Flag

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

U.S. Leading Causes of Death

2006 Leading cause of death in U.S. from Center for Disease Control:

Number of deaths for leading causes of death

    • Heart disease: 631,636
    • Cancer: 559,888
    • Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 137,119
    • Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 124,583
    • Accidents (unintentional injuries): 121,599
    • Diabetes: 72,449
    • Alzheimer's disease: 72,432
    • Influenza and Pneumonia: 56,326
    • Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 45,344
    • Septicemia: 34,234

Life expectency at birth 77.7 years.

Race—In 2006, age-adjusted death rates for the major race groups (Table 1) were:
+ White population, 764.4 deaths per 100,000 U.S. standard population
+ Black population, 982.0
+ American Indian or Alaska Native (AIAN) population, 642.1
+ Asian or Pacific Islander (API) population, 428.6

Just so you know, more old people die than young people. I'm still looking for proof that having health insurance extends your life.
UPDATE: Dying from Lack of Insurance:
A new study from researchers with the Harvard Medical School found that 45,000 deaths a year can be attributed to the lack of health insurance. Our readers ask: Really? And, they want to know, isn’t this finding actually from the single-payer advocacy group Physicians for a National Health Program?
***
The 45,000 deaths figure became the basis for an eye-catching billboard from the Health Care for America Education Fund, a group associated with Health Care for America NOW, a coalition of liberal and union groups backing health care overhaul efforts.

Now, on to the tough question: Is the 45,000 figure accurate? We can’t say for sure, but scores of other studies also conclude that persons without health insurance have a higher chance of dying prematurely than those with health insurance. A committee headed by Dr. John Z. Ayanian of the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine reviewed nearly 100 such studies released since 2002. And in March he summed up the findings for Congress this way:
Ayanian’s testimony to Congress, March 2009: Uninsured Americans frequently delay or forgo doctors’ visits, prescription medications, and other effective treatments, even when they have serious disease or life-threatening conditions. … Because uninsured adults seek health care less often than insured adults, they are often unaware of health problems such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or early-stage cancer. Uninsured adults are also much less likely to receive vaccinations, cancer screening services such as mammography and colonoscopy, and other effective preventive services.
***
There has been some criticism of this type of research and its ability to find a direct causal link. A 2003 commentary by Richard Kronick in Medical Care Research and Review questioned whether other factors beyond uninsurance would reduce the greater mortality for the uninsured. Kronick recreated the Franks study using more recent data and, after adjusting for various factors, also found a 25 percent greater risk of death for the uninsured. But he said: "It seems likely that if we were able to control for additional factors, such as health-related behaviors (smoking, alcohol consumption, obesity, and risk-taking behaviors more generally), wealth, or value placed on health or health care, the estimated effect of being uninsured would be reduced further. What is uncertain is whether the reduction would bring the estimated hazard ratio all the way down to 1.0 or whether an independent effect of being uninsured would remain." (Other studies, including the Franks study, did adjust for smoking, alcohol consumption, obesity and income.)

Another recent report, written by former Congressional Budget Office Director June O’Neill and her husband, economist Dave O’Neill, said "that lack of health insurance is not likely to be the major factor causing higher mortality rates among the uninsured. The uninsured — particularly the involuntarily uninsured — have multiple disadvantages that in themselves are associated with poor health." Those disadvantages include education level and income. The O’Neills’ study, published by the conservative Employment Policies Institute, separated those it deemed "voluntarily uninsured" (anyone earning 2.5 times the poverty level) from those considered to be "involuntarily uninsured." The study looked at data on persons aged 51 to 61 from the Health and Retirement Survey and determined the "involuntarily uninsured" had an 11 percent higher probability of dying; the number dropped to 3 percent when controlling for smoking as well as education and income. The “voluntarily uninsured” had a 2 percent to 3 percent greater probability of dying. EPI, the publisher of the study, supports business interests and has said that the “living wage campaign” is “an organized effort to force employees to inject a welfare mentality into the workplace.”
In fact, the range of studies puts the "death from lack of insurance" level from 18,000 to the 45,000 level.

Well, who makes up the "uninsured?" Not the very poor - they have access to Medicaid. Not the over 64 crowd, they have Medicare. Not veterans, they have the VA. But we have the answer:

We may be accustomed to thinking of the uninsured as low-income individuals and struggling families. But the Census Bureau data show that many are relatively affluent. Over 17.5 million -- 38 percent -- of the uninsured make more than $50,000 a year. And 9.1 million have an annual income of over $75,000 a year.

How can this be? In part, it's because a number of financially comfortable young Americans choose not to purchase health insurance. Known in the healthcare trade as the "invincibles" -- because they’re so sure they won't get sick -- these young singles would rather keep their money than shell out for expensive monthly insurance premiums because of the many mandates and regulations place on insurers by the states.

This intentional avoidance of health insurance is quite common. According to the Commonwealth Fund, Americans age 19-29 comprise one of the largest and fastest-growing segments of the uninsured population.

If the fact that over a third of the uninsured are pulling down more than $50,000 a year isn’t shocking enough, how about this: Nearly 10 million uninsured aren't even U.S. citizens!

It's certainly unfortunate that these individuals don't have health insurance, of course. But they can still get free treatment in emergency rooms. And even a fully nationalized healthcare system would be unlikely to provide them with health insurance.

Another 14 million of the uninsured are fully eligible for government assistance through programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP.

How does that break down? A 2008 study by the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute showed that a whopping 70 percent of uninsured children are eligible for Medicaid, SCHIP, or both programs. And roughly 27 percent of non-elderly Americans who are eligible for Medicaid haven’t enrolled and simply live their lives without health insurance, according to the Urban Institute.

Is it really fair to say that such individuals don’t have health insurance? Further, if millions of Americans aren't availing themselves of taxpayer-funded coverage, why should we think that an even bigger government healthcare bureaucracy would solve the problem?

Of course, there are people who really do fall through the cracks. These are the chronically uninsured -- the working poor. They are people who struggle to hold down jobs and support their families. They earn less than $50,000 per year but too much to qualify for government help. They simply can’t afford insurance.

There are roughly 8 million of these chronically uninsured. Any attempt to solve the problem of the uninsured should focus on this narrow slice of the 45.7 million person pie.

So, now the question must be asked. Which group of the "uninsured" is driving the higher mortality rate for uninsureds? Well, I am still working that out, but I did find this study which may help explain some things:
In 2003, the three leading causes of death in King County were cancer, heart disease, and stroke. The leading causes of death differed in different age groups (data not shown). In general, unintentional injury, cancer, homicide, and suicide ranked higher among the younger age groups while heart disease, cancer, and other chronic diseases ranked higher among the older age groups. AIDS went from being the number one killer among males age 25-44 in 1996 to number four in 2003, and number five for both males and females.

The leading causes of death also varied among the racial/ethnic groups. In general, unintentional injury, homicide,and diabetes ranked relatively higher among the minority populations. Conditions of the perinatal period were the ninth leading cause of death for African Americans and the sixth for Hispanic/Latinos.
Hmmm.

A Call to Serve

YouTube - AMERICA'S NAVY — A Global Force for Good


U.S. Navy birthday is Oct 13. For those who count, it's number 234.

Wednesday Reading

Why, of course, it's the middle of week, a perfect time to catch up with Fred Fry's Maritime Monday 181 in which Fred has some lighthouse photos and a million links of a maritime bent. Go thither.

Intelligence "estimate" fun. I guess the Iranians have been working really really hard since the election. Or something. I hate to think the intel community would "cook the books" or something for political reasons. A look at divided intelligence assessments:
Unfortunately, the lack of an intelligence consensus on Iran will make it more difficult for the west to choose a course of action. It is rather telling that French President Sarkozy has been much more forceful on the issue that President Obama. He clearly understands that Iran will soon have a nuclear bomb--and perhaps much sooner than anyone realizes. Meanwhile, Mr. Obama has (apparently) put his hopes in the power of diplomacy and a largely discredited NIE. From his perspective, we still have time to talk to Tehran and achieve some sort of solution, or cobble together "tougher" sanctions that everyone can support.

Hmmm. Playing At Being President? I think the author underestimates the role of priorities involved.

Bill does some bragging, poses a test and adds a challenging visual distraction to the mix.

Maggie goes to Newport.

Best Polanksi commentary. Don't plead guilty if you can't do the time... Anyone remember Dylan's Lonsome Death of Hattie Carroll?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Somali Pirates: Harvest Moon?

Over on the right side of this blog I have both a moon status box and a couple of "winds off Somalia" boxes.

You might note that the moon is currently waxing gibbous and that the winds are down in the Gulf of Aden. What is approaching, in fact, is the "harvest moon" - when around October 4, moonrise of a full moon occurs as the sun sets, giving a lengthy period of reasonable lighting for activities that might otherwise have to be stopped on account of darkness.

What is a "harvest moon?" From here:
Here is the celebrity of the hour – perhaps the biggest of the entire autumn season – the legendary Harvest Moon. The moon reaches the crest of its full phase at 06:10 Universal Time on October 4. That is 1:10 a.m. tomorrow morning in the central U.S.

All of us around the globe find tonight’s moon in the same approximate place as every full moon – in the east as the sun sets and twilight begins to wash the sky. It’s this big red Harvest Moon – ascending over the eastern horizon around the time of sunset – that everyone writes songs about. You’ll see why if your sky is clear and you have a lovely setting for moonrise tonight.

Like any full moon, the Harvest Moon shines all night long. So what’s special about the Harvest Moon? On the average, the moon rises 50 minutes later every night. But not the Harvest Moon! At mid-northern latitudes, the Harvest Moon rises 25 to 30 minutes later for several evenings in a row. And at far northern latitudes, the Harvest Moon rises 5 to 10 minutes later for several evenings in a row.

In olden times before electricity, farmers counted on the lamp of the Harvest Moon to gather their crops. Making up for the autumn season’s waning daylight, the Harvest Moon faithfully provides several nights of dusk-till-dawn moonlight. This bonanza of moonlight remains the legacy of the Harvest Moon!
Yes, it's "harvest moon" time - and a time to be wary of pirates, too.



A Week's Worth of Piracy

Reported piracy efforts from the ICC-CCS. Gulf of Aden (Somali pirates) in red:
29.09.2009: 0330 LT: Sagar anchorage: India.
Robbers boarded a bulk carrier, unnoticed, and stole ship’s stores and escaped. The robbery was discovered later by duty officer and watchmen during rounds.

28.09.2009: 2030 LT: Posn: 22:14.2N – 091:44.2E, Chittagong anchorage, Bangladesh.
Eight robbers in a fishing boat attempted to board a bulk carrier at anchor. Duty AB spotted them and raised alarm. Seeing the alert crew the robbers jumped overboard and escaped. Nothing stolen.

27.09.2009: 1600 UTC: Posn: 22:15.4N – 091:43.5E: Chittagong anchorage: Bangladesh.
Duty officer onboard a container ship arrived at poop deck and spotted one robber near entrance to rope store. When duty officer approached the robber two other robbers armed with long knives began to chase him. He retreated to the main deck and alerted other crew members. Crew with crow bars arrived at poop deck but by then the robbers jumped overboard and escaped with stolen ropes.

27.09.2009: 0002 LT: Posn: 22:11.22N – 091:43.24E, Chittagong anchorage ‘B’, Bangladesh.
Eight robbers armed with long knives in a small wooden fishing boat boarded a product tanker at anchor. Duty bosun sighted them and informed OOW who raised the alarm. Robbers threatened one watchman with long knives, cut off some mooring ropes and jumped into the water and escaped with the stolen stores. Port control informed.

26.09.2009: 0120 UTC: Posn: 13:11.57N – 049:25.11E, Gulf of Aden.
Eight pirates armed with guns in two high powered speed boats attempted to board a bulk carrier underway. Master raised alarm, took evasive manoeuvres, fired parachute signals, activated SSAS and contacted coalition warships for assistance. Sea water kept running on deck constantly and crew locked themselves in bridge. Pirates started firing at the bridge and a coalition warship advised that they were getting closer to the ship. Pirates aborted the attempt upon seeing the warship. A coalition helicopter carried out inspection outside the ship’s superstructure along every deck and confirmed no pirates onboard. Ship resume course.

26.09.2009: 0115 UTC: Posn: 13:11.95N – 049:19.14E, Gulf of Aden.
Four pirates armed with guns chased and fired upon a bulk carrier underway. Master increased speed and carried out evasive manoeuvres and also contacted coalition warships. Coalition warship came to assist and the pirates aborted the attack on sighting the warship. (Ship identified as Gem of Cochin)

26.09.2009: 0800 UTC: Posn: 12:15N – 045:39E, Gulf of Aden.
Pirates in a skiff chased a bulk carrier underway. Master carried out evasive manoeuvres, increased speed and informed coalition warships. A coalition warship and a helicopter intervention prevented the pirates to continue the attempt. No injuries to crew and no damage to ship. (More info: The vessel in the above incident has been identified as the Panamax Peppou, a Panamanian-flagged 61,500 dwt bulk carrier. A Saudi Arabian warship dispatched a helicopter to avert the attack. The vessel is owned by Greece’s Chian Spirit Maritime Enterprises.)

19.09.2009: 2230 LT: Posn: 03:00N – 105:14E, Off Pulau Mangkai, South China Sea.
Eight pirates armed with long knives and crowbars boarded a bulk carrier underway. They broke into 2/O cabin, tied up his hands and threatened him with a long knife at his throat. Pirates forced the 2/O to call the master. While the pirates were waiting next to the master’s door, they seized C/E and tied up his hands. The pirates rushed inside the Master’s cabin once it was opened. They threatened the Master with long knives and crowbars and demanded money. Master’s hands were tied up and they forced him to the aft station. The pirates jumped into a long wooden skiff with ship’s cash and crew personal belongings and escaped. C/E and 2/O managed to free themselves and raised the alarm. No injuries to crew.

22.09.2009: 1555 UTC: Posn: 22:14.6N – 091:43.0E: Chittagong anchorage: Bangladesh.
Five armed robbers boarded a bulk carrier at anchor via the stern. Duty seaman doing routine rounds sensed suspicious activities astern and went to investigate. He encountered robbers and was threatened with knives but managed to escape. Alarm raised and crew mustered. Robbers escaped by jumping into the water. Upon investigation, it was discovered robbers managed to enter into the steering flat. Ship stores stolen.
Follow on reports:
Turks grab 7 pirates as reported here:
Turkey's military says navy commandos aboard a frigate have captured seven pirates in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia's coast.

The military says the commandos aboard the TCG Gediz raided the skiff early Saturday following a request to block it before it could attack two ships bearing the flag of Panama.

A statement on the military's Web site says a navy helicopter aboard the frigate also took part in the operation.

The Turkish frigate is in the area as part of a NATO force patrolling the seas.
LLoyd's List provides the following:
SEVEN suspected pirates were arrested off the coast of Somalia on Saturday after attacks on two separate Panama-flagged merchant vessels that appear to have been the work of the same gang, reports from the region indicate.

The ships involved in the incidents have been named as Gem of Cochin, a 1982-built, 64,976 dwt bulk carrier associated with West Asia Maritime of Chennai, and Handy V, a 1983-built, 64,780 dwt bulk carrier associated with Piraeus-based Liberty Management.

Both attacks took place at roughly the same location, around 60 miles from shore in the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor.
Upper map shows 2009 pirate events in the Gulf of Aden, lower map shows locations of most recent attacks.

With 30 or so warships in the area and many helicopters at work, coupled with barbed wire on ships and other self-defense measures by the merchant ship, the pirates' work is getting harder.

UPDATE: Speaking of the Turkish capture of seven pirates, Saturn 5 has good coverage here including photos of the capture:

Somalia: Next Al Qaeda State?

A warning from here:
Somalia will become "the new Afghanistan" unless Western nations give its U.N.-backed government the necessary tools to prevent al Qaeda from getting a foothold in Africa, the EU's humanitarian chief said on Wednesday.

President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed's fragile administration is facing a campaign by Islamist insurgents who killed at least 12 people and wounded 17 others on Wednesday during an attack on African Union peacekeepers in the capital, Mogadishu.

The Shabaab insurgents, who have links to al Qaeda, also hit the AU's main military base in Mogadishu with twin suicide car bombs last Thursday, killing 17 peacekeepers.

"We are in a very, very difficult situation. But we cannot leave Somalia to the extremists. There is an al Qaeda influence in Somalia ... which is growing, seeking a foothold and we have to stop them somewhere," European Union Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Karel De Gucht told Reuters after meeting with U.N. diplomats and officials.

"If we let this happen, then the next question is what is the next country. We have to be resilient and to stand firm. It is extremely difficult, risky, but we have no choice.

"They (al Qaeda) are looking for strongholds ... in failed states. That's what happened in Afghanistan. The government did a deal with the Taliban and we cannot let that happen or we will have a new Afghanistan," De Gucht added.
Of course, unlike land locked Afghanistan, Somalia is easy to get to . . .

But it is a mess - as is much of East Africa. A grim report here:
A combination of problems from failing crops and drought to civil war and rising food prices threatens to engulf East Africa in a 'perfect storm' of humanitarian crises. Aid agencies on the ground are struggling to cope.

The African continent is no stranger to humanitarian disasters. Climatic changes, war, financial hardship and infrastructural chaos seem to regularly take turns in plunging one region or another into desperation. The latest crisis is centered on East Africa, where countries such as Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are currently experiencing a 'perfect storm' of suffering.

These countries and others in the Horn of Africa are facing a combination of below-average rainfall, the prospect of serious crop failures, increased instability through regional and civil wars, and the overburdening of less severely hit areas through the displacement of populations.

A report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) also warns that an already serious food insecurity situation in the region could worsen. The FAO report ominously predicts that if El Nino, the oscillation in ocean temperature which usually brings heavy rains towards the end of the year, delivers as expected, floods and mudslides could add to the misery by wiping out existing food stocks, killing livestock, damaging infrastructure and making thousands homeless.
Quick, come up with a good solution.

Philippines: Flooding, Death

17" of rain in 12 hours will cause flooding.

U.S. Navy personnel are on scene, lending their hands:

Photo caption:
U.S. sailors from the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines take part in a relief mission for flood victims in Manila September 27, 2009. The Philippines appealed for international aid to help tens of thousands marooned by flashfloods, and apologised for the delays in rescue efforts to avoid potential political fallout from the crisis. Disaster officials said the death toll from Typhoon Ketsana that hit the main island of Luzon stood at 52 on Sunday and more than 20 others were missing feared dead. Picture taken September 27, 2009. REUTERS/U.S. Navy/Petty Officer 2nd Class William Ramsey/Handout
Photo caption:
Members of the U.S. Navy evacuate a pregnant woman from her flooded house brought on by Typhoon Ketsana, known locally as "Ondoy" in Pasig city east of Manila September 28, 2009. Philippine officials scampered to send relief aid on Monday to hundreds of thousands hit by weekend floods in and around Manila, while anger mounted over what was seen as an inadequate response from the government. Picture taken September 28, 2009.

Philippines: IED kills U.S., Filipino troops

Reported here:
The U.S. Embassy in Manila on Tuesday said that the two American soldiers who were killed in a blast in Mindanao Tuesday were not involved in combat operations.

In a statement, the embassy said the incident occurred at 8:45 a.m. while the servicemen were conducting a resupply mission for a school construction project in Jolo.

An investigation is underway to determine the details of the incident, the embassy said.

Apart from the two U.S. service members, a Philippine Marine was also killed while two other Armed Forces of the Philippines members were seriously wounded when their vehicle struck an improvised explosive device.

"The U.S. Embassy in Manila and the U.S. members of Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines express deepest sympathy and condolences to the families and loved ones of the killed and wounded Philippine and U.S. soldiers," the embassy statement said.
***
The Department of Foreign Affairs backed the embassy's statement, saying the American troops died while doing civic and humanitarian work.

"It is with sadness that we learned of the death of a Philippine Marine and two US servicemen. What they were doing in Sulu--assisting Philippine military and local government officials in undertaking civic engineering projects, protecting families and securing peace---are important to the Filipino people," a department statement said. "Our prayers and sympathies go out to their families and loved ones."<
A Philippines legislator says that if his idea of having the U.S. troops removed from "conflict" areas of the Philippines had been followed, no one needed to have died - see here - and that the Visiting Forces Agreement under which U.S. forces work with the Philippine military is in jeopardy:
Biazon today told MindaNews that he had advised the US Embassy and the Philippine contingent, especially the VFA Oversight Committee’s Edilberto Adan, that “the worst thing that can happen is if an American troop is killed in the combat areas. We will have a lot of doing to save the visiting forces agreement and so, therefore, I said, ‘be careful.’”

He said that when the Americans shooting at the pier in Jolo happened, “my worst fear was no longer an American getting killed in combat areas but an American killing a Filipino, whether bandit or law-abiding citizen.”

“So here, my first fear (American soldiers getting killed) has already happened,” he said.

“Kung sinunod, wala na sanang (napatay) [if his appeal had been followed, no one would have been killed], said Biazon, former Armed Forces Chief of Staff.

“This incident (Sept. 29) plus the incident in Jolo pier (on the September 14 shooting) are strengthening sectors calling for abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement,” he said.

According to this NYTimes report, the U.S. servicemen killed were actually sailors - U.S. Navy Seabees:
Two American sailors and a Filipino marine were killed Tuesday when their vehicle struck a landmine on the troubled southern island of Jolo, the Philippine military said.

Two Filipino marines also were injured in the blast, according to the army spokesman, Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner. The explosion occurred near the town of Indanan, the scene of recent fighting between government forces and Islamist militants.

Colonel Brawner said the American troops were Navy Seabees who were not in a combat role but were helping supervise a school-building project on the island.

“They lost their lives serving others, and we will always be grateful for their contributions to improve the quality of life on Jolo,” the U.S. ambassador, Kristie Kenny, said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. The names of the dead sailors were not immediately released.

Somali Pirates: About that last killing . . .


Last week I posted about the killing of a ship's captain by Somali pirates, see here. Now it seems there may be more to the story - much more to the story - as set out here:
Andrew Mwangura of the East African Seafarers’ Assistance Programme in Kenya told Fairplay that the latest reports from Somalia indicate that the attack was not an act of piracy.

Intelligence suggested that the incident was the outcome of a covert deal, linked with “mafia-like” Somali businessmen, he explained, with no indications as yet that any crew member was involved in the deal.

The general cargo ship Barwaaqo had been headed for Mogadishu when its captain was killed when he refused to turn away from the port, the BBC reported last week.

The ship is owned by Hamadeh A, the same Syrian company that owns MV Wael H, which was involved in a controversial shootout in October last year.

In that incident, alleged pirates engaged alleged Puntland ‘coastguard’ personnel, but this later proved to be a battle over the ship –a cement carrier – between two business rivals.
In his excellent book, Terror on the Seas: True Tales of Modern-Day Pirates, Daniel Sekulich has a chapter on Somalia in which the Reverand Michael Sparrow of the Mission to Seafarers in Mombassa, Kenya, (at page 164) says about shipments into Somalia:
"No one trades up there without paying bribes; it is what makes the difference between a safe voyage and a hijacking. You see, this is like a protection racket going on. If you want to take something to Somalia by ship - running shoes, building materials, UN food aid, anything - there are warlords who control the ports who need to be paid."
Draw your own conclusions.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sunday Ship History: Assault Drone

On September 27, 1944 65 years ago, in U.S. Naval History:
1944 - Special Air Task Force (STAG-1) commences operations with drones, controlled by TBM Avenger aircraft, against Japanese in Southwestern Pacific.
What!!?

Naturally, it all began before 1944. It actually goes back over 60 years earlier to 1884, when the foundation for television was laid by Paul Nipkow, a German graduate student, to 1897 with the invention of the Cathode Ray Tube by the English inventor J.J. Thomson, to 1907 Russia where Rosing started developing television, to Swinton developing CRT to CRT circuits in 1908, to Vladimir Zworykin inventing the kinescope (for the first television we would recognize today). The Russian Revolution led to Zworykin emigrating to the U.S. and joining the Radio Corporation of America where he honed televison. Others were also working on television, including Philo Farnsworth who demonstrated a form of television to the Navy in 1933. Though for technical reasons, Zworykin's RCA system was deemed better for military purposes (see here, from Television: the life story of a technology by Alexander B. Magoun.


In 1936, following observation of British drone programs, the United States Navy began experimenting with remote control drones. Assigned to the project was LCDR Delbert S. Fahrney. Fahrney's work resulted in useful remote control drones that both improved fleet anti-air gunnery and also revealed weaknesses that led to adding radar to ships and proximity fuses for shells (see here, p.65).

The drones were used for other tests, including using the lighter weight television cameras and transmitters (from Unmanned aviation: a brief history of unmanned aerial vehicles by Laurence R. Newcome, p.67:

The success of the tests pushed the drones into production (from Newcome p.68):
More here:

By April 1942, the project had performed a successful torpedo attack using an assault drone. Films of the exercise provoked high interest among the senior brass and civilian leadership, with OPTION raised in priority and plans to build 5,000 assault drones for deployment with 18 drone squadrons. One of the consequences of this good fortune for the drone program, however, was that critics began to hammer on the effort as a waste of resources.

Farnhey countered by directing the development of a low-cost assault drone, the "TDN-1", which was constructed by the US Naval Aircraft Factory and was built mostly of wood. The "TD" stood for "Torpedo Drone", of course, while the "N" was a code for the Naval Aircraft Factory. The TDN-1 featured a high wing, twin small piston engines, and fixed tricycle landing gear. It could carry a torpedo or 900 kilogram (2,000 pound) bomb nested under its fuselage, at a cruising speed of 280 KPH (175 MPH). A conventional cockpit could be swapped out for the TV control system for tests or ferrying. Only about 114 TDN-1s were built. The design was not well-suited for mass production and the TDN-1s ended up being used for evaluation and as targets.

Official enthusiasm for the assault drone concept began to fade, but Smith and Farnhey were moving ahead on a production assault drone, the "TDR-1", built by Interstate Aircraft Company of Los Angeles -- the "R" code in the drone designation was for Interstate Aircraft. The TDR-1's general configuration was much like that of the TDN-1 but it was much more practical to build, with a frame of steel tubing covered by molded wood. The frame was provided by the Schwinn bicycle company and the subcontractors for the woodwork included manufacturers of musical instruments. The two machines were externally similar, but easily told apart because the TDN-1 had a high-mounted wing and the TDR-1 had a low-mounted wing.

The TDR-1 was powered by twin Lycoming flat-six air-cooled piston engines. Like the TDN-1, it could be piloted, and it was said to be very pleasant to fly, though not all that fast. The fixed landing gear could be ejected when the aircraft was on an attack run. However, the program was still on increasingly uncertain political ground, and it took intense lobbying by Smith and Farnhey to obtain approval for deployment of their "Special Task Air Group 1 (STAG-1)", which departed for the South Pacific in mid-May 1944.

The TDR-1s were controlled by Grumman Avenger torpedo bombers, modified to carry control systems and designated "TBM-1C". The radio control and TV reception antennas were carried in a retractable antenna dome in the Avenger's rear belly. The control system in the aircraft included a joystick and a remote control for the TDR-1's autopilot system. The autopilot remote control used, of a things, a telephone dial, with the appropriate autopilot control code set by just dialing a single digit -- one to drop a torpedo, one to arm a bomb, and so on. However, the control system only had four channels and so it was only possible to fly four TDR-1s at a time in the same attack.

Before deployment the Navy culled officers and men from the fleet after extensive training, a group of Navy personnel began operations using this new and very secret weapon:
It was like something out of Flash Gordon to the sailors involved in a top-secret, World War II Naval air project: Remote-controlled aircraft loaded with bombs, guided from a control plane as far as 50 miles away.
They were controlled with joysticks and video cameras and televisions, long before the public had even heard of such things. American kamikazes, without sacrificing pilots as the Japanese did.
How secret was the project? It operated out of Traverse City for months without the community ever knowing.
***
The idea of remote-control or "drone" aircraft had its roots as far back as 1936, when the Navy began experimenting with the concept. The idea was simple: to soften entrenched enemy targets without incurring casualties.
Two STAG groups were formed by SATFOR in 1943, as some of the Navy's best pilots, radio and electronics men were selected for the top-secret project. They went to remote Clinton, Okla., to begin training.
Project members eventually developed a working drone aircraft, a sleek, twin-engine, low-wing bomber made of laminated plywood. The craft was manufactured by the Wurlitzer company in Illinois, known for its organs and pianos, as the company was converted to supplying the U.S. war effort like so many factories during World War II.
Loaded with radio control equipment - and a one-ton bomb - the drone would take off in tandem with a control plane. Behind the pilot of the control plane would sit the drone controller, hunched over a six-inch television screen receiving a video feed from a camera mounted in the nose of the drone. Using a joystick, the drone controller could manipulate the drone aircraft to enemy targets.
Once trained, that group was given (barely) a chance to prove the concept in combat - in the Solomons (from:here)
The first attack was conducted on 30 July, on a derelict Japanese freighter, the YAMAZAKI MARU, that had grounded itself near Cape Esperance on Guadalcanal Island in the Solomons. Six TDR-1s, with four intended for the attack and two as backups, were committed to the mission, all armed with 900 kilogram (2,000 pound) bombs. Two cracked up on takeoff, two performed attacks that were frustrated by dud bombs, but two went off with very impressive bangs. It made for great film footage, but by that time the effort's standing was so low that Smith had to lobby very hard just to keep the program from being immediately canceled.

Beginning on 27 September 1944, STAG-1 conducted a series of attacks on Japanese installations on the island of Bougainville. When the attacks ended on 26 October 1944, STAG-1 had expended 46 TDR-1s in combat, with 37 performing attacks and at least 21 hitting their target. The Japanese found the attacks startling, believing that the Americans had taken up suicide attacks.

The end score seemed encouraging, but it wasn't enough to stave off cancellation. The TBM-1Cs were dumped into the ocean to dispose of them and the personnel reassigned to other duties. It was a bitter pill to swallow for the program's officers and men, but by that time the war was clearly going to be won by other weapons and the TDR-1 was no longer seen as particularly relevant. Apparently some further work was done a "TDR-3" that featured radial engines, but though a picture of such a machine survives, it may have been a mockup, and it's unclear if it ever actually flew.

It is also unclear in hindsight if killing off the TDR-1 was the wrong decision. The TDR-1 had some potential, but the television system was very crude, with poor contrast and resolution. It was only adequate for picking out large distinct targets in relatively bright daylight conditions, and the complexity of the bulky electronics suggested that keeping things working in rough field conditions would be troublesome. The video link back from a drone was also easily jammed; the Allies had quickly developed jammers to neutralize German radio-guided glide bombs, and there was nothing to prevent the Axis powers from developing simple jammers of their own to neutralize the assault drones.

Later, of course, improvements in television technology coupled with experience in remote control operations allowed the development of other weapons, missiles and UAVs which are related to the early days of STAG-1, the TDR-1 and LCDR Delbert S. Fehney, later RADM Delbert S. Fehney, the "father of Navy guided missiles."

An excellent website devoted to the STAG-1 group can be accessed here. I have borrowed a couple of snapshots taken of the video feed to the TBM-1C's. See also Evanflys.com from which some pictures have been borrowed.

What may be the last remaining TDR-1 is on display at the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola.


You may not have heard much about this Navy effort both because it was kept secret until 1990 and because of its relatively short life span. But give a salute to the men who were trying hard to make it work.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Piracy Reports to 24 September 2009


From ONI's Piracy Analysis and Warning Weekly (PAWW) report:

GULF OF ADEN: General cargo ship (BBC PORTUGAL) fired upon 20 Sep 09 at 1545 local time while underway in position 12:49.48N – 048:11.82E. One speed boat with seven armed men onboard approached the vessel. The master activated counter-piracy measures, and an armed security team onboard exchanged gunfire with the men in the speedboat. The speedboat aborted its attack headed towards the Yemeni coast. An Australian warship responded to the call and boarded the speedboat, confiscating their weapons before releasing them (Operator, IMB, AFP).

2. GULF OF ADEN: Bulk carrier fired upon 19 Sep 09 at 0605 UTC while underway in position 13:52N – 051:07E. Approximately seven armed men in a six meter long, white colored skiff fired upon the vessel. They attempted to board the vessel but were unable to do so due to the evasive maneuvers and counter-piracy measures taken by the crew. The master contacted coalition forces for assistance. The men aborted the attempt upon seeing a coalition helicopter arriving at the scene. No injuries to the crew were reported (IMB).


Tanker fired upon 19 Sep 09 at 0550 UTC while underway in position 13:52.10N – 051:04.17E. Four men armed with machine guns in a six meter long, white colored skiff, fired upon the vessel. The master raised the alarm, increased speed, took evasive maneuvers, informed ships in the vicinity and contacted coalition warships for assistance. The crew mustered and activated counter-piracy measures. A coalition helicopter arrived and the men in the skiff aborted the attack. No injuries to the crew were reported (IMB).

Attempted Boarding’s:

1. GULF OF ADEN: Bulk carrier reported attempted boarding 19 Sep 09 at 0600 UTC while underway in position 13:54.2N – 051:09.8E. Approximately six armed men in a white colored speedboat attempted to attack the vessel while it was underway with a convoy of two other vessels. The master altered course and contacted coalition warships for assistance while the crew activated counter-piracy measures. The speedboat chased the vessel for 20 minutes and aborted the attempt upon arrival of a coalition helicopter (IMB).

Nigeria activities from ONI Worldwide Threat to Shipping Report (to 23 Sept 09):
G. WEST AFRICA:
.
1. NIGERIA: Vessel boarded 21 Sep 09 while underway outside Lagos port. Nine robbers in two boats came close to the astern of the vessel. One of the robbers managed to get onto the stern ramp recess. The crew spotted the robbers and shouted at them. Upon seeing the crew alertness, the robbers aborted their attempt and moved away (IMB).
.
2. NIGERIA: Cargo ship robbed 20 Sep 09 at 0815 local time while underway in position 03:59N - 006:46E, Bonny River. Six armed men boarded the vessel, stealing ship's stores and cash. They ransacked the crew cabins, stole personal belongings and left the vessel after approximately one hour. No injuries to the crew were reported (IMB).
.
3. NIGERIA: Tanker robbed 6 Sep 09 at 2130 UTC while at berth in Koko port, western Niger Delta. After discharging operations, approximately 50 robbers boarded the vessel from the jetty. They attempted to steal the remaining palm oil from the vessel, but the crew managed to prevent it. The robbers were very aggressive, and the crew was forced to take shelter in the superstructure. Attempts to contact authorities were unsuccessful. The robbers stole ship's stores and then escaped (IMB).
.
4. NIGERIA: Vessel fired upon 15 Sep 09 at 1315 local time while operating near the Oron Jacket platform in the Oron field. Approximately 12 armed men in two long boats approached the vessel. The captain succeeded in contacting security vessels, who responded by exchanging gunfire with the armed robbers. The two boats eventually fled the scene. No further information was reported (Risk Intelligence/MaRisk).
.
5. NIGERIA: Tug briefly hijacked, vessel robbed 7 Sep 09 at 0600 UTC in position
03:53.50N - 006:47.50E, approximately 30NM from Port Harcourt. Nine men armed with automatic weapons in a speedboat boarded and hijacked an offshore tug. They then used the tug to board another vessel in the vicinity. They robbed crew members of personal belongings and then left both vessels after approximately 40 minutes (IMB).

Somali Pirates: Killers

Somali pirates have reportedly killed an uncooperative ship's captain as set out here:
Somali pirates boarded a Panama-flagged ship heading for Mogadishu on Thursday and killed its Syrian captain after he refused to turn the vessel away from the port, officials said.

"The pirates killed the captain after he refused to turn the ship. Usually, we send police when commercial ships draw near the port but the pirates were already on board and opened fire injuring one policeman," Abdiasis Hassan, minister for ports, told Reuters.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

MV Arctic Sea: Mystery of the Summer


A reporter for the UK Guardian works through most of the possibilities of piracy/hijack for ransom/Russian weapons smuggling/Israeli intervention, etc.

Reported as Was the cargo ship Arctic Sea really hijacked by pirates?
It began as a curio item on an obscure maritime website and grew into the mystery of the summer. What exactly happened to the Arctic Sea, the enigmatic cargo ship allegedly seized by pirates, not off the wild coast of Somalia but in the genteel EU waters of the Baltic?
Good question, not much help with the answer.

Thursday Reading

Another Thursday! Time for Maritime Monday 180 wherein Fred Fry has photos from a Danish shipping company - and 67 other links (feel free to count them yourselves and let me know if I miscounted) all connected to maritime matters. Go on, it'll keep you busy for a couple of hours.

David Axe goes to see with the U.S. Navy to hunt pirates. Finds ---- boredom. And lots of ocean. Here.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Piracy Round Up (23 September 2009)

Australian Navy breaks up a Somali pirate ship hunt, as set out here:
Australian sailors from the warship HMAS Toowoomba have thwarted a pirate attack in the Gulf of Aden, boarding a suspect vessel and seizing a cache of military weapons.
***
The incident occurred late on Sunday night after Toowoomba, an Anzac class frigate, received an emergency call from the freighter MV BBC Portugal, reporting a boat carrying an armed group was approaching at high speed.
***
As Toowoomba sailed at top speed towards BBC Portugal, coalition P-3 Orion maritime surveillance aircraft and a naval helicopter from another coalition warship spotted the suspect vessel.

They confirmed sighting weapons on the vessel and also that the crew had disposed of a number of items overboard, including a ladder.

On reaching the scene, Toowoomba launched her boarding team to investigate.

A search of the vessel revealed a rocket-propelled grenade launcher (RPG), six AK-47 assault rifles, a G-3 assault rifle and a large quantity of ammunition.
UPDATE: There's more to the story than is reported above. Gulf of Aden Group Transits reports that there was a Yemeni Navy team on BBC Portugal and sends along this:
Late afternoon of Sunday 20th of September, a Bulk Carrier reported an approach of a skiff while in the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor in the Gulf of Aden. On board of the Bulk Carrier a unit of the Yemeni Navy was embarked. On sighting of these military personnel the skiff abandoned the approach and tried to flee as reported by the merchant vessel to the UK Maritime Trade Organization in Bahrain. UKMTO alerted other merchant vessels and the Counter Piracy Forces on MERCURY, the EU introduced common counter piracy communication system.

Thereupon a Japanese P3 reconnaissance aircraft, already on site, reported position information to other Counter Piracy forces. The Australian warship Toowoomba of CTF 151, closest to the skiff, was assisted by the helicopter of the German EU NAVFOR warship FGS Bremen in stopping the fleeing skiff. On sighting of the helicopter unknown items and a ladder were thrown over the bow of the skiff and all eight persons on the skiff raised their arms awaiting the boarding team of HMAS Toowoomba. During the boarding all piracy related paraphernalia were seized and destroyed. The helicopter of FGS Bremen continued to secure the area from the air.

This is just one example of the excellent coordination and cooperation between the Counter Piracy Task Forces active in the Gulf of Aden. The use of the common communication system MERCURY proved its utility again.

FGS Bremen takes part in the EU NAVFOR mission Operation ATALANTA. The main tasks of Operation ATALANTA are to escort merchant vessels carrying food of the ‘World Food Program’ (WFP), the protection of vulnerable ships in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean and to deter and disrupt piracy.
GOAGT adds:
We had placed an armed Yemen Navy team on the vessel and it is they who fired warning shots to the pirates to ward them off whilst we called for coalition assets to assist to which a multinational scenario played out involving the German, Australian and Japanese Navy who all supplied assets to the cause.

However the underlying fact is that the embarked Yemen Navy team thwarted the attack – NOT the Australians.....
(end Update) M/V BBC Portugal Photo Copyright by Ashley Hunn, from Shipspotting.com and is used in accordance with terms set forth therein.

South Korean Navy stops Somali pirates, as set out in Destroyer Rescues 3 Vessels From Pirates Off Somalia:
A Korean naval unit has rescued three foreign vessels from being hijacked by pirates operating off the coast of Yemen as part of a U.S.-led anti-piracy campaign, Yonhap News reported Sunday.

The Dae Jo Yeong, a destroyer with the South Korean naval unit Cheonghae, Sunday rescued three ships registered under Cyprus, the Marshal Islands and the Bahamas from pirates near waters off Yemen at 3:13 p.m. on Saturday, military officials here said.
***
The unit, which rescued five Yemeni sailors captured by the pirates the previous day, has so far successfully intervened in nine separate pirate raids.

Naval officials said they released the pirates, who had used a boat registered to Yemen as their mode of transportation, due to the difficulties involved in processing and bringing legal charges against them.
How the international warships off Somalia talk even if they aren't good friends, explained here by StrategyPage:
So the British took the initiative of establishing a "neutral" communications channel for all the warships on anti-piracy patrol. This is a secure Internet based communication system called Mercury. All the ships engaged in counter-piracy operations have access to Mercury. This makes it possible for ships to request information, or cooperation, from other ships, despite whatever currently icy diplomatic conditions may exist between the two nations involved. Thus the Iranian warships can discretely work together with U.S. warships.

Ship attacks rise to 5 year high in South China Sea:
Increased naval patrols in the Straits of Malacca have forced pirates in Asia to move their operations to the South China Sea, where the number of attacks on ships is at a five-year high, an official said Tuesday.

At least 10 ships were attacked in the South China Sea so far this year, the latest on Saturday when six pirates boarded a Singapore-registered liquefied petroleum gas tanker, said Amy Fang of the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia, or ReCAAP.

The attackers assaulted the duty officer and robbed the ship's crew, Fang said.

She said it was "worrying" that 10 attacks have taken place with more than three months still to go this year, compared to nine attacks in 2005 in South China Sea.

"The pirates seem to have more heavy weapons" than before, and are attacking ships rather than just threaten the crew, Fang told The Associated Press from the Singapore base of ReCAAP, an information-sharing group sponsored by 17 countries in the region to fight piracy.
One such attack, reported by ReCAAP (arrow points to general area of attack):

MV Arctic Sea: It's Baack! - The Mystery, that is


I guess it's too good a story to die: AFP: New mystery surrounds Arctic Sea's destination
Fresh mystery surrounded the destination of the Arctic Sea, allegedly hijacked for weeks by pirates, on Tuesday after Russia said it is no longer trying to dock the ship in Spain's Canary Islands. Russia's embassy in Madrid and Spain's foreign ministry told AFP that Russian authorities had withdrawn their request for permission to dock at Las Palmas and did not know where the Maltese-flagged vessel is heading. The request was formally withdrawn on Friday, a Spanish diplomat said, the same day that Russian investigators unloaded evidence from the Arctic Sea onto a Russian warship to be taken to the Black Sea port of Novorossiisk.
For those of you unfamilir with the MV Arctic Sea, see here and here and - well, just click on the "MV Arctic Sea" label below . . .

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Torpedo Boats In The Solomons Campaign: Littoral Warfare

Torpedo Boats

1101. The motor torpedo boat is a relatively small craft with great speed and striking power essentially offensive in character. Weapons consist of torpedoes, machine guns and usually depth charges. Its main defensive power lies in its small size, speed, maneuverability, ability to lay smoke and cruise silently at slow speeds.

1102. The primary mission of motor torpedo boats is to attack enemy surface ships. Their high speed, and torpedo armaments make them most suitable for surprise attacks against enemy vessels on the surface, at night or during low visibility. –From Motor Torpedo Boats, Tactical Orders and Doctrine, July 1942

December 9, 1942: Off the coast of Guadalcanal the Japanese submarine I-3 slinks toward the shore, attempting to land supplies for the Japanese troops trying to wrest control of the island and its important air field from American Marines and soldiers. A couple of U.S. Navy torpedo boats are patrolling the littorals and are on watch for just such a resupply effort. They spot a Japanese cargo barge and then - the submarine itself. Speeding in on the attack, PT-59 fires two torpedoes, one of which hits the surfaced submarine and detonates, setting off secondary explosions and sinking this part of Japanese logistics effort.

Since the Allies went on the offensive in the Pacific by landing on Guadalcanal, on other nights, larger ships of the Allied fleet have slugged it out with the Japanese fleet that was trying to obliterate the fragile American toehold at Henderson Field. The battles take place at night because with Henderson and other fields, the Allies have daylight air supremacy. Daytime belongs to the Allies. At night, the Japanese rule the seas, being more practiced at night operations and having a vastly superior torpedo. For months sea battles are fought, cruiser and destroyers come to litter the bottom the waters off Savo Island – waters that come to be known as “Iron Bottom Sound” for the number of disemboweled ships resting on the sea floor.

Fighting through the Allied response, the Japanese land thousands of troops to push the Americans off Guadalcanal. Still, the Americans hold, enduring rigors of war possibly not seen since the American Civil War -disease, malnutrition, a fierce enemy and the “Tokyo Express” roaring down Bougainville Strait bringing supplies for troops and heavy guns to blast Henderson Airfield.

It’s all about the airfields, all about having fixed bases to fly aircraft to attack the next island, to oppose enemy airplanes, to cover the “hop” to the next island and another airfield.

The U.S. Navy is fighting on a shoe string, paying the price for not being prepared for war. The Japanese fleet has proved superior at night fighting and has better torpedoes. Running out of big ships in late 1942, the U.S. Navy tries an experiment – it brings into battle a small group of wooden- hulled, high speed torpedo boats. These Torpedo Patrol Boats (PT) boats offer a high level of firepower for their weight. They also have serious disadvantages. Unlike larger ships, the PT boats cannot operate for weeks at sea – they need support bases and shore based shops for engine maintenance and hull repair. As Captain Robert J. Bulkley, Jr. set out in At Close Quarters: PT Boats in the United States Navy wrote:

“They were not designed to patrol hundreds of miles to sea, but to deliver sudden punches close to shore and relatively near their bases.”

The experiment went forward.

Four PT boats were shipped and towed near the Solomons. They then headed for the island of Tulagi (taken from the Japanese at the same time as Guadalcanal) where they will be based arriving October 12, 1942. Another four boats arrive on October 25.

There are now eight American PT boats in the Solomons. None of them and not many of their crews has ever been in combat. For the next four months they all will see plenty of it.

A Very Little History

It was the Russians who first used “torpedo launches” when fighting the Ottoman Empire in 1877 in waters near the coast – the littorals. They used fast boats firing self-propelled torpedoes to sink a ship. Soon small, fast, cheap torpedo boats became all the naval rage – especially for “lesser” powers who sought to counteract massive battleships without having to cash in the royal jewels to pay for them.

The idea was simple: Release a swarm of torpedo boats which in turn release a swarm of torpedoes and you might just sink that cruiser or battleship – with minimal risk of losing your entire fleet. High speed and maneuverability would protect the torpedo boats from the big slow battleships and cruisers of the day.

Not that these new weapons weren’t met by counter-weapons. You may recall that the modern “destroyer” began life as the “torpedo boat destroyer,” designed to protect major ships from gnat sized boats with a big bite.

The U.S. Navy toyed with torpedo boats during World War I, but, safely protected by vast oceans, let the torpedo boat concept lie fallow until shortly before World War II. After an exceptionally short period of testing, boats were ordered. The first modern American PT boats were built by Elco, Higgins and Huckins.

The Elco boats were 77 feet long, powered by three V-12 Packard aircraft engines. In theory these boats could hit 50 knots and yet had a draft of only 5 feet, making them ideal for inshore operations. They carried up to four torpedoes and an assortment of automatic weapons.

It was the torpedoes and the speed that mattered most. The torpedoes could, if working properly, sink or severely damage large ships. The speed could allow the boats to escape harm by racing in for attack and back out.


Speed had a disadvantage. The boats did have a rather large wake. As the book Motor Torpedo Boats, Tactical Orders and Doctrine notes:

1202. The wakes of motor torpedo boats at high speeds are visible considerable distances, both from the air and surface. The wake of center engine is less visible than that of wing engines. These factors should always be considered when planning operations unless satisfactory wake camouflaging apparatus is installed.


In the Solomons

1204. Employed in tactical units of relatively large numerical strength, the motor torpedo boat squadron becomes a powerful offensive weapon.

Remember the concept of PT boats – swarm attacks at high speed:

These early PT boats have no radar. They must see their target before they can engage it. And they must hope that they see their target before their target sees them.

Moonless nights or nights in which visibility is hampered by rain, like those favored by the “Tokyo Express” are tough on PT boat crews. To try to get ahead of the Japanese, the PT boats post pickets on either side of Savo Island, hoping that a boat will spot the Express as it rumbles by and that a radio signal will tell the other boats which direction to head.

The boat crews know when to go out because coast watchers on islands up the Solomon chain report in. “Ten destroyers inbound” “Two cruisers and 4 destroyers coming through Bougainville Straits.”

The coast watchers are far enough away that the Japanese run by them in daylight. Daylight also means that Allied aircraft can go ship hunting – and the follow up to coast watcher reporting is often attacks by B-17s, B-24s and dozens of fighters. The Japanese pay a price in their efforts to reinforce and resupply Guadalcanal.

At the end of that chain of forces attacking the Japanese navy in October 1942 are eight PT boats. The boats are skippered and operated by young men. Men who understand that speed means life. Night after night they go out, ragged, sick. Boats are cobbled together to keep them running. The main fleet has taken a pounding – Iron Bottom Bay speaks of it. Now, often the night belongs to the gnats.Rarely are all eight ready. They go out in pairs. They lurk in the shadows waiting.

The PT skippers dodge shell fire, coral reefs and work their way into firing positions. Throttles on full, the boats begin their runs – closing to inside 500 yards, torpedoes unleashed. Explosions, but -too often it seems - there is something wrong with the American torpedoes. What appear to the boat crews as certain hits turn out to be premature explosions . . . but the crews fight on. Night after night.

Every now and then, a definite success, as with the submarine I-3 or, a couple of days later the destroyer Terutsuki hit by a PT torpedo and sunk. Terutsuki was part of a twenty destroyer force. At least part of that group sprang a trap on the PT boats. December 11 marked another PT boat sunk by enemy action.

The point is not that the PT boats did or didn’t take out battleships or cruisers. They were not operated as attack squadrons with the ability to swarm a target from several directions. They operated in pairs, maintaining as stealthy posture as possible until they could attack. They were not guided or directed by radar during this time – finding the enemy was based on “feel” and luck. What cannot be doubted is the bravery of the crews and that they applied every ounce of skill they had to try to stop the enemy.

This tiny force saved lives among the Marines and soldiers on Guadalcanal as they unhesitatingly threw themselves against bigger ships with bigger guns.

In time, the combination of air superiority and improved Allied naval tactics caused the Japanese to alter their plans of resupply. At first they attempted to float supplies ashore in drums pulled by barges. The PT boats helped break up that effort. When the Japanese began just tossing drums full of supplies into the waters near Guadalcanal in hopes that they might drift ashore, the PT boats cruised the inshore areas, blasting all the drums they came across.

As the American war effort picked up, things got better for the PT boats:

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. (Bulkley, p 93)

Finally, surprisingly quickly, the Japanese withdrew their forces from Guadalcanal. The Americans and their allies had won a major offensive. But the battle of the Solomons continued as the Japanese built new air bases on other islands. And the PT boats went after them there, too.

In the summer of 1943, the PT boats were back in the interdiction business – attempting to stop the flow of men and supplies by Japanese barges to the new airfields. As the war moved up the Solomons, the PT boats moved too. PT boats moved to two bases near Rendova and with their new primary mission:

The situation had changed since the first days at Tulagi. Now we had the preponderance of sea power. Our cruisers and destroyers shelled enemy positions on New Georgia and Kolombangara at will, and in the Battle of Kula Gulf on July 5/6, the Battle of Kolombangara on 12/13 July, and the Battle of Vella Gulf, on August 6, in which they sank a total of three destroyers and a light cruiser, convinced the enemy that he would have to place his main reliance on coastal barges rather than the Tokyo Express to transport troops and supplies to his bases on New Georgia, Kolombangara, Arundel, Gizo, and the small neighboring islands. The barges were relatively expendable, and could operate close to shore in waters inaccessible to ships of deeper draft. Vulnerable to aircraft attack by day, they usually passed the daylight hours nestling against the shore, well camouflaged by freshly cut leaves and palm fronds, and made their runs at night, preferably in the dark of the moon. Barges became the Japanese lifeline. For the rest of the Solomons campaign, barge hunting was to be the principal mission of the PT's. (Bulkley,p116)

Barge hunting became the principal occupation of the PT's, both at Rendova and at Lever Harbor. From their first contact on July 21 until the end of August, the Rendova boats encountered 56 barges and 5 small auxiliary ships. They claimed 8 barges and 1 auxiliary sunk, 3 barges and 1 auxiliary probably sunk, and 6 barges and 1 auxiliary damaged. The Lever Harbor boats, which had their first barge action on August 3, engaged 43 or 44 barges from then until the end of the month, of which 2 were sunk, 1 was forced to be beached, and 8 to 16 were hit with possible damage.(Bulkley, p.127)

It was from a Rendova base that the future president, John Kennedy, started his ill-fated first combat experience with PT-109.

Don’t discount barges in terms of fighting capability. Too shallow in draft to be attacked with torpedoes, each barge required a PT boat to close to the range of its guns and that also put the PT boats in the range of guns on the barges. Some the barges were armored and posed quite a challenge to the PT “barge busters.”

The Japanese had learned few tricks along the way – that distinctive wake of the PT boats brought nightly attacks by Japanese planes homing in on the wakes. Further,

Japanese countermeasures against PT's included the mounting of heavier guns--up to 40mm.--on their barges, and installation of shore batteries along the barge routes. Lieutenant Commander Kelly reported late in August, "Heavily armored large barges with 40mm. and machine-guns escort the medium barges which carry only machine-guns and/or 20 mm. In order to sink a barge, the range must be closed well within 100 yards and more than 1,000 rounds of .50 caliber and 500 rounds of 20mm. are required . . . This requires laying to at point blank range of shore batteries and barges for approximately 10 minutes which is tantamount to sacrificing the PT boat.” (Bulkley, p.130)

The U.S. Navy invited Army soldiers to go to sea to fight barges, as set out by Richard H. Wagner, in Barge-Busting With The PT Boats, describing the exploits of his father, George Wagner:

It is not clear who came up with the idea but after fighting in the jungles and swamps of New Georgia … Soldiers were ordered to rendezvous with some PT boats along the coast and to bring their automatic weapons.

The mission was to assist the Navy in fighting the barges that were shuttling troops between New Georgia and the Japanese stronghold on the neighboring island of Kolombangara.

The primary barge used by the Japanese in the Solomons was the Type A Daihatsu. This metal-hulled craft was nearly 50 feet long and weighed about eight tons. It was capable of carrying up to 120 men or 15 tons of cargo. It was no greyhound as it could only do about one knot. However, they traveled by night and hid along the jungle shore during the daytime, making it difficult for them to be spotted by airplanes.

The coxswain and the engine room were armor-protected. In addition, each Daihatsu came equipped with two machine guns. This armament was frequently supplemented in the field by 40mm guns as well as by the firepower of the troops that the barge was carrying. Thus, the barges were formidable opponents for the wooden PT boats...

Some of the PT boats had radar but they also relied upon lookouts for the difficult task of spotting the barges against the dark shorelines. Black Cat night aircraft would also occasionally guide the boats to their targets.

The soldiers took up positions on the PT boats as they proceeded along the coast in the darkness. George set up the BAR on the bow of the boat.

Bullets from the PT boats' machine guns and lighter caliber weapons could not penetrate the armored sides of the Daihatsus. However, their continuous fire kept the heads of the Japanese gunners and troops down. This enabled the PT boats to maneuver behind the barges where they were more vulnerable.

When a barge was discovered, the night would erupt in a blaze of tracer fire. The Soldiers and the PT boat's guns firing and the fire returning from the barge. The opponents were at point blank range, separated by some 20 yards - - the Japanese relying on the barge's protective armor while the PT boat maneuvered for advantage in the shallow water. In a few moments of intense fire it was all over with the barge disabled or sinking.

The war continued to move north toward Japan, with the PT boats also continuing to harass enemy logistics flow, quite successfully, it seems. Captured Japanese reports refer to the challenges presented to barge operations by the PT boats.

Eventually, the war moved out of the Solomons and so did the fighting PT boats.

In retrospect, the PT boats suffered early from a lack of numbers, lack of radar and faulty torpedoes. Whether they could have sunk more ships will never be known. What is known is that their crews were brave men who undertook a challenging task and did it as well as their equipment allowed them to. Whatever failures one can find in the PT operations in the Solomons, it was never because of the crews.

Sources:

Breuer, William, Devil Boats: The PT War Against Japan, Presidio Press, Novato 1995

Bulkley, Robert J, At Close Quarters: PT Boats in the United States Navy, Naval History Division, Washington: 1962 (available online here)

Morison, Samuel E., The Two Ocean War, Little Brown, Boston 1963

Potter, E.B.(editor), Sea Power, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis 1981

Wagner, Richard H. Barge-Busting With The PT Boats (Originally published by the Navy League of the United States, New York Council in The Log, Fall 2007) (Available on line here)

Cross-posted here.


UPDATE: See also PT Boats, Inc..

HNSA "Know your PT Boat".

HNSA "Motor Torpedo Boats, Tactical Orders and Doctrine"