Engines growl: WW2 veteran PT boat takes 1944 testing course

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NEW ORLEANS – Engines growling, its bow high above the water and a rooster-tail of spray rising in its wake, the nation’s only fully restored combat veteran PT boat traced the course where it was tested in 1944 on the tidal basin that forms New Orleans’ shoreline.

“The wake is amazing! I didn’t think the rooster-tail would be that high,” project historian Josh Schick told curator Tom Czekanski, shouting to be heard above the three 1,500-horspower Packard engines.

Volunteers at the National World War II Museum put in more than 100,000 hours to restore the boat made in New Orleans, and five of them made up its crew Thursday.

Captain George Benedetto said boats have been a hobby for most of his life, but he took Coast Guard-required training to qualify as master of this one. Other crewmembers took a week-long safety course.

They’ve also spent time over the past several months learning the ways of the U.S.S. Sudden Jerk — a name that PT-305 received from the first crew to serve on it during World War II.

“She doesn’t like to go slow,” Benedetto said before the trip. “She’s like a thoroughbred — she likes to run. She likes to get up on top of the water. She likes her speed.”

PT stands for patrol torpedo — these were boats, as one of the display panels in the Sudden Jerk’s 100-foot-long boathouse notes, designed for “patrolling enemy-held coastlines at night, launching attacks on enemy shipping, then vanishing into the darkness.”

Once the torpedoes were loosed, speed was essential for a getaway, Benedetto said.

PT boats were the Navy’s fastest vessels of their day and, pound for pound, the most heavily armed vessels, according to a display panel.

Perhaps the most famous PT boat story is that of PT-109, captained by John F. Kennedy, then a naval lieutenant who got 10 crewmen through many tribulations to safety after a Japanese destroyer ran over the boat in the night.

Museum staffers say the 78-foot (24-meter) Sudden Jerk is the only fully restored and operational U.S. patrol torpedo boat that took direct part in the conflict. It made more than 70 patrols, sank three enemy ships and participated in two invasions in the Mediterranean theatre.

“Normally, exhibit items are behind a piece of glass. This one you can see, feel and hear,” Schick said Wednesday. “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.”

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 docked tours and $350 rides on April 1.

Paying guests will sit on seats designed to look like ammo cases, though with inauthentic padding. Other non-period touches include a GPS navigation system and four 6-person life rafts, though the boat also carries old-style rubber life rafts in big blue sacks.

Czekanski, the curator, was grinning broadly as the boat sped along.

“I don’t know how many times I’d have to ride to ride this vessel before it got old,” he said.

The ride ended with an inadvertent illustration of how the U.S.S. Sudden Jerk got its name.

Moving slowly into its mooring, the 78-foot boat bumped into the dock, knocking passengers around slightly. The port engine had gotten stuck on forward, Benedetto said.

One of the display panels quotes Baker 1st Class Benedict Bronder’s explanation of the name, given after the boat hit a dock while backing up: “And they said, ‘That was a sudden jerk!’ and then they said ‘That’s a good name!'”

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