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Opinion letter: As Battleship Cove removes Hiddensee, fears arise regarding another vessel’s fate



To Whom It May Concern:

I would like to provide an anonymous tip regarding Battleship Cove’s level of care towards its historic vessels, and one vessel in particular, in light of recent developments.

In July of this year, a Fall River resident expressed concern to the Fall River Reporter regarding the fate of the Soviet corvette Hiddensee, a unique vessel that served as a part of Battleship Cove’s fleet since 1997. After public access to the vessel was closed following a gangway collapse in December 2021, the ship’s fate worsened as the ship experienced flooding in February of the following year. While Battleship Cove’s board of directors decided to remove Hiddensee from its collection of vessels in October 2022, inquiries made to the museum’s management by members of the media and the public led to a postponement of this initiative. However, staff removed guns from the ship in the following months and covered Hiddensee’s name on the stern with black paint, alluding to the intention of distancing this piece of Naval history from the educational organization that moored her. At the time of the Fall River resident’s letter, Hiddensee’s fate remained unknown. However, that is no longer the case, as Battleship Cove removed the vessel via tugboat in early October 2023. As that ship sails down the Taunton River to await her fate, questions now arise regarding the destiny of another of Battleship Cove’s historic Naval craft.

Constructed in 1945, PT 796 is a patrol torpedo boat built by Higgins Industries in New Orleans. At 78 feet long, with a displacement of 48 tons and top speed of 41 knots (47 miles per hour), she was meant to serve as a nimble, yet still powerful, fighting force that would help the Allies win World War II on the Pacific or Atlantic front. However, fate would have different plans for PT 796, as her construction finished after the war ended. She served a period with Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 1 patrolling the East Coast and Caribbean for a short while before a reassignment in Panama City, Florida. Here she was a member of the Navy Operational Development Force and Naval Ship Research Development Laboratory. PT 796’s most notable service came in January 1961, when she served as a parade float during President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural festivities. During this stint, she sported the hull number 109 in reference to the Elco PT boat whose destruction led to the young Lieutenant Kennedy being hailed as a war hero for selflessly saving his men, all of whom were jeopardized after their vessel was struck and sunk by a German destroyer. In 1970, PT 796 was removed from service, and she was placed under the care of PT Boats, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving these rare American vessels. After years of rest in Memphis, she arrived at Battleship Cove in 1975, where she remains to this day.

For years, PT 796 was housed in a Quonset hut that was a part of Battleship Cove’s PT boat display building. This structure provided valuable protection from the elements of nature, as the vessel is made of laminated mahogany, which could decay if exposed to continuous seasons of New England’s harsh weather. In February 2020, a tower of shipping containers on the Fall River Line Pier toppled during a windstorm, tearing a hole along the side of the Quonset hut’s structure. Rather than repair this damage, Battleship Cove staff walled off this portion of the PT boat building, which meant the only patrol torpedo boat that the public could see would be the Elco vessel PT 617. Oddly enough, the museum prioritized constructing a tank to hold the salvaged remains of Elco PT boat 59 in a preservative chemical bath during the summer of 2020 in the remaining portion of the PT boat display building. Much like PT 796, PT 59 has a connection to President Kennedy’s legacy, as she was commanded by him in 1943 after his stoic actions as the leader of PT 109’s crew. Therefore, the preserved remains of PT 59 make for a unique addition to Battleship Cove’s historic collection of Naval artifacts, but it is a shame these items were added before the museum addressed the public visibility and accessibility of PT 796.

In February 2022, after nearly two years of neglect, and with an accumulation of snow on its structure, the Quonset hut that housed PT 796 caved in. While there was some damage to the patrol torpedo boat, luckily this was mostly confined to her bridge. Battleship Cove tore down this structure the following July, and it covered PT 796 with a tarp that covered not only her main deck, but also the damage she sustained to her bridge and gun ports. While bouts of weather would tear this tarp on occasion, it was only upon encouragement from the public, as well as outcries made by PT Boats, Inc. on behalf of concerned PT boat enthusiasts, that museum staff would replace the tarp to protect the wooden structure of this incredible piece of American history. Besides the application of these tarps, no further action has been taken by Battleship Cove to protect PT 796 or put her back on display for the public. Furthermore, it is unknown whether the museum will erect a new building to protect the vessel. During this time, however, the museum constructed a new building behind its gift shop to house two helicopters from the Vietnam War. These aircraft were recently restored, but they were previously on display in the open and exposed to the elements for years. This seems to be another example where Battleship Cove prioritizes the creation of new exhibits, as it did the remains of PT 59, before it addresses the upkeep of anything in its current collection. In August 2023, Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll toured Battleship Cove and announced the commonwealth would provide a $7 million grant to the museum to upgrade the pier near its historic fleet. However, no remarks were made regarding whether Massachusetts would allocate funding for the restoration of Battleship Cove’s ships and exhibits as necessary.

As PT 796 continues to sit on Battleship Cove’s property, covered by tarps and away from public view, her fate remains unknown. Many people still hope that this vessel will see its former glory, possibly within the confines of a new structure and with necessary repairs made to her bridge. However, the lack of concern by museum staff, combined with the prioritization of other exhibits and the removal of Hiddensee, leave much skepticism regarding a positive fate. For now, she sits behind what remains of the PT boat display building, a hidden symbol of American fighting strength, as well as a piece of history from the inauguration of one of America’s most beloved leaders. Anybody with concerns for the fate of this legendary vessel, as well as the survival of any member of Battleship Cove’s fleet, should contact Executive Director Meghan Rathburn, Chief Operating Officer Christopher Nardi, and Facilities Manager Stephen Ponte. Concerns regarding PT 796 and PT 617 could also be made to PT Boats, Inc. at 901-755-8440. Furthermore, contacting your state representatives at 202-224-3121 could ensure that funding is set aside to address the need to preserve the priceless artifacts that showcase the sacrifice and grit of the Greatest Generation as it fought for the very freedom of which we take advantage every day.




  1. Joseph Pereira

    October 5, 2023 at 5:09 pm

    Not too many German destroyers in the Pacific theater.

  2. Alee

    October 5, 2023 at 6:33 pm

    This article is pretty weird and as usual, inaccurate. The BBCove Facebook page shows when we search it that the PT59 exhibit was essentially free as volunteers transported the remnants and built the exhibit. Looks like a score to me. How did this affect the 796 again? Also, the recently restored helos have been around for awhile just like 796. How can you criticize the museum for putting the aircraft in a building when you use the same logic to argue they put 796 in a building? Sounds like someone with a grind that has no correct facts

  3. Jon Olson

    October 5, 2023 at 7:16 pm

    Its sad to hear of Battleship Cove’s troubles. Hopefully, they can get everything ship-shape again. Preserving the PT-796 IS important, but there are a few other restored WWII Higgins PT Boats in the US. The PT-617 is the more important of the two since it is the ONLY restored WWII ELCO PT Boat in the world, as far as I am aware.
    I must point out that, in the article, you state that JFK’s PT-109 was struck and sunk by a German Destroyer, which is in error. The 109 was struck and sunk by the Japanese Destroyer “Amagiri”, and two of Kennedy’s crew were killed in the collision (Harold Marney and Andrew Kirksey).
    I have mixed feelings about the recovery of the remains of PT-59. It was indeed a historic vessel, but all that was recovered was a small pile of scraps, hardly worth the effort and expense, in my opinion.
    -Jon Olson/YKO Studio

  4. Mike

    October 6, 2023 at 9:13 am

    If it’s a matter of funding, then set up a go fund me site and let supporters from all over help save the PT-796.

  5. Aldo & Leisa DeCollibus

    October 7, 2023 at 11:55 am

    Assuming funds can be raised by whatever means, I propose that one of these PT boats (or both)be brought back to operating condition and give rides for a fee out of Fall River or Newport, R.I. I’m sure Newport would love the attraction. Money’s generated can be used for boat upkeep and may generate a steady side stream of income for Battleship Cove. This was done in New Orleans for PT-305, a Higgins built PT-boat. It was restored by and is now operated by volunteers on Lake Ponchartrain. It’s beautiful. They sell private party excursions along with public daily rides. Perhaps Elon Musk would be interested in participating. Some of those rich families in Newport may want to donate and invest in their town activities. Jay Leno has a keen interest for restoration and he recently bought a house in Newport along Ocean Drive. He may be interested. In fact he has a WWII Rolls Royce / Packard Merlin air craft engine in his collection, the same engine used in the PT boats. He might also be a good source for engine recommendations. I think it’s worth a try.
    May you have following seas and the wind at your back,
    Aldo da Snipe (Treasurer)
    USS Myles C Fox DD-829 Association Inc. (We’ve donated to Battleship Cove in the recent past, not much but we do what we can.)

  6. Robert Brunelle

    February 6, 2024 at 8:40 pm

    “Anonymous.” That says a lot.

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