MIGHTY HISTORY

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship

(US Navy photo)

The littoral combat ship was intended to carry out a wide variety of missions for the United States Navy in the 21st century. From mine-countermeasures to coastal anti-submarine warfare to combating small and fast enemy surface craft, these vessels are intended to fight and win. But how well would they fare against perhaps the epitome of the small fast surface craft in World War II?

The PT boat was built in very large numbers by the United States during World War II. While its most famous exploits were in the Philippines in late 1941 and early 1942, particularly the evacuation of General Douglas MacArthur, these boats saw action in all theaters of the war. There were two primary versions of the PT boat: The Higgins and the Elco.


These boats had slight variations in a number of sub-classes, but their main armament was four 21-inch torpedoes. In addition to the powerful torpedoes, the PT boats also packed two twin .50-caliber mounts. Other guns, ranging from additional .50-caliber machine guns to a variety of automatic cannons ranging from 20mm Oerlikons to the 37mm guns used on the P-39 Airacobra, to 40mm Bofors also found their way onto PT boats – and the acquisitions may not have been entirely… official.

USS Freedom (LCS 1) is one of the lead ships of the two classes of littoral combat ship in service at present.

(Photo by U.S. Navy)

Now, the littoral combat ships also come in two varieties: The Freedom-class monohull design and the Independence-class trimaran design. Their standard armament consists of a 57mm main gun, a number of .50-caliber machine guns, a launcher for the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile, and two MH-60 helicopters. Modules can add other weapons, including 30mm Bushmaster II chain guns, surface-launched AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, and even the Harpoon or Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile as heavier anti-ship missiles.

This was one of 45 PT boats at the Battle of Surigao Strait in October 1944.

(Photo by U.S. Navy)

Looking at just the paper, you'd think that the littoral combat ship has an easy time blowing away a PT boat. In a one on one fight, you're correct. But the whole point of the PT boat wasn't to just have one PT boat – it was to have a couple dozen attacking at once. The classic example of this was the Battle of Surigao Strait, part of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, in October 1944. According to Volume XII of Samuel Eliot Morison's History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, "Leyte," the Japanese force heading up Surigao Strait was facing 45 PT boats.

A Mk 13 torpedo is launched from a PT boat. Now imagine that over a hundred have been launched at your force.

(Photo by U.S. Navy)

Never mind the fact that those PT boats were backed by six older battleships, four heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and 28 destroyers, the sheer number of PT boats had an effect against a force of two Japanese battleships, one heavy cruiser, and two light cruisers. Incidentally, only one Japanese destroyer survived that battle.

USS Independence's helicopters and onboard weapons would help it put up a good fight, but sheer numbers could overwhelm this vessel.

(Photo by U.S. Navy)

The same situation would apply in a PT boat versus littoral combat ship fight. The littoral combat ship's MH-60 helicopters would use AGM-114 Hellfires to pick off some of the PT boats, but eventually the numbers would tell. What could make things worse for the littoral combat ship is if those PT boats were modified to fire modern 21-inch torpedoes. Such a hack is not out of the question: North Korea was able to graft a modern anti-ship torpedo onto a very low-end minisub and sink a South Korean corvette.