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Jaime Carreon
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A visit to a PT boat

June 9, 2017 · in Ships · · 18 Comments

I had an opportunity to spend a day at the Museum of the Pacific War / Nimitz Museum in Fredericksburg, Texas a few days. For those who haven't been, I recommend you make a stop there; it will be worth the trip.

Since I am interested in PT boats, I had to make a stop to the museum annex that houses the PT-309, a Higgins boat built in New Orleans that saw combat in the Mediterranean theatre in WWII. The Higgins boats are not quite as well known or as sexy as their Elco counterparts, but are interesting in their own right. Since I was at the museum in the middle of the week, I pretty much had the place to myself and was able to have a very informative conversation with one of the docents there, who happened to be quite knowledgeable on PT boats. It turns out that PT-309's sister boat and squadron mate, PT-305, was recently completed in New Orleans, restored by the National WWII Museum in the same building where she was built. PT-305 is now afloat and operational on Lake Ponchartrain and will be open for rides to the public sometime this summer. Gotta add that trip to the bucket list! PT-305 and PT-309 are the only restored PT boats on the planet with combat history.

The display starts with a beautiful radio control scale model of PT-156, an 80 foot Elco boat that served in the Pacific. The model is about six feet long and is amazingly detailed. The armament is quite interesting, featuring a 37mm cannon cannibalized from a P-39 fighter, a 90mm mortar, twin .50 cal machine guns and a 20mm cannon on the bow, a second 20mm cannon in place of the twin .50 cal mount on the starboard side, the standard twin 50's to port and another 20mm on the stern. She carries the later roll off torpedo launchers and depth charges as well. The shark teeth were a nice touch, though I'm not sure how much artistic license was expended there...

PT-309 is in the process of a deck restoration to correct inaccuracies in the original restoration.

Wheelhouse and port .50 cal mount. The Higgins boats had far less superstructure than their Elco counterparts.

Another shot of the twin .50 caliber guns on the port side. The starboard mount is identical.

A shot of the forward deck showing the framing underneath. It appears that regular lumber store plywood was used in the original restoration, this is being replaced with the mahogany ply that the boat is built from.

Forward 20mm mount.

A shot of the wheelhouse. You can see both the .50 cal positions and three kill markings above the windows. The life raft is leaning against the right side of the structure. This one was mounted on the bow deck.

PT-309's first skipper, Wayne Barber, was a huge Frank Sinatra fan. At dinner the night before the boat's commissioning, Barber happened to run into Sinatra, who was then invited to the commissioning ceremony. Sinatra actually attended, and the boat was named "Oh Frankie" in his honor by unanimous vote by the crew. You can see the diagonal hull planking very well in this pic.

Aft 40mm gun. The ammo cans and rack can be seen just forward of the gun. The fire extinguisher looking device on the stern is a chemical smoke generator.

Roll off torpedo launcher. Purely mechanical, a lever released a pair of stops and gravity and momentum did the rest. The torpedo had to be manually started before launching by means of a lever on the rear part of the weapon, which released compressed air for propulsion, arming and gyro operation. The Mk 13 torpedo was also carried by the fleet's torpedo bombers. You can see the 40mm ammo cans and rack very well here.

A section of the aft deck showing the new planking going in. The white section toward the upper left of the photo is the original underlay for the decks and is being used as the pattern for installing the new wood.

Aft depth charge launcher, also a gravity device. The new deck shows up pretty well in this shot, too bad it will all be painted gray!

One of the three Packard V-12 marine engines that power a . This one is the 1200 HP version, later models were 1500 HP. They ran on 100 octane aviation gasoline stored in tanks sandwiched between the outer hull and inner cabin walls. They were self sealing, but not very secure against anything much bigger than a 20mm shell. They are located amidships, so that fuel burn would not affect the boat's trim while underway.

A Packard valve cover.

The engine drive unit. The lever is for actually changing gears! The skipper had throttles in the wheelhouse, but had no way to reverse the engines for docking or maneuvering. That was done by a machinist's mate in the engine room. The two outboard engines were direct drive with their output shafts running aft. The center engine was installed backwards, driving its prop through a vee gearbox.

The most interesting airplane on display is this Kawanishi N1K "Rex" floatplane. I believe it is the only surviving example and is actually quite a good sized airplane.

My apologies for the quality of some of the pics. For some reason, seem to like to keep their prized artifacts in the dark and in rooms that prevent you from walking around them as much as you would like.


7 additional images. Click to enlarge.

18 responses

  1. Enjoyable bit of history on display - thanks for posting!

  2. Jaime, this was a great photo walk-around & an interesting report. I've been a fan of Pt boats forever (& of McHale's Navy - LoL!) but have never seen one up close. I didn't even know that Higgins made any - I thought they just made landing craft.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Yep, Higgins made lots of smaller crafts during WW2. Anything spelled Higgins is exiting enough for me. There is a very good book I can recommend called "Andrew Jackson Higgins and the boats that won World War II" by Jerry E Strahan.

  3. Yes...I agree with Greg's assessment...thanks.

  4. Got a bit confused first...wondered why they had made the radio controlled boat to look like itΒ΄s being restored...then I got it πŸ™‚

    If one wants to take a look at other PT boats there are an Elco and a Higgins at the Battleship cove.

  5. Jaime, thanks for posting this, I'll probably never get there, unfortunately. And they have a Rex! That is amazing news! I had no idea. Is the SBD still there, I seem to recall they had one?

    Given that the PTs were wood, hardly surprising that there aren't many around. Later on in the Pacific, the crews lashed all kinds of supplementary armament to them, to duel with armed barges the Japanese were using to supply and reinforce their islands by night. 37mm antitank cannon, 20 MM nose cannon off Airacobras, mortars- like a floating guntruck. Makes for an interesting model.

    I suspect that lighting isn't real bright to save fading of the exhibits.

    Great post, thanks again!

    • Bernard, there are several aircraft on display there. The pavilion across from the PT boat houses a TBM-3 Avenger in a hangar deck setting, along with a really neat cutaway Mk 13 torpedo that I neglected to get photos of. Not a good move on my part. Also on display are a B-25B, an FM-2 Wildcat, the wreck of an Aichi D3A Val dive bomber, the Rex and one of the Japanese midget submarines captured at Pearl Harbor.

  6. Here is a virtual tour of PT-309 from the museum website. This was set up before the current restoration work was begun. Unfortunately, none of the boat's interior is open for viewing:

  7. Yes lucky man,this country has very few museums to represent the armed services.thanks for the walk around.

  8. A great look see, thanks for posting.

  9. Nice article and pics Jaime. Always great to see interesting as well as rare artifacts from WWII. The Liberty Air Museum in Port, Clinton, Ohio are restoring a Vosper PT to resemble an Elco class one and will later offer rides on it on Lake Eire. Here's a link for more info.

    I have no information on the history of this boat. However, I'm sure they do.

  10. I so enjoyed my visit to the Nimitz Museum a few years back. Jaime, did you see the enormous scale model of the carrier? I believe it's the latter-day Enterprise, with all the F-14s on deck? That thing must be nearly 20 feet long!
    Thanks for all the interesting info concerning the PT boats. They really packed the armament aboard didn't they? During my most recent trip to Fredericksburg and visit to the museum, I was really pleasantly surprised by how much the museum had grown and "matured" since my first visit many years ago. It is truly a great museum and well worthy of a road trip to the beautiful Texas Hill Country. An interesting fact is that Fredericksburg was named after Prince Frederick of Prussia by early German immigrants to Texas, and was founded in 1846.

    • Gary, the museum has changed quite a bit since my last visit as well. The model carrier you mention is the USS Nimitz (of course!) and she's in 1/72 scale.

      • Thanks for that info Jaime! Just call me "Captain Oblivious", lol! Of course, that it's the Nimitz makes perfect sense. πŸ™‚

        I wonder how many builders were involved in the construction of that model?

  11. Very cool article Jaime.

    During WW2 they built US Naval boats here in Daytona Beach at a place called "Daytona Marina and Boat Works". My Dad worked there during the 1970's, and he showed me some pretty cool photos of the place that were taken during the War.

    These boats were called "Sub Chasers" by the employees who built them. They were 110 feet long and had a wooden hull similar to a PT boat. The Navy designations was "SC".

    Here's a link to what they looked like.

    The model PT is spectacular. I remember seeing the N1K "Rex" before as a kid, but I'm pretty sure it was at a different museum though. I thought it was displayed outdoors... It's much better off now inside.

    Thanks for sharing these photos with us. The close up Packard photos are cool too...

    • Looking at the PT model photos I saw the life raft behind the torpedo in a few pictures (#15 and #18).

      My dad somehow ended up with one of those ( a real one)when I was a kid. We used to play in it and had a blast pretending all sorts of high seas adventures.

      The real one is made up of solid balsa wood and has cloth straps on the bottom. I don't remember if they were nylon or canvas based, but ours were so old they started disintegrating.

      My Dad sat it out by the curb for trash pickup one day, since it was in such bad shape and he was worried that we may end up hurting ourselves on it. One of our favorite toys was gone forever.

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    said on July 10, 2017

    I missed this post. Interesting article.

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