Motor Torpedo Boat PT-59

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United States
Name: PT-59
Builder: Electric Launch Company, Bayonne, New Jersey
Laid down: 26 July 1941
Launched: 8 October 1941
Completed: 5 March 1942
  • Sold, 1947
  • Sunk, 1976
General characteristics [1]
Class and type: Elco 77-foot PT boat
Displacement: 40 long tons (41 t)
Length: 77 ft (23 m)
Beam: 19 ft 11 in (6.07 m)
Draft: 4 ft 6 in (1.37 m)
Propulsion: 3 × 1,500 shp (1,119 kW) Packard V12 M2500 gasoline engines, 3 shafts
Speed: 41 knots (76 km/h; 47 mph)
Complement: 15
  • As built:
  • 4 × 18 in (457 mm) torpedoes
  • 2 × twin .50 cal. M2 Browning machine guns in Dewandre turrets
  • 2 × .303 cal. Lewis guns
  • As PT Gunboat:
  • 2 × twin .50 cal. M2 Browning machine guns in Dewandre turrets
  • 2 × 40 mm guns (fore and aft)
  • 4 × single .30 and .50 cal. machine guns
Service record
Part of:
  • MTB Squadron 4 (July 1941-May 1942)
  • MTB Squadron 2 (May 1942-August 1944)
  • Lt. David M. Levy (May 1942-October 1943)
  • Lt. John F. Kennedy (October 1943-November 1943)

Motor Torpedo Boat PT-59 was a PT-20-class motor torpedo boat of the United States Navy, built by the Electric Launch Company of Bayonne, New Jersey. The boat was laid down as Motor Boat Submarine Chaser PTC-27, and was reclassified as BPT-11 when assigned to transfer to Britain under Lend-Lease. However, this was cancelled, and she was reclassified as PT-59 prior to launch on 8 October 1941, and was completed on 5 March 1942,[1] she is noted for being the third command of then-Lieutenant, junior grade (LTJG) John F. Kennedy (who later became President of the United States) in the Pacific Theater during World War II.

Service history[edit]

1941 to 1943[edit]

PT-59 was first assigned to Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Four, the training squadron based at Melville, Rhode Island.[1] On 9 April 1942 it accidentally fired a torpedo which hit the supply ship USS Capella, causing eight injuries, but no deaths.

It was transferred to Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Two on 7 May 1942,[1] at the end of May 1942, Ensign David M. Levy took over PT-59 and the Squadron was sent to Panama, they were to guard the canal and the Central and South American coast on anti-submarine duty. In October 1942 PT-59 departed for the South Pacific on board the Liberty ship SS Roger Williams. In November 1942 PT-59 arrived at the Solomons with MTB Squadron 2, numbering 8 boats, the Squadron was based at Sesapi on Tulagi Island.

On the night of December 9, Lt. (jg.) John M. Searles USNR, in the 59, patrolling with PT-44 at Kamimbo Bay, sighted an enemy barge, as the PT's opened fire on the barge, Searles saw a surfaced submarine. He quickly fired two torpedoes, one of which hit amidships. A geyser of water spouted high in the air, followed by tremendous explosions and a huge oil slick that spread for an hour and a half, it has been confirmed that Searles sank the submarine I-3, a vessel 320 feet long, of 1,955 tons standard surface displacement.[2]

In March 1943 PT-59 was moved forward to the Russell Islands; in the fall of 1943 David M. Levy returned to the United States and was succeeded by LTJG John F. "Jack" Kennedy as commanding officer of PT-59.

Under Kennedy's command[edit]

In October 1943, Kennedy took command of PT-59. Kennedy was given command when he chose to stay and fight in the Pacific Theater (PTO) after his second command, PT-109 was rammed and sunk by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri on the night of 2 August 1943.[3]

Before Kennedy received command, PT-59 had her torpedo tubes removed and was converted into a gunboat, it was given two 40-millimeter anti-aircraft guns, and additional .30 and .50-caliber machine guns behind shields. Kennedy set up some of the shields for live fire tests and it was found they could be breached at short range with .30 and .50-caliber machine guns at a frontal angle.[4]

On November 2, 1943, in an incident which was portrayed as an action by PT-109 in the film PT-109, PT-59 helped evacuate 40 to 50 Marines (including several dozen wounded men) from the 2nd Parachute Battalion of the 1st Marine Parachute Regiment who had been trapped during a raid on Choiseul Island. One badly wounded Marine died in Kennedy's bunk aboard PT-59 that night,[5] after the rescue, PT-59 ran out of gas on the return trip and had to be towed by PT-236.

After Kennedy's command[edit]

PT-59 remained in the Solomons until August 1944, when she and five other 77-ft Elco PT boats, including PT-36 and PT-47 were transported back to the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons Training Center at Melville, Rhode Island. It is safe to assume repairs were performed on the boat by the MTB Base Repair Training Unit. PT-59 was redesignated as a "Small Boat" and renumbered C102583 on 14 October 1944, and along with ex-PT-47, used briefly as an crash rescue boat at NAS Norfolk, before being transferred to the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 15 December 1944 to serve as a test subject for dehydration tests. Surveyed on 21 March 1947, she was then stricken and sold.


In a cruel twist of fate PT-59 quietly ended her days in the 1970s after having served (possibly since 1947) as a fishing boat in Manhattan, because this boat was thought to be the former PT-95- a 78-foot Huckins PT boat of very different design, and one with no significant wartime history (having been used only for training) - no immediate efforts were made to save the vessel. In fact PT-95 had been destroyed in Newport, Rhode Island, after her services were no longer needed, in September 1945. When the actual identity of this boat was discovered, James "Boat" Newberry, founder of PT Boats Inc., attempted to obtain the boat; however, the boat's ownership was tangled up in NYC probate court. Somehow a fire occurred, and the boat eventually sunk at its mooring, beside the 207th St. Bridge over the Harlem River, around 1976. The hull sat there for years and slowly fell apart and rotted away. Thus, an important historical artifact was lost due to a typing error.[6] What was left was eventually said to have been removed and she has since been declared destroyed by the U.S. Coast Guard, Coast Guard Sector New York.

In May 2017 Kennedy biographer William Doyle announced preliminary explorations in the Harlem River around 208th Street indicate a high likelihood that PT-59 is still there, he is looking to raise funds from Kennedy focused organizations to fully explore the area.[7]



  1. ^ a b c d Radigan, Joseph M. (2012). "PT-59". Retrieved 8 June 2012. 
  2. ^ Bulkley, Captain Robert J., Jr. (1962). At Close Quarters PT Boats in the United States Navy. Washington, D.C. Part III Guadalcanal and Beyond -- The Solomons Campaign. Retrieved 18 October 2017. 
  3. ^ "American Warriors: Five Presidents in the Pacific Theater of World War II". Archived from the original on 2012-07-07. 
  4. ^ Donovan (2001), pp. 167, 169, 173.
  5. ^ Donovan (2001), pp. 176-184.
  6. ^ Kaplan, Michael (27 May 2017). "JFK's WWII boat may be at the bottom of the Harlem River". New York Post. Retrieved 28 May 2017. 
  7. ^ Kaplan, Michael. JFK’s WWII boat may be at the bottom of the Harlem River. New York Post May 27, 2017 Accessed May 27, 2017


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