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PC Patrol Craft of World War II: A History of the Ships and Their Crews, by William J. Viegele, Astral Publishing, Santa Barbara, Calif., 1998, $39.95.

In June 1943, an Italian submarine sank PC-496, a U.S. Navy patrol craft, as she was escorting landing craft to Bizerte, Tunisia. The submarine’s skipper was subsequently court-martialed for having wasted a torpedo.

Dismissed even during World War II, the PCs–known as the “Donald Duck Navy”–are all but forgotten today. Written as a labor of love by former PC officer William J. Viegele, PC Patrol Craft of World War II may redress that situation.

Ranging in displacement from 270 to 450 tons, PCs were small, steel-hulled vessels serving mainly in the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) role, although some were reconfigured as minesweepers, gunboats or control craft. A PC could be built in three to six months, and dozens could be built in the time it took to construct one destroyer or destroyer escort–a critical asset at a time when the German U-boat blitz along the Atlantic coast required the U.S. Navy to field ASW ships as soon as possible. A total of 361 PCs were built in 16 yards from coast to coast between 1939 and 1945.

PCs offered a lot of firepower, mounting a 3-inch gun, 40mm and 20mm guns, K-guns (for depth charges) and mousetraps (bomb launchers). Their record of success was modest–the destruction of some 15 submarines and torpedo-type craft and 24 enemy aircraft–but the defense they offered convoys and the close-in-shore support they provided for amphibious landings made these shallow-draft but seaworthy and maneuverable ships vitally useful.

Profusely illustrated, this definitive history recounts the origins, design and construction of the PCs, the ships’ exploits in both wartime theaters of operations, as well as the postwar life–and death–of the PCs, of which only three unsalvageable hulks remain today. Viegele also describes training and life aboard ship for their 65-man crews, including the two PCs that were manned almost entirely by black sailors–one of whom, Ensign Samuel L. Gravely, Jr., went on to become the U.S. Navy’s first black admiral.

Roderick S. Speer