Under a Blood Red Sun Book Review

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Under a Blood Red Sun: The Remarkable Story of PT Boats in the Philippines and the Rescue of General MacArthur

By John J. Domagalski

Hardcover in dustjacket, 304 pages, appendices, notes, bibliography, and index

Published by Casemate, October 2016

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1612004075

ISBN-13: 978-1-61200-407-5

Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.1 inches

At the beginning of World War Two the U.S. Navy had three Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons (MTBRON) deployed in the Pacific.  MTBRON One was assigned to Pearl Harbor, MTBRON Two was assigned to the Panama Canal Zone, and MTBRON Three was assigned to the Philippines.  Lieutenant John D. Bulkeley was the Commanding Officer of Squadron 3’s six Elco 77’ torpedo boats.  The Japanese attacked the Philippines on 08DEC41 local time, destroying much of the U.S. airpower.  U.S. and Philippine forces never recovered from the initial Japanese strikes and fought on the back foot for the next six months until the end of organized resistance.

Under a Blood Red Sun is the story of Bulkeley’s MBTRON 3, told against the backdrop of the overall battle of the Philippines.  In many ways the story of the PT boats parallels the stories of the aviation groups at the beginning of the Pacific War – lack of support, lack of supplies, worn out or defective equipment, and always fighting a delaying action against superior enemy forces.  In many ways mechanical issues and uncharted coral reefs were more formidable opponents than the Japanese, more boats were sidelined for operational issues than battle damage.  The determination and ingenuity required to repeatedly overcome these mechanical issues and put the boats back into service is every bit as interesting as the combat actions.

The best-known PT Boat exploit of the campaign was the evacuation of General MacArthur and his staff from Corregidor to Mindanao in March 1942.  From there the General’s party was to fly out of Del Monte on B-17s for Australia.  After the evacuation Bulkeley’s remaining boats were to continue the fight against the Japanese, a mission which was to proceed until attrition and lack of replacement parts had rendered the squadron ineffective.  At that point the surviving personnel joined other commands until forced to surrender, a lucky few making their way out of the Philippines to Australia or continuing on as guerillas.

Bulkeley was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross for his actions during the campaign.  A fictionalized account of MTBRON Three’s actions was dramatized in John Ford’s 1945 Hollywood film “They Were Expendable”.  Under a Blood Red Sun is a more factual assessment of the PT boat’s actions, where unreliable torpedoes, contaminated fuel supplies, and accidental groundings are as great a foe as the Japanese.  I found this book enlightening and an enjoyable read, and have no hesitation in recommending it to others.

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