Walter Logan Long, Erie, PA, PT-111

Jeff Sherry

Saturday Apr 4th, 2020

Walter Logan Long lived at 745 Rosedale Avenue in Erie when he joined the US Navy for the first time in 1937.  He would enlist again in May 1942 after the United States had entered World War II.

Serving on PT 111, under the command of Lt. John H. Clagett, Seaman First Class Long and his PT squadron were shipped out to the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific.  Here the PT boats would see some of the heaviest action of their wartime service.

The role of the numerous PT, or Motor Torpedo Boat (MTB), squadrons in the South Pacific was to enable the Navy to engage small Japanese vessels and destroyers in the narrow channels and inlets of the Solomons.  These fast, shallow-draft boats averaged eighty feet in length and were armed with four torpedoes, two twin 50 caliber machine guns, and a 20mm cannon on the stern.  PT skippers often added guns to provide a powerful sting to their armament.  Contrary to popular belief,  PT boats were not made of plywood, but were finely crafted vessels with hulls made of imported hardwoods and other custom-made wooden parts.  The fifty-ton PT 111 was built by the Electric Boat Company (ELCO) in Bayonne, New Jersey.  Her three Packard engines could  propel her at speeds of up to forty-five knots.   The battles fought between the American and Japanese navies in 1943 were some of the costliest for both sides.   This would be the case on the night of February 1-2, 1943, in the waters off Cape Esperance on the island of Guadalcanal.

The night was very dark as the PTs waited for contact with Japanese ships.  PT 111, along with PT 37, were on  the way to their patrolling station when they were strafed by an enemy seaplane.  Shortly after, they spotted the silhouette of any enemy destroyer.  Lt. Clagett made his torpedo run,  fired all four of his “fish”, and turned to make a fast getaway.  Fire from the Japanese destroyer Kawakaze (“Bay Wind”) sunk PT 37, which had also fired all her torpedoes, with only one survivor.  Long’s boat was also hit by the destroyer’s guns and burst into flames, the entire crew of eight being thrown into the water.

Two of the crew were killed and the survivors huddled together in the darkness as  sounds of the fighting between other PTs and the Japanese went on for some time.  Long and another sailor, Merle G. Elsass, supported the badly burned Lt. Clagett for what Long remembered as “10 ½ hours”.  Another sailor who had broken both his legs was taken by sharks in the night.  About 10:00 the next morning, Long fired his pistol so other American boats could spot them and they were rescued.

Long was taken to the PT base at Tulagi, then to New Zealand, and finally to San Francisco where he recuperated from exhaustion and light injuries he received in the action of February 2, 1943.  In May 1943, Long received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal at a ceremony at the Armory at 6th and Parade  Streets in Erie.  Long received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal. Then, like so many other Erie County veterans, Long went to work at General Electric only three days later.

In the early 1980s, now in his mid-sixties, Walter L. Long became the first “Boatswain” or “Bosun” of the newly-formed Flagship Niagara League where he taught many volunteers simple knots and rope weaving in is capacity aboard the old Niagara in her concrete cradle at the foot of State Street.

Do you have a relative who served aboard a PT boat in World War II?  We would love to hear their stories and memories.

The Hagen History Center’s archives has a record card of every Erie County service man or woman who served in WWII, often accompanied by newspaper accounts or more biographical information. Once we reopen, we welcome your research inquiries.