Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Three

Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Three
Flagship pennant of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 3, flown on PT 41

Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Three was a United States Navy squadron based at Cavite, Philippines, from September 1941 to mid-April 1942. It was commanded by then-Lieutenant John D. Bulkeley and made up of six motor torpedo boats: PT 31, PT 32, PT 33, PT 34, PT 35, and PT 41, the last as the squadron flagship. The other six boats of the squadron remained at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and were there when war broke out, eventually being shipped to the Solomons.

After the outbreak of hostilities between the United States and Japan on December 7, 1941, the squadron moved from Cavite to Sisiman Cove on the Bataan Peninsula, where it helped in the defence of Bataan and Corregidor during the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. PT 31 and PT 33 were sunk during the battle.

On March 11, 1942, the remaining boats of the squadron transported General Douglas MacArthur and several high-ranking officers from Corregidor to Mindanao, an act which earned every member of the squadron the Silver Star. PT 32 was abandoned during this mission, reducing the squadron to three boats: PT 41, PT 34, and PT 35.

These three boats were based at Mindanao until mid-April 1942, where two of them (PT 41 and PT 34) attacked the Japanese cruiser Kuma, scoring at least one hit. This was to be the squadron's last action: PT 34 was destroyed by Japanese aircraft, PT 35 had to be scuttled to avoid capture, and PT 41 was commandeered by the U.S. Army to defend Lake Lanao. She was scuttled as well, three days after transfer.

Bulkeley and three other officers were later flown to safety on MacArthur's orders, with a fifth officer joining them shortly after. These five officers were all that remained of this squadron as a result. Three officers and fifteen enlisted men were killed in action or died as prisoners of war, seven evaded capture as guerrillas on Leyte, and 38 POWs were liberated after the war.

MTBS 3's exploits were immortalized in the book and film They Were Expendable. Bulkeley was awarded the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Philippine Distinguished Conduct Star, and the Silver Star during his command of the squadron, making him one of the most decorated U.S. naval officers of World War II.

List of assigned boats

  • PT 31: commanded by LTJG E. G. DeLong. Grounded and scuttled at Subic Bay, Luzon, 20 January 1942.
  • PT 32: commanded by LTJG V. E. Schumacher. Destroyed by USS Permit (SS-178) to prevent capture at Tagauayan Island, Visayas Region, 13 March 1942.
  • PT 33: commanded by LTJG H. J. Brantingham. Grounded and scuttled at Subic Bay, 15 December 1941.
  • PT 34: commanded by LT R. B. Kelley. Destroyed by air attack at Kawit Island, Mindanao, 9 April 1942.
  • PT 35: commanded by ENS A. B. Akers. Burned to prevent capture at Cebu, Visayas Region, 12 April 1942.
  • PT 41: commanded by LT J. D. Bulkeley. Squadron flagship. Burned to prevent capture near Lake Lanao, Mindanao, 15 April 1942.


Book "They Were Expendable" by William L. White. Written in 1944.

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