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Extensive PT-Boat Uniform Grouping: MTB RON 33 & 37


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Hey everyone, some of you all might be familiar with the grouping I am reposting, but be assured, there is a lot of exciting new material which truly makes this one of the best PT groups I have ever seen. In the past week quarantine got me researching and I have found so much more than I ever thought possible over the past two years I have owned this set. Feel free to skip to the end if you want to hear about the items, but this is possibly one of the most complete accounts of PT life you will ever see come from the items at hand.

This grouping belongs to SC1c Lawrence Buell Crenshaw. Born in Edmonton County, Kentucky, Crenshaw moved to Louisville right before the war where he began life as a painter for a houses. Crenshaw was in Louisville when he heard about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor but was too committed with work and a stressful marriage to do much about it. Crenshaw eventually received a divorce and afterwards joined the Navy on November 23, 1942. Before shipping off for Great Lakes Crenshaw met the woman who would become his lifelong love, Alline, to whom he would become engaged and marry almost exactly one year after he joined the Navy. For training Crenshaw was sent to the University of Chicago to become a cook where he graduated at the top of his class. It was here that he first heard about the exciting renewal of the Navy’s PT Boat fleet after MacArthur’s rescue in the Philippines. Crenshaw was excited by the prospect of the “Mosquito” ships and wrote his letter for voluntary service in the Motor Torpedo Boat squadrons on June 9, 1943.

Crenshaw would be accepted no less than 10 days later and was told to immediately report to the infamous home of the PTs, Melville, Rhode Island. Now SC3c, Crenshaw worked extremely hard to complete the entirely unique training required for operations in a PT Boat. With a small crew, each man had to be extremely focused in his area and often trained in other areas as well. Performing exceptionally, he was promoted to SC2c and slated to join the commissioning crew of MTB RON 33 on PT 495 “Gentleman Jim” in December of 1943. Crenshaw got to know his boat and crew extremely well and he made a lot of lifelong friends. Unfortunately, while out on shakedown he suffered a pretty bad leg injury which left him hospitalized. Despite spending several months finally getting his first boat and getting to know his crew as family, he was relinquished from the commissioning and returned to Melville for recovery. In spite of his separation, Crenshaw remained friends with his first crew for his entire adult life and corresponded with them while in the service.

Not letting his injury deter him, Crenshaw was one of the first slated for the next available squadron commission which came through in March of 1944. With the option of RON 32 using 77’ Higgins or 37 with 80’ Elcos, he decided to pursue the model of his first ship and joined MTB RON 37 (note, the type of boats used by a squadron largely determined how a sailor picked, everyone had their preference and it was often a source of fierce debate which was better.) Crenshaw transferred to the heart of Brooklyn and awaited eagerly for his new boat, eventually delivered as PT 542. Named “Margie” after a crewman’s sweetheart, Crenshaw performed a successful shakedown and was designated not only as the ships cook but as a deck gunner, likely on one of the twin-mounted .50 caliber machine gun turrets. While never told their destination, the camouflage color scheme painted on the ships told these men they were going to the pacific and the excitement for launch only grew (ETO PTs had a flat gray scheme). The boats eventually mounted the second squadron tender and made their way to the PT Base at Taboga, Panama.

While in Panama the crews got their first real taste of open water. Besides enjoying the local nightlife, the men were able to really take their boats out for a spin and customize them how they wanted. It was here that Crenshaw and the crew of 542 were able to outfit their deck with additional armaments such as a 37mm forward gun and additional starboard 20mm MK14 cannon. Told they were going to be operating against barges in the South Pacific, the men removed one set of torpedoes to give extra deck space, leaving them the two-minimum required. While in Panama PT 542 and 541 were chosen to perform a series of combat demonstrations for Admiral Fithian Kingman and a large delegation of Latin American governmental representatives on November 15, 1944. Crenshaw was selected to participate in the .50 machine gun firing, demonstrating how the guns work as well as their effectiveness while on the move. Other tests included the firing of depth charges, races, and cannon fire. With the taste of gunpowder on their tongues, the men excitedly boarded their vessels and began the long trek to Stirling Island in the Solomons.

While on their way the squadron held their own version of the traditional Navy line-crossing ceremony. While the squadron was composed of many veterans, Crenshaw and about half the men were to be the “pollywags” initiated to become official “shellbacks” after crossing the equator. Woken up by the “Royal Police” beating them with wettened pieces of cotton waste wrapped in hard canvas, Crenshaw and the other pollywags were frightened to see their squadron commander Lt. Charles Faulkner adorned in the foursome garb of Davy Jones. The day consisted of a variety of activities ranging from finger exercises to being lashed to the railing and doused with fire hoses. The antics bonded the men to a true brotherhood that day and by its conclusion, Crenshaw was admitted into the Ancient Order of the Deep.

The rest of the ride was fairly smooth and the squadron reached their new home of Stirling in the Treasury Islands on December 1, 1944. The boats were soon unloaded and the men began to settle into their quite isolated home. Designated MTB Base 9, the camp was settled soundly in the “Iron Bottom Sound,” the underwater home of many US ships and several PT Boats sunk in the fighting of 1942-43. Despite the always ominous presence of remaining scraps and scars, the men of RON 37 began to perform their first combat patrols around the islands still held under Japanese control.

On December 26, 1944 the PT boats of MTB RON 37 in joint operation with many other gunboats and 12 F4U Corsairs bombed, strafed, and shelled a number of Japanese bivouac and supply areas on the Southwest Coast of Bougainville to disrupt supply flow to the Japanese Army currently engaged with Australian troops nearby. On his own boat, Crenshaw handled a set of machine guns and watched as their boats lit up the targeted areas. An interesting note, his boat was one of the few in the squadron outfitted with an additional 60mm mortar which was operated by the crew, allowing for indirect and more explosive fire on the beachheads. Several boats received returning small arms fire as they made their numerous runs but no casualties or serious damage was reported. For the next week the squadron conducted patrols along the shoreline and rivers of the area strafing and mortaring enemy positions to support the ongoing operations.

The next month consisted of similar operations throughout the Solomon Islands and around 35 combat patrols were completed by the men of the squadron. On January 27th Crenshaw’s ship, along with PTs 541, 543, and 544 used a native guide to make a heavy coordinated strike on a Japanese position on Nabaponga. Concluding their night patrols, the boats met up in the early dawn where the native took them in to the position under the quiet and dark of the dawn. Once the position was spotted, the force let loose. The area was described as “covered by shelling and strafing of all calibers” and several of the Japanese buildings were ravaged by the fire. Before an effective counter attack could be mounted, the boats left as quick as they came and returned home within a few hours.

February was 37's final month of operations in the Treasury Islands where patrols and raids continued as they had before. Another enemy commonly encountered by the “Mosquito men” at this time were left over mines as countless left over the from the fighting years earlier would bob on the surface awaiting detonation or defusal. In performing these protective measures and offensives on the Japanese, one Australian officer estimated that of the 800-1000 Japanese stationed on the islands in and around Bougainville, around 200 had been killed by the strafing and shelling of MTB RON 37.

After these months of duty RON 37 was sent to MTB Base 2, Espiritu Santo with MTB RON 32 and the USS SILENUS, conducting regular tests and drills as well as exploring new pastimes like island-picnicking, knife-making, and souvenir-picking while awaiting further orders. Life here was relaxed and the island afforded many new amenities to the men, including stores, showers, hospitals, proper facilities, and occasionally, women. RONs 32 and 37 both undertook control of the PT Base there and trained in tandem for several months, with sailors sometimes getting into drunken brawls over which type of boat was better, the Elco or the Higgins. As the war began to draw to a close and the islands of Okinawa were finally captured, RON 37 was ordered to proceed for Air-Sea rescue operations under Fleet Air Wing One and was to be stationed at Okinawa itself. While the boats had been primed and readied during the months of lax duty on Espiritu Santo, the men would never really see much action as their arrival would not come until the end of July.

The squadron was still packed and resting on the decks of their transports watching the busyness of the Okinawa harbor when on the evening of August 10, 1945 dozens of ships began to open fire at random. Concerned for a possible air raid, the men began to duck and cover before the radio operator ran to the deck and informed the boaters that the war was finally slated to come to an end, and that Japanese had finally surrendered. The relief of the men was tangible, and all thoughts immediately went to home. Before long the men would be parsed out and the PTs disassembled. PT 542’s final decommissioning occurred on November 18, 1945 and Crenshaw would be mustered out of the service only 10 days later, rejoining his wife in Louisville, and finding himself oddly missing the many men he had come to love aboard those small craft in the south pacific. He went on to perform a successful career at LG&E and retired after 18 years. For the entirety of his life, however, he would be heavily involved in the veteran organizations and meetings of the PT Boats, keeping up with many of his former shipmates and keeping the memory of the Mosquito fleet alive.



I am more than honored to now care for the items of SC1c Crenshaw, who passed away in 2004. I recently ran into his sole remaining relative who was able to help provide many more details on his service as well as provide several amazing artifacts which were not included in his estate sale! For her willingness to keep the history together, I am infinitely grateful, and will seek to honor his service forever. She confirmed to me how much he loved the PT Boats, and warmly reminded me of how happy he and his wife would be to see how I use his items to continue the legacy and educate the future generations in the public displays and events I engage in. One of the most complete groupings and stories of a PT Boater I have seen, I hope you all can enjoy these items as well.

The grouping consists of his private purchase dress uniform which appears to be made by the Goldberg Marine Company, a yacht uniform manufacturer. There is also a copy of the personal logs of Lt. Frank Olton, skipper of PT-495. It seems that Olton and Crenshaw were good friends and at the reunion in 1982, Olton gave Crenshaw this binder detailing 495's service after Crenshaw had been reassigned to MTB RON 37. The logs are quite interesting and very descriptive, including a lengthy passage on their participation in the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

Crenshaw was invited to the commissioning of the USS LEYTE GULF (CG 55) in 1987. I imagine he had a number of RON 33 buddies there who asked him and his wife to come; he kept two programs from the service each with a challenge coin, and a longer pamphlet on the making of the ship.

Also included is a PT Boater reunion pin, the 1982 edition of "Knight's of the Sea" with many personal notations marking friends and photos, as well as another PT reference book and a postcard from the PT Museum. From his relative, I found some amazing documents I had no idea existed. Among these are his discharge document, his rating information guide, his original Ancient Order of the Deep cards, a letter of thanks from President George Bush Sr., several documents from the PT veteran’s organization, and his card designating him a Kentucky Colonel (an honor in our state). There are also several photos from his time in uniform that have been treasured from the day they were taken.







Melville in 1943

Crenshaw, likely in the Solomons, note the PT Boats in the background.

Crenshaw is in the back left standing with his shirt unbuttoned

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Crenshaw and his wife Alline when they were married on leave in 1943

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Training certificates

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Shellback cards

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Neat rating pamphlet and roster

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Veteran org papers and a thanks from president Bush, the boats are of RON 37

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PT vet reunion

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Some of the only known pictures of PT 542

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PT 542 in Panama (middle)

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Unknown boats of the squadron

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And there are plenty of other postwar photos and documents.

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Great grouping! Being a PT boat cook, I couldn't help but think of the character in "They Were Expendable"


"Holy smokes, cookie, you call that soup?"


"No Sir, that"s dishwater!" :D

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