Cover image for The sea hawks : with the PT boats at war
The sea hawks : with the PT boats at war
Hoagland, Edgar D.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Novato, CA : Presidio Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
viii, 237 pages, 10 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, map ; 23 cm
Reading Level:
1090 Lexile.
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
D773 .H63 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Starting as an ensign assigned to an Atlantic-based destroyer author Hoagland participated in Operation Torch, the 1942 invasion of North Africa. Thirsting for greater adventure than he found in the blue-water navy, Hoagland volunteered for PT boat duty. Following training and familiarization he and his crew were off to the Pacific. Not unexpectedly, here he found more than enough adventure. Following a short stint as the group's engineering officer (duty he detested), our intrepid sailor was given command of a PT boat squadron and went back to sea.

In addition to the author's remarkable experiences during the war, The Sea Hawks is noteworthy for its concreteness and specificity. It illuminates for the reader how the PT boats and their plucky crews battled the Japanese, what life was like with the boats, as well as details about the boats themselves, their weapons, and tactics.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

There are several general histories of the U.S. Navy's PT boats in World War II but few memoirs by the rapidly diminishing number of men who sailed and fought in them. In 1940, Hoagland was a well-off young New Englander, accustomed to small boats and knowing that war was imminent. So he enlisted in the navy, served two years in destroyers, then transferred to PTs. He commanded a boat, served as a squadron engineering officer, and finally commanded a PT squadron in the liberation of the Philippines. For his leadership and courage, he won both the Silver and Bronze Stars. He will not win any medals for fine writing, and he makes an occasional factual error (the battleship Texas had 14-, not 15-, inch guns). But he also had an honorable, even distinguished career in a demanding branch of naval warfare, and he tells a tale worth telling about it, certainly useful for quite a range of maritime and World War II library collections. --Roland Green

Publisher's Weekly Review

If not as elegantly written as John F, Kennedy's PT 109, this no-frills tale of boats and men at war gives a clear account of life aboard the dangerous fighting boats of the Pacific war. Hoagland was 24 in 1940, a college graduate convinced that the U.S. would not long remain at peace. He joined the U.S. Navy as an officer candidate and, once commissioned, was assigned to a destroyer. Finding convoy work and participation in the North African invasion too tame, Hoagland volunteered for PT boats. The rest of his war was spent in the Pacific as a boat captain, then as a squadron commander. He participated in all the missions of the "plywood navy," strafing shore defenses, stalking barges, rescuing downed airmen. Kamikaze pilots found PT boats attractive targets, and small arms fire posed a mortal risk to laminated wooden hulls full of gasoline and high explosives. Hoagland earned a silver star for leading a mission that destroyed a Japanese PT base. As a squadron commander, he rode the lead boat into action as a matter of course. Hoagland's narrative is matter-of-fact, with neither retrospective swagger nor false modesty. He tells tales of other PT men, some he served with and some that are just part PT lore. He leaves no doubt of his conviction that the PT boats and their volunteer crews belonged to the navy's elite. We were "aggressive, determined, innovative and independent." His book offers a portrait of the ideal of an American citizen officer: learning his craft on the job, leading by skill and example, becoming a warrior while remaining decent and honorable. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Mining the popularity of World War II memoirs, Hoagland's literary debut offers a rather flat and uninspiring personal record of his own wartime experiences in the U.S. Navy serving aboard a destroyer in the Atlantic and commanding PT boats in the Pacific. There is much activity here, but little drama, less humor, and no spark. Hoagland is a former naval officer whose PT boat exploits would be intense and exciting if his narrative were not so dull and self-promotional. His descriptions of PT boat tactics and operations against Japanese warships, barges, and shore installations are clear and realistic, and his cocky view of war is obvious. However, this book, with its 50-year hindsight, comes across as a transparent exercise in cavalier self-image, with the author throwing a lot of credit in his own direction. Best are his sketches of kamikaze attacks, rescues of downed pilots, and shore bombardment of enemy-held islands in the Philippines. Otherwise, this is a forgettable memoir.ÄCol. William D. Bushnell, USMC (ret.), Brunswick, ME (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One SEPTEMBER 1940 * FEBRUARY 1942 When I reported for duty, five hundred of us went aboard the battleship New York for a month's cruise to Panama and back. The cruise was the start of our training. We were apprentice seamen and were issued white bell-bottom trousers, blouses, and round hats. We had classes in gunnery, seamanship, and navigation, and lectures on naval etiquette and leadership.     The weather was warm two days south of New York City, the food was great, the ship's enlisted men and officers could not do enough for us, and we had great fun sleeping in hammocks. We all sat on the foredeck one clear night and watched as the gunners fired the main battery of nine fifteen-inch rifles. A great bloom of fire erupted from each gun, and the roar was impressive. We had liberty in Norfolk, Virginia, and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.     On the next leg to Panama, when we had free time, we would form small groups and talk navy, discuss the future and the war we knew was coming, and relax in the sun. Expletives became more numerous and varied as we listened to the enlisted men of the ship's company. One of my group was a Harvard graduate and obviously well born and carefully raised. For two weeks he never said "damn." Then he matured, and he got up from the deck one afternoon and said with a grin, "I think I'll f--k off aft."     When the New York dropped the hook off Colon, Panama, there were two Japanese merchant ships in the harbor. Even then, a year and a half before Pearl Harbor, we looked at them as enemies. Liberty in Colon was great fun, with lots to see, hundreds of sailors, fights, stores full of interesting goods, and more fights. I bought two pairs of heavy silk pajamas for three dollars. One was green with a red dragon on the back, and the other was white with a green dragon. I wore them for four years during the war, until they were reduced to rags.     When we finished the cruise, we were midshipmen. I chose to wait until June 1941 to attend the midshipmen's three-month course aboard the Prairie State , an old battleship moored at 168th Street and the Hudson River. When I walked up the gangway and arrived at the desk of Lieutenant Commander Currier, USNR, I received my first great disappointment. He found my name on a list and announced that I was an engineer. Up to that point, I had assumed, because I had graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree, that I would be assigned to deck officer training: gunnery, navigation, and seamanship. I wanted to be topside, where the shells would be flying around. I could not even come close to that standing watches in an engine room.     "Commander, I'm not an engineer; I graduated with a business degree. I don't want engineering. I want to be a deck officer."     "Midshipman, you had good marks in math, chemistry, and physics. We need engineers. You are an engineer, and that is final."     "Yes sir, Commander." I was so mad, I felt like punching someone, but I smiled and choked down the disappointment. As it turned out, everything worked out beautifully in the future.     We had great fun on the Prairie State and made good friends. There were five hundred of us. Our instructors were from previous classes and were almost all Yale graduates. There were four companies, with two battalions of two companies each, forming a regiment. One of our guys, a Harvard graduate, was the regimental commander. There were two battalion commanders and four company commanders, all from Yale. The Yale men really stuck together. The commander of my company was felled with appendicitis, and I was chosen from the ranks by Ensign Morse at assembly one day to replace him. I think it was my brilliant shoeshine that did it, because I did not graduate from Yale. I graduated from Antioch College.     The four company commanders, two battalion commanders, and regimental commander dined together for every meal. One of the battalion commanders was Sergeant Shriver. He was one of the funniest men I had ever met, and he kept us laughing for three months.     The Prairie State routine was interesting and challenging. The classes were informative, and my science education helped me with the exams. We had drilling every day, and I had to march the 125 men of my company out to the drill field and put them through the paces.     Once I learned the routine and drill procedure, everything was fine, but the first day, without any instruction, I had the company all jumbled up with right oblique and to-the-rear march. It was so bad, and I was at such a loss, that I said, "Fall out and fall in again in company formation." An ensign instructing officer from the previous class had been watching me get all fouled up, and he came over and read me off in front of the company. He was savage in his remarks, and in civilian life, I would have laid him out on the pavement, as I boxed light heavyweight in college, at six-foot-one and 185 pounds.     Unfortunately for him, Commander Currier had viewed the entire affair and verbally took him apart. He then assigned someone to give me the proper drilling instruction.     Finally, at the end of three months of instruction, graduation day arrived, and we received our commissions and took the oath to defend the navy and our country. We all were assigned to destroyers. My orders stated that I was to report for duty aboard the U.S.S. Ellyson , a brand-new destroyer, fitting out at federal shipyards in Kearny, New Jersey.     I remember that while walking through the shipyard to report aboard my ship, I stopped to admire two beautiful antiaircraft light cruisers, bristling with six-inch, 40mm, and 20mm guns. They were named the U.S.S. Juneau and the U.S.S. Atlanta . Both had short lives. In a savage night battle off Guadalcanal in 1942, which killed Admirals Scott and Calahan, the Atlanta was smashed immobile by gunfire; it sank the next day. The Juneau took a torpedo at night and another the next morning in daylight, which blew her to dust when the magazines exploded. Only ten men were saved.     During the months of October and November 1941, the officers and men of the Ellyson became acquainted, lived aboard, and helped with the final fitting out.     The last and most exciting test of the acceptance trials, in which a brand-new ship is turned over to the navy, is crash astern. I was standing at the control station of the number-one engine room with Mellington, the chief machinist mate. An admiral and his staff, representing the navy, were topside on the bridge, together with the senior civilian ship builders. The Ellyson was virtually empty: no supplies, stores, or ammunition, and very little fuel, which meant she would never go faster than in her present condition.     In the engine room, we were surrounded by fresh water lines, steam lines, pumps, dials, and everything essential to a steam plant. The steam in the lines was 850 degrees superheat under 590 pounds of pressure. If a line parted at the flange, the steam could cut your arm off like an axe. All the lines were floating in hangers, because if they were rigid, they would break when the ship hogged and sagged in a heavy sea.     "Crash astern" means the ship goes from full ahead to full astern, which subjects the ship to maximum and enormous stress. Anything that is poorly built will part, buckle, or disintegrate. The Ellyson was a 1,630-ton Bristol-class destroyer and was the fastest ever built at that time. When unloaded, it produced forty knots. It had a 50,000-horsepower plant. The first 25,000 horsepower drove the ship thirty knots. It took 25,000 horsepower more to make the next ten, because the resistance of the sea grows greater with increased speed.     The order came down for crash astern. The shift in power was made, and the ship commenced to slow down. When it reached a standstill, it groaned and snapped, the lines vibrated, and the shaking and shuddering were so violent I thought the ship was going to come apart. That did not happen, and the Ellyson went from full ahead to full astern in ninety seconds and was ready for sea.     Two weeks later, on Sunday morning, December 7, the disaster at Pearl Harbor stunned and enraged the people of the United States. President Roosevelt, at a special session of Congress, said, "The date will live in infamy ... and a state of war exists between the United States and the Empire of Japan."     At 8:00 A.M. Monday morning in the Brooklyn Naval Yard, our executive officer, Lt. John Flynn, USN, told five of us naval reserve officers, "All right, you Vassarettes, now there is a war on!" He was a wonderful Irishman with great humor, and he taught us leadership. I also learned navigation from him when he shot the stars at dusk and dawn, and the sun at noon.     The engineering officer was Lt. Kenneth P. Letts, USN, a fine officer who knew the steam plant cold. I told him he had a moron for an assistant engineer, as I was a business graduate. I also told him I would do my best to learn the plant if he agreed to allow me to learn about and stand deck watches. I then gathered all the engine room chiefs together and told them that if I learned anything about the plant, it would be from them. And I promised to be the liaison between them and the captain and Letts. It was a deal. They taught me about the plant, and I took care of them and the men.     Next I went to the captain, Lt. Comdr. John B. Rooney, USN, who was a splendid leader, a great ship handler, and a true gentleman. I told him about my shafting on the Prairie State , and that I yearned to qualify as a deck officer. He said there would be no problem, because he needed all the watch standers who could qualify. At that time I was an engineer volunteer general (EVG), but in six months I qualified and became a deck engineering volunteer general (DEVG), the equal of an Annapolis graduate. Of course, not really the equal, since we were known as "ninety-day wonders."     Immediately after Pearl Harbor, we spent three weeks with drills, gunnery practice, and depth charge, man overboard, and abandon ship practice. We ended up in Newport, Rhode Island, on January 13, 1942. The next day an army pilot reported that he saw a sinking tanker off Block Island, near Montauk, my fishing grounds. We raced out of Newport at thirty knots and picked up twenty-five oil-soaked survivors from the Norness , a Norwegian ship, the first merchantman sunk by a German submarine in the western Atlantic.     Commander Destroyers Atlantic, an admiral, was based aboard a ship in Casco Bay, Maine. There, destroyers trained with sonar (echo ranging) against friendly submarines. Our squadron of nine ships gathered together for the first time.     The Ellyson was the squadron leader. While we were at Casco Bay, our squadron commander, Comdr. James L. Holloway, Jr., USN, came aboard. I did not know until this year, when I read about him in a navy magazine, that he was known after the war as Lord Jim. He was aptly named. A handsome officer, he was six-foot-two and all of 200 pounds. He was a warm, friendly leader, and extremely flamboyant, with a commanding presence and a brilliant mind. His extraordinary vocabulary, with an occasional well-chosen expletive, delighted all of us.     He was aboard for eighteen months, and I gave him his first salute when he was promoted to captain. He was called Commodore, which is the correct name for a squadron commander. When he left the Ellyson , he took charge of destroyer and destroyer escort training in Miami, Florida, and then became skipper of the battleship Iowa . His son, Adm. James Holloway, USN, rose to be chief of naval operations. They represented two generations of splendid accomplishment in the United States Navy. Copyright © 1999 Edgar D. Hoagland. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. vi
Introductionp. 1
1. September 1940-February 1942p. 5
2. February 1942-March 1942p. 12
3. March 1942-April 1942p. 19
4. April 1942-September 1942p. 37
5. December 1942-December 1943p. 51
6. December 1943-March 1944p. 56
7. March 1944-April 1944p. 67
8. April 1944-May 1944p. 72
9. May 1944-September 1944p. 80
10. September 1944-October 1944p. 95
11. October 1944-December 1944p. 105
12. December 1944-January 1945p. 115
13. January 1945-February 1945p. 125
14. February 1945-March 1945p. 136
15. March 1945-April 1945p. 147
16. Arpil 1945-May 1945p. 153
17. May 1945-June 1945p. 162
18. June 1945-July 1945p. 182
19. July 1945-August 1945p. 188
20. August 1945p. 200
Epiloguep. 207
Appendixp. 232
Bibliographyp. 237