Book Review: The Sea Hawks: With the PT Boats at War (by Edgar D. Hoagland) : MH

8/12/2001 • John F Kennedy, Military History Book Reviews

The Sea Hawks: With the PT Boats at War, by Edgar D. Hoagland, Presidio Press, Novato, Calif., 1999, $24.95.

“Devil Boats,” the Japanese called them, and well they might have been, for the patrol torpedo, or PT-boats, of World War II packed more firepower per pound than any other vessel in the U.S. Navy. The typical armament for this 80-foot, 55-ton craft consisted of a 40mm Bofors cannon aft, twin .50-caliber machine guns port and starboard, two 20mm Oerlikon cannons and a 37mm automatic cannon forward, four Mark VIII torpedoes in tubes (or racks on later boats), two depth charges, a mortar, rockets, smoke generator, small arms and grenades.

There are not many memoirs of this type of warfare, aside from John D. Bulkley’s account of the spiriting of Lt. Gen. Douglas MacArthur out of the Philippines or the well-known ordeal of Lt. John F. Kennedy and his crew after their boat, PT-109, was broken in two by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri on August 1, 1943. A notable new addition to that list is The Sea Hawks, the memoir of Lt. Cmdr. Edgar D. Hoagland. After two years in destroyers, Hoagland spent the last two years of the war in PT-boats as boat commander, staff member and squadron commander. While the book is essentially a personal memoir–including in-depth descriptions of his destroyer experiences as well as some charming romantic interludes–it is also a paean to the entire PT-boat war, replete with anecdotes of the general history of those vessels.

The “high adventure,” as he describes life in the boats, includes all the operational applications of the PT-boat: barge-busting, ship attacks, landing support, reconnaissance patrols, troop insertions and rescues. The highlight of Hoagland’s combat experience–which he describes in detail–was his squadron’s destruction of a fully equipped Japanese motor torpedo boat base, including seven boats, at Piso Point in the Davao Gulf area in May and June 1945. One of the Japanese boats had sallied forth and sunk a U.S. Army freighter, after which, as Hoagland puts it, “All hell broke loose” when the Navy went to find and eliminate the base. Hoagland’s swimming reconnaissance of the base and his coordination of aerial bombing and boat and ship gunfire support earned him the Navy Cross.

Roderick S. Speer