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Motor Torpedo Boat Photo Archive


Destroyed 12 December 1942

77' Elco Motor Torpedo Boat:

Originally planned as PT-44 but reclassified as a Motor Boat Submarine Chaser, PTC-24

  • Reclassified PT-44 in March 1941
  • Laid down 17 May 1941 by the Electric Boat Co., Elco Works, Bayonne, NJ
  • Launched 18 July 1941
  • Completed 30 July 1941
  • Placed in service 31 July 1941 and assigned to Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron TWO (MTBRon 2) under the command of LCDR Earl S. Caldwell, USN
  • MTBRon 2 tested the first 70' Elco boats in Florida and Caribbean waters in the winter of 1940/41. In December 1941, with 11 new 77' Elco boats, the squadron was assigned to the Panama Sea Frontier.
    Then late in 1942, with six 77' Elco boats and six 80' Elco boats, it was shipped to the South Pacific, where it was active in the Solomons campaign, engaging in many strenuous night actions with the Tokyo Express in the defense of Guadalcanal
  • Destroyed 12 December 1942 by Japanese destroyers Kawakaze and Suzukaze off Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands.


  • Displacement 40 t.
  • Length 77'
  • Beam 19' 11"
  • Draft 4' 6"
  • Speed 41 kts.
  • Complement 15
  • Armament: Two twin .50 cal. Browning M2 machine guns in Dewandre turrets and four 21" torpedoes
  • Propulsion: Three 1,200shp Packard V12 M2500 gasoline engines, three shafts.
    Click on thumbnail
    for full size image
    Size Image Description Source
    PT-44 111k c. December 1942
    Drawing showing position of PT-44
    Photo from PT Boats in World War II..., The Mosquito Fleet by Bern Keating (See AFTER TASSAFARONGA below)
    Tommy Trampp
    Photo added 19 January 2020
    PT-37 192k Map of the location of PT-44 and other World War II shipwrecks in Ironbottom Sound in the Solomon Islands Ron Reeve

    There is no DANFS history available for PT-44
    Boat Captain
    01LT Frank Freeland, USN - Awarded the Silver StarDecember 1942
    Courtesy Joe Radigan


    The final major Japanese thrust at Guadalcanal was turned back by our cruisers in the Battle of Tassafaronga on November 30, but from that time until the final evacuation in early February, the Tokyo Express continued to run. During this period the PT's had some of their grimmest, as well as most successful, actions.

    About the first of December the PT's received welcome assistance from half a dozen SOC's -- Navy scout observation planes. The SOC's had been carried aboard cruisers damaged in the many actions around Guadalcanal, and were left behind with orders to work with the PT's when their cruisers left the area for repairs. Every night the PT's expected action, one or two SOC's flew up the Slot to spot enemy ships and report their position. It was a hazardous assignment for the SOC's, because the Japanese ships usually made their runs under cover of bad weather, and several were lost.

    Further assistance was received about the first of January, with the arrival of a squadron of PBY's, Navy patrol bombers known as "Catalinas" or "Black Cats." The PBY's not only reported positions but heckled enemy ships by dropping flares and bombs, sometimes forcing the ships to reveal their positions by drawing fire from them. Once, toward the end of January, when a group of PT's was waiting near Savo to engage an approaching force of 12 enemy destroyers, the Black Cats bombed the destroyers so effectively that they turned and fled before they had come within 30 miles of Guadalcanal.

    By December 7, when a reconnaissance plane reported at least nine destroyers heading down the Slot, the material condition of the Tulagi PT flotilla had been considerably improved by the arrival of Squadron 2, under Lt. R. E. Westholm. It was possible to send out eight PT's in three groups to meet the opposing force. Westholm, in PT 109, with Lt. Charles E. Tilden, USNR, in PT 43, patrolled between Kokumbona and Cape Esperance; Bob Searles, in PT 48, and Stilly Taylor, in PT 40, patrolled off the northwest tip of Guadalcanal, while four boats waited near Savo Island as a striking force: PT 59 (Jack Searles), PT 44 (Lt. Frank Freeland, USNR), PT 36 (Lt. (jg.) M. G. Pettit, USNR), and PT 37 (Lt. (jg.) Lester H. Gamble, USNR).

    At 2320 the 48 and 40 sighted a group of enemy ships heading directly toward them from the northwest. As they started to move into firing position, one of PT 48's engines, then another, failed. The enemy ships, now seen to be destroyers, started firing at the 48. Taylor, realizing that the 48 was a sitting duck for the Japanese, swung the 40 back across the oncoming enemy's bows, laying a smokescreen, and then swerved to run south-southeast down the channel. Apparently unaware that the 48 was crippled, the destroyers pursued the 40, which easily outdistanced them. The 48 ran on one engine into the lee of Savo Island and anchored close to shore.

    The striking group, advised of this contact by radio, deployed and at 2335 sighted the enemy force, which apparently consisted of five destroyers and a larger ship. As soon as the PT's came within effective range, the Japanese started firing at them. PT 37 fired two torpedoes at the leading ship with no observed results. PT 59 then let go two torpedoes at the nearest destroyer, which turned, avoiding the torpedoes, but exposing the large ship and another destroyer to the line of fire. As PT 59 swung to retire, it strafed the leading destroyer, a bare 100 yards away, and the destroyer returned the fire heavily. The PT was hit 10 times, but no one was injured. A machine-gun bullet set fire to a belt of .50-caliber ammunition in one of the turrets. Cletus E. Osborne, GM2C, USNR, stayed in the turret, detached the blazing belt and threw it to the deck, where it was extinguished.

    Barely 3 minutes after the 59 started her run, PT's 44 and 36 whipped in, fired four torpedoes each, and retired unscathed. Pettit claimed one probable and one possible hit; Freeland two certain hits. Westholm, approaching in the 109 from the southeast, heard a terrific explosion in the direction of the targets about the time that Freeland fired his torpedoes.

    The enemy had had enough. The Japanese ships turned and withdrew precipitately to the north. Although damage to the enemy is uncertain, the PT's, with practically no damage to themselves, had frustrated the mission of a far superior force.

    The Japanese also used submarines in their attempts to support Guadalcanal. A submarine would surface close to shore. Barges would come out to unload it. On the night of December 9, Jack Searles, in the 59, patrolling with PT 44 at Kamimbo Bay, sighted an enemy barge. As the PT's opened fire on the barge, Searles saw a surfaced submarine. He quickly fired two torpedoes, one of which hit amidships. A geyser of water spouted high in the air, followed by tremendous explosions and a huge oil slick that spread for an hour and a half. It has been confirmed that Searles sank the submarine I-3, a vessel 320 feet long, of 1,955 tons standard surface displacement.

    Two nights later a sizable Japanese force again entered Iron Bottom Bay, and again the PT's were there to meet them. Les Gamble, Stilly Taylor, and Lt. (jg.) Williams E. Kreiner 3d, USNR, all claimed torpedo hits. It is known that the PT's sank the destroyer Terutsuki.

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    This page created by Joseph M. Radigan and maintained by Tom Bateman
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