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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
805 KIDDER BREESE SE -- WASHINGTON NAVY YARD
WASHINGTON DC 20374-5060
Report on Loss of PT-109
[Copy of original document held by Modern
Military Branch, National Archives and Records Adminiatration,
8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740, except for sake of
clarity typographic errors were corrected, ship and boat names
were italized, and unfamiliar abbreviations are explained in brackets.]
COMMANDER MOTOR TORPEDO BOAT
SOUTH PACIFIC FORCE
13 January 1944.
Declassified (8 SEP 59)
From: Commander, Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons, South Pacific Force.
To: Commander-in-Chief, United States Fleet.
Via: Commander, South Pacific Force.
Subject: Loss of PT-109 - Information concerning.
Reference: (a) ComSoPac's secret ltr. L11-1(11) Ser. 002867 of
30 December 1943.
(A) Copy of ComMTB Rendova action report
of 1-2 August 1943.
(B) Copy of ComMTB Rendova action report of 7-8 August 1943.
(C) Copy of Intelligence Officers' Memo to ComMTB Flot One of
22 August 1943.
1. Enclosures (A), (B), and (C) are forwarded
in compliance with directive contained in reference (a).
2. Enclosures (A) and (B) are copies of action reports of Commander,
Motor Torpedo Boats, Rendova, and contain information in connection
with the loss of the PT 109. Enclosure (C) is a memorandum
compiled by Intelligence Officers of Motor Torpedo Boat Flotilla
ONE on the basis of information given them by survivors of PT
109. It is the most detailed account of this incident and
it is hoped that it will provide the information requested in
Enclosure (A) to reference (a).
E. J. MORAN.
W. C. SIECHT,
MOTOR TORPEDO BOATS, RENDOVA
5 August 1943.
Declassified (8 SEP 59)
From: The Commander.
To: The Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Fleet.
Via: Official Channels.
Subject: PT Operations night 1-2 August 1943.
1. Force: All available boats (15) on patrol.
2. Enemy contracts: Five enemy destroyers, attacked in
Blackett Strait, five or possibly six torpedo hits scored.
3. Weather: Overcast, visibility poor.
AREA B (BLACKETT STRAIT)
DIVISION B - OFF VANGA VANGA
Lt. H. J. Brantingham PT 159 OAK 27
Lt. (jg) W. F. Liebenow PT 157 OAK 21
Lt. (jg) J. R. Lowrey PT 162 OAK 36
Lt. (jg) Jack Kennedy PT 109 OAK 14
DIVISION A - OFF GATERE
Lt. A. H. Berndtson PT 171 OAK 44
Lt. (jg) P. A. Potter PT 169 OAK 31
Lt. (jg) S. Hamilton PT 172 OAK 47
Ens. E. H. Kruse PT 163 OAK 19
DIVISION R - EAST OF MAKUTI ISLAND
Lt. R. W. Rome PT 174 OAK 50
Lt. (jg) R. E. Keresey PT 105 OAK 7
Lt. (jg) R. K. Roberts PT 103 OAK 1
DIVISION C - SOUTH OF FERGUSON PASSAGE
Lt. G. C. Cookman PT 107 OAK 13
Lt. (jg) R. D. Shearer PT 104 OAK 4
Lt. (jg) D. M. Payne PT 106 OAK 10
Lt. (jg) S. D. Hix PT 108 OAK 16
INCOMING TOKYO EXPRESS
All boats on the stations above indicated by 2130.
At 2400 Division
B made radar contact indicating 5 craft approaching from the
North close to the coast of Kolombangara Island. Visual contact
was made shortly thereafter, by PT 159 which saw 4 shapes
in column heading Southeast close into the coast at 15 knots.
The PT 157 saw only two. The shapes were first believed
to be large landing craft. The PTs 159 and 157,
after directing the PTs 162 and 109 to lay to, began
closing to make a strafing attack. In a moment the enemy opened
fire with many large caliber guns, which was continued for several
minutes. PT 159 fired a spread of 4 torpedoes and the PT
157, 2 torpedoes, all at a range of about 1800 yards. The
torpedo tubes of the PT 159 flashed and one caught fire.
A large explosion was seen at the target by personnel on both
of these boats. They then retired to the Northwest laying puffs
of smoke and making frequent radical course changes, until they
were in Gizo Strait, where they lay to. It was decided that PT
157 should return to station and that the PT 159 should
return to base, as it was out of torpedoes, all of which was done.
PTs 162 and 109 lay to as directed. When the firing
began, there was so much and over such a long stretch of coast,
they thought shore batteries had opened up and retired to the
Northwest, but did not regain contact with the other two boats.
After the firing had ceased, they were joined by PT 169
from Division A, and after receiving radio orders to do so, took
up station, but did not make contract with PT 157. The
PT 169 stayed with the PTs 162 and 109 on
Division A's station off Vanga Vanga.
DIVISION A: Around 0004 Division A picked up 4 destroyers
headed close in shore off Gatere. When PT 171 got in position
it was abeam the first destroyer. Estimating its speed at 30 knots,
the PT 171 closed to 1500 yards, at which point the destroyers
fired starshells and opened fire, straddling the PT 171
and splashing water on its deck. Fire was also opened with automatic
weapons and one destroyer turned on its searchlight but did not
pick up PT 171. The PT 171 let go 4 torpedoes at
the second destroyer. The tubes flashed and the destroyers turned
directly toward it to evade. One destroyer stood on South toward
Ferguson Passage. The last destroyer was soon to drop 2 1/2 miles
behind the others. The PT 171 retired to the South laying
smoke puffs and then getting out from behind them to the right
and left. Feeling that the first destroyer might be blocking Ferguson
Passage the PT 171 reversed course and proceeded Northwest
along the reefs to the East of Gizo and out Gizo Passage departing
for base, having expended all its torpedoes. The other three boats,
PTs 170, 169 and 172 did not receive the
contact report or any message to deploy for attack and could not
fire their torpedoes after the destroyers opened fire, as PT
171 was in the way crossing their bows in its turn to the
South. Contact between PT 169 and the other 3 PTs was lost
as it reversed course to the Northwest after hearing radio message
that destroyers might be blocking Ferguson Passage. After proceeding
some distance North, (where it joined the PTs 159 and 157),
the PTs 170 and 172 were straddled by the gunfire
from the 2 destroyers, which they saw, but could not fire at because
PT 171 was in front of them, retired zig-zagging and laying
smoke puffs to the South thru Ferguson Passage. Going thru they
were attacked by 4 float planes which dropped 3 flares and 2 bombs,
which missed. They proceeded to the South and East, but returned
to station on orders at 0255. Nothing further happened.
DIVISION C: When enroute to station Southeast of Gizo
Island this section was circled by planes. At 0005, 2 ships were
picked up by the radar on the PT 107. No previous contact
report had been received, but a searchlight and gunfire had been
seen to the North. PT 107 proceeded at high speed thru
Ferguson Passage to attack, leaving the other 2 PTs behind. Inside
of Ferguson Passage the PT 107 fired a spread of 4 torpedoes
by radar. Shortly thereafter a dull red flash was seen in the
direction of the target. Course was reversed and the PT 107,
apparently undiscovered, proceeded South thru Ferguson Passage,
enroute to base, its fish expended. PTs 104, 106,
and 108 coming North thru the Passage were passed. In Ferguson
Passage all these boats were attacked by a plane, which dropped
flares and bombs and attempted to strafe the boats. There were
no injuries or damage by this attack. PTs 104, 106,
and 108 had no radar and saw nothing to fire at, however,
they proceeded into Blackett Strait where they saw an explosion
East of Makuti Island. They patrolled until ordered to resume
their original station at 0137. The rest of their patrol was negative.
DIVISION R: At 0010 this division saw gun flashed to
the North which continued for about 10 minutes, 3 or 4 much larger
flashes were seen. A flare and bombs were dropped about a mile
west of them a moment later. At 0025 the shape of ship was seen
by PT 174 to the Northeast lying to or moving very slowly,
about one mile off the shore of Kolombangara Island and seemed
to be guarding the entrance to Blackett Strait from Ferguson Passage.
She was firing at something to the West using a searchlight, all
of which illuminated her. PT 174 fired 4 torpedoes at 1000
yards range and two explosions were seen at the target. The PT
174 circled to the right, passed behind Makuti Island and
headed for Ferguson Passage. The ship fired shells which passed
overhead, so the PT 174 used smoke puffs and put on speed.
A plane also made a strafing run on it. PT 174 then proceeded
to base as it had expended all its torpedoes. PT 103 sighted
the destroyer when it turned on its searchlight. It had no previous
information of contact with the enemy. After the PT 174
fired, the PT 103 also fired 4 torpedoes at a range of
2 miles. One flash was seen about 3 minutes later and possible
a second. They retired at slow speed but when shells hit about
150' behind they increased speed and used smoke puffs. The passed
out behind Makuti Island and headed for base, having fired all
PT 105 sighted the destroyer when it turned on searchlight
and began firing to the West, but had not received the previous
advice that the enemy was in the area.
OUTGOING TOKYO EXPRESS,
DIVISION R. As related PT 105 with 2 torpedoes was
on duty at Ferguson Passage patrolling just inside on one engine.
Just before 0230 a flame flashed up to the Northwest in the middle
of Blackett Strait opposite Gatere. Gunfire immediately broke
out about a mile to the North along the Kolombangara Coast. All
of this showed the outline of a destroyer 2000 yards away to the
East moving slowly to the North at about 10 knots. PT 105
was abeam this vessel. Two torpedoes were fired, but no explosion
was observed. The PT 105 retired to the South and radioed
that a target was proceeding North,. As the PT 105 passed
thru Ferguson Passage heading for base, its fish expended, three
PTs were seen headed North thru the Passage.
DIVISION C. PT 107 had left for base, all its
torpedoes gone, PTs 104, 106, and 108 had
resumed station south of Ferguson Passage. When the explosion
and firing were seen to the North around 0215, these three PTs
went back through Ferguson Passage into Blackett Strait, but were
unable to find anything.
DIVISION A. PTs 172 and 163 which had
retired well to the South of Ferguson Passage did not resume station
until after 0255 and were too late to make contact. PT 169
was with Division B to the North in Blackett Strait.
DIVISION B. As hereinbefore set out, PTs 162
and 109 of Division B with PT 169 of Division A
were in Blackett Strait off Vanga Vanga, as was PT 157,
which however, was not in contact with them. Around 0215 the three
were due East of Gizo Island headed South, in right echelon formation
with PT 109 leading, PT 162 second and PT 169
last. PT 162 saw on a collision course, a warship headed
Northward about 700 yards away. The PT 162 turned to fire its
torpedoes, but they did not fire. The PT 162 finally turned
to the Southwest upon getting within 100 yards of the warship,
to avoid collision. Personnel aboard the PT 162 saw 2 raked
stacks, and at least 2 turrets aft, and possibly a third turret.
At the time of turning, PT 109 was seen to collide with
the warship, followed by an explosion and a large flame which
died down a little, but continued to burn for 10 or 15 minutes.
The warship when it was about 3000 yards away headed toward them
at high speed. The PT 169 stopped just before the warship
hit PT 109, turned toward it and fired two torpedoes when
abeam at 150 yards range. The destroyer straddled the PT 169
with shell fire, just after it a collision with PT 109,
and then circled left toward Gizo Island at increased speed and
The PT 169 laid smoke screen and zigzaged to the Southeast
along the reefs off Gizo Island. About 0245 a wake was seen coming
up from the near Northwest and on a parallel course. The PT
169 swung around to the left toward the ship (a destroyer)
and fired port and starboard forward torpedoes at 2000 yards.
The destroyer turned to its port just in time for the starboard
torpedo to hit its bow and explode. The PT 169 continued
its swing and retired South thru Ferguson Passage going at high
speed for 1/2 mile laying smoke and zigzaging and headed for base.
All its torpedoes gone.
PT 157 was farther North than the other 3 PTs. About
0200 the PT 157 saw a ship close in shore off Kolombangara
due East of the center of Gizo Island and fired 2 torpedoes at
it, but no explosion was seen. The ship continued Northwest at
about 5 knots, without firing and disappeared.
No further contact was made with the express. The boats remaining
on station departed for base at 0400.
5. All times are Love.
6. COMMUNICATIONS: Communications with base were good,
however, several PTs failed to put out immediate intelligible
report of contact with the enemy, with the result that the others
had no chance to get into position for an attack.
7. COMMENTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS:
(a) Contact reports giving the senders call, the type, position,
course and speed of the enemy should be radioed immediately in
plain language. PTs not making the contact should refrain from
all radio traffic themselves (except contact reports) until all
reasonable possibility of making contact has ended. The boats
making contact should continue reports of enemy position, etc.
after torpedo firing and as long as the enemy is visible or on
(b) PTs should stay together in "V" formation and
follow their division leader. All boats should fire their torpedoes
when their section leader fires, without deployment. They should
spread torpedoes about the base torpedo course of the leader.
(c) The boats should fire at shorter range. Some boats retired
without firing and had to be directed to return to station.
(d) The Mark VIII torpedo again manifested its want of capacity
to inflict real damage. Enemy destroyers kept going after certain
hits had been scored. Intelligence reports that 5 unexploded torpedoes
are on the shore of Kolombangara Island.
(e) Flashes and burning in the tubes on firing not only give
target opportunity to avoid but disclose PT positions. Not enough
interest is being taken in this matter behind the firing line.
T. G. WARFIELD.
Advance copy to:
ComAir, New Georgia
ComGen, New Georgia
MOTOR TORPEDO BOATS, RENDOVA
8 August 1943.
Serial 0038 (1)
Declassified (8 SEP 59)
From: The Commander.
To: The Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet.
Via: Official Channels.
Subject: PT Operations night 7-8 August 1943,
1. FORCE: Eight boats on patrol.
Two boats on the alert at base.
2. ENEMY CONTACTS: None.
3. WEATHER: Overcast with occasional showers, visibility
poor to fair.
AREA K (EASTERN SIDE OF LOWER VELLA GULF)
Lt. A. H. Berndtson PT 171 OAK 44
Ens. W.F. Criffin PT 168 OAK 28
Lt.(jg) D. M. Payne PT 106 OAK 10
Lt.(jg) R. D. Shearer PT 104 OAK 4
Lt.(jg) P. A. Potter PT 169 OAK 31
Lt.(jg) J. E. McElroy PT 161 OAK 33
Lt.(jg) D. S. Kennedy PT 118 OAK 6
Lt.(jg) H. D. Smith PT 154 OAK 12
All boats arrived
on station 2130, except PT 171 which waited to accompany PT 157
on the rescue mission hereinafter set out. No contacts or sightings
were made during the night by radar or otherwise. Left for base
at 0330. Enroute to base a raft with two Japs on it, made of two
empty oil drums and planks, was found five miles West of Rendova
Harbor. The Japs were taken prisoner and after delivered with
all their gear to Army Intelligence, Commanding General, New Georgia.
5. COMMUNICATIONS: Communications were good with base,
but transmissions between some of the boats were weak.
6. RESCUE MISSION: August 6, word was received from
the Coastwatcher and by Native Messenger that eleven survivors
of PT 109, sunk in a collision with an enemy destroyer
on the morning of August 2, were alive and on a small Islet near
Cross Island on the West side of Ferguson Passage. Arrangements
were made through the Offices of the Coastwatcher Organization
for the rescue. Lt.(jg) W. F. Liebenow in PT 157, assisted
by PT 171 of the regular patrol made the rescue. The Native
messengers were taken along as guides and were most helpful in
guiding the PT 157 through the reefs and in handling the
small boats. Several trips from shore over the reef to the PT
157 were required to remove all the men, three of whom had
been badly, but not critically burned. Everything went off smoothly.
The natives had fed and done everything to make the men comfortable
during their stay on the island. PT 157 returned to base
7. All times are Love.
T. G. WARFIELD.
Advance copy to:
ComAir, New Georgia
ComGen, New Georgia
MOTOR TORPEDO BOAT FLOTILLA ONE
Declassified (8 SEP 59)
Subject: Sinking of PT 109 and subsequent rescue of survivors.
of PT 109.
On the night of August 1, fourteen boats were ordered into Blackett
Strait from the Rendova PT base in anticipation of the Bougainville
Express running into Vila. Four patrol sections were formed: 1st,
under Lt. G. C. Cookman was stationed in Ferguson Passage; 2nd,
under Lt. W. Rome, whose station was East of Makuti Island; 3rd,
under Lt. A. H. Berndston stationed between Makuti Island and
Kolombangara; and the 4th, the section in which PT 109
was a part, under Lt. E. J. Brantingham stationed five miles West
of the 3rd section. Lt. Brantinghams' boats were further subdivided
into two sections; PT 159, radar equipped, operating with
PT 157, while PT 162, under the command of Lt.(jg)
J. R. Lowrey, was the lead boat of the second section with PT
109 following. PTs 159 and 162 both carried
TBYs for inter-boat communications. Instructions were issued to
Lt.(jg) Jack Kennedy, captain of PT 109, to follow closely
on PT 162's starboard quarter, which would keep
in touch with the radar equipped PT 159 by TBY. [Portable
radio equipment of low power used as emergency for TBS.]
All boats departed from Rendova at 1830 and reached their
patrol station about 2030. The 4th section patrolled without incident
until gunfire and a searchlight were seen in the direction of
the southern shore of Kolombangara. No radio or other warning
had been received of enemy activity in the area. It was impossible
to ascertain whether the searchlight came from shore or from a
ship close into shore. Presumably it was not a ship as PT 162
retired on a westwardly course toward Gizo Strait. PT 109
followed and inquired as to the source of the firing. PT 162
replied that it was believed to be from a shore battery. However,
PT 109 intercepted the following sudden terse radio message:
"I am being chased through Ferguson Passage. Have fired fish".
That was all, but it was enough to inform the group that an action
with the enemy was in progress, and a significant one. At this
time PT 169 came alongside to inquire about the firing in Blackett
Strait and to report that one of her engines was out of order.
PT 169 lay to with PTs 109 and 162 to await
In the meantime all contact with PT 109 had been lost.
Instructions from base were requested and orders were received
to resume normal patrol station. PT 162, being uncertain
as to its position, requested PT 109 lead the way back
to the patrol station, which it proceeded to do. When Lt. Kennedy
thought he had reached the original patrol station, he started
to patrol on one engine at idling speed.
The time was about 0230. Ensign Ross was on the bow as lookout:
Ensign Thom was standing beside the cockpit: Lt. Kennedy was at
the wheel, and with him in the cockpit was McGuire, his radioman;
Marney was in the forward turret; Mauer, the quartermaster was
standing beside Ensign Thom; Albert was in the after turret; and
McMann was in the engine room. The location of other members of
the crew upon the boat is unknown. Suddenly a dark shape loomed
up on PT 109's starboard bow 200-300 yards in the distance.
At first this shape was believed to be other PTs. However, it
was soon seen to be a [Japanese] destroyer identified as the Ribiki
Group of the Fubuki Class bearing down on PT 109
at high speed. The 109 had started to turn to starboard
preparatory to firing torpedoes. However, when PT 109 had
scarcely turned 30, the destroyer rammed the PT, striking it forward
of the forward starboard tube and shearing off the starboard side
of the boat aft, including the starboard engine. The destroyer
traveling at an estimated speed of 40 knots neither slowed nor
fired as she split the PT, leaving part of the PT on one side
and the other on the other. Scarcely 10 seconds elapsed between
time of sighting and the crash.
A fire was immediately ignited, but, fortunately, it was gasoline
burning on the water's surface at least 20 yards away from the
remains of the PT which were still afloat. This fire burned brightly
for 15-20 minutes and then died out. It is believed that the wake
of the destroyer carried off the floating gasoline there by saving
PT 109 from fire.
Lt. Kennedy, Ensigns Thom and Ross, Mauer, Mc McGuire and
Albert still clung to the PT 109's hull. Lt. Kennedy ordered
all hands to abandon ship when it appeared the fire would spread
to it. All soon crawled back aboard when this danger passed. It
was ascertained by shouting that Harris, McMahon and Starkey were
in the water about 100 yards to the Southwest while Zinser and
Johnson were an equal distance to the Southeast. Kennedy swam
toward the group of three, and Thom and Ross struck out for the
other two. Lt. Kennedy had to tow McMahon, who was helpless because
of serious burns, back to the boat. A strong current impeded their
progress, and it took about an hour to get McMahon aboard PT
109. Kennedy then returned for the other two men, one of whom
was suffering from minor burns. He traded his life belt to Harris,
who was uninjured in return for Harris's waterlogged kapok life
jacket which was impeding the latters' swimming. Together they
towed Starkey to the PT.
Meanwhile, Ensigns Thom and Ross had reached Zinser and Johnson
who were both helpless because of gas fumes. Thom towed Johnson,
and Ross took Zinser and Johnson who were both helpless because
of gas fumes. Thom towed Johnson, and Ross took Zinser. Both regained
full consciousness by the time the boat was reached.
Within three hours after the crash all survivors who could
be located were brought aboard PT 109. Marney and Kirksey
were never seen after the crash. During the three hours it took
to gather the survivors together, nothing was seen or heard that
indicated other boats or ships in the area. PT 109 did
not fire its Very pistols for fear of giving away its position
to the enemy.
Meanwhile the IFF [Identification, friend or foe] and all
codes aboard had either been completely destroyed or sunk in the
deep waters of Vella Gulf. Despite the fact that all water- tight
doors were dogged down at the time of the crash, PT 109
was slowly taking on water. When daylight of August 2 arrived,
the eleven survivors were still aboard PT 109. It was estimated
that the boat lay about 4 miles north and slightly east of Gizo
Anchorage and about 3 miles away from the reef along northeast
It was obvious that the PT 109 would sink on the 2nd,
and decision was made to abandon it in time to arrive before dark
on one of the tiny islands east of Gizo. A small island 3 1/2
- 4 miles to the southeast of Gizo was chosen on which to land,
rather than one but 2 1/2 miles away which was close to Gizo,
and, which, it was feared, might be occupied by the Japs.
At 1400 Lt. Kennedy took the badly burned McMahon in tow and
set out for land, intending to lead the way and scout the island
in advance of the other survivors. Ensigns Ross and Thom followed
with the other men. Johnson and Mauer, who could not swim, were
tied to a float rigged from a 2 x 8 which was part of the 37 mm
gun mount. Harris and McGuire were fair swimmers, but Zinser,
Starkey and Albert were not so good. The strong swimmers pushed
or towed the float to which the non-swimmers were tied.
Lt. Kennedy was dressed only in skivvies, Ensign Thom, coveralls
and shoes, Ensign Ross, trousers, and most of the men were dressed
only in trousers and shirts. There were six 45s' in the group
(two of which were later lost before rescue), one 38, one flashlight,
one large knife, one light knife and a pocket knife. The boats
first aid kit had been lost in the collision. All the group with
the exception of McMahon, who suffered considerably from burns,
were in fairly good condition, although weak and tired from their
That evening Lt. Kennedy decided to swim into Ferguson Passage
in an attempt to intercept PT boats proceeding to their patrol
areas. He left about 1830, swam to a small island 1/2 mile to
the southeast, proceeded along a reef which stretched out into
Ferguson Passage, arriving there about 2000. No PTs were seen,
but aircraft flares were observed which indicated that the PTs
that night were operating in Gizo not Blackett Strait and were
being harassed as usual by enemy float planes. Kennedy began his
return over the same route he had previously used. While swimming
the final lay to the island on which the other survivors were,
he was caught in a current which swept him in a circle about 2
miles into Blackett Strait and back to the middle of Ferguson
Passage, where he had to start his homeward trip all over again.
On this trip he stopped on the small island just southeast of
"home" where he slept until dawn before covering the
last 1/2 mile lap to join the rest of his group. He was completely
exhausted, slightly feverish, and slept most of the day.
Nothing was observed on August 2 or 3 which gave any hope
of rescue. On the night of the 3rd Ensign Ross decided to proceed
into Ferguson Passage in another attempt to intercept PT patrols
from Rendova. Using the same route as Kennedy had used and leaving
about 1800, Ross "patrolled" off the reefs on the west
side of the Passage with negative results. In returning he wisely
stopped on the islet southeast of "home", slept and
thereby avoided the experience with the current which had swept
Kennedy out to sea. He made the final lap next morning.
The complete diet of the group on what came to be called Bird
Island (because of the great abundance of droppings from the fine
feathered friends) consisted of coconut milk and meat. As the
coconut supply was running low and in order to get closer to Ferguson
Passage, the group left Bird Island at noon, August 4th, and using
the same arrangements as before, headed for a small islet west
of Cross Island. Kennedy, with McMahon in tow arrived first. The
rest of the group again experienced difficulty with a strong easterly
current, but finally managed to make the eastern tip of the island.
Their new home was slightly larger than their former, offered
brush for protection and a few coconuts to eat, and had no Jap
tenants. The night of August 4th was wet and cold, and no one
ventured into Ferguson Passage that night. The next morning Kennedy
and Ross decided to swim to Cross Island in search of food, boats
or anything else which might be useful to their party. Prior to
their leaving for Cross Island, one of three New Zealand P-40s
made a strafing run on Cross Island. Although this indicated the
possibility of Japs, because of the acute food shortage, the two
set out, swam the channel and arrived on Cross Island about 1530.
Immediately the ducked into the brush. Neither seeing nor hearing
anything, the two officers sneaked through the brush to the east
side of the island and peered from the brush onto the beach. A
small rectangular box with Japanese writing on the side was seen
which was quickly and furtively pulled into the bush. Its contents
proved to be 30-40 small bags of crackers and candy. A little
farther up the beach, alongside a native lean-to, a one-man canoe
and a barrel of water were found. About this time a canoe containing
two persons was sighted. Light showing between their legs revealed
that they did not wear trousers and, therefore, must be natives.
Despite all efforts of Kennedy and Ross to attract their attention,
they paddled swiftly off to the northwest. Nevertheless, Kennedy
and Ross, having obtained a canoe, for and water, considered their
visit a success.
That night Kennedy took the canoe and again proceeded into
Ferguson Passage, waited there until 2100, but again no PTs appeared.
He returned to his "home" island via Cross Island where
he picked up the food but left Ross who had decided to swim back
the following morning. When Kennedy arrived at base at about 2330,
he found that the two natives which he and Ross had sighted near
Cross Island, had circled around and landed on the island where
the rest of the group were. Ensign Thom, after telling the natives
in as many ways as possible that he was an American and not a
Jap, finally convinced them whereupon they landed and performed
every service possible for the survivors.
The next day, August 6, Kennedy and the natives paddled to
Cross Island intercepting Ross, who was swimming back to the rest
of the group. After Ross and Kennedy had thoroughly searched Cross
Island for Japs and found none, despite the natives' belief to
the contrary, they showed the two PT survivors where a two-man
native canoe was hidden.
The natives were then sent with messages to the Coastwatcher.
One was a penciled note written the day before by Ensign Thom;
the other was a message written on a green coconut husk by Kennedy,
informing the Coastwatcher that he and Ross were on Cross Island.
After the natives left, Ross and Kennedy remained on the island
until evening, when they set in the two-man canoe to again try
their luck at intercepting PTs in Ferguson Passage. They paddled
far out into Ferguson Passage, saw nothing, and were caught in
a sudden rain squall which eventually capsized the canoe. Swimming
to land was difficult and treacherous as the sea swept the two
officers against the reef on the south side of Cross Island. Ross
received numerous cuts and bruises, but both managed to make land
where they remained the rest of the night.
On Saturday, August 7, eight natives arrived, bringing a message
from the Coastwatcher instructing the senior officer to go with
the natives to Wana Wana. Kennedy and Ross had the natives paddle
them to island where the rest of the survivors were. The natives
had brought food and other articles (including a cook stove) to
make the survivors comfortable. They were extremely kind at all
That afternoon, Kennedy, hidden under ferns in the native
boat, was taken to the Coastwatcher, arriving about 1600. There
it was arranged that PT boats would rendezvous with him in Ferguson
Passage that evening at 2330. Accordingly he was taken to the
rendezvous point and finally managed to make contact with the
PTs at 2315. He climbed aboard the PT and directed it to the rest
of the survivors. The rescue was effected without mishap, and
the Rendova base was reached at 0530, August 8, seven days after
the ramming of the PT 109 in Blackett Strait.
B. R. WHITE,
Lieutenant (jg), USNR,
MTB Flotilla ONE Intelligence Officer
J. C. McClure,
Lieutenant (jg), USNR,
MTB Flotilla ONE Intelligence Officer
16 August 1997