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PT boat that saw WWII combat restored, back in Louisiana

PT boat that saw WWII combat restored, back in Louisiana

NEW ORLEANS — A U.S. Navy PT boat that sank three vessels and saw action in Europe in World War II is back in New Orleans where it was built, what historians describe as the nation’s only fully restored combat ship of that type from the era.

The National World War II Museum said the 78-foot (24-meter) patrol torpedo boat — PT-305 — is the only fully restored and operational PT boat in the U.S. that took direct part in the conflict.

Built in New Orleans where it was tested in 1943 and early 1944, the famed attack vessel is housed on Lake Pontchartrain. Painted in camouflage blues with the name U.S.S. Sudden Jerk emblazoned on its bow, it’s set to begin paid tours April 1.

“Normally, exhibit items are behind a piece of glass. This one you can see, feel and hear,” said Josh Schick, one of the project’s two historians. “I always say you can’t smell history in a museum. You can smell it now. You’ve got the exhaust going, the electrical systems, old-ship smell, a healthy vibration.”

Even when the three 1,500-horsepower engines are just idling, their spray mists the air and it “sets a stage better than any … set of words could really do,” he added.

The New Orleans’ area Lake Pontchartrain, a nearly oval tidal basin stretching about 40 miles (65 km) across and 24 miles (40 km) from north to south, offers plenty of waterway for the PT-305 to roar.

Schick hasn’t had a full ride yet, though he was aboard as the painstakingly restored vessel cruised slowly back and forth in a yacht basin recently.

“It was great just to be there with the engines running, the boat running under her own power,” he said ahead of a planned media tour Thursday.

One surviving member of the crews who served on the PT-305 and a man who served on a sister boat, the PT-308, are expected to attend the boat’s dedication March 25, said museum spokeswoman Michelle Moore.

The vessel is to begin offering $15 tours and $350 rides on April 1.

Paying guests will sit on two-person seats designed to look like ammo cases as standing is forbidden and a FAQ about the vessel notes: “Hands must be free to hold on to safety handles.” The museum provides headphones to buffer the engines’ noise and carry the guide’s voice.

Just standing on the shore, Schick has been able to verify wartime accounts that the boats’ three 1,500-horsepower engines could be heard idling from miles away.

“She’s loud. Oh, is she loud,” he said.

The 305 isn’t the only working PT boat — the PT-658 also made by the Higgins Industries boatyard in New Orleans — was restored by a group of PT boat veterans in Portland, Oregon, and has been running since 2004. But that boat never saw combat as it was completed in 1945, never commissioned and sold as surplus two years later.

Although Higgins made 199 PT boats and the Electric Boat Co. of Bayonne, New Jersey, made 326 of a different design, more Higgins boats survive, Schick said.

He noted that Higgins-built boats were heavier by several thousand pounds — much of it reinforcement while Elco versions used more laminated wood than Higgins, and the glue often disintegrated over the years.

“There’s also the luck of the draw,” he said. Some squadrons of New Orleans-made boats that had served in Europe were in the U.S. being refitted for Pacific service when the war ended and then sold as surplus.

“Pretty much all the boats in the Pacific were burned on site,” he said, adding it would have been too expensive to bring them back.

Janet McConnaughey, The Associated Press

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