Pistol Packin' Mamas

Growing up and hearing some of Pop's Navy stories, I never realized that both of the Patrol Torpedo boats he served on during World War II carried the same name: "Pistol Packin’ Mama.”

When I started to go through the information Pop left behind after his death, I found a couple pictures of PT 209 showing the "nose art" but I have yet to see any photos of PT 243 that show any use of "Pistol Packin' Mama."  That being said, it doesn't mean that it wasn't the boat name.  Several PT's were named but only had small artwork on the gun turrets or no obvious art at all.
Pop, according to crew lists and no contradicting information, was the only sailor to man both boats.  What I don’t know is how 243 came to carry the moniker.  According to LILDUCK’s PT name list, PT 243 had two previous names: “Tonde Leyo” and "Rambling Wreck.”
 The same list says that there was one other “Pistol Packin’ Mama,” PT 287, it carried the name when it entered combat in 1943/1944.  By the time 243 carried the name, 287 had been renamed “Pissed Off.”  It possible that some of the sailors from the “old” 287 could have been on the “new” 243's crew with Pop, and the name was a collaboration.  Either way, I'm assuming the name came from the song of the same name that was popular at around that time.
"Pistol Packin' Mama" was written in 1943 by Al Dexter and recorded it the same year as Al Dexter & His Troopers.  Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters also recorded it later that year for Christmas.  Click here to listen to the original recording of the song on YouTube.

Here are some of those classic country lyrics:

Oh, lay that pistol down, Babe.
Lay that pistol down.
Pistol packin mama
Lay that thing down before it goes off and hurts somebody!

Oh, she kicked out my windshield
And she hit me over the head.
She cussed and cried and said I lied
And she wished that I was dead.

Oh, lay that pistol down, Babe.
Lay that pistol down.
Pistol packin mama
Lay that pistol down.

Both PT 209 and PT 243 were 78-foot Higgins-built boats.  They were two of the roughly 200 PT boats that were assembled at the New Orleans plant during the war.  Here's a breakdown:

PT 209

Pop's first PT boat was laid down on July 20, 1942 (shortly after Pop graduated high school.)  The boat marched along the production line, being launched on October 24th 1942 and then completed on February 9, 1943.  When it was originally built the boat was armed with four torpedo tubes (for launching the often problematic Mark VII and VIII torpedoes) as well as 20mm cannons and .50 machine guns.
When Pop started his time in the Mediterranean in May of 1944, the PT's of Ron 15 were undergoing a refit.  209 was given the new 1,500 horsepower Packard engines; her torpedo tubes were replaced with the new "roll-off" racks for the Mark XIII torpedoes.
To better battle the enemy, PT boats around the world were arming themselves with bigger cannons.  Many PT's in the Med were upgraded from a 20mm to a 40mm cannon on the stern.  Many PT's picked up better firepower on the bow as well; boats often went from a 20mm to a 37mm cannon but I don't think PT 209 ever received this upgrade.  Photographs through late Summer of 1944 still show a 20mm on the bow.

PT 243

The second PT boat Jim served on started its trip down the Higgins production line on October 26th, 1942, four days after he enlisted in the Navy.  It was launched two months later and finished on May 14th, 1943.  It started out life as a Ron 19 boat, seeing action in the South Pacific around places like Vella Lavella and Green Island.  Ron 19 was broken up in mid-1944 and PT-243 was shuffled into Ron 23.
The 243 was armed like the majority of late-war PT boats; it had the four torpedo racks and bigger and better cannons.  It appears that through wartime experience, the Navy and its sailors were converting "torpedo boats" into "gunboats that carried torpedoes." 
By the time Jim reported for duty on the 243 in 1945, the overwhelming amount of targets left in the Pacific were best engaged by gunfire.  The boat was armed with a 37mm cannon on the bow, a 40mm cannon on the stern and 20mm cannons and .50 machine guns on the sides.  These were the go-to guns when engaging Japanese barges and shore installations.
PT sailors also went to war with pistols and rifles.  When Jim was shipped out from Norfolk for North Africa, he was issued a Remington Arms-built U.S. Model 1903A3 "Springfield."  The five-round bolt action rifle had no real use on a PT boat and I don't really know what happened to Jim's (and everyone else's rifles) once the sailors reported for duty on a PT.
One tale I read had a skipper tossing a sailor's 03A3 overboard to help save weight.  That being said, PT's usually carried several Thompson sub-machine guns, M-1 carbines and Model 1911 .45 pistols; all small, handy auto-loading weapons which were perfect for close encounters with the enemy.
Both boats were powered by the afore mentioned Packard V-12 engine, the 4M 2500.  Three of the redesigned aircraft powerplants could push the boats up around 40 knots, although top speed would often vary.  Running on 100 octane gasoline, the boats were gas hogs.  According to the PT Boat Association, a boat running at max speed on all three engines would use 474 gallons per hour.  A typical PT could hold around 3,000 gallons of gas.

Mama's Fate

Both boats survived the best the Germans and Japanese could throw at them; however now that their mission was complete, the Navy had no use for them.  PT 209 had been given to the British shortly after Pop left Italy in 1944 and it ended the war as MGB 185.
The former PT boats used to train the Yugoslavian Navy (including PT 209/MGB 185) were then given to the Yugos in August of 1945.  Those boats took up the coastal defense role for the "new" country.  PT 209/MGB 185 was christened the MT 5 according to Jane's Fighting Ships.  The MT 5 and others served as the foundation of a gunboat fleet that their navy built in the 1950's.  All of the ex PT's, including Pistol Packin' Mama, were scrapped in 1966.
PT 243 wasn't so lucky.  After the Navy decided that many of the boats were no longer needed and not worth storing, crews at Base 17 in the Philippines began stripping the boats in preperation for their destruction.  On November 26th, 1945, PT 243 was pushed up onto the beach at Samar and set ablaze.  Pop was there at Samar in November and at one point actually helped in the burning of the surplus boats (see the "A Fiery End for the PT" section of this site.)
Pop was there when the Pistol Packin' Mama mets its unglorious end.  He ended up bringing home momentos from the 243 and eventually donated them to the PT Boat Museum in Fall River, MA including the American and Union Jack flags that flew on the boat.

Other PT Photographs

Taken from the rear of PT 243 looking forward, showing a stowed midship 20mm cannon, 1945.
Elco PT's underway off Tablas, 1945.  PT 594 is on the right, unknown others.
PT 190 motoring somewhere in the Phillipines, probably near Base 17, Samar.  Photo dated 1945.
PT's, arriving "column astern" back at a base in the Phillipines, 1945.
Jim's caption described this boat as PT-600 at Base 17, Samar, the Phillipines in later 1945.
PT Tender USS Cyrene AGP-13, shown here anchored somewhere in the South Pacific with PT's nesting alongside.  According to the PT Boat Association, Seaman Don Rickles served on the Cyrene.  Photo dated 1945.
Photo showing radioman Harris Toll manning the starboard .50 machine gun on PT 209 in 1944.  (Henry Beazley photo)
One of the late-model "roll off" torpedo racks on PT 209.  This photo was taken by Henry Beazley in October, 1944, just before the boat was turned over to the Royal Navy.
Ron 10 boat PT 163 was captured on film by Mr. Beazley in 1945.
PT 125 in drydock along tender USS Pontus AGP-20 off Samar, June 19, 1945. (Henry Beazely photo)
Unknown Squadron 27 PT in the process of being decommissioned by PT tender Cyrene, October 1945. (Henry Beazely photo)
Ron 10 PT's nesting along side tender USS Pontus, 1945.  PT 171 on the outside, followed by PT 167, 108 and an unknown boat.  Photo date June 19, 1945. (Henry Beazley photo)
Cas Milewski (left) manning a PT 40mm cannon in the Phillipines in 1945.

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