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View Full Version : PT-109: Is JFK a Hero or Incompetent?



Nickdfresh
09-01-2008, 11:00 AM
Reprinted from An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 by Robert Dallek. Back Bay Books. 2003. ISDN: 0-316-90792-8. pps. 95-99 This question has been brought up by Rising Sun* among others. And I think Jack was a bit of what was more of an unlucky hero than incompetent commander in this. A lot of it having to do with the entire nature of the PT program that was presented as an elite of the US Navy by certain press-savvy officers, but in reality was largely ineffective in its original intent. Though something was salvaged in their use as essentially coastal patrol craft and gunboats later:

...
Jack's boat was sent to the Russell Islands southeast of New Georgia in June and then in July to Lumbari Island in the heart of the combat zone west of New Georgia. On August 1, his boat -- PT 109 -- was one of fifteen PTs sent to Blackett Strait southwest of Kolombangara to intercept a Japanese convoy that had escaped detection by six US destroyers posted north of the island. The fifteen were the largest concentration of PTs to that point in the Solomons campaign. It also proved to be, in the words of the navy's official history, 'the most confused and least effective action the PT's had been in." In a 1976 authoritative account, Joan and Clay Blair Jr. described the results of the battle as "a personal and professional disaster for PT commander Thomas G. Warfield." He blamed the defeat on the boats' captain: "There wasn't much discipline in those boats," he said after the war. "There really wasn't any to control them very well...Some of them stayed in position. Some of them got bugged and didn't fire when they should have. One turned around and ran all the way out of the strait."

The attack by the boats against the superior Japanese force failed. Broken communications between PTs produced uncoordinated, futile action; only half of the boats fired torpedoes --thirty-two out of sixty available-- and did so without causing any damage. Worse yet, Jack's boat was sliced in half by one of the Japanese destroyers, killing two of the crew members and casting the other eleven, including Jack, adrift.

Since the speedy PTs were fast enough to avoid being run over by a large destroyer and since Jack's boat was the only PT ever rammed in the entire war, questions were raised about his performance in battle. "He (Kennedy) wasn't particularly good boat commander," Warfield said later. Other PT captains were critical of him for sitting in the middle of Blackett Strait with only one engine running, which reduced the amount of churning water that could be seen (and the likelihood of being spotted and bombed by Japanese planes) but decreased the boat's chances of making a quick escape from an onrushing destroyer.

In fact, the failure lay not with Jack, but with the tactics followed by all PT boat captains and circumstances beyond Kennedy's control. Since only four of the fifteen boats had radar and since it was pitch-black night, it was impossible for the other eleven PTs to either follow the leaders with radar or spot the Japanese destroyers. After the radar equipped boats fired their torpedoes, they returned to base and left the other PTs largely blind. "Abandoned by their leaders and enjoined to radio silence, the remaining PT boats had no real chance, in the pitch dark, of ambushing the Japanese destroyers," one of the boat commanders later said.

cont'd

Nickdfresh
09-01-2008, 11:36 AM
Cont'd from An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 by Robert Dallek:

The ramming of Jack's PT was more of a freak accident than a 'stupid mistake' on Jack's part, as Warfield's successor described it. With no radar and only one of his engines in gear, Jack could not turn the PT 109 away from the onrushing destroyer in the ten to fifteen seconds between the time it was spotted and the collision.

With six crew members, including Jack, clinging to the hull of the boat, which had remained afloat, Kennedy and two other crewmen swam out to the lead the other survivors back to the floating wreck. One of the men in the water, the boat's engineer, Pat "Pappy" McMahon was seriously burned and Jack had to tow him against a powerful current. He then dove into the water again to to bring two other men to the comparative safety of the listing hull. Two of the crew were missing, apparently killed instantly in the collision. They were never found, and Jack remembered their loss as a 'terrible thing.'...At 2:00 P.M., after nine hours clingling to the hull, which was now close to sinking, Kennedy organized the ten other survivors into two support groups for a swim to a seventy-yard-wide deserted speck of land, variously known as Bird or Plum Pudding Island. Jack, swimming on his stomach, towed his wounded crewman by clenching the ties of his life jacket in his mouth while "Pappy" McMahon floated on his back. The swim too five grueling hours. Because the island was south of Ferguson's Passage, a southern route into Blackett Strait normally traveled by the PTs, Kennedy decided to swim out into the passage to flag a boat. Although he had not slept in thirty-six hours, was exhausted, and would face treacherous currents, he insisted on going at once. An hours swim brought him into position to signal a passing PT with a lantern, but no boats showed up that night; believing that no one on the PT 109 had survived the collision...

(A couple of days later), the party swam to the larger Olasana Island, where they found no drinking water to relieve their increasing thirst except for some rain they caught in their mouths during a storm. On the fifth, Kennedy and Barney Ross, another officer who had come on the boat just for the August 1 patrol, swam to Cross Island, which was closer to Ferguson Passage. There they found a one man canoe, a fifty-five gallon drum, and some crackers and candy. Jack carried the water and food in the canoe back to Olasana, where the men, who had been surviving on coconuts, had been discovered and were being attended to by two native islanders...(Jack) scratched a message on a coconut with his jackknife, which the natives agreed to take to Rendova, the PT's main base...The next day, four islanders appeared at Cross with a letter from a New Zealand infantry lieutenant operating...with US Army troops on New Georgia...On the following day, Saturday, the seventh day of the survivor's ordeal, the natives brought Jack to the New Zealander's camp. Within twenty-four hours, all were aboard a PT, being transported back to Rendova for medical attention.

THE END (for now)

redcoat
09-02-2008, 04:07 PM
The operation in which his boat was sunk was a total SNAFU, but little of it was Kennedy's fault. His conduct after the sinking however, was in my view, a credit to the uniform he wore.
His actions may have been overplayed for political purposes, but he did serve his nation honourably during WW2.

Carl Schwamberger
09-07-2008, 08:29 AM
JFK was good guy cause he do it for the black man. JFK is cool, you dig it.

Aside from cold political calculation that may have also come from his Irish ancestory. The British treated the Irish poorly, and the Irish immigrants to North America were often not considered real 'white men'. The Irish Catholics were particularly disrespected by the WASPs. Although Kennedy was a rich kid the experince of his working class ancestors was not entirely forgotton. So he probably had some real sympathy for the folks at the bottom.

Cavalry Gunner
09-24-2008, 02:52 PM
His Dad was Ambasador to England and advised Roosevelt that we should be siding with the Germans not the English. Go Figure. Roosevelt promptly replaced him. Then J.Edgar Hoovers Agents cought John Kennedy (In The Navy At The Time) cohabiting with a woman who they were investagating for being a Nazi spy And told his dad. He went to Roosevelt and asked to have him shipped out somewhere to keep him out of trouble enter the PT Boat units in the Pacific. Judgement was not his greatest ability..

Heres who he went to during the cuban missle crisis
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkzjodKAQhA

Cavalry Gunner

B5N2KATE
09-28-2008, 11:19 AM
To my knowledge, Ambassador Josef Kennedy was removed for making public statements concerning political life in England. Kennedy remarked that,
"Democracy is finished in England. It may be here in the U.S." These remarks were picked up by the press in England and interpreted as "Ambassador Kennedy Says England Is Finished." Spike Milligan wrote of these comments,

"If he meant AFTER the war, he was right..."

An ambassador to England that questions the political machinations of the day, or publicly makes statements that are not the best for morale, is an ambassador whose tenure is to be cut short. In November of 1940, at the height of "The Blitz", Joseph Kennedy was recalled to Washington...

Nickdfresh
09-28-2008, 01:23 PM
Aside from cold political calculation that may have also come from his Irish ancestory. The British treated the Irish poorly, and the Irish immigrants to North America were often not considered real 'white men'. The Irish Catholics were particularly disrespected by the WASPs. Although Kennedy was a rich kid the experince of his working class ancestors was not entirely forgotton. So he probably had some real sympathy for the folks at the bottom.


Joe Kennedy barely acknowledged his Irish ancestry and was more about forgetting it than remembering. But he was always scornful of the idea that he was Irish "new money" and would never be accepted in the Anglo protestant elites of Boston, but he was indeed considered a "real whiteman" simply by his family's wealth and the fact that his family joined the top of the Catholic (Irish) elites with his marriage to Rose. Both he and Rose came from industrious families, especially she, and were effectively already tied to the wealthy Catholic elites that were already ingrained in Boston politics by his youth. One of the reasons that the Kennedy's moved to Long Island, New York was to sort of escape the social glass ceiling on the Irish Catholic elites in Boston, Massachusetts. They controlled everything, but the social schedule of the wealthy, by then. But they completely supplanted the old Yankee WASPs pretty much by the 1930s...

I think that more likely was that Joe was a fierce isolationist that was highly skeptical of anything European and war. He was very much against WWI not because he disliked the British especially; but because he really believed, lived the adage that "our only business is our business." He did make a nice wad of cash during the War though. But was highly skeptical of the military, and perhaps ironically of any gov't authority whatsoever, and never wanted his sons anywhere near the fighting, just as he had declined a commission in the "Great War"...

Nickdfresh
09-28-2008, 01:32 PM
To my knowledge, Ambassador Josef Kennedy was removed for making public statements concerning political life in England. Kennedy remarked that,
"Democracy is finished in England. It may be here in the U.S." These remarks were picked up by the press in England and interpreted as "Ambassador Kennedy Says England Is Finished." Spike Milligan wrote of these comments,

"If he meant AFTER the war, he was right..."

An ambassador to England that questions the political machinations of the day, or publicly makes statements that are not the best for morale, is an ambassador whose tenure is to be cut short. In November of 1940, at the height of "The Blitz", Joseph Kennedy was recalled to Washington...


This is correct, I agree.

To my knowledge, Joe certainly had no real affinity for that National Socialist ***** Hitler either, nor anyone that would potentially control business interests...But he did advocate that the US stay out and try to preserve peace with Hitler after the disastrous Fall of France...

He did so not because he intensely disliked the English, but because he was a genuine Isolationist that reviled war. The only issue Joe would have had with the English is perhaps his insecurity about being a Catholic and again the perception, real or imagined, that he would never be let into the club with the wealthy English elites...

B5N2KATE
09-28-2008, 01:47 PM
I believe that Kennedy's recall had an unlikely positive effect on the outcome. Joe's doubts concerning the survivabilty of England came at a time when the current Cabinet of Churchill's was only six months old and already on the back foot. FDR and his advisors knew very well that one more change of government could mean the end.....so, he dispatched his most trusted advisor (Harry Hopkins) on a fact finding mission in January of 1941.....to find out just exactly how strong the Churchill government was and the likelyhood of it surviving....

Churchill spent a week with Hopkins, and made such an impression that Hopkins wrote to FDR saying,
"CHURCHILL is the government in every sence of the word - he controls the grand strategy and often the details..."

Churchill was more to the point and issued a public broadcast direct to Roosevelt, ending the speech with the phrase
"Give us the tools, and we will finish the job."

No compromise was to be seen from Churchill; Hopkins knew that FDR was not going to support a War Cabinet that looked shakey. Churchill's conduct was a marked improvement over Neville Chamberlain, and any talk of a compromise peace was angrily thrown to the winds by a bombastic Winston.

Hopkins returned to Washington, advising FDR that Joe Kennedy was mis-informed.

As long as Churchill got the support he needed, he would be there to see "the job" to a successful conclusion, no doubt about it....

Laconia
10-24-2008, 10:38 AM
I had read a story that the reason pt-109 got sunk was that they were sitting there on idle and the engine mufflers (for silent running) were engaged. When the Japanese destroyer came bearing down Kennedy hit the throttle and because the mufflers were engaged the engine sputtered off. He did a good job in rescuing his crew and bringing them to ultimate safety. I'd go with him being to the side of hero status.

namvet
10-26-2008, 07:51 PM
not to take anything from JFK but there was another PT hero. LT John D. "Buck" Bulkeley. his Motor Torpedo Boats in Squadron 3, proved just how valuable this new weapon was right after Pearl Harbor. the PT's were trapped in the PI. and as the japo's tightened their grip on the island the Navy was finally forced to use them.
Bulkeley's Squadron was also the one that took MacArthur out in a daring escape from Bataan south to Mindanao. the Navy was going to order a sub in for the the rescue but MacArthur insisted Bulkeley take him and his family and staff out on the PT's. the idea was to prove to Washington the Japanese blockade could be broken. if you had the daring for it. and Bulkeley's boats were in bad shape from heavy combat use and no spart parts. add to it. bad gasoline. they made it into a movie. "they were expendable".
the story (the story)


http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_E-QOnTGFX_o/RyVaAGX3yJI/AAAAAAAACEY/Rzz5-6UQJPw/s1600/JohnBulkeleyPic.jpg

Rising Sun*
10-27-2008, 05:02 AM
not to take anything from JFK but there was another PT hero. LT John D. "Buck" Bulkeley. his Motor Torpedo Boats in Squadron 3, proved just how valuable this new weapon was right after Pearl Harbor. the PT's were trapped in the PI. and as the japo's tightened their grip on the island the Navy was finally forced to use them.
Bulkeley's Squadron was also the one that took MacArthur out in a daring escape from Bataan south to Mindanao. the Navy was going to order a sub in for the the rescue but MacArthur insisted Bulkeley take him and his family and staff out on the PT's. the idea was to prove to Washington the Japanese blockade could be broken. if you had the daring for it. and Bulkeley's boats were in bad shape from heavy combat use and no spart parts. add to it. bad gasoline. they made it into a movie. "they were expendable".
the story (the story)


Can't recall the exact hours, but the primary problem with the PT boat motors in Mac's evacuation was that they were way over the engine hours limit for an engine swap or rebuild and shouldn't have been in use, or perhaps even capable of being used. There was always the risk that they could have a catastrophic failure at any time, which was made worse by running them at high speed during the evacuation.

The journey out was punishing because at times the PT's ran at high speed in wave conditions which subjected the passengers, notably Mrs Mac Arthur, to a fair pounding as well as sea sickness.

Can't recall my source, but this is discussed in some detail in one of Mac's biographies, perhaps William Manchester's American Caesar.

namvet
10-27-2008, 09:11 AM
Can't recall the exact hours, but the primary problem with the PT boat motors in Mac's evacuation was that they were way over the engine hours limit for an engine swap or rebuild and shouldn't have been in use, or perhaps even capable of being used. There was always the risk that they could have a catastrophic failure at any time, which was made worse by running them at high speed during the evacuation.

The journey out was punishing because at times the PT's ran at high speed in wave conditions which subjected the passengers, notably Mrs Mac Arthur, to a fair pounding as well as sea sickness.

Can't recall my source, but this is discussed in some detail in one of Mac's biographies, perhaps William Manchester's American Caesar.

I heard they ran at night and hid on nearby Islands during the day. and also not all of them survived the trip. the movie was good in showing these maintainence nightmares. so it was a daring a dangerous mission.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YX-JWxX_5Wc

Rising Sun*
11-25-2008, 11:57 PM
John F. Kennedy war nicht so gut wie Lester B Pearson.
Präsident Bush ist die beste, wenn.
Obama wird Amerika auf ihre Knie.

An irrelevant, silly and provocative comment in German is just as irrelevant, silly and provocative as the same comment in English. It makes you look like a troll, or a fool.

To avoid reinforcing these negative perceptions, you would be well advised to start posting (a) sensibly and (b) in English.