PT-305 Ready for New Educational Mission
The U.S. National WWII Museum’s fully restored PT-305 is ready to sail again – as she did during World War II. She has now gained U.S. Coast Guard approval to carry passengers, with public rides at Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana, beginning on April 1.
PT-305 is the only operational combat-veteran PT boat in existence, marking the culmination of a 10-year journey to return her to the water. The restoration project was complex. At the time of her acquisition by the Museum, PT-305 had been significantly altered from her World War II appearance, having had all upper works removed, mechanical systems removed and hull shortened. In addition, the craft was in an unstable condition.
Maintaining the vessel as received was not an option for long-term preservation and did not fit the interpretive goals of the Museum. The poor state of preservation however presented opportunities. The amount of work required to stabilize the vessel and restore it to its World War II appearance meant that it could be returned to operational condition without having to remove later additions that were historically significant or remove stable original material.
Unique among restoration efforts in her class of vessels, PT-305’s restoration has included original Packard engines, and the restored boat can match or even exceed PT boats’ fabled wartime speed, which was the fastest in the Navy.
10 other PT boats are known to exist in the U.S., four of which are partially or completely restored but not operational, and four of which have undergone little or no restoration. (The remaining boat, PT-658, is restored and operational but not a combat veteran.)
Two PT boats have been a source of parts for PT-305: PT-659 in Vancouver supplied over five tons of parts including lumber, engines, electrical components and deck fittings; PT-308 in Delaware supplied five out of six exhaust pipes. Thousands of other parts have come as in-kind donations from more than 100 donor companies, who in some cases have located original parts, some in original packaging, and in others have followed original plans to manufacture replica parts according to 1943 design plans.
Since PT-305 arrived in New Orleans, more than 200 volunteers have participated in her restoration, logging 105,000+ hours of work. Volunteers including engineers, electricians, carpenters, and even a naval architect, have joined veteran Higgins boatbuilders, bringing with them a wealth of knowledge and invaluable specialized skills.
In addition, supporters from all over the country have contributed to the project through gifts of funds and in-kind donations. For example, Board member Paul Hilliard funded construction of four torpedo-launching racks and two .50-caliber-machine-gun rings. Board member Donald “Boysie” Bollinger provided machine-shop time at Bollinger Shipyards, allowing the restoration team access to metal-shaping tools not available at the Museum. 3M donated all of the caulk (three miles in all) used to fill the gaps between the ship’s outer planking. More than 100 other companies also donated equipment and resources, making this a story that touches participants throughout the U.S.
Thanks in large part to ongoing close work with the U.S. Coast Guard and assisted by the Museum’s volunteer naval architect, every step in the restoration has borne in mind the goal of carrying passengers, and therefore involved the careful marrying authenticity with modern safety standards.
PT-305’s latest chapter returned her to her home waters of Lake Pontchartrain, where she was originally tested for combat readiness by Higgins Industries more than 70 years ago. On Friday, November 18, 2016, PT-305 exited John E. Kushner Restoration Pavilion, the building she’s called home for so long. The next morning, she boarded a crawler and was taken to the Erato Street Cruise Terminal. From there, she entered the waters of the Mississippi River and was floated downriver by barge to the Industrial Canal where she is housed in a new, custom-built boathouse.
In keeping with the Museum’s ongoing goal of telling the story of World War II not only in its brick and mortar campus, but beyond, PT-305’s launch will allow guests to experience a living piece of World War II history first-hand, placing them on the very deck where members of the U.S. Navy stood to attack Axis supply ships and troops transports, speeding over the waves just as PT-305’s crew did in the Mediterranean during World War II.
“The restoration of PT-305, like all Museum restoration projects, is aimed at making history accessible to today’s audiences in as detailed and authentic a way possible,” said Museum executive vice president and COO Stephen Watson. “By preserving significant artifacts such as the vessels on which the Greatest Generation served, the Museum is building the framework for tomorrow’s generations to connect with their service and sacrifice.”
PT-305 joins other initiatives such as the Museum’s digitization efforts and its recent Pearl Harbor 75 Electronic Field Trip that create connections to history through personal stores, evokes distant times and places with immersive exhibits and brings visitors inside history with interactive experiences.