old coots who crewed the Mosquito Fleet disappear over the horizon in ever-growing numbers.” This coming from a WWII vet known as Jack Duncan a retired Gunnersmate Master Chief USN(R). I spoke with Jack over the phone and what a pleasant and interesting conversation, he could talk your ears off and you would pay to have him do it. I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time, most of my phone interview was mostly hearing his sea stories and how “spoiled” I felt just by having hot running water.
The Master Chief was a crewman in Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 5, the “Mosquito Fleet” from Tulagi and Iron Bottom Sound all the way to Mios Woendi in the Dutch East Indies during the Pacific in 1943 to 1945. Jack was the torpedoman on the PT-103, the first of the Elco 80-footers; then the PT-62, an Elco 77-footer and finally the PT-318. Ron 5 was decommissioned on February 15, 1945, at Mios Woendi and her remaining seven boats were transferred to other Rons. Jack joined Ron 5 as a barely 18-year-old Torpedoman Third Class and left it as a Torpedoman Second Class. He says, “I’m proud to have been promoted to Petty Officer Third Class before turning eighteen.”
The “Mate” was added to the rating of Torpedoman years later around 1947 or about the time a SecNav took away their right-arm-rating badges or “crows.” He then served much later as Command Master Chief of Coastal River Squadron ONE with collateral duty as Assistant Officer-in-Charge of variously the PTF-21, the PTF-22 and the PTF-26. This was a Reserve component assignment attached to an active Fleet unit as part of Special Warfare, Pacific. That service was from 1972 to 1976. Much of the missions he undertook were at night, while during the daytime hours the Army/Navy Airforce had fun with Japanese shiping. The main targets were Japanese ships but mostly supply and troop transport barges. Pretty much his R.O.E was to sink anything with a red dot on it, and he did not even have to ask a lawyer!
Deployments were slightly different but not by much. For example they slept on deck on their boats while us kids had a room somewhere. The senior officer was in charge and the junior officer was in the way, and yes…it was still the chiefs boat. Jack has laid undisputed claim to be the only WW II PT Boater to serve in the ‘Nam-era PTFs. The “F” stood for Fast. “Maybe you are wondering about a torpedoman becoming a gunner’s mate?” That was simple he tells me. He then says “On my return Stateside after a too-long first tour, I volunteered for a school in Florida mostly because it seemed like something different from riding little green boats.” Being a kid from California and having an opportunity to attend a school in sunny Florida was a too good an offer to refuse, he jumped at the chance. However during his excitement he neglected to ask what kind of school was in Florida . What he did not know was that the school in FT.Pierce was the UDT School House. BIG surprise. He had to change his rate from Torpedoman to Gunnersmate to initially qualify since torpedoman was not a source rate, he later graduated and then qualified as a UDT-Combat Swimmer, a Navy Frogman.
I had to ask if the PT crews conducted any operations with the UDT. Unfortunately no, not in a symbiotic role like today. They did happen as did with the Rangers and Marines but not specifically for “Commando” roles. He continued his carreer in the USNR after the war and then was recalled to active duty four more times for a total of 18 years on active duty. He returned to WestPac several times – as a Special Warfare Reservist – back to the Philippines repeatedly, Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Formosa Straits, even to Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. He was able to add Midway Island, Wake Island, Kwajalein, Eniwetok, Guam and Saipan to places visited and earned more ribbons during a couple of more wars. Remember the term “fruit salad?” They also hung on his chest the Trident or Budweiser or Flying Pickle Fork gold pin of a Navy SEAL in addition to the Combat Craft device and the large badge of a Command Master Chief. With his contagious chuckle he says, “Cripes, I looked like a Russian General with a port list!” SWCC crews started out in boats of wood and men of brass, iron and steel. The wood may be gone…from the boats but the crews past and present are still made up brass, iron and steel. From the origins of WWII to the trial of Korea and Vietnam SWCC crews played an integral part of the Naval war strategy. It would be only a matter of time before they were recognized for their full potential to be known and used. Lessons learned; history has proven that men of will and stamina, strength and don’t quit attitude will prevail no matter what. Today’s NSW crewman are the same as when they first started in ’43. Can’t do it? Hey these guys did it with no GPS, radar or SATCOM. My ribs were in pain from the laughter and I had to end I thanked him for his time and with a parting question I asked, “What do you think about the new Navy uniforms?” a small five second silence occurs with a counter question, “The blue camouflage?” “Yes Sir”…”AAAAAGGGHPPPPFFFFFT!….does that answer your question?!”
If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting our Veteran Editorial by becoming a SOFREP subscriber. Click here to get 3 months of full ad-free access for only $1