With the success of the British and Canadian built Corvettes in the early days of WWII, the United States built a similar type of ship designated PCE (Patrol Craft Escort). Conceived for convoy escort duty, these vessels had an overall length of 184 feet, a 33-foot beam, and twin Diesel engines with a top speed under 14 knots. Besides being a ship of war capable of escorting and protecting convoys of ships from enemy planes and submarines nine of these ships became PCE(R)s. PCE(R)-852The “R” designated the ship as a “Rescue” ship. Their task would be to go in close to shore to pick up casualties from the battlefield or ships struck by kamikazes and give them immediate medical treatment then transfer them to hospital ships for further treatment. The ships had a sickbay with 75 bunks stacked three high, a tiny pharmacy, an 8 foot square operating room, and an X-ray darkroom. Staffing it were a doctor and ten Pharmacist’s Mates (Hospital Corpsmen).
Although the PCE(R)s were small floating field hospitals, they were fighting ships as well. They had no red crosses designating them as a hospital ship. Their armament consisted of a 3 inch 50 caliber dual purpose gun, hedgehog anti-submarine rockets, six 20mm anti-aircraft guns, two 40mm guns, and depth charge launchers.
Typical of these ships were the USS PCE(R)851, 852, and 853. Manned by a crew of some 90 enlisted and 10 officers, the three ships reached the Philippines Transfering casualties together in October 1944, to participate in the invasion of Leyte. When the PCE(R)s arrived, fleet commanders had never heard of such a ship and were not familiar with their purpose or medical capabilities.
During the invasion of Leyte the doctor and medical crew of the USS PCE(R)852 received on board, treated, and transferred, to hospital ships, approximately 400 casualties from the Leyte campaign.
Alfred Samuels, a Pharmacist Mate and member of the original crew, summarized the ship’s activities:
“The PCE(R)8S2 went to the rescue of ships crashed by the Japanese Kamikazes, treated wounded from every branch of the services brought out from the invasion beaches or pulled out of a blazing oil covered ocean, fought off attacking Japanese planes, escorted invasion convoys, and dropped depth charges on suspected Japanese submarines.”
The 852’s ship’s crew protected the medical crew by spending long hours at general-quarters fighting off enemy aircraft. The PCE(R)852 went to the aid of over 1300 casualties during the invasions of Leyte, Lingayen and Okinawa.
After war’s end in August 1945, she returned to the East Coast and had her armament removed. The 852’s hospital facilities were converted to work spaces. The term, “Experimental” was added to her designation and she became the E-PCE(R)852. She spent her post war years at the Navy’s Underwater Sound Laboratory in New London, Connecticut testing secret communications and sonar equipment. In the early 1950’s she was given a name. The 852 became the USS Brattleboro.
In 1966, the 852 was overhauled and transferred to the South Vietnamese Navy where she conducted patrols in the South China Sea as the NGOC HOI (HQ-12). When Saigon fell, the NGOC HOI and her crew escaped to the Philippines.
In 1976, she became the BRP Miguel Malvar (PS-19) of the Philippine Navy, where she has served with distinction in the naval combat operations against terrorists in Southern Mindanao. The recipient of many decorations, she is today the most decorated vessel in the Philippine Navy.
— Text excerpted from “Voyages of the PCE(R)852” by Martin J. Hacala Capt. USNR(Ret)