Into the Dark Water

The Story of Three Officers and PT-109

John J. Domagalski

Made famous by her final commanding officer, John F. Kennedy, PT-109 is one of the most celebrated warships in American history. However, a full chronicle of PT-109's wartime story has heretofore been lacking.
Date Published :
February 2019
Publisher :
Illustration :
16pp photos
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Hardback
ISBN : 9781612002347
Pages : 280
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
Stock Status : In stock
Binding. : Paperback
ISBN : 9781612007120
Pages : 288
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
Stock Status : In stock
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Main Selection of the Military Book Club

Made famous by her final commanding officer, John F. Kennedy, PT-109 is one of the most celebrated warships in American history. However, a full chronicle of PT-109’s wartime story has heretofore been lacking. Behind the familiar account of the future president and the boat’s violent demise is the little-known record under two previous officers during the swirling battles around Guadalcanal.

In these mainly nocturnal fights, when the Japanese navy was at its apex, America’s small, fast-boat flotillas would sally out to probe enemy strength, vying with enemy destroyers, who were similarly roaming the waters and able to blast a PT-boat out of the water if main armament could be brought to bear. It was constant hit-and-run and dodging between searchlights across Iron Bottom Sound, as the PT-boats darted in among the enemy fleet, like a “barroom brawl with the lights turned out.”

Bryant Larson and Rollin Westholm preceded Kennedy as commanders of PT-109, and their fights with the brave ship and its crew hold second to none in the chronicles of US Navy daring. As the battles moved on across the Pacific the PT-boat flotillas gained confidence, even as the Japanese, too, learned lessons in how to destroy them.

Under its third and final commander, Kennedy, PT-109 came a cropper as a Japanese destroyer suddenly emerged from a dark mist and rammed it in half. Two crewmen were killed immediately but Kennedy, formerly on the swim team at Harvard, was able to shepherd his wounded and others to refuge. His unsurpassed gallantry can not resist retelling, yet the courage of the book’s previous commanders have not till now seen the light of day.

This book provides the complete record of PT-109 in the Pacific, as well as a valuable glimpse of how the American Navy’s daring and initiative found its full playing field in World War II.

About The Author

John J. Domagalski is the author of 'Into the Dark Water: The Story of Three Officers and PT-109.' Domagalski's fascination with history began at a young age by building model ships and reading books about World War II. This interest eventually grew into research and writing.



Part One: Iron Bottom Sound
1: Midnight In Blackett Strait
2: Two Officers And A New Boat
3: Small Boats
4: Voyage To War
5: Thrust Into The Fire
6: First Battle
7: December Blood
8: January Survival
9: Prelude To Evacuation
10: Guadalcanal Finale

Part Two: Kennedy At The Helm
11: Lull
12: Enter Kennedy
13: Moving Up The Slot
14: The Last Days At Rendova
15: Sunk
16: Shipwrecked

Part Three: Beyond The 109
17: Pt Boats And Destroyers
18: Gunboat Skipper
19: Enduring History

Epilogue: Small Boats—A Continuing Saga



"…Domagalski performs a highly proficient job as he brings these skippers, their crews, and their boat to life, in the process emphasizing that while PT-109 remains most closely connected to Kennedy, the little warship had plenty of other adventures before the future president arrived in the South Pacific"

- Stone & Stone Second World War Books

"I thoroughly enjoyed the book, inasmuch as I learned things that I never knew. . . . I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in PT boats and their history.”

- T. Garth Connelly, PT Boat World

"History has long recorded that John F. Kennedy's heroic efforts after the sinking of his PT-109 led to his successful political career as Representative, Senator, and ultimately President. But, as John Domagalski demonstrates in this thoroughly researched narrative, there was far more to the boat's achievements in the South Pacific than the terrifying night when a Japanese destroyer cut her in two. This account crackles with intensity."

- Paul Stillwell, Naval historian and author

"Well researched and written,Domagalski has done something admirable with the PT 109 saga."

- Naval Historical Foundation

"The author is a Pacific War Historian specializing in Guadalcanal fighting. His account of one ship and its three commanding officers not only sheds light on PT-109, but also on the service of the torpedo boat crews in general. It took daring initiative to command a tiny warship aggressively and this book conveys their audacity in full measure.

- WWII History

…illuminates the difficult conditions of PT Boat combat. The Brave crews of these undersized vessels routinely fought at night, endured poor logistics and rough seas, and engaged much larger ships, while enduring attacks from land, sea, and air… Domagalski brings to life a host of other brave officers and sailors who consistently fought insurmountable odds to contribute capabilities uniquely fitted to the island waters they patrolled. Kennedy himself later remarked that The war made us. It was and is our greatest moment" In Into the Dark Water, Domagalksi illustrates exactly how and why"

- The Journal of America’s Military Past

" insightful and well-written new work that pays homage not only to PT-109 but to the patrol torpedo community as a whole... .With this new offering, John Domagalski brings PT-109 and her crew back to life once again and, in doing so, honors all who served in the patrol torpedo service."

- Military Review

"A useful and comprehensive niche contribution to naval history."

- Rum Ration

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