PT Boat Odyssey
In the Pacific War with Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 16, 1943-1945
Robert P. Gelzheiser
McFarland, Jefferson, North Carolina, 2019, 303 pages
Book Review published on: July 3, 2020
The U.S. Navy’s Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 16 departed New Orleans for advanced training in Panama on 16 April 1943. They would eventually travel the Pacific Ocean and participate in operations in the Aleutians, New Guinea, and the Philippines. Serving in the squadron was Electrician’s Mate Francis Gelzheiser, who would see the violence of war up close and would live with these experiences for the rest of his life. His son, Robert P. Gelzheiser, presents his father’s reflections of serving with Squadron 16 in PT Boat Odyssey.
The title is appropriate as Gelzheiser’s journey from basic trainee in 1942 to war veteran by 1945 was indeed an odyssey. His initial training was at Melville, Rhode Island, and he joined the squadron in New Orleans. After completing advanced training in Panama, the unit self-deployed on a 3,200-mile voyage to Attu Island, where they carried out security patrols and rescued downed airmen, often in severe weather conditions. After Attu, the squadron redeployed to New Guinea, interdicting Japanese inter-island shipping to prevent resupply of enemy ground forces. They then moved onto Mindoro to help secure bases that would support operations in Luzon.
In Mindoro, Gelzheiser and his shipmates encountered the most intense period of combat during their tour. The Japanese military, realizing the direness of their situation in late 1944, resorted to suicide attacks in an attempt to defeat the U.S. offensive in the Philippines. For over two weeks, the squadron and other forces in the vicinity of the island were subjected to continuous aerial assaults by kamikaze aircraft. The squadron, and other PT boat units, managed to defeat the kamikazes’ suicide boats, and they continued operations, raiding enemy bases and escorting supply ships, as well as inserting and extracting reconnaissance and guerillas teams in enemy-controlled areas.
Robert Gelzheiser does an excellent job conveying the settings of the Pacific War, enabling the reader to understand the environment that his father and fellow sailors experienced. Robert delivers in-depth background on the Navy’s operations and strategy in the Pacific, providing excellent context to Squadron 16’s tactical actions in New Guinea and Mindoro. He also provides vivid detail on the Battle of Manila, where his father witnessed the aftermath of this particularly brutal episode in the Philippines campaign.
Overall, PT Boat Odyssey is an excellent historical analysis of a sailor’s personal experiences of serving with a motor torpedo boat squadron. It gives an insightful account of how Gelzheiser and his squadron played their part in achieving victory in the Pacific theater of operations, and the hardships they endured while doing so. The book is also a reminder that numerous sailors faced the enemy in close combat. While many were fortunate to survive the war, they still carried the burden of these terrible experiences as they got on with their lives after returning home. The history of Gelzheiser and Squadron 16’s service is a meaningful story about motor torpedo boat sailors in World War II.
Book Review written by: Dirk C. Blackdeer, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas