WW2 Museum's PT Boat Nearly Restored; Rides on Lake Planned
The National World War II Museum has nearly finished restoring a patrol torpedo boat that sank two armored German supply barges and carried U.S. commandos to the south of France. Officials hope to have PT-305 back on the water in about a year, carrying tourists and history buffs on the lake where it was first tested in 1944.
"There's quite a bit of difference in understanding an artifact when it's sitting and when it's operating," said Tom Czekanski, the museum's senior curator and restoration manager.
After World War II, PT-305 was cut down to 60 feet and spent decades as a tour boat and a Chesapeake Bay oyster boat. Much of the remaining hull and deck were warped or rotted when the museum bought it.
Josh Schick, project historian for the National World War II Museum, stands inside the engine room of PT-305, a World War II patrol torpedo boat being restored at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Tuesday, March 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Janet McConnaughey)
Now it's back to its original 78-foot length, with two engines installed. A third engine is still to go, along with plumbing, electrical and detail work that will keep volunteers busy into June or July, Czekanski said.
He said only about 10 PT boats still exist. PT-305 is one of four that served in combat and the only one of those that will be completely restored and launchable, he said.
The museum may charge $250 or $300 for 45-minute boat rides, and $5 to $15 for tours of the docked boat, said Stephen Watson, the museum's executive vice president and chief operating officer.
In this April 6, 2011 file photo, restoration volunteers carry lumber away from their partially restored PT boat, which is situated in its new home inside the John E. Kushner Restoration Pavilion at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
However, officials said, PT-305 can't be moved to Lake Pontchartrain until a boathouse with exhibit space is ready. The museum also must raise an estimated $500,000 needed for the move, months of "sea trials" and crew training on the Industrial Canal, and the final move to the boathouse, Watson said. He said the museum is starting a crowdfunding campaign to raise $100,000 of that.
The boathouse will include displays about the boat and its crew, researched by a historian who has worked on PT-305 since its arrival in 2007.
In this April 6, 2011 file photo, workers guide a partially restored a PT boat as it is moved by a crane into its new home inside the John E. Kushner Restoration Pavilion at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
Josh Schick began volunteering at the museum in late 2003, when he was 15 and fascinated by work to renovate the Higgins landing craft now displayed in the museum's original building. Andrew Higgins' boat yard in New Orleans also built the PT-305.
Now 29, Schick wrote his master's thesis about the role of PT boats during World War II. He's one of two PT-305 project historians. It's a temporary job, but Czekanski hopes to get him on staff.
Schick said PT-305 spent World War II in the Mediterranean Sea.
"Her primary role in the Med was to attack German convoys running the coast," he said. "She has three kills" — the armored barges and an Italian torpedo boat. The crew made 77 offensive patrols and fought in 11 actions, including the invasions of southern France, called Operation Dragoon, and of Elba, Operation Brassard.
About 15 men usually served on a PT boat, and over the course of the war, 44 served on the PT-305, Schick said. He said he's been able to track down two surviving crewmen and relatives of about a dozen others.
Joseph Brannan, a gunner's mate on PT-305, told Schick about a near miss by a British bomber who thought he'd hit a German torpedo boat. Brannan said his friend, motor machinist mate Alexis Charles Kupetz, had just stuck his head out of a hatch, and shrapnel tore his cheek open. Kupetz was laid on the captain's bunk, and Brannan held the wound closed while the PT crew searched for a ship with a doctor, finally finding a French destroyer with a doctor on board, Schick said.
Schick said the crewmen he's had the least success finding information about were Lt. j.g. Richard A. Hamilton of Rugby, N.D., perhaps born in 1915; torpedo man Wilfred E. "Red" Horwarth, who was born Feb. 4, 1916 and died Feb. 18, 1974, in Cincinnati, Ohio; and motor machinist mate 1st Class William Herman Minnick, who was born April 15, 1921, in Logansport, Indiana, and died May 30, 2004.
"Each one that I haven't found relatives for, I want to get in touch with," he said.
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