The United States Navy undertook an all-new endeavor in the late 1930s to built a PT force from scratch. With the rise of Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy, Stalin in Russia and Japanese naval expansion in the Pacific - war seemed all but inevitable. The USN sought vessels that would be much smaller in dimensions than her typical steel-hulled watercraft and field high speeds on the seas and carry a standardized weapons arrangement to include 4 x 533mm torpedoes. The primary role of the vessel would be in countering larger ships than herself through this inherent firepower and speed and be classified as "motorized torpedo boats" by their very nature. Elements of the Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941 and officially thrust the United States into war. At the time of the attacks, only some of the early ELCO PT boats were in service. Naturally, development and production soon ramped up to meet wartime demand.
The USN had already evaluated a few early PT boat forms but these were eventually found to be lacking the capabilities required, giving rise to a new series to tests that would become known as the "Plywood Derby" and include the three primary PT boat concerns - ELCO, Higgins and Huckins. ELCO was already working with assistance from the USN but both Higgins and Huckins were developing their designs as private ventures utilizing their own company resources (the Huckins endeavor cost the company $100,000 in 1940s currency). The formal Higgins submittal became the 78-foot "PT-69" with its Quadraconic Hull design and was handed over to the USN for evaluation in July of 1941.
Results of this testing proved more promising and it was the Huckins design that actually caught the attention of many. However, USN representatives were impressed enough with all of the submissions that three procurement contracts were handed to ELCO, Higgins and Huckins. ELCO would eventually produce 326 PT boats while Higgins was commissioned for 199 examples. Huckins, despite their impressive showing in the trials, was requested to produce just 18 examples of their fine boat. Regardless, history would show the Huckins boats as excellent designs and the crews that were lucky enough to be assigned the class would have nothing but glowing praises for the series.
All Huckins boats were designed, developed and manufactured by the Huckins Yacht Corporation and even their Quadraconic Hull construction was shared (via licensing) to the other PT boat developers during the war. Additionally, the robust laminated hull appearing in both ELCO and Higgins PT boats were also from Huckins. Before the war, Huckins made a name for itself in the construction of high-end yacht designs which providing the company with the know-how to produce fast, open water vessels. The 18 examples that the company was commissioned to build for the United States Navy during World War 2 made up two full squadrons and all were of the 78-foot variety (unlike ELCOs which came in a variety of notable hull lengths). Huckins boat squadrons were made active in 1943.
Dimensionally, all of the Huckins boats measured a running length of 78 feet with a beam of 19.5 feet and a draft of 5 feet. The minimal draught was of note for it allowed the PT boat to excel in shallow water operations where larger warships could not. As the Japanese military began to rely on barges to resupply cut-off units in the Pacific island campaign, USN PT boats were sent in to counter while the main force moved on ahead. Huckins boats operated at a listed weight of 40 tons and power was supplied by an arrangement of 3 x Packard marine gasoline-fueled engines developing 1,350 horsepower each. These engines maintained origins in the original US Army "Liberty" bomber aircraft engine of 1925 though modified for high-speed boating since. The first generation of Packard PT engines became the 3M-2500 and this was progressively updated to become the 4M-2500 and the final 5M-2500 by war's end. Huckins PT boats enjoyed a top speed of 42 knots, their unique hulls making them excellent performing vessels - even in rough waters.
Design of Huckins boats were saw their cockpit/cabin superstructures set at amidships (more similar in profile to the ELCO than the Higgins design which saw a well-forward cockpit). There was a long bow deck with a standard life raft fitted and torpedo tubes were mounted as inline pairs with two torpedo launchers to each vessel side - angled to launch outboard of hull centerline. Self-defense armament included 4 x 0.50 caliber Browning air-cooled heavy machine guns in two twin turret mountings at amidships. At the stern, a surface cannon was installed and offered excellent field of fire. Depth charge dispensers could be seen along the rear sides of the vessel in sets of four. A typical Huckins boat crew was 11 personnel including two officers.
Unlike her ELCO and Higgins sisters, which bore the brunt of PT actions all over the world (they served in the English Channel, the Mediterranean Sea and the Pacific), Huckins boat actions were largely centered on defensive patrols and crew training. As such, there is no recorded combat actions of Huckins boat crews in World War 2. PT-95 (the first PT-69 class boat constructed), PT-96 and PT-97 were used to train new PT boat crews in the nuances of "small boat" handling and gunnery as well as piloting, navigation and maintenance. These were based at Melville, Rhode Island as part of RON 4. Huckins boats PT-98 through PT-104 were seen actively patrolling the all-important Panama Canal Zone for German and Japanese marauders. PT-255 through PT-264 were assigned to patrol in Hawaiian waters. Both the United States Navy and the British Royal Navy utilized Huckins boats - the latter receiving some 10 examples in 1942 via Lend-Lease.