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What is a Motor Torpedo Boat?

By Ken Black
Updated May 23, 2024
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A motor torpedo boat was a boat used in combat operations to launch torpedoes and other weapons at enemy ships and targets. Though there was very little armor protecting the boats, they avoided dangers by relying on speed and maneuverability. The boats were usually armed both with torpedoes and large caliber guns, both of which serve as offensive and defensive tools during a battle. The motor torpedo boat is also known as a patrol boat (PT boat).

The motor torpedo boat was developed in the early 20th century. Its first action in combat was during World War I, and it was heavily used by the Allied Forces in World War II. The Italian Navy also had a fleet of motor torpedo boats in service against the Allies. They were involved in action through the Vietnam War and have since been slowly decommissioned as a modern fighting weapon.

During the time they were in use, these boats had an advantage among larger ships when in close range because of their speed. They could outrun nearly any larger vessel. They were often used as patrol vessels because of this speed and the cost of operation, which was significantly less than a larger ship. Further, they could get into some areas larger ships could not reach because of narrow or shallow waterways.

The basic motor torpedo boat models come in multiple dimensions and configurations. The most common boats were 80 feet (24.38 meters) long or less. The first boats made were considerably smaller, but became larger as the armaments and range required increased. The motor torpedo boat typically had an engine or engines of 1,200 horsepower or less.

As with many types of weapons, the motor torpedo boat eventually became relatively obsolete in the face of new technology used in modern warfare. Heat seeking torpedoes and laser-guided weapons could easily target these ships, neutralizing both their speed and maneuverability. Most of these boats are now part of museums or private collections. There is even an association set up with the stated goal of preserving the history of these boats and all the different models.

Some speculation has since ensued suggesting the motor torpedo boat could be ready for a comeback. With piracy on the rise, especially in the Middle East, a newer version of the boat could be used by law enforcement as an effective tool against pirates on the high seas. These boats, while they would not be part of any true military action or war, could still serve to protect and defend innocent citizens.

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