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What is a PT Boat? (Your Ultimate 101 Guide)

Written by Everett Bledsoe / Fact checked by Brain Bartell

what is a pt boat

The PT boat is one of the many types of vessels that the U.S used to win wars. Have you heard of this? Do you know what is a PT boat?

A PT boat is a motor torpedo boat. It was used in the Second World War by the U.S Navy. Keep reading to learn more about this “weapon.”

We will cover the basics, including how and where they were used, what their characteristics were, what types existed, what were the different parts, and whether they are still here today. Read until the end to make sure you get a complete understanding!

PT Boat 101

The “PT” in a PT boat is an abbreviation for patrol torpedo. So, putting this together, a PT boat is a patrol torpedo boat. As mentioned earlier, it was used in the Second World War by the U.S Navy.

During the war, Navy PT boats went against the enemy’s barges, tankers, sampans, and warships. There were also some that became gunboats, combating the enemy’s small craft, like armored barges.

They were used in the Pacific (Southern, Western, and Northern regions), the English Channel, as well as the Mediterranean Sea.

The Japanese called PT boats the “devil boats” and “mosquito fleets.”

Let’s start with a visual. This is what the WW2 PT boat looked like:

PT Boat Characteristics

1. PT Boat Size

The PT boat ranged in size. They were from 78 to 80 ft.

2. PT Boat Crew Accommodation

Three officers and 14 enlisted members can fit on a PT boat.

3. PT Boat Full Load Displacement

They all had a full load displacement of 56 tons.

4. PT Boat Hull

The hull was favorably light, strong, and easy to repair.

5. PT Boat Armament

The primary ones are 2 to 4 Mark 8 Torpedoes, 1 TNT Warhead, 2 Twin 12.7 mm Machine Guns, 20 mm Oerlikon Cannon.

  • Mark 8 Torpedo weighed 1,179 kilograms (equivalent to 2,600 pounds)
  • TNT Warhead weighed 211 kilograms (equivalent to 466 pounds)
  • 7mm Machine Guns weighed 28 kilograms (equivalent to 62 pounds)
  • 20 mm Oerlikon Cannon weighed 68.04 kilograms (equivalent to 150 pounds)
Note: Front line PT boats were modified to fit other weapons, such as 37 mm aircraft cannons, mortars, and rocket launchers. These are referred to as converted PT boats. Some special PT boats also carried naval mines.

6. PT Boat Engines

  • Powered by modified gasoline aircraft engines (Packard 3M-2,500, 4M-2,500, and 5M-2,500)
  • Held 11,400 l of 100 octane aviation fuel, which is enough for 12-hr patrol (For 4M-2,500 engine)
  • Consumed 760 l at 43 kilometers per hour cruising speed
  • Consumed 1,900 l per hour at top speed

7. PT Boat Supply Capacity

  • Small capacity to store perishable goods.
  • Had to rely on base facilities and other PT boat tenders.

There Were Three Types of PT boats

1. Elco PT Boats

Elco PT boats were the longest of the three (80 ft). A total of 326 of this type of boat were built during the Second World War.

  • What were PT boats made of?

They were made of thick mahogany planks, which were diagonally layered and glued together. There were also screws (bronze) and rivets (copper) that held the boat parts together.

These boats were not damage-proof, but they were easy to repair at the front lines.

2. Higgins PT Boats

Higgin PT boats were shorter than Elco PT boats (78ft), but they had the same engine, generator, beam, and crew accommodation. Their shaft horsepower, full-load displacement, and trial speed were also the same.

The first ones made for the Navy were part of Squadrons 13 and 16 and used in the Aleutian Islands battle, as well as the MTBRON15 and MTBRON22 in Germany.

Compared to Elco, there were not a lot of Higgins PT boats made. But more of them survived. While only 3 Elco hulls existed and 1 restored, Higgins had 7 hulls and 3 restored.

3. Huckins PT Boats


These boats were ‘late to the game,’ but no less in value. Two squadrons of PT boats were made; each boat measuring 78 feet. Five boats were a part of Squadron 14 and 10 boats were a part of Squadron 26.

PT Boats Parts

The topside of a PT boat includes the following parts:

  • Bullnose – Where anchored or moored lines run through
  • Canopy – A canvas that covers the boat
  • Topside Charthouse and Day Room – Where equipment and sailors are
  • Cockpit – The center of the boat with its own panel cover
  • Fantail – Multi-purpose area for work (like laundry) and play (like fishing and swimming)

Here are some of the tools that are stowed and used on the topside:

  • Cleats – To secure mooring lines to
  • Anchor – To hold the boat in a particular place when necessary
  • Navigation Lights – To illuminate when necessary
  • Towing Gear – To pull up and save boats and men in combat areas
  • Toe Rail – To secure fenders and cargo nets, as well as tie down the boat awning while at anchor
  • Sampson Post – To attach the anchor cable
  • Blackout Light – To cut off the chart-house lights when the cockpit hatch is opened
  • Black Light – To illuminate phosphorus letters and numbers on the instrument panel
  • Compass Cover – To shield the compass face and mechanism
  • Megaphone – To relay orders or listen for planes and other craft.
  • Speaking Tube – To provide communication between the cockpit and the charthouse
  • Lockers – To stow stuff, like blinker guns and batteries

Now, let’s take a look inside PT boats. Here are the key parts below the decks.

  • Crew’s Quarter – Where crews stay
  • Gunnery Locker – Where gun barrels and spares are kept
  • Charthouse – Where all the vitals of the boat are
  • Galley – Where the food is kept and prepared.
  • Day Room – Where engineers lounge

Get more details by watching this PT boat interior video here:

A Brief History of PT Boats Use

  • Solomon Islands Campaign

PT boats went against the Japanese capital ships, disrupting their Tokyo Express resupplying activities.

  • D-Day Invasion

PT boats went on patrol at the Mason Line, formed a barrier against Germany S-Boats, and carried out mine destruction missions.

  • Barge Attacks

PT boats sank enemy resupplying vessels, laid smoke screens and mines, thrashed floating mines, saved shipwreck survivors, and performed raider or intelligence operations.

PT Boats Today

Instead of being kept for the peacetime Navy, PT boats that survived after they were discarded. They were stripped of potentially still useful parts before being burned on the beach.

Nonetheless, there are some PT boats that still exist today in various repair states, including the PT-48, PT-305, PT-309, PT-459, PT-486, PT-625, PT-617, PT-657, PT-658, PT-724, PT-728, PT-766, and PT-796. So, how many pt boats still exist? 13!

This is the PT-305, also referred to as the USS Sudden Jerk. It is the most recently restored abandoned PT boat. The PT-305 was a Higgins boat that was a part of Squadron 22, which served in the Mediterranean.


Apart from the fundamental question “What is a PT boat?”, you should now know lots about this World War 2 “weapon,” including how and where they were used, what their characteristics were, what types existed, what were the different parts, and whether they are still here today.

Hopefully, you have learned a lot and have found the info interesting. If you think this can be of benefit to other readers, please help us share this article. Feel free to leave your thoughts with us in the comments! We also welcome questions! So do not hesitate.

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