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Into the Dark Water by John J Domagalski

Into the Dark Water by John J Domagalski

One aspect of US preparations for the war that was to be thrust upon it by Japan was the development of fast patrol boats for inshore work. The eventual design, based on the RN's MTBs and MGBs, was an eighty foot 'PT' boat built by a subsidiary of the Electric Boat Company - now more famous for producing SSNs. This is the story of the PT boats' development and deployment, particularly in the battles in the Solomon Islands where they were used to try and disrupt the IJN's 'Tokyo Express' resupply missions to its beleaguered troops.

The author's deep research into this corner of a vast war includes intimate detail on the incredibly difficult and dangerous missions these boats undertook, usually in total darkness, led by very junior and often quite green officers, grippingly told. If only the torpedoes had worked properly the boats would have taken out a number of Japanese destroyers. It is truly sad that such valour went so unrewarded because of defective weapons; nevertheless the PT boats, at some cost, made a considerable contribution to starving out the Japanese.

The focus is on one particular boat, PT109, and her war adventures from December 1942 until she was sliced in half by an IJN destroyer on 2nd August 1943. Her CO, understandably of interest, was from April 1943 John F Kennedy for whom strings had clearly been pulled to get him into the war in spite of his actually being unfit by reason of a college football back injury. Following the probably unavoidable collision JFK exhibited remarkable qualities of leadership and dedication to his crew in the five starving days it took for them to be rescued. Details of this 'Battle of Blackett Strait' show how it went so badly wrong, due in part to defective command and control.

The author also does justice to JFK's predecessors in command of PT109 - Rollin Westholm, a regular and eventual Captain USN who had made some trips with RN Coastal Forces, and Bryant Larson like JFK a 'ninety day wonder'.

There are several very informative illustrations, some useful maps, and a considerable bibliography. The Notes give direct citations for much of the material. A useful and comprehensive niche contribution to naval history.
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