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Italeri 1/35 Motor Torpedo Boat PT-109 Kit First Look

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review November 2012 Manufacturer Italeri
Subject Motor Torpedo Boat PT-109 Scale 1/35
Kit Number 05613 Primary Media Styrene, Photo-Etch
Pros Beautiful rendering of the early Elco 80' boat Cons Needs a few tweaks to get Kennedy's boat (see text)
Skill Level Intermediate MSRP (USD) $189.95

First Look


The US Navy's experience with Motor Torpedo Boats (aka PT Boats) started in the 1930s after examining the effectiveness of the Fast Torpedo Boats developed and employed by the British, French and Italian navies during World War I. The first eight PT Boats developed for the US Navy were less than impressive.

The Electric Boat Company (ELCO) acquired a British torpedo boat which impressed the Navy enough to put ELCO under contract to develop PT Boats based upon the British design but featuring a number of changes, including power from three navalized Packard Liberty V-12 aircraft engines rated initially at 1100 horsepower, but reaching 1500 horsepower each by war's end.

Initially deployed as a torpedo boat, early PTs were armed with torpedo launch tubes that were powered by a gas charge. These were later replaced with simple racks that were powered by gravity. As the war progressed, the PT Boat's mission changed to an interdiction role where Japanese supply boats and barges were sunk. As this role became more successful, PT Boats were reconfigured from torpedo launch platforms to gun boats, some of which also carried rocket launchers.

The Motor boats were the most numerous in US Navy service with 326 examples built. These were numbered in groups: 103-196, 314-367, 372-383, 486-563, 565-622.

Time flies when you're up to your eyeballs. It has been over five years since Italeri released their masterpiece, the 1/35 scale PT-596 Elco Motor Torpedo Boat! For those who missed it, here's the in-box review, the build review, and even the display base build. I forget why I couldn't finish this project, it wasn't because of the model, more like a life event. The deck guns, torpedoes and radar mast are safely stashed away and I really only need to get this project back on the bench, dust it off (literally) and finish it. Then there are the figures, the Jeep on the pier, the fuel drums, and other miscellany.

As you can see in the build review images, the project is nearly done and this PT-109 kit is nearly identical to the PT-596, so I can safely say that this kit is indeed an easy and enjoyable build. So what's different about this release?

The kit is molded in light gray styrene, and is presented on six parts trees, plus the one-piece hull. The kit also includes a fret of photo-etch parts, a sheet of pre-cut acetate windows, a section of wire and two lengths of thread for different rigging details, and a bag of screws to help mount the main deck to that one-piece hull.

There are several new parts trees here plus an all-new photo-etched fret. This release backdates the original PT-596 kit, which represented the last production batch of Elco boats to PT-109, which was in the initial batch of 80' Elco boats. The PT-596 had incorporated numerous operational lessons learned with gravity released torpedos, aft-mounted depth charge racks, 40mm Bofors cannon on the aft deck and a 37mm cannon on the foredeck. With the first of the initial batch of Elco 80' Elco boats starting with PT-103, the PT-109 shared the gas-discharged torpedo tubes, the forward mounted depth charges, and the twin .50 caliber gun mounts. After numerous skirmishes with the Japanese, boat crews in the South Pacific found these early Elco boats lacking in firepower and improvised accordingly.

In the case of PT-109 before Lt(jg) John Kennedy took command, there was an accidental launch of the foreword starboard torpedo tube while in the stowed position and the departing torpedo took out the starboard depth charge rack and a section of the foot railing on its way overboard. The missing rack wasn't replaced by the time Kennedy came aboard. Like the other skippers in the field, Kennedy's crew'requisitioned' whatever heavy armament they could find and in Kennedy's case, an Army 37mm anti-tank gun. The crew lashed the gun to the foredeck atop some wood planking to reinforce the deck. This modification took place the day before PT-109 was rammed by the IJN Destroyer Amagiri. The rest, as they say, is history.

What you see here is the very first accurate representation of PT-109 in kit form. Almost. Italeri provides the port and starboard depth charge racks as well as the 37mm gun. If you're doing PT-109 before Kennedy took command, you use both depth charge racks. If you're doing PT-109 just after he took command, you leave off the starboard rack and some part of the foot railing that would have been shredded as the torpedo and rack made their way off the boat. If you're doing the PT-109 as it appeared on the day of its loss, then the rack still remains off but the gun is definitely lashed to the deck. Italeri provides you with some options here.

Markings are included for one example:

  • PT-109, MTBS 2, Tulagi, Solomon Islands, 1943

Where Italeri made an error in the 'drop shadows' of the boat's hull number with PT-596, they got it right this time for PT-109.

With the parts in this kit, you can not only render PT-109, but any of the other early-configuration Elco 80' Motor Torpedo Boats. The PT-596 was an enjoyable build (that I will wrap up fairly soon) and there is no doubt that this kit will likewise be not only the most accurate PT-109 ever produced in kit form, it will also be a very straightforward build.

Check out the build-up review of the sister kit here.

My sincere thanks to MRC for this review sample!