PT-617 and PT-796:
As designed, the PT boat's primary mission was for advanced base operations in foreign countries, and to defend coastal waters from capital ships, but additional missions were assumed throughout the course of World War II. For example, one PT boat dueled a Nazi shore artillery during the June 6 Normandy invasion, and two others captured the fleeing Italian naval staff off Sicily in 1943.
The Higgins and Elco Boat companies built a majority of Unites States PT Boats. Designs varied, but these boats were generally 80' in length and carried a beam (width) of 20'. Typical armaments included four torpedoes and an assortment of 40 mm, 37 mm, 20 mm, and .50 caliber machine guns, depth charges, and rocket launchers. Three Packard Marine gasoline engines powered the boats to a top speed of 45 knots.
At the end of World War II, the expense of returning PT boats to the United States from overseas was considered prohibitive, so most boat were stripped of useful materials and burned. Despite the paucity of remaining boats, and the dwindling number of surviving PT veterans, these legendary vessels continue to captivate the imagination of history enthusiasts worldwide.
Motor torpedo boat PT-617, also known as Dragon Lady, "is the sole surviving 80' Elco type PT boat on display and represents the United States's most heavily used, highly favored, and combat-tested PT boat type in World War II." PT-617 is a PT-103-class Elco motor torpedo boat of the same type as the famous PT-109 commanded by future President, John F. Kennedy.
Built by the Electric Launch Company of Bayonne, New Jersey, she was laid down on 29 March 1945, launched on 28 July, and was not completed until after the end of the war on 21 September. The boat was assigned to MTB Squadron 42 and slated for service with the Pacific Fleet, but this was later cancelled. 617 was placed out of service on 28 January 1946, and finally sold on 23 October 1947.
In private hands, the boat served as a yacht, and as a salvage/diving platform. She was bought by PT Boats, Inc. in 1979, and after restoration to her World War II configuration, officially went on display on 1 September 1985.
Motor torpedo boat PT-796, was laid down on 3 May 1945, launched on 23 June, and completed after the end of the war on 26 October as a 78-foot PT boat built by Higgins Industries of New Orleans, LA. The last of her type to be constructed, she was nicknamed Tail Ender.
Placed in service too late to take part in World War II, PT-796 saw temporary post-war duty as part of MTB Squadron 1, patrolling in the Caribbean and off the East Coast. She was reclassified as a "Small Boat" on 16 November 1945. Stripped of armament, she was then assigned to the Navy Operational Development Force and Naval Ship Research Development Laboratory in Panama City, Fl, where she was used for high-speed towing experiments during the development of equipment for use in riverine operations.
In 1961, she joined her present berthmate USS Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. in Washington, DC, where each participated in President Kennedy's inaugural celebration. Although she is a Higgins boat, PT 796 was painted with the hull number "109" and towed as a float through the President's inaugural parade.
Decommissioned July 7, 1970, the boat was signed over to J.M. "Boats" Newberry, founder of PT Boats, Inc., the organization that restored and brought her to Battleship Cove in the 1970s. On August 14, 1975, VJ Day, 796 was dedicated at Battleship Cove, where she continues to be exhibited inside an authentic WWII-era Quonset hut.