Notice: Use of this site constitutes your acceptance of these Terms of Use.








Quinton McHale, Myth or Legend?



by Tali Urulu III, Research Assistant to

Professor Klaus Werner Immerschreiben
(Author of A Concise History of the Seiber Islands)



Notice: On May 15, 2000, the government of the Seiber Islands announced that Cdr (Ret.) McHale was missing and presumed lost at sea when no trace was found of his yacht Jean Lafitte II after 10 days of searching by the combined forces of the Seiber Islands and the Marivellas. Family members report that McHale had been hinting that he was going to "find Jake and Koji, and that lady pilot Earhart, too." They also report that for the last ten years McHale had been increasingly obsessed with the disappearance not only of his friends Jake and Koji Cutter in 1972, but also that of Rick Blaine and his wife that same year, and Amelia Earhart in 1937. A memorial service will be held on May 21 at the Taratupa War Museum's chapel. The family asked that instead of flowers, donations be made to the Museum Foundation in Quinton McHale's name.





As fans of McHale's Navy will attest, Commander (Retired) Quinton McHale is a man who will live virtually forever. However, like other persons whose names and experiences have been appropriated by American television ( e.g., Jake Cutter, the Addams family, and the Monkees), many people doubt that Quinton McHale really existed. Of course, the reality of McHale's existence has been acknowledged in such prestigious publications as the Naval History Magazine [0] it is my humble goal in this paper to initiate serious discussion of McHale's role in history, subject, of course, to the strictures imposed by the Seiber Islands' "Official Secrets Acts".

The key, I believe, to understanding Quinton McHale's place in history is to recognize that the McHale's Navy was a television show--a situation comedy[1]--never intended to accurately chronicle the life of a man who--in in his own way--forever changed history. Accepting all this, those of us who have had the honor and pleasure of knowing the real Quinton McHale must also acknowledge that many of the episodes of McHale's Navy were, in fact, based on actual events, and that, more importantly, the series accurately reflected many of the human realities of McHale's experiences during World War II..[2] However, before turning our attention to McHale's activities during World War II, it is appropriate to at least trace the outline of his life until 1941. For this, and the rest of this paper, I rely heavily of a series of interviews of McHale conducted by Professor Klaus Werner Immerschreiben and myself in 1999.


McHale's Early Life


McHale was born in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1899, the fifth child to Yoshiko and Seamas McHale. Seamas was a Boston-born sailor who managed to purchase a very Irish pub--O'Hara's--in San Francisco, California upon retirement. Yoshiko was an Okinawan whose management abilities made the pub not only popular with visiting navy and merchant sailors, but financially successful as well. After graduating from high school, McHale enlisted in the Navy, but was quite disappointed with his first assignment to a partrol boat protecting San Francisco Bay. [3] Discharged from the Navy in early 1919, McHale signed on as a seaman on the Blancmange, a ship owned and mastered by his father's old friend, Angus Podgorney. A veteran of the Great War's Atlantic convoys and survivor of at least 5 U-boat attacks, the Blancmange had been relegated to plying the Pacific in seach of profitable cargo.

In 1920, the Volstead Act forced McHale's parents to close O'Hara's and open a Japanese-style restaurant called Ohara's. [4] Despite the quality of the food, it soon became clear that the McHale family faced financial ruin absent a miracle. That miracle appeared in form of Quinton McHale upon his return home from a voyage to the Far East with a gift of case of Okinawan sake from his mother's family, mistakenly identified by Customs agents as "rice vinegar" instead of "rice wine". After a a very profitable weekend of serving fine Japanese food accompanied by a fine Japanese beverage, Toshiko McHale realized that she had what would today be described as as "business plan.": the Blancmange would discretely deliver "rice vinegar" to Ohara's (as well, perhaps, as "cough medicine" formerly sold in the U.S. as "whiskey" and "scotch"). Implementing this "business plan", not only did Ohara's survive and thrive during Prohibition, but Angus Podgorney was able to retire comfortably in 1933 with the repeal of Prohibition, after transferring title of the Blancmange to Quinton McHale who renamed the ship the Jean Lafitte after his childhood hero.

Because the importation of "wine vinegar" and "cough medicine" into the United States would no longer be profitable, McHale decided that the Jean Lafitte would become a "tramp steamer". [5] From 1933 to the summer of 1937, McHale and the Jean Lafitte criss-crossed the Pacific and Indian Oceans, managing to make a modest but steady profit. On July 2, 1937, the Jean Lafitte happened to be in the area where Amelia Earhart disappeared and assisted the U.S. Navy in searching for the famed aviatrix (and her navigator). Running short of supplies because of the extra 12 days it spent in the area, the Jean Lafitte made its first call at Boragora in the French Marivellas on July 14.[6] Arriving in the middle of the island's Bastille Day celebrations, McHale took an instant liking to the place (especially the now famous Monkey Bar). After a week of serious discussions (especially in the now famous Monkey Bar) with members of the Boragora's business community and its colonial officials (especially the now famous Bon Chance Louie) and Jake Cutter, co-pilot of a Pan Pacific Clipper who made regular stops at Boragora (especially in the now famous Monkey Bar) and who had been enlisted to help in the search for Amelia Earhart, McHale decided that Boragora should become the new home port of the Jean Lafitte.

Jake Cutter had warned McHale that his most serious competitor would be Princess Koji's Ichiban Shipping Company which was headquartered on Matuka in the Japanese Marivellas. Others he talked to warned of the mysterious disappearance of vessels which had threatened Ichiban's monolpoly in the region. Recognizing that discretion was the better part of valor, McHale decided that he needed to acquire the "equipment" necessary to ensure that the Blancmange would not "disappear" without a fight. To this end, McHale's first voyage after getting things organized in Boragora was to Singapore to pay a call on one of his old friends, "China" Smith [7], who managed to find "surplus" equipment and ammunition for Jean Lafitte and its crew, including two 40mm Bofors guns, four Vickers machine guns, a variety of small arms and hand grenades, and even an old, but quite servicable French 75mm gun.


The Road to War


McHale had originally hoped to obtain the required equipment in Shanghai as the prices were much better there, but with the incident at the Marco Polo Bridge on July 7 the Japanese succeeded in provoking a full-scale war with China, making a voyage to Shanghai inadvisable. Reports of the infamous "Rape of Nanking" [8] at the end of 1937 infuriated McHale and most of his crew who had, over the years developed an affection for China and its people. In early 1938, over beers (San Miguel, of course) in a Manila bar with an old navy buddy (who McHale later learned was assigned to the Office of Naval Intelligence[9]), McHale let himself be recruited to help the U.S. Navy discover Japan's intentions and capabilities in the Pacicic, especially in the Marivellas. (At this time, McHale was also offered, and accepted, a direct, but secret commission as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Reserve. With his fluency in Japanese and contacts all over Asia and the Pacific, McHale was to enjoy great success as a spy.

In August 1938 "Murder" Monohan (who had earlier kidnapped PrincessKoji [SOURCE]) returned to the region and kidnapped members of Wotanberg's Grand Ducal Family who were vacationing in their colony, the Seiber Islands. McHale assisted Jake Cutter in rescuing the family and then joined forces with Cutter and Princess Koji to capture Monohan. During the chase, McHale learned of Princess Koji's true feelings towards the country that had so badly treated her mother and realized that Princess Koji would make an excellent ally in his efforts to gather intelligence. Staging a poker game at the Monkey Bar in which McHale "lost" the Jean Lafitte to Princess Koji, McHale transferred title of his ship to the Ichiban Shipping Company which renamed it the Jean Lafitte Maru and repainted it in Ichiban's distinctive color scheme. The renamed and repainted ship was registered with the authorities in the Japanese Marivellas, who had no reason to suspect Princess Koji but were concerned with her retention of the ship's prior foreign name and captain of the ship. Her explanation was that this was all necessary to facilitate access by the ship (and the agents she claimed to have added to the crew) to western-controlled ports. To complete this cover story, the Jean Lafitte Maru was also registered in Boragora. [SOURCE]

The next two years proved fruitful for McHale and the Office of Naval Intelligence which benefited from both the valuable intelligence gathered by McHale and the disinformation passed along to the Japanese by Princess Koji. For example, she informed the Japanese authorities that no military preparations were being made in the French Marivellas, when, in fact, her own ships were assisting in those preparartions. [SOURCE] However, one of the many consequences of the cataclysmic explosion of the volcano on Tagataya in June 1940 was that Governor and the rest of the surviving colonial government were evacuated to Boragora, which became the new capital. With the fall of France and the establishment of the Vichy government, Bon Chance Louie--who supported the Free French--found himself and his loyal Foreign Legionnaires outnumbered by Vichyites. Bon Chance Louie was soon dismissed from his office of Magistrate of Justice, allegedly because he was redundent since the former (and senior) Tagatayan Magistrate of Justice was now on Boragora. The Foreign Legionnaires on Borargora and any other military and police personel even suspected of Free French leanings were exiled to Petite Plage. [10]

In August of 1940, after being informed by the new Magistrate of Justice for Boragora of the assistance she had provided to his predecessor and of her friendship with Jake Cutter, the Japanese became suspicious of Princess Koji and ordered her expulsion from the Japanese Marivellas. Luckily, the Jean Lafitte Maru was at Matuko when Princess Koji was told to leave. The next day when the ship left it for the Seiber Islands it was carrying not only the Princess, her servants and most of her other employees--including Todo and her "army"--but as much of her property as could be loaded on board. Upon arrival in St Hubert, Princess Koji and her entourage requested and were granted asylum. [11] Returning to Boragora, McHale was informed by the Governor's Naval Attache that he had been informed by Japanese auhorities that the Jean Lafitte Maru and any other Ichiban vessel found in Japanese-controlled waters would be sunk. He was also informed McHale that the French government would look most unfavorably on any future "provocative" acts by him.

Despite these limitations, McHale continued to gather intelligence and carry out other special tasks for the U.S. Navy. On one occasion, in September 1941, the Jean Lafitte Maru was chartered--nominally by the Seiber Islands Colonial Department of Fishing--to bring crates marked "Fishing Equipment" to the Seiber Islands from the United States. In fact, the Jean Lafitte Maru was of four ships which transported six "high speed fishing boats" (i.e., motor torpedo boats), spare parts and supporting equipment, ammunition, and other supplies from Barataria Boat Works in Alviso, California to Taratupa. [12] Crews and support personnel for the boats--recruited by the same Colonial Department of Fishing--were distributed among the four ships. As senior master of the four ships--which was discretely escorted by U.S. Navy destroyers on a "training mission"--McHale had the honor of hosting the "Commodore" of the "fishing fleet", Wallace B. Binghamton. McHale's impression of the "Commodore" was definitely negative, in part because, despite his rank of Commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve, Binghamton was a supply officer with little meaningful experience at sea. [13]


The War Years


McHale woke up at noon on December 8, 1941, wandered down to the Monkey Bar and learned that America was at war again. That evening, the Jean Lafitte Maru was on its way to St Hubert with most of Boragora's few remaining Americans on board. The next three months were, to say the least, quite busy for McHale and the Jean Lafitte Maru [14], and found them in Rangoon, Burma in late February 1942. At approximately 5:00 p.m. on February 25, 1942, a single Japanese bomb struck the Jean Lafitte Maru causing her to capsize almost immediately. [SOURCE] While supervising in the salvage of anything of value from his ship, an American Navy Ensign named Charles Parker arrived with orders for McHale; he had been called to active duty as a Lieutenant Commander and orders to report with the Ensign to the American Consul in St Hubert. Coincidentally, the pilot of the airplane carrying McHale, Parker, and an assortment of American and British officers out of Rangoon just before its fall was his old friend, Jake Cutter, who also flew McHale and Parker to St Hubert.

In the television series, McHale was described as the the commander of MTB Squadron 19 and PT 73. [SOURCE] However, although MTB RON 19 was assigned to the South Pacific and saw action at Vella Lavella, Treasury, and Green, PT 73 was not, apparently, assigned to this squadron. [SOURCE] PT 73 was actually part of MTB RON 13 which was assigned to the Southwest Pacific and saw action in Dutch New Guinea, Philippines and Borneo waters. [SOURCE] Moreover, neither MTB RON 13 or 19 saw action in the Mediterranean. [SOURCE] [SOURCE]

From all this, one is forced to conclude that McHale may not, in fact, have commanded PT 73 at all. This conclusion is confirmed by information made available to the author by the Seiber Islands Ministry of Defense which was, until recently, unavailble for public dissemination under that nation's "Official Secrets Act". This information reveals that McHale was, in fact, the commander of a special PT Boat squadron formed in February 1942 to help protect the Seiber Islands from Japanese forces which had just occupied the French Marivellas. Because the Seiber Islands--as a colony of the Grand Duchy of Wotanberg--was "neutral" territory, the very existence of this squadron--and the force of which was a part, the "American Consul Support Force 3" (or "AmConSportFor3" for short)[15]--was kept under wraps for over 50 years. [SOURCE]

AmConSportFor3 was commanded by the recently promoted Captain Binghamton [SOURCE] and included the following combat units:

"American Consul Support Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 3" ("AmConSportMTBRon3" for short) consisting of the six "high speed fishing boats" McHale help transport to Taratupa which had been "lent" to the U.S. Navy. These boats had been designated PT's 10 through 15 [16], which were the then unused numbers of boats which had been transferred to the United Kingdom and redesignated as Royal Navy MTB's 259 through 264). [SOURCE]

"American Consul Support Utility Air Squadron 3" ("AmConSportVJ3" for short) consisting of a mix of patrol, fighter-bomber, and transport aircraft.

"American Consul Support Marine Detachment 3" ("AmConSportMarDet3" for short) consisting of one reinforced infantry company.

These combat units were supported by the various logistical, medical, and other units in "American Consul Support Advanced Base Unit 3". Additional logistical and combat support was provided by the Seiber Islands Colonial government and military, as well as the Wotanberg Overseas Airway Company.

From its creation until November 1943, AmConSportFor3 was forced to assume a defensive posture, although AmConSportMTBRon3 did conduct numerous raids against the Japanese forces in the Marivellas, frequently in cooperation with Seiber Islands colonial forces. In November 1943, with the successful invasion of Tarawa, the threat against the Seiber Islands evaporated, but the Americans were unable to deliver a "knock-out blow" against Japanese forces in the Marivellas because of competing demands for men and material elsewhere in the Pacific. Although the Americans hope that those forces would simply "whither on the vine", they managed to survive until VJ Day.

Although forced to maintain a significant presence in the region to covers Japanese forces in the Marivellas, new bases needed to be established and economy of personnel and material demanded that this be accomplished largely by stripping the old bases that have been left behind as the front was extended. This process is known as "rolling up the back areas." [SOURCE] Gradually, AmConSportFor3 shrank in size as component units were either stripped of assets or transferred to other areas. In December 1944, newly promoted Commander McHale with both PT 13 and a PT Boat tender were transferred to the Mediterranean accompanied by a company-sized contingent of volunteers from the Seiber Islands colonial forces sent to reinforce the Wotanberger Volunteer Group. Although the colonial troops joined their comrades in the Wotanberger Volunteer Group attached to Free French forces and would ultimately help free their homeland from German domination, McHale and his small command were destined to spend the rest of the war assigned to occupation duties in Italy, with only an occasional combat mission.




Immediately after VE Day McHale and the crew of the PT 13 heard scuttlebutt that they were going to get orders to scuttle their boat and return to the United States for discharge from active duty. With the assistance of the Grand Duke of Wotanberg (whose family McHale had helped rescue in 1938), McHale and his crew got orders for special temporary duty in the Grand Duchy. Somehow, McHale and the crew were able to scrounge transport not only for themselves, but their boat as well. PT 13 [17] was formally presented to the Grand Duke at the Drachenrucken Reservoir in the Grand Duchy on Bastille Day 1945. After training the new crew, McHale and his crew were informed by the Grand Duke that he had arranged to have any of them who desired to do so at least temporarily sent to the Seiber Islands to assist in the transfer of AmConSportMBTRon3's four remaining boats to the colonial forces there.

Although most of the crew of PT 13 eventually returned to the United States, McHale remained in the Seiber Islands as Naval Attache to the American Consul. When the Seiber Islands became independent in 1950, McHale resigned his commission in the U.S. Navy in 1950 and accepted a commission in the new nation's armed forces with permanent rank of Commander and brevet rank of "Commodore of the Seiber Flotilla". After helping to organize the naval and maritime components of the new armed forces, he retired in 1954 to concentrate his energies on a charter fishing business based on Taratupa which he had started in 1949. Although now fully retired from the business, he still occasionaly goes out with one of his boats to the great delight of the lucky clients and crews. In 1999, his 100th birthday was virtually a national celebration in the Seiber Islands.



[0] "An interview with Ernest Borgnine: 'It made a man out of me' " Fred L Schultz. Naval History. Annapolis: Jan/Feb 1998.Vol. 12, Iss. 1; pg. 18.

[1] Actually, the series was originally planned as a drama--a Navy version of Combat. [SOURCE] Fortunately, perhaps, the network decided that it needed a "mature" comedy to compete with Hazel on Thursday nights. The rest, as they say, is history.

[2] Those of us who know McHale can also appreciate the fortuitous selection of Ernest Borgnine to play McHale in the series. Not only does he physically resemble McHale, his own experiences in World War II uniquely qualified him to portray McHale. [SOURCE]

[3] McHale wanted to be assigned to a destroyer in the Atlantic and "Sink those *%$^@&! Hun U-boats killing innocent people.!" Later he was to point out, however, that while he was protecting San Francisco, no enemy warship came within 1,000 miles on his watch.

[4] This (fortuitously) happened to be Yoshiko's maiden name. A similar ploy was used by an American television series in 1987 with similar success.

[5] Tramp steamer is a ship not operating on regular routes or schedules. [SOURCE]

[6] If Earhart flew directly from Lae to Howland Island she would have flown directly over the French Marivellas. [SOURCE] For various theories as to the fate of Amelia Earhart go here or here. For recently uncovered evidence of her fate go here.

[7] "China" Smith was perhaps the inspiration for the 1950's television show China Smith, although by the time that the series was set, the real "China Smith had already returned to the United States and opened a bar in Cucamonga, California.

[8] See The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II, Iris Chang (Basic Books, New York, 1997)

[9] McHale has repeatedly refused to identify this man by name, but he did let it slip that the man eventually rose to the rank of Captain, met McHale at the Army-Navy game in 1946, and had a wonderful tailor. McHale has also repeatedly refused to identify any other ONI personnel, although it is known that his "handler" from 1938 to 1941 must have been Sarah Stickney White. [SOURCE]

[10] These soldiers and police officers were the only ones who put up any resistence to the Japanese occupation the French Marivellas in late Decmber 1941. After repulsing the first landings on Christmas Day, the defenders were overwhelmed a week later. The fate of those surviving the the brutal battle was unknown until after World War II when Michael "Corky" McCorkle reported that he had run into them in 1942 while helping to build the bridge over the River Kwai. It is presumed that they were among the many thousands of prisioners of war and civilians who died constructing the Japanese Bangkok-Rangoon railway.

[11] Princess Koji's soldiers were later formed into Princess Koji's Guards, a unit of the Seiber Islands armed forces.

[12] The six boats built by the Barataria Boat Works bore a remarkable resemblence with the 77 foot boats built by ELCO in Bayonne, New Jersey. [SOURCE] The plans for the boats were provided by an undentified U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander whom McHale believes was the same officer who recruited him in Manila. Additional information regarding PT Boats generally may be found here and here.

[13] McHale states that Binghamton was seasick most of the voyage to Taratupa and that it was widely known that while conducting sea tests of the new boats, he nearly collided with a ferry and actually ran aground when returning to Alviso.

[14] McHale reports that he did, in fact, sneak into the Philippines in January with ammunition for the beleagered defenders. He denies that any cargo was loaded on board, but concedes that he had to take on ballast which might have included heavy crates with the markings of the Bank of Manila and 100 cases of San Miguel beer.

[15] McHale and the other members of AmConSportFor3 speculated as to whether there were any other AmConSportFor's and, if so, where they were located. Any information on other AmConSportFor's would be appreciated.

[16] McHale's own boat was PT 13. [SOURCE] (In the McHale's Navy episode entitled "The Ghosts of 73", first aired on September 11, 1964), a badly damaged boat described at PT 13 was featured. Whether this is an interesting coincidence or a clever inside joke is not known.)

[17] Actually, the boat transferred to the Grand Duchy was probably not the "original" PT 13. I have been provided with photographs of the boat now named GDGB ("Grand Ducal Gun Boat") McHale. [SOURCE] These photographs indicate that the boat is probably an 80 foot ELCO and not the 77 foot boat shown in the plans for the PT 13. [SOURCE] Some of the differences between the two boats are quite expected given the very different missions of the PT 13 in World War II and the GDGB McHale on the Drachenrucken Reservoir. For example, there are no torpedo tubes or depth charges on the GDGB McHale since it is highly unlikely that any submarines or other ships will suddendly appear in the Reservoir. However, careful analysis of photographs of the GDGB McHale makes it clear that it could not be the same boat that McHale commanded in the Seiber Islands. The most probable explanation for this discrepancy is that the PT 13 was "traded" for a newer boat. This probably occurred after VE day when many of the PT boats remaining in Italy and Southern France were ordered to be transferred to other countries. Anyone familiar with McHale could certainly predict that, rather than send a new boat to "strangers", McHale would try to prevail upon the commander of that boat to send the older PT 13 instead. It was certainly within the capabilities of the crew of the PT 13 to repaint both boats to reflect their new identities.


Last update 12/18/04