Battleship Memorial Park honors veterans of all modern wars. The extensive grounds contain tanks, boats, aircraft, artillery and memorials (for Korea, Vietnam, 9/11, even service dogs) from all military branches including Coast Guard. Along with the memorials and a collection of military equipment, the Park features the submarine USS Drum and the USS Alabama Battleship for touring.
We began inside the Aircraft Pavilion dedicated to Alabama’s Medal of Honor recipients. Historic vehicles, aircraft and war artifacts were on display with excellent legends. Much was from WW2. A unique 3-axle truck (10 wheels) was designed early in the war to transport whatever might be called for and it did . . . water tanks, equipment, even dental care. The Tuskegee Airmen were represented with one of their ‘red tail’ planes and an excellent film narrated by Morgan Freeman.
Submarine models had easy-to-understand, fascinating details about their war roles, successful or otherwise. The German ‘unterseeboot’ (under the sea) or U-boat played an active part in WW1. The Japanese Imperial Navy had the most diverse submarine fleet in the war (long range, short range and dedicated supply subs). They also built the largest subs. Their fleet never matched the success of the US or Germany because their primary use was reconnaissance and supply transport. The U.S. sub fleet, on the other hand, was focused on sinking Japanese shipping.
The first American submarine was built in 1776. By WW1 our subs were strictly defensive, patrolling coasts and protecting allied shipping. That changed in WW2. All American sub designs are named after fish: Gato, Salmon, Balao, Trench, Growler. Subs were the primary offensive vessel of the Pacific theatre. Making up only 2% of the navy, subs sank 30% of the Japanese navy and 65% of their merchant ships. Fifty-two U.S. subs were lost during the war. Several have been turned into museums, including the one here at Battleship Memorial Park.
The USS Drum is the oldest American sub on public display. Commissioned in 1941, she had a crew of 65 enlisted and seven officers. She spent the entire war in the Pacific where she patrolled, planted mines, attacked enemy vessels, provided photo reconnaissance and rescued downed pilots. USS Drum has been at the Park since 1969, now permanently on land.
After boarding, I (in my late 70's) descended the hatch into the forward torpedo room to walk the length from inside. My husband remained above not wanting to deal with the narrow passages and vertical steps. Both of us had plenty of company. The number of dials and controls was dizzying. But I guess when you’re 18 or 19, learning it is a piece of cake as is the agility needed to move about quickly in tight quarters.
My first surprise was an escape hatch. If a Submarine was disabled and on the bottom in depths not more than ~400 feet, a rescue chamber could be lowered from the surface and attached to the outside of the hatch, allowing the crew to escape. Surprise #2 . . . crew members were given all leather ‘depth charge sandals’ in order to cut down on noise during silent running after an enemy attack. Heavy work shoes were noisy and could contain nails.
The periscope room was on a level above and seemed spacious. Sleeping bunks were anywhere there was space, including suspended just above torpedoes. Three bunk beds, one above the other, were hinged to the wall. Crew worked 24/7 so beds were often shared over the day. A third level was below but not accessible to tourists. Walking from section to section meant climbing through smalI doorways that could be closed and sealed in an emergency. I passed by officers’ quarters, kitchen, mess room and toilets until reaching the aft torpedo room where I climbed up to the deck. And I only banged my head and my knees once!
Both the sub and battleship are designated National Historic Landmarks. Commissioned in 1942, USS Alabama operated along the U.S. east coast in ‘42 and ’43, then in the North Atlantic to guard against the raids by German heavy ships. She was transferred to the Pacific theatre in 1943 and decommissioned in 1947. By the time we boarded Alabama, we were too tired to enjoy one of the three self-guided tours offered on board. We wandered very briefly and called it a day.