Profile in Courage PT-109

PT Attack by Mike Newcomer. Prints are available.

High Flying Dice Games recently published a solitaire game on PT-109, designed by Rod Bauer, developed by Paul Rohrbaugh and with game graphics by one of my favorite gaming artists, Bruce Yearian. It is called "Profile in Courage PT-109 The Campaign of PT-109 in 1943". Whew, thats a long name. I will refer to it as "PT-109" thru out this review. It is a fun game to play. Pretty much everyone of my generation knows of PT-109 and the heroism of the young skipper, Lt (jg) John F. Kennedy, who became the 35th President of the United States of America, but for those young whipper-snappers (and you know who you are) here is a brief history... 

Motor Torpedo Boat 109 was laid down 4 March 1942 by the Elco Works Naval Division of the Electric Boat Company in Bayonne, New Jersey. The seventh 40-ton, 80 foot long Motor Torpedo Boat (MTB) built there, she was launched on 20 June, delivered to the Navy on 10 July 1942, and fitted out in the New York Naval Shipyard at Brooklyn.  

PT-109 joined MTB Squadron FIVE, which was sent to Panama, replacing the first eight PT boats that sailed on transports for the south Pacific in early September. On 26 October 1942, 6 of the Elco boats, PTs 109 through 114, were then transferred to MTB Squadron TWO  and prepared for deployment to the Solomon Islands.

PT-109 on the Liberty ship
The boats were loaded on cargo ships that sailed west, arriving at Sesapi, Tulagi harbor, Nggela Islands, at the end of November. Here is PT-109 stowed onboard the "Liberty Ship" Joseph Stanton for transportation to the Pacific. Heavy bracing at the PT boat's stern and on her deck, was to prevent movement as she was transported to the Pacific

These boats, once unloaded, joined the earlier boats - which had established the MTB base at Sesapi in October 42, to form Motor Torpedo Boat Flotilla ONE, under the command of Commander Allen P. Calvert.
PT-109 Skipper and Crew
Lt Kennedy, took over command of PT-109 (he was the 3rd Skipper) on 24th April 1943.  Starting in late April, the PT boats were increasingly conducting patrols in the Russell Islands area and on 16 June, PT-109 along with other boats moved to a forward operating base on Rendova Island.

area map of Solomon Islands operations areas
On 1 August, an air strike by 18 Japanese bombers attacked this base, damaging PT-117 and sinking PT-164. A strange side note - during this attack 2 torpedoes were blown off the 164 boat and ran erratically around the bay until they ran ashore without exploding.

Intelligence reports indicated five enemy destroyers were scheduled to run that night from Bougainville Island through Blackett Strait to Vila, on the southern tip of Kolombangara Island. Despite the loss of two boats, the flotilla sent out fifteen motor torpedo boats in four sections to meet the Japanese destroyers.

Lt Brantingham in PT-159 made radar contact at midnight with ships approaching from the north, close to Kolombangara. Soon after this, he sighted what he believed to be large landing craft and closed range for a strafing run only to run into heavy shellfire that revealed the "landing craft" to be destroyers. He fired four torpedoes and PT-157 launched two as well, before the two boats withdrew.

Lt Kennedy in PT-109 patrolled without incident until gunfire and searchlights were seen in the direction of the southern shore of Kolombangara. The location was undetermined, however, and PT-109 rendezvoused with PT-162 to determine the source of firing. PT-109 then intercepted a terse radio message (probably from PT-159) "I am being chased through Ferguson Passage. Have fired fish." At this time, PT-169 came alongside and reported an engine out of order. She lay to with PT-109 and PT-162 to await developments while instructions were requested from base. Orders were received to resume normal patrol station, and PT-162 being uncertain as to its position, requested Lt Kennedy to lead the way back to patrol station.

IJN DD Amagiri
Lt Kennedy started his patrol on one engine ahead at idling speed. The three boats were due east of Gizo Island and headed south with PT-109 leading a right echelon formation. Unknown to them, the Japanese destroyer Amagiri was returning north after completing a supply mission to Kolobangara and had spotted the torpedo boats at a range of about 1,000 yards. Rather than open fire--and give away their position--the destroyer captain, Lieutenant Comander Kohei Hanami, turned to intercept and closed in the darkness at 30-knots.

Initially spotted by PT-109 at 200 to 300 yards, Lt Kennedy ordered the boat turned to starboard, preparatory to firing torpedoes. With one engine, the turn was too slow and the destroyer rammed the 109, splitting the boat apart. The Japanese destroyer was slightly damaged in the collision, smashing part of the bow and bending the propellers, yet, the warship still made 24-knots on the run home to Rabaul and arrived safely the following morning.
area where PT-109 was destroyed

Meanwhile, the crew of PT-109 were thrown in the water as the Japanese destroyer sliced through the boat. Fire ignited spilled gasoline on the water some twenty yards around the wreckage, driving the crew in all directions. It quickly became clear that the forward half of the boat was still floating after the flames died down and Lt Kennedy, Ensign Thom, Ensign George Ross, QM3 Edman Mauer, RM2 John Maguire and S1 Raymond Albert all crawled back on board the hull. Shouting soon revealed three men were in the water some 100 yards to the southwest, while two others were an equal distance to the southeast. These were GM3 Charles Harris, MoMM2  William Johnston, MoMM1 Patrick McMahon, TM2  Ray Starkey and MoMM1 Gerald Zinser. Unfortunately 2 sailors, TM2 Andrew Kirksey and MoMM2 Harold Marney, were never seen and presumed killed in the collision with Amagiri.

Lt Kennedy swam to the group of three where he found one man helpless because of serious burns and another struggling to stay afloat owing to a water-logged kapok life jacket. Trading his life belt to the latter sailor, he towed the injured man back to the wreckage of PT-109. Returning to the scene, he helped tow the exhausted crew member back to the boat. Meanwhile Ensigns Thom and Ross towed the other two survivors back to the floating section. 

Daylight on 2 August found all eleven survivors clinging to the wreckage of PT-109 about four miles north and slightly east of Gizo anchorage. When it became obvious the boat remnants would sink, Kennedy decided to abandon ship to a small island some four miles southeast of Gizo, hoping to avoid any Japanese garrisons that way. At 1400, the crew pushed off for land, towing the badly burned engineer and two non-swimmers on a float rigged from a wooden post which had been a part of the 37mm gun mount. Arriving on shore, the group took cover and set up a temporary camp.

That night, Lt Kennedy donned a life jacket and with a salvaged battle lantern, swam to a small island a half-mile to the southeast, then along the reef stretching into Ferguson Passage where he tried unsuccessfully to intercept patrolling motor torpedo boats. Returning in the morning, he turned the lantern over to Ensign Ross who swam the same route into Ferguson Passage that evening. He too had no luck and returned the next morning.

When the remaining rations and all the local coconuts had been consumed, the survivors investigated a small islet west of Cross Island and took cover in the heavy brush the next day. Undaunted by the sight of a New Zealand P-40 strafing Cross Island itself, Kennedy and Ross swam to that island in search of food, boats or anything which might prove useful to their party. At one point, the two men found a Japanese box with 30-40 bags of crackers and candy and, a little farther up the beach, a native lean-to with a one-man canoe and a barrel of water alongside. About this time a canoe with two natives was sighted but they paddled swiftly off despite all efforts to attract their attention.

the "Coconut"
During the night of 5 August, Lt Kennedy took the canoe into Ferguson Passage but found no PT boats. Returning home by way of Cross Island, he found the two natives there with the rest of the group. Ensign Thom, after telling them in as many ways as possible that he was an American and not a Japanese, finally convinced the natives to help the Americans. The natives were sent with messages to the coast watchers on Wana Wana, one was a pencilled note written the day before by Ensign Thom and the other message written on a green coconut husk by Lt Kennedy.

The next day, eight natives arrived with instructions from the coast watcher for the senior naval officer to go with the natives to Wana Wana. After the natives dropped off food and other supplies,  they hid Kennedy under ferns in a large war canoe and paddled to Wana Wana. The war canoe reached its destination about 1600 hrs and later that night Kennedy made rendezvous in Ferguson Passage with PT-157, piloted by Lt W. F. Liebenow. In company with PT-171, and guided by natives who knew passages through the reefs, the survivors were picked up by small boats later that evening. Everything went off smoothly and PT-157 returned the survivors to Rendova by morning.

Lt Kennedy was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal "for extremely heroic conduct as Commanding Officer of Motor Torpedo Boat 109 following the collision and sinking of that vessel in the Pacific War Area on August 1-2, 1943. Unmindful of personal danger, Lieutenant (then Lieutenant, junior grade) Kennedy unhesitatingly braved the difficulties and hazards of darkness to direct rescue operations, swimming many hours to secure aid and food after he had succeeded in getting his crew ashore. His outstanding courage, endurance and leadership contributed to the saving of several lives and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.".

PT-109 earned two battle stars for the following operations:
1 Battle Star for the Capture and Defense of Guadalcanal, 7-8 December 1942, 13-15 January 1943 and 1-2 February 1943.
1 Battle Star for the New Georgia Group Operation: New Georgia-Rendova-Gangunu Occupation: 1-2 August1943.

And in-case you are wondering, President Kennedy stayed in the Pacific after recovering from his ordeal with the sinking of the 109. He became the skipper of PT-59, a PT converted to a gunboat. Far deadlier.

PT-59 Gunboat. Notice the 40mm on the fantail

PT-109, the boat... 
PT-109 that night was manned by 3 officers and 10 enlisted men. For armament, PT-109 carried four 21-inch Mark 8 torpedoes and mounted four .50 caliber machine guns in two twin mounts. One 20-mm was mounted on the fantail aft. Besides the normal PT-Boat compliment of small arms, that day, Aug 1, a 37mm anti-tank gun was found and lashed to the bow.  Better firepower for barges.
Communication with other boats was with both a blinker tube having an eight-inch searchlight and by voice radio that had a range of 75 miles.

Propulsion was via a trio of Packard 4M-2500 supercharged gasoline-fueled, liquid-cooled marine engines. Fuel consumption  was exceptionally heavy with these engines (modified aircraft engines). A PT boat carried 3,000 US gallons of 100 octane aviation fuel, enough for a boat to conduct a maximum 12-hour patrol. Some 200 US gallons an hour were consumed at a cruising speed of 23 knots, increasing to 500 US gallons per hour at top speed. Hull fouling and engine wear could both decrease top speed and increase fuel consumption materially.

Rear of an Elco 80' PT boat. Notice the two people to the left. 
Max speed for a range of 358 miles was 35 knots (30 mph). A full-load patrol speed of nine knots would be usual in covering a 600-mile range. Under ideal conditions, and after torpedoes have been fired, a maximum speed of approximately 46-knots (roughly 40 mph) was possible.

The Bliss–Leavitt 21" Mark 8 torpedo was the bane of a PT Boat skipper and a torpedo-man's nightmare.  With many technical difficulties from just launching the torpedo to lack of precision depth setting and less than 500 lbs of TNT for a warhead,  50% to 75% failure rates were common.  The Mark 8 ran too deep for use against the Japanese barges with their shallow draft and with the small warhead, torpedoes that were used against DD's and hit, lacked the explosive power to damage and sink a DD.

With all this said, PT boats and their crews served admirably in all campaign areas during the war.  Whether preforming rescues of Coast Watchers, other military personal and downed airmen, or beach landing patrol coverage (protecting the rear of a landing force), getting in the destruction of a destroyer or the sinking of supply barges, the PT Boats and her crews were there preforming their job and mission to the best of their ability. These were truly the Knights of the Navy.   
a view of PT-109. Courtesy of  Richard J. Washichek

The game...
sample of the game map and counters
Profile in Courage PT-109 is a grand little solitaire game. It can be ordered directly from High Flying Dice Games and costs $11.95 and shipping.

The game comes with in a large zip lock bag with the following:
  • one 11"x17" game map
  • 24 playing cards
  • 24 single sided un-mounted counters that are actually larger than usual for HFDGs.  :D
  • and a four page set of rules (actually 3 pages of concise rules, as the 4th page is game charts.)
In addition, two D6 dice are needed.  That's it. Pretty sweet as far as I am concerned. Easy to mount the counters and the playing cards are easy to cut out. 

Game Map...
The game map is 11"x17" (ledger) in size with most of the map dedicate to ocean and islands, representing the areas where PT-109 patrol from April 1943, to August 1943 - Rendova Island, Blackett Strait and the various other islands, northwest of New Georgia. A reference grid is provided along the left side and top for placing units for play. Located on the bottom is both the Round Record Track and a Game Turn Record Track that also does double duty for Victory Point record keeping.

Instead of hexes or area movement, the game map is divided into squares. No diagonal movement can be made for either side, only left to right or up or down. There are a couple of areas that neither side can enter or move thru and these are marked on the game map with darker blue. The Japanese units move accordingly to the "Japanese Movement Table" requiring 2 D6s. PT-109 can move up to 3 squares if not damaged or 4 squares if carrying extra fuel (1 fuel marker is expended every time PT-109 moves an extra space). A maximum of 2 unit counters (ship type) can occupy a square. For example if 2 Japanese units are in a square, PT-109 can't enter that square.   I like this map and I believe Bruce did the game proud. 

2 game counters
The game counters are single sided and need to be mounted. Of course, one can get these mounted for a small additional fee. If you order the counters mounted, see if you can purchase an extra copy of the counter sheet in-case you lose one.

These counters are 3/4" in size and one is aprx 6"x11" in size, this being the top down view of PT-109 for placement of the "Resource" markers and the various game charts/game tables needed.

There are 23  .75" (3/4") counters consisting of:
1) 5 "Resource" markers used for keeping track of what resources are available for the 109.
2) 1 "PT-109" boat movement counter for game map.
3) 5 "IJN DD" movement counters representing either IJN DDs or barges for the game map.
4) 5 "Flag" markers representing the IJ supplies or troops when called for in the game.
5) 2 US Victory Point markers.
6) 2 IJN Victory Point markers (used to subtract from US vp)
7) 1 Game Turn  marker and 1 Game Round marker.
8) 1 marker for either Coast Watcher rescue or landing party cover, when it is needed.

Though few in number, these counters and markers are very well designed. I like these counters.

Counter #24 the Players Aid Card...
Yes, that's right - there is a 24th counter and it is the players aid card. This shows a top down view of PT-109, along with various charts or tables. The top down view is used for keeping track of the resources available for the PT-109, such as extra fuel, ammo, medical kit, the 37mm AT gun, etc.

I also believe that this is the largest counter ever from High Flying Dice Games. 😀

Game Cards...
my favorite card and the content card
The game cards are the heart of the game. These cards are very informative and have the instructions for carrying out the Japanese actions on them.

Twenty-four cards need to be cut out, but only 23 are used. The 24th card is a content card showing the various card types, how they are used and the symbols used (a very important card indeed).

How to use the cards is very well explained in the rules.  I like these cards. Not only is there the "heat of action" combat cards, but also a little humor, such as my favorite "Time for a Sandwich and a cup of Coffee" card.  There is always time for coffee.

Again, Bruce outdid himself with the design of these cards.

The Rules...
The rules are not very long in length, but the story they have to tell can fill a room.  From the historical introduction on page 1 to the ending art on page 4, they are well written. Of particular note is the Play Sequence, which is important.

Play Sequence...
The game is played in four rounds of ten turns each with each round consisting of 8 phases that must be strictly adhered to in this sequential order:

Preliminary Phases 
1) Rendova Event
2) Mission Determination / Deployment of Japanese units
3) Create the card deck
4) Prepare for Mission

Operation Phases
5) Movement of Japanese units
6) Movement of PT-109
7) Resolve Contact (may result in combat)

End of Round Phase
8) Return to Rendova and score the round

The Preliminary Phases 1 to 4 are done only one time per Round (i.e. at the beginning of the Round)

The Operational Phases 5 to 7 are repeated in each of the 10 turns that make up a Round.

The End Phase 8 is done once at the end to complete the Round.

The game looks complicated, but after a couple of turns, all of this become second nature. I'm not going into a lot of the detail on the 8 phases, luckily for us players, there is a "Detailed Summary of Each Phase" section in the rules.  This section does a beautiful job of explaining all the phases, how many cards to draw, when to draw the cards, basically when/what/how to do everything.

Between this part of the rules and the instructions on the cards, one can play with history on those fateful few months of a young PT Skipper, his crew and his boat in the Solomon Islands during the months of July and August 1943.

I just received this an addenda file on PT-109. It is as follows:

Profile of Courage: PT-109 Addenda
February 2019

Page 1, Game Components (correction and clarification). There are 24 game pieces in the game. 23 are square markers/units. The 24th is the large top view/deck plan of the PT-109 that is used to record the various resources and status of the boat. Use the VP and Point markers to record the number of Victory Points and delivered Japanese supplies/troops on the Game Turn/Record track.

Page 1, Play Sequence (correction): There are 8 phases in each turn (not 9). The asterisk in the first line references the blue text area below the Sequence of play (the corresponding asterisk at the start of the first line in that area went missing).

Page 2, second blue box area on left side (correction): The second line should read “Is drawn, there will be no shuffle deck.”

Page 3, left column (correction and clarification): The third line should read “penalty in VPs will be deducted from your score.” Use the 1 through 10 spaces on the Turn Record Track to record the level of VP during the game.

Time for the buns ratings:
•  Complexity of the game = LOW
•  Solitaire =  LOL, now what do you think? HIGH of course
•  Enjoyment Level = VERY HIGH (imho)
•  Nail biting =  not knowing how the dice will come up or what cards, it can get a little nerve racking. I give it 5 fingers worth of chew.
•  Historical Level = there's the PT-109 and the IJN DD Amagiri in the game.  There is also air attacks, danger of crashing the 109 into the dock (that did happen) trying to be first in line for refueling.  And of course the failure of sinking a ship due to faulty torpedoes. I would have to peg this at HIGH  
•  Length of typical full game of 4 rounds with 10 turns each = about 1 to 2 hours.

PT 109: John F. Kennedy in World War II
by Robert J Donovan
ISBN-13: 978-0785105985
ISBN-10: 0785105980

PT 109: An American Epic of War, Survival, and the Destiny of John F. Kennedy
by William Doyle
ISBN 978-0-06-234658-2

Both are fine books and good reads.

the movie poster
And of course the one media that most of us (well, my generation is probably most familiar with) the movie -
PT-109 starring Cliff Robertson (President Kennedy's choice) and released in 1963. Below is a small clip from the movie. Guess who is playing the helmsman on the Amagiri, though not credited (Oh myyyyy)?

The movie is good and true, however, a few of the action scenes didn't happen with the 109, but instead with Lt Kennedy and PT-59, such as the rescue of the Marines and running out of fuel while doing so. But it is the first movie that covered part of the life of a living U.S. President.

After thoughts... 
Out of the 20+ games played since I received this game last week, I find it one of the ones I keep going back too. Why? To see if I can do better. Sure there is a lot of die rolling, but that's the fun of it. I have done a lot of research and cannot find another board game that was published only on those last few months of PT-109s life.  This is the first non-computer wargame on PT-109's last days.

Rod really went all out when he designed this game. It's the little things that show up in the game, that makes this one stand out. From eating a sandwich to air attacks to sinking barges, it is pretty much all there in the cards.

Is the game a keeper? I would say yes. Is it fresh and fun? Again, I would say yes it is. Will it last out the years? Who knows. But, one can ask themselves after playing the game, did I learn something? Did I have fun? I believe the answer would be "yes".  It's not a detail simulation of a PT Boat, wasn't meant to be. But, it is a fun, quick game, with meat.

I am sure there are other games coming out from various publishers on the MTB's of War, whether WW1, WW2, or present day, as this area has been neglected too long. 

Actually, as my first game I ever received as a present from Santa, when I was a wee squirt, is this one called "P.T. Boat 109" by Ideal.  And that was Dec 1963. This was like Battleship. And beat Hasbro by 5 years before they brought out "Battleship". Fun, had lots of little plastic pegs used to record damage, had pt-boats, DD, Ca, BB, and CV's, and a screen to keep someone from looking at your setup.  B-4 "Miss".
the box of PT Boat 109 1963

And one more...
If you like the artwork "PT Attack" that Mike graciously allowed to be used in this review, it can be order directly from the artist, Mike Newcomer. Please contact him via email for ordering at  Cost is $20 plus postage.  Size is 11"x17".

I don't believe you will find another piece of artwork like this with 2 IJN Rufes (Nakajima A6M2-N) attacking PT Boats.

Thanks for reading. And good gaming!

This blog is considered to be a living blog. Changes will be made to it as needed to clarify, correct errors or update with new information.