National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior

National Register of Historic Places Program:
Maritime Heritage Month
PT-658 (motor torpedo boat),
Multnomah County, Oregon

The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation's historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America's historic and archeological resources.

 

[photo]
PT-658 (motor torpedo boat)
Photo courtesy of the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office

Motor Torpedo Boat PT-658 is historically significant for its association with the Pacific War against Japan during WW II and  as an example of the Navy's combat doctrine that incorporated the use of inexpensive, fast, versatile, heavily-armed, and lightly-protected boats to support a variety of combat missions, including harassing enemy shipping, rescuing downed pilots, assisting in shore landings, and attacking larger more heavily-armed and -armored ships. The boat is also nationally important in the field of engineering, as a rare example of a 625 Class Higgins PT boat, one of only 36 constructed and the best preserved of the two remaining hulls.

As a late-World War II, 78-foot 625 Class Higgins PT boat, PT-658 is a complete and functioning representative of the warship that made a large impact upon the history of the United States during WW II. 

[photo]
PT-658 (motor torpedo boat)
Photo courtesy of the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office

PT boats today are extremely rare for several reasons. During the war, many PT boats were lost when they ran aground in enemy waters and were destroyed to prevent their capture. Accidents also took a major toll on PT boats. Their highly volatile fuel made the boats vulnerable to enemy gunfire as well as to mishaps. At the end of the war, almost all surviving PT boats were destroyed shortly after Victory in Japan Day. They were stripped of useful equipment, dragged up on the beach, and burned. This was done to minimize the amount of upkeep the US Navy would have to do to maintain the fleet, as PT boats were small inexpensive craft and not considered worth caring for. In addition, their level of gasoline consumption relative to the boat's small size made their operational expense impractical for a peacetime Navy. Finally, these wooden PT boats were meant to be expendable. As a result of these factors, all PT boats are exceedingly rare, especially in a floating and functioning condition. 

During WW IItwo companies built the vast majority PT boats for combat use. Higgins constructed a 78-foot boat and Elco built a slightly larger 80-foot craft. Both were known by their makers, referred to as either "Higgins" or "Elco," but were similar in many respects. In total, 350 Elco and 199 Higgins boats were built. Among the 199 Higgins boats were three major sub classes: PT 205 class, PT 450 class, and PT 625 class, each an improvement in armament and or/performance over the previous design. The last, and most advanced design of the war, were the thirty-six 625 Class Higgins PT Boats. 

[photo]
PT-658 (motor torpedo boat)
Photo courtesy of the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office

First developed by the European powers in the early-twentieth century for coastal defense, PT boats became an indispensible part of the U.S. war strategy during WWII. Seeking a versatile and inexpensive weapon to defend the Philippines, General Douglas MacArthur secured 15 million dollars from Congress in 1941 to produce 100 PT boats to defend the islands. Considered ideal because these wood ships could be produced cheaply and quickly without utilizing steel needed for larger ships, the boats provided distinct advantages over aircraft, including being able to operate during foul weather and having a longer range. While PT-boats were unarmored, the use of a V-shaped hull and powerful engines enabled the boats to quickly attack better-armed and armored targets and flee before they could be pursued.  

PT boats boasted the heaviest armament of any U.S. Navy ship compared to their size. These versatile weapons and their crews served in the Pacific Ocean, Aleutian Islands, Mediterranean Sea, and coastal Europe, and played a key role in hampering the Japanese and German war effort by destroying enemy shipping. Other missions included supporting landings, harassing shore installations, and rescuing downed pilots among other missions. Cheap to produce, fast, maneuverable, and heavily armed, PT boats carried out a variety of critical battlefield roles and were a key part of the overall strategy to win the war. 

PT-658 was constructed according to standard dimensions of the Higgins-type PT boat. PT-658 is 78.75 feet long, with a 20.25-foot beam and a 5.6-foot draft. When fully loaded, PT-658 displaced 55 tons.  The overall hull form is a classic planing hull, which consists of two layers of wood planks (3/8" spruce and 3/4" mahogany) fitted over 1-1/2- inch mahogany frames spaced 15 inches apart. 

[photo]
PT-658 (motor torpedo boat)
Photo courtesy of the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office

PT-658 was built at Higgins Industries Boatworks in New Orleans. Completed on July 30, 1945, the boat was originally slated to join Squadron 45 and assigned to the Pacific Fleet. As WW II neared its end, the boat was rescheduled to be "lend-leased" to the USSR, but the transfer was halted when hostilities ceased. PT-658 was then reclassified as a Crash Rescue Boat in August 1946, and later assigned to the Bureau of Aeronautics as a target towing craft at Naval Air Facility, Pt. Mugu California. In 1958, the boat was sold to Earl C. Brown of National Machinery in Oakland, CA. as surplus equipment. Upon his death, the boat was gifted to Save the PT Boat, Inc. in May of 1992 by his son, Orlando Brown. Until PT-658 was moved to its permanent home in Portland in September 1994, it was moored in the water in Oakland CA in the Alameda Estuary for 35 years, without protection from rain, sun, dry rot, or vandalism.  

When former PT Boaters in Oregon learned of its existence, many Oregon and Washington companies and National Guard units assisted the group's efforts to rescue the boat. Sause Bros. Ocean Towing Co. in Coos Bay moved the barge from San Francisco Bay to the Columbia River. The 144th Transportation Unit of the Washington National Guard transported PT-658 aboard the Army Logistics Support Vessel, USAT General Brehan B. Sommervell (LSV-3) to the US Army Corps of Engineers dock, where the Engineers lifted the boat onto a barge. At no charge, Foss Towing Co. then towed the boat, cradle and barge to Swan Island where it is currently moored at the Navy & Marine Corps Reserve Readiness Center. 

Excerpted from the National Register nomination, written by Bob Alton and Barbara Brunkow.

Martime History Month

Read the full file on the PT-658 (motor torpedo boat)