PT Boat – The Creation of the U.S. Navy’s “Mosquito Fleet”

PT boats played an important role in patrolling Axis controlled waters and attacking enemy ships during WWII.

In 1938, the US Navy put out an invitation for ship builders to design an inexpensive, fast and maneuverable Patrol Torpedo boat.  After a series of designs and trials, the Navy awarded contracts to Elco Naval Division, Higgins Industries and the Huckins Yacht Corporation to begin production of their respective PT boat designs.

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PT Boat 105 on the move. PT boats, depending on their version, carried 2-4 torpedoes and a crew of 12-17 officers and enlisted men. The full load displacement of the boats was 56 tons.

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Diagrams of the Elco and Higgins PT boats

When America entered WWII, Elco PT boats formed the nucleus of the Navy’s early PT boat squadrons as the early model Higgins boats were sent to Russian and England. The Elco boats of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons (MTB) 1 and 3 were the first to see combat in WWII at Pearl Harbor and in the Philippines.

The Higgins PT boats first saw action with the US Navy in the Aleutian Islands and later the South Pacific and the Mediterranean. PT boats of the Huckins Yacht Corporation saw service in Panama and along the Hawaiian Sea Frontier.

PT boats would most commonly attack in pairs under the cover of darkness. Later in the war, each boat was equipped with radar, giving them a distinct advantage in night actions.  

One of the most famous PT boat missions during WWII took place in May 1942, when PT boats of MTB 3 carried General Douglas MacArthur to safety after he was ordered to escape his headquarters on the Philippine island of Corregidor.

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PT Boat “Mosquito” insignia

PT boats also saw heavy fighting in the Solomon Islands. Future President John F. Kennedy served on the Elco built PT-109 during his harrowing sinking and eventual rescue.

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John F. Kennedy (far right) and the Crew of PT 109

The Navy nick-named the PT boats the “Mosquito Fleet”.  Crews initially wore an insignia of a mosquito riding a torpedo which later was replaced with the image of a torpedo underneath the letters “PT”. Later in the war, each Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron designed its own unique squadron insignia.

Of the 531 PT boats built during WWII, 99 were lost. 40 to enemy action and 59 through accidents, friendly fire or destruction to prevent capture. Only 12 boats survive today in various states of repair.

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US Navy Jumper with early PT boat insignia

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US Navy Jumper with later PT Boat insignia


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Blue deck jacket with Motor Torpedo Squadron 19 Insignia

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Motor Torpedo Squadron 19 insignia

For More Reading on PT Boats Check Out:

PT 109

At Close Quarters: PT Boats in the United States Navy

Under a Blood Red Sun: The Remarkable Story of PT Boats in the Philippines and the Rescue of General MacArthur

For Related Articles See:

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