At Close Quarters: PT Boats in the United States Navy (Excerpt)

From At Close Quarters: PT Boats in the United States Navy, by Robert J. Bulkley Jr., Naval History Division, Department of the Navy, 1962

Into Action-Pearl Harbor and the Philippines


Manuel Quezon, President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, left Corregidor on February 20 in the submarine Swordfish with his wife, son and two daughters, and members of his staff. The Presidential party disembarked a days later on the lower coast of Panay. From there the President went to the neighboring island of Negros, but within a month the impending Japanese envelopment of the central Philippines made it imperative that he move again. The Army asked the PTs to bring the President and his family from Negros to Mindanao, whence they would be taken by plane to Australia. Only the 35 and 41 were still in operating condition. Kelly’s 34 had broken an anchor shackle and gone hard aground on coral, mangling shafts, struts, and propellers.

The 41, with Bulkeley and Cox, followed by Akers in the 35, left Cagayan at 1900 March 18, to meet the President and his party at Zamboanguita, on the southern tip of Negros. Though the run was comparatively short, only 100 miles, it might be perilous. Army aerial reconnaissance reported seven enemy destroyers patrolling the southern approaches to Negros. Near Apo Island, off Zamboanguita, the boats separated. The 41 went to Zamboanguita while the 35 patrolled 2 miles offshore to prevent possible surprise by enemy destroyers. Bulkeley waited for an hour at the dock–there was no one to meet him. Then Major Soriano, President Quezon’s aide, arrived and requested that the PTs proceed to Dumaguete, 15 miles up the coast.

Only the 41 could go. The 35 had struck a submerged object, ripping a gaping hole in her bow. Akers kept patrolling, his men bailing with buckets, until the water got ahead of the buckets. Then he headed into Zamboanguita. The 41 took the 35’s crew aboard, took the damaged boat in tow, got underway toward the beach, and cut the 35 loose, so that she beached herself.

The 41 went on to Dumaguete. Again, there was no sign of the Presidential party. Major Soriano took Bulkeley by automobile to Bais, another 25 miles up the coast. There they found the President. He had received a telegram from General Wainwright advising him that the trip was too dangerous to risk because of Japanese warships. He had decided not to go, but after questioning Bulkeley he changed his mind.

At 0320 the 41 left Dumaguete with a full load. Besides her own crew and the crew of the 35, she carried President and Mrs. Quezon and their two daughters, Vice President Sergio Osmeña, Maj. Gen. Basilio Valdes, Major Andres Soriano, nine members of the President’s Cabinet, and a vast quantity of luggage for the entire party.

The trip from Dumaguete to Oroquieta, on Mindanao, was a short one, just over 6o miles, but the seas were vicious. Half an hour out, a heavy wave snapped the shear pins of the two after torpedoes, jolting the torpedoes halfway out of their tubes and starting hot runs. The electric firing circuits failed, probably shorted out by the sheets of water that came pounding over the bow. By the time the torpedomen, James D. Light, CTM, and John L. Houlihan, TMic, could fire the torpedoes manually, a matter of no more than a minute, the afterbodies of the torpedoes were already glowing red hot. The rest of the trip was uneventful. President Quezon and his party landed safely at Oroquieta at 0600 March 19.


Author: Robert J. Bulkley
(1911-1962) PT Boat Captain; public relations adviser of the du Pont Company.

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