Wednesday, August 26, 2015

"The Mosquito Fleet" in World War II

PT 511 crew
Although PT boats are usually associated with the Pacific Theater of Operations during WWII, they served all over the world including in the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Mediterranean Oceans. Today is the anniversary of a last ditch effort by the German Navy to reinforce their garrison in Le Havre during WWII, a port overlooking the D-Day beaches that had been cut off by the Allied advance after June 6. On the night of August 26, a small group of landing craft and R-boats approached Le Havre with ammunition and supplies. HMS Retalick, a Royal Navy frigate, detected the convoy and guided three PT boats into the area to launch an attack. PT 511, PT 514, and PT 520 approached and fired six torpedoes without being discovered. They sank two artillery ferries, AF-98 and AF 108, before the German escorts found them and returned fire. The PTs withdrew through heavy fire without sustaining any casualties.

Most of the men on those PT boats probably received their training just up the road from the Naval War College in Melville, RI. The Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons Training Center (MTBSTC) was established in February 1942 to train officers and enlisted personnel in all aspects of PT boat operations. The men lived in Quonset huts and trained aboard ten boats assigned to MTB Squadron Four. By March 1945, 1,800 officers and more than 11,000 enlisted men had graduated from the training program.

Gift of Gift of Mr. W. Ogden Ross and Mr. Leighton C. Wood
87.54.05
Gift to the Naval War College Foundation by Mr. Anthony S. Marchetti
87.04.01
The Navy nicknamed its PT Boats “The Mosquito Fleet,” and hence many of the MTB Squadron unit insignia featured mosquitos in their design. Much like WWII bomber nose art, these insignia helped to build unit pride while also providing a way for squadron members to distinguish themselves from the rest of the Navy in a world where uniformity was the norm. The insignia for Squadrons 21 and 43 demonstrate the creativity that artists brought to this task. Squadron 21 saw service in the South Pacific during the war, while Squadron 43 was decommissioned and its boats transferred to the Soviet Union as part of lend lease. The MTBSTC closed in 1945, although the Navy continued to operate a fuel depot in Melville until 1973.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

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