You know what’s missing in Annapolis? A warship! Here we are home to the United States Naval Academy, and while the academy features a variety of small sailboats, the beautiful fleet of matching sloops and the YP yard patrol boats, we have no true warship.
I have heard that the harbor is just too shallow for anything really big, which is why the visiting cruisers and subs that come in summertime have to be anchored out in the main channel south of the Bay Bridge. Still, there must be something bristling with might that could clear the muddy bottom of Annapolis Roads. One day I found such a battle wagon… and I found her right here on the Chesapeake Bay!
About 15 years ago I was cruising in my old 17-foot Boston Whaler down by Tilghman Island. As I eased through Knapps Narrows east of the drawbridge, I spotted a hull on the island side of the channel that I recognized right away as looking very much like a World War II PT boat. I’m familiar with PTs as my father served on them in the South Pacific.
I idled past this boat several times. From the decks up it looked nothing like a PT, featuring only a rough-hewn and squarish pilothouse; the navy gray was gone, replaced by a rough coat of white. It wasn’t quite long enough; still I was sure it was a PT.
A couple of weeks later I drove over for a closer look. Walking the docks and talking to a few watermen, I quickly found out that the owner of the boat was Capt. Crow, and a helpful fellow pointed out his house.
Capt. Crow, a life-long waterman, confirmed that the boat was indeed a PT: PT 305, a Higgins-built boat. He confirmed that she had been shortened with 20 feet taken off her stern. All of the original superstructure, PT tubes, and twin caliber Browning machine guns, were long gone when he bought it some years before. Capt. Crow used the boat mostly for planting oyster spat under a contract from DNR.
After our visit I got in touch with the PT Boaters Association and registered the existence of the boat. They keep a registry of found PTs and are always eager to find out about a new discovery. Digging through the PT boat books that my dad had collected, I was quickly able to determine that PT 305 spent the war in the European theater. Since the war in Europe ended before the war in Japan, the Navy had shipped most of the PTs back to the New York area for refitting in preparation for further service in the Pacific theater.
The war in Japan ended before the PTs could be shipped out, and most of the still-surviving PTs come from this fortunate group that got full overhauls in 1945. Like so much other surplus military equipment, the boats were sold off cheap after the war and found second lives as cruise boats, dive boats, or in other commercial ventures. It turns out that at the time the Coast Guard rules for commercial vessels over 60 feet were much more onerous than for b
oats of 60 feet or less, which led to so many of these beautiful boats being shortened at the stern. The glorious 1650-hp, two-stage supercharged engines – of which there were three – were impractical and usually removed and replaced by lowly diesels. PT 305 had a big Cat diesel in it.
Using my dad’s extensive PT info, I was able to reach out to two former crewmen who were thrilled to discover that the boat had survived.
One crewman I talked to told me that PT 305 had a nickname, The Sudden Jerk, and explained the origin of the name. One time when they were in port, Bob Hope was in town with his USO show and before the show started he had come down to the boat basin and had been jumping on PTs meeting crewmen.
He suddenly jumped on the 305 and made a number of jokes at the expense of the captain and then just as quickly disappeared. This led to her nickname The Sudden Jerk.
I investigated the idea of trying to put a group together to buy the PT, restore her, and bring her to Annapolis as a featured warship that could come into the harbor. At the time, I could generate no interest or funds. Some years later I heard that my registering the ship with the PT boaters Association had had a good result. I learned that she was bought by the World War II Museum in New Orleans. So, my goal of seeing her restored and put on display was partly achieved. She’s not in Annapolis sadly, but be sure and visit this former native of Tilghman Island the next time you’re in New Orleans!
PT 305 was launched on May 27, 1943 in New Orleans, LA. In April 2007, after more than 63 years, she returned home to New Orleans. Today, for the first time ever, The National WWII Museum will offer the public the opportunity to tour and ride the restored PT boat 305 on her home waters of Lake Pontchartrain.
By Tracy Beer