This story is loosely based on the events of future President, lieutenant John F. Kennedy. Commanding officer of motor torpedo boat PT-109 during WWII.
Salty seawater splashed his face as the boat crashed through the rough waters. The constant hum of the engine, like a swarm of mosquitos. The cool night air felt good after the sweltering heat of the day.
Ken stared endlessly into the sheer black, curtain-like night. His legs compensating for the never-ending up and down, up and down movement of the boat.
Their target? A Japanese cargo ship.
Seven other 80 ft PT boats (Patrol, Torpedo boats) identical to his own, followed behind in a scattered formation. These small, wooden boats, were designed for maximum speed and agility. Both vital elements for taking out large ships.
A scout plane had spotted the cargo ship the day before. And, of course, it was escorted by multiple destroyers. The attack plan had been set in order that day. All boats were made ready by nightfall.
It had now been over two hours since they last set out. They had to be close.
“We’ve got ‘em on our radar,” the captain said, picking up the handheld radio alerting the other boats. In code.
He was on the only boat fitted with a radar system in the squad.
He returned to his position. Four torpedoes were fitted on the side of the deck. Two in the front, two near the rear.
He and Phil were in charge of getting their torpedo into the water when instructed. They both braced themselves for the coming action. They didn’t have long to wait.
Soon the vessels were in sight. Solitary lights positioned along the vessels alerted them of their presence. The low rumble of their engines could be heard across the waters.
The plan was simple. About as simple as it gets. Three boats would distract the destroyers, giving the others a chance at the slow-moving cargo ship.
When the time came, three boats, his included, revved their engines and started for the destroyers. The front of the wooden boat tilted towards the sky as it glided through the water. The wind rushed into Ken’s face, causing him to gasp for air. The engine roared, leaving a white wake behind.
Spotlights began scanning the waters for the oncoming PT boats. A blinding blue light settled on their boat. Instantly a shell hit the water, exploding within yards from them. Their boat turned sharply to the left, avoiding possible oncoming projectiles.
There was a flash on deck a destroyer, as another gun went off. The shell hitting the water somewhere near the oncoming PT boats.
Another flash. Another explosion. And then the bang of the gun, echoing across the water.
As they neared the destroyer, it seemed to get larger and larger. How he wished that they didn’t have to get so near the monsters. The closer they came, the easier they were hit.
The earsplitting .50 caliber gun on their own deck began a burst of six shots followed by another six, and then another. The urge to cover his ears never could have been greater.
Soon, the gun up front began the same six-shot bursts. Wreaking havoc on those aboard the destroyers.
How he longed to be at those guns, instead of waiting the command to drop torpedoes. He knew he would have hated it just as much if not more, but at least he wouldn’t feel so helpless. Just waiting for orders.
Another shell hit the water, sending water on deck. The boat rocked to one side from the wake. He thought he’d go overboard.
The boat made another turn to one side, then straightened her course for the larger vessel.
This is It, he thought. We’re going in for the kill.
A few seconds passed, as they gained speed. Then the command came.
He and Phil unfastened their torpedo from the rack mounted on the side and rolled it overboard. With a gigantic splash, the two-ton warhead was on its way. Another on the opposite side was released simultaneously. The two bombs left a clear, white trail, as they headed for their target.
Within seconds, the PT boat was heading in the opposite direction. Shells and bullets followed their retreat.
The whole crew watched anxiously, hoping their efforts would prove successful. Two explosions illuminated the dark water just below the surface. Within seconds, the destroyer was leaning drastically to one side.
Everyone let out a whoop as they saw their success.
With one target gone, they started for the next. A PT boat was already starting its run against the next destroyer. Their own boat now followed beside the other. Yet keeping plenty of room between them so that they wouldn’t become an easier target.
Once again shells plummeted around them. Bullets hit the water near them. The ever-present searchlights. Their own machine guns blaring.
Flashes on deck their target were seen a millisecond before bullets slammed into their own, wooden deck.
“They’re hittin’ us!” he shouted over the gunfire.
The boat swerved to the right. The searchlights lost them for a second. Then a shell exploded on their left. The engine roared as they reached maximum speed.
Another round of bullets plummeted on deck. A shell exploded just in front of them. The boat leapt out of the water, then crashed down once more. Ken smashed his face hard on the deck, starting his nose bleeding.
He felt more helpless than ever. Having already released his torpedo he had nothing to do but hold on for dear life. Suddenly the front gunner cried out, as he fell to the deck.
Ken made his way to him as fast as possible. He examined Ben’s leg. It didn’t look promising. Motioning for Phil to take Ben, he took charge of the gun.
He had thought it had been loud at his original position. He hadn’t been more mistaken. Each shot echoed inside his ears. His ears were soon ringing like a mad doorbell. A never-ending buzzing-like sound that drove him crazy.
He fired round after round. The mounted gun jolting the bones in his arms. His nose continued to bleed, filling his mouth with a salty taste of blood.
A flash from a destroyer gun alerted him of another, oncoming shell. He felt the PT boat jolt as something smashed into it. Fear clenched him as he waited.
Suddenly he was thrown into the abyss, as the boat blew apart. A large fireball erupting above it. He hit the water square on his back, driving the air out of him. Struggling helplessly, he gasped for air.
He didn’t pay his burning arm any mind as he swam for the floating wreckage. Half the boat still floated but was taking in water. Most of the 14 crew were eventually clinging onto the temporary life raft. Although, some never made it that far.
Talk about attacking destroyers and large ships with tiny, wooden, boats that were fitted with torpedoes. That seemed like suicide in itself. But sitting helplessly, clinging onto your sinking torpedo boat, was by far worse.
They watched as torpedoes were sent streaking towards the destroyer. As the four boats held in reserve charged the enormous cargo ship. As the cargo ship, along with three destroyers, disappeared into the black waters. And they watched as all PT boats headed back to base.
It was a sinking feeling to see their own fleet heading for base, leaving them to fend for themselves out in the sea. They had probably assumed that no one would have survived an explosion like that. Or they had tried to find them, but in such darkness, had little success.
One way or another, the end result was the same. They were floating on a sinking piece of wreckage. They had to do something.
The nearest island that wasn’t occupied by Japanese, was at least a three-mile swim. A swim that far in perfect health would prove difficult. But with wounded men as well? It was almost unthinkable. But what other choice did they have?
Finding a piece of wreckage small enough to push, those who weren’t good swimmers held onto that. Also, those wounded used it to stay afloat. Ken, who had been on a swim team back home, was the best swimmer of the lot of ‘em.
They started out, those with the board, using their feet to propel themselves through the water. Ben, who had been wounded further in the explosion, wasn’t able to hold onto the life raft effectively. Placing the strap from Ben’s life vest in his teeth, Ken towed him along.
Describing the task as unthinkable, was an understatement. Those on the raft had a time of it, their legs giving out from the exercise. If you could call it that.
Ken’s neck ached as he hauled his comrade along. His limbs, although trained for use in the water, began to give out. His breath came in large gasps.
The dark waters seemed to stretch forever. Direction seemed lost. Clouds covered the stars. The only form of sea navigation. The only thing he had to cling to was the wind. He had noted its direction when they had set out. As long as it had not shifted, they would be heading in the right direction.
Hours pasts. The East finally started to glow, as dawn began to break. The first ray of sunshine broke over the horizon as they reached a sandy beach. Dragging Ben onshore, he collapsed in the sand. They had made it. They were no longer drowning.
The island was a small one. Only a hundred yards wide. There was no food or freshwater. They would have to get to a bigger island if they wanted to live. But at least they were on dry land.