Book Review: The Sea Hawks: With the PT Boats at War (by Edgar D. Hoagland) : WW2

8/12/2001 • John F Kennedy, World War II Reviews

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

The Japanese called them “devil boats,” and it was an apt description. The patrol torpedo boats (PT-boats) of World War II packed more firepower per pound than any other vessel in the U.S. Navy. Typical armament for these 80-foot, 55-ton craft consisted of a 40mm Bofors cannon aft, twin .50-caliber machine guns port and starboard, two 20mm Oerlikons and a 37mm automatic cannon forward, four Mk.VIII torpedoes in tubes (or on racks in later boats), two depth charges, a mortar, rockets, a smoke generator, small arms and grenades. Crewed by 14 men cross-trained on all of the boat’s equipment, these tiny vessels came to fight.

There are not many memoirs of this type of warfare, though references to John D. Bulkeley’s spiriting General Douglas MacArthur out of the Philippines and John F. Kennedy’s experience of having PT-109 broken in two by a Japanese destroyer are easy to find. Now we have the memoir of Edgar D. Hoagland who, after two years in destroyers, spent the remainder of the war in PT-boats as boat commander, staff officer and squadron commander. While one-fifth of the book is devoted to his destroyer experience, the bulk of Hoagland’s tale focuses on his time with PT-boats.

His adventures on PT-boats include tales of barge busting, ship attacks, landing support, reconnaissance patrols, insertions and rescues. But the combat highlight of Hoagland’s career, for which he received the Silver Star, is his squadron’s destruction of a fully equipped Japanese patrol boat base, including seven boats, at Piso Point in the spring of 1945.

Hoagland’s swimming reconnaissance of the Japanese base and his subsequent coordination of aerial bombing and gunfire support highlight the exceptional daring of the PT-boat commanders. The author is good, too, in describing the psychology of men under fire and the difficult choices a commander must make in combat. Hoagland’s book will please anyone who wants a gripping firsthand account of PT-boats at war.

Roderick S. Speer