For anyone who has read the stories or seen the movies about the exploits of John F. Kennedy when he skippered the PT 109, the Patrol Torpedo boat has to have earned a special place in their memory. The
PT, made famous by their daring exploits in WWII has its origins similar boats being developed prior to the war. In the late 1930s, the Navy was working on three designs which were promising but lacked the performance the Navy was looking for. Then a representative from ELCO (The Electric Boat Company) obtained a high-speed boat from the British Power Boat Company. The boat was based on a Hubert Scott-Paigne designed 70-foot advanced speed boat. ELCO used this basic design and submitted an experimental 40-ton armed version designated as the PT-19. The PT-19 was not quite what the Navy wanted. It did not fare well in open seas. Back to the drawing boards with the PT-20, which was 77 feet long.The majority of those noble PTs seen darting through the waves under enemy fire in the John Wayne film there were expendable and the filmed story of Lt. John Kennedy’s harrowing experience in PT 109 are gone forever. Most, but not all. The PT 305 nearly made it to the scrap heap but was saved for posterity by a man with a mission. John Kushner is an ardent WWII enthusiast and one of the original trustees of The National World War II Museum. Kushner convinced the museum directors of the need for a PT in their collection. After looking at other boats, the PT 305 hulk was purchased. It had been used as a tour boat in New York City then as a fishing charter boat. It eventually wound up as a Chesapeake Bay oyster boat. Then in 2001, it was purchased by the Defenders of the America Naval Museum in Galveston, Texas. In April of 2007, the former PT 305 was returned to New Orleans and the campus of the National World War II Museum.
This led to the Navy submitting designs to ELCO, Huckins and Higgins. A competitive trial was conducted offshore of New London during July of 1941. New boat designs were tested from Elco, Huckins and Higgins began developing their own designs in what became known as the “Plywood Derby”. Ironically the boats were not made of plywood. It was decided that all three designs were worthy of further development but, the Elco design was the winner. The ELCO was deemed to be the best in rough seas and had superior speed and handling capabilities. That led to ELCO becoming the largest producer of PT boats all during WWII.
The original Packard gasoline engines had been removed and replaced in 1948 with a diesel engine. The boat was also shortened by 13 feet to avoid the coast guard regulations requiring licensed captain on boats over 65 feet in length. Luckily in December of 2007 a Northern Illinois farmer, Dan Rush who owned more than 30 Packard Engines which he had bought from a naval supply shop, donated a half a million dollars’ worth of Packard parts to the project including the needed Packard engines, carburetors and items, still packaged in their original WWII containers, and vital to the restoration.The actual restoration began when the hulk was moved into the Prager Machine Shop facility from the museum parking lot where it remained on the hard for since 2006. The process of restoring the basic structure including restoring the 13 feet of the stern section that have been removed, began in earnest in 2010.
The following year the project was moved from the Prager Machine shop to the John E. Kushner Restoration Pavilion. Another three years went by until the hull was completely restored. The fully restored Packard engines were started for the first time in half a century. They were installed in 2015. In 2016 electrical, plumbing and ventilation were installed and the PT 305 was getting closer and closer to looking as it did when it saw action hunting German ships off the coast of Corsica and St Tropez in France.
It took more than 100,000 volunteer hours to make it happen, but by July of 2016, the restoration was complete. In January of 2017, the PT 305 was launched into Lake Pontchartrain and underwent sea trials with the U.S. Coast Guard. The PT 305 was tested and made ready to provide passenger rides on an authentic and fully restored working combat veteran WW II PT boat. In March of 2017, she was ready to bring her history alive for generations past, present and to come.
PT 305 was designed and built at Higgins Industries Canal Plant in New Orleans, Louisiana in early 1944. It should be noted that Andrew Higgins was renowned for building the LCVP landing craft and of whom General Dwight Eisenhower said. “Andrew Higgins… is the man who won the war for us. …If Higgins had not designed and built the LCVPs, we nerve could have landed over an open beach. The whole strategy of the war would have been different.” It should be noted that it was a PT boat that evacuated General Douglas MacArthur before the fall of Corridor. MacArthur and his family traveled by boat 560 miles to the Philippine island of Mindanao, braving mines, rough seas, and the Japanese Navy. At the end of the hair-raising 35-hour journey, MacArthur told the boat commander, John D. Bulkeley, “You’ve taken me out of the jaws of death, and I won’t forget it.” The PT-41 evacuated General MacArthur, Douglas MacArthur IV (General MacArthur’s son), Ah Cheu (Arthur’s Chinese nurse), Major General Richard K. Sutherland, (Chief of Staff), Captain Herbert J. Ray (USN), Lt. Colonel Sidney L. Huff (Aide), and Major C.H. Morehouse (Medical Officer) from Corregidor to Mindanao March 12, 1942, thus enabling MacArthur to escape and to make his famous “I shall return” speech in Terowies, Australia.
The original keel for the PT 305 was laid down in April of 1943 and commission by 1944. Despite the fact they were known as plywood boats, the PTs were constructed of two layers of double -diagonal mahogany with a layer of glue-impregnated cloth used for better water proofing. This construction was used because it made the boats lighter and stronger. And, if damaged it was easy to repair.
The crew consisted of three officers and between 12 and 17 enlisted sailors. There were three sets of crews that were rotated on thePT 305. PT 305 was assigned to Motor Torpedo Squadron 22 known as RON22. It operated mainly in the Mediterranean Sea along the coast of Southern France and Northern Italy. Its mission was to patrol the waters up and down the coast of Italy and to disrupt or destroy enemy supply runs. One of the early innovations was the introduction of radar that aided PT 305 crews in finding enemy shipping, especially at night. In 1944 the entire squad was loaded onto tankers and returned to the US for an overhaul. Before they could get back into the fight, the war ended and the PTs were ingloriously sold at auction.
However, thanks to the relentless efforts of the folks at the World War II Museum, the PT 305 is back as good as new and actually running. Besides its designation as PT 305, it was fondly named the Sudden Jerk. In the years after her decommissioning, she was renamed Scalloping I, Jersey, Dauntless, Man O’War, Vagabond and as an Oysterman out of Tilghman Island, MD, she was called Crow Brothers.
For more information on the PT 305and to arrange a ride on the restored noble veteran, a living memorial to the men who fought and died to protect our freedom, contact the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana, at http://www.pt305.org/
It is a ride you will never forget.