Lake Pontchartrain could be a noisy place during World War II. Many of the 20,000 boats constructed in the New Orleans factories of Higgins Industries during the war roared across the lake on their trial runs, but none were as sleek or as fast as the hundreds of wooden patrol-torpedo (PT) boats that were shipped out of the Crescent City to serve in both the Pacific and European theaters.
Among the boats that skipped across the waves of Lake Pontchartrain in 1943 was PT-305, which was deployed to attack Axis supply ships and troop transports around the Mediterranean Sea. Capable of speeds of 40 knots, PT-305 sank three enemy ships while participating in the invasions of Elba and southern France. Much like the men who served aboard her, the torpedo boat made the transition to civilian life once the war concluded. After being sold for $10 in 1948, the boat underwent a substantial transformation—losing its three Packard engines, upper works and even 13 feet of its stern—as it was used in various incarnations that ranged from a New York City tour boat to a Chesapeake Bay oyster trawler.
In 2007, possession of the ship transferred to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, and PT-305 came home to its birthplace to be reborn with the help of another dedicated crew. Over the course of seven years, more than 200 volunteers united in a passion for history gave 100,000 hours of their time to restore the boat to its original condition, including rebuilding the 13 feet removed from the stern. After $3.3 million of in-kind and monetary donations, that work is nearly complete.
PT-305 is almost ready to embark on its latest mission as a piece of living history that will educate the public about World War II. The museum plans to return the torpedo boat to active use on Lake Pontchartrain—where she was originally tested more than 70 years ago—and for the first time civilians will have a chance to ride on a fully restored combat-veteran PT boat. The timetable calls for the U.S. Coast Guard to conduct sea trials in January and February 2017 and for passengers to be welcomed aboard for the first time in March 2017. That would make PT-305 the only one of the four combat-veteran PT boats that still survive in the United States to be fully restored and operational, according to the museum.
In order to return PT-305 to the water, however, the National World War II Museum needs the public’s help. It has launched a Kickstarter campaign with a crowdfunding goal of $100,000—part of an overall effort to raise the $500,000 necessary to complete the project. Once funding is secured, the museum will remove the entire front wall of the glass-fronted pavilion where the restoration work has taken place, put PT-305 on a trailer and move it to a barge on the Mississippi River. From there, it will be towed to a facility on the Industrial Canal for weeks of vigorous testing to ensure its seaworthiness before moving to a new custom-built boathouse on the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain for permanent display.
The National World War II Museum is also asking the public to assist it in identifying all living PT boat veterans and PT boat squadron support-base veterans, so that it can invite them aboard for PT-305’s first official sail following the restoration. The museum’s research team is also eager to capture as many PT-boat veteran stories as possible to add to its oral history collection, a project that is extremely time-sensitive given that approximately 430 World War II veterans die every day—one every three minutes—according to the museum.
“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,” says Stephen Watson, executive vice president and COO of the National World War II Museum. “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.”
To contribute to the Kickstarter campaign or to provide the name of a living PT boat veteran, visit the National World War II Museum’s PT-305 web site.