Traveling Review: Battleship Cove

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So if you happen to love history, are in New England touring Revolutionary War/Pre-World-War sites and have the thought about taking a break from it, turn and burn to Battleship Cove in Fall River, Massachusetts and get ready to commit to several hours of naval goodness at the home of US Battleship Massachusetts. Entry and exit to the museum is through the gift shop, and just beyond sit two helicopters like a pair of old guards on the path to the first major stop, the Patrol Torpedo (PT) boat exhibit. Here also sits the hull of the a landing craft.

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The PT Boat exhibit rests in several buildings combined into one, and house two actual PT boats, several scale models and dioramas, an engine, a theater devoted to the subject, and a wealth of PT boat knowledge throughout, covering everything from specs, to armament and ammunition.

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Each boat has a staircase on the starboard (right) side and sections of the starboard hull replaced with plexi to allow visitors a glimpse inside each vessel. History buffs will recall a young John F. Kennedy commanded a PT during World War II, and subsequently lost the ship after a collision with Japanese Destroyer Amagiri. The urge to climb on and explore these boats was there for me, yet was not allowed. My climbing fix was addressed at the next stop in the tour, the US Destroyer Joseph P. Kennedy.

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Affectionately called the “Joey P.” by some who crewed her, the USS Joseph P. Kennedy was named after JFK’s older brother, a naval aviator. Upon boarding the ship, you realize the how massive these ships are, only to turn to the port (left) side and behold the massive Battleship Massachutsetts, also known as “Big Mamie.” We were given free reign of the ship, which is to say any unlocked door, or unblocked stair ladder was ours for exploring.

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Other parts of the ship for viewing pleasure consisted of original doors replaced by plexi: many of these were crew offices, barber shops, the ship store, etc., meant to approximate what those rooms would have looked like while the ship was manned with 200 and  away at sea. Highlights of her duties: bombardment runs during the Korean War, recovery operations for Gemini 6 and 7, and part of the naval blockade during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

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The next stop is the BB-59, the US Battleship Massachusetts. Like Joey P., visitors are given mostly free reign of this gargantuan ship, able to travel at least two levels of the superstructure and into the bridge, and down four decks of the ship. Open doors are free for exploration, and larger rooms serve as museums dedicated to everything from Pearl Harbor, to D-Day, and rooms with extensive collections of intricate models.

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Anti-aircraft guns are open for exploration, as are at least one of the 5″ gun turrets, and the aft (rear of the ship) turret holding three of it’s massive 16″ guns.

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The Massachusetts has the distinction of firing the first American 16″ shells of World War II at Casablanca during Operation Torch, where she also received damage from shore batteries. She also fired the last 16″ shell of the war in the Pacific Theater.

Because we arrived before tourist season actually starts, we were not able to gain access to the USS Lionfish, a WWII era submarine, and the Hiddensee, a Soviet made East Germany missile corvette acquired by the US Navy after Germany reunified. However, I will say by the time we were done on the Massachusetts, I don’t know we would have had it in us to explore two more ships. I lamented anyway.

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In addition to the rest of the awesomeness of the three major exhibits were two points of nerdgasm for me: the first, in the PT Boat buildings sits a submersible designated GIMIK built by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS, or for the less historically, more movie saavy, the guys who made Captain America (stop watching movies and read some history please)).

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Eventually moved to the CIA when the OSS deactivated, and the vehicle itself declassified in 2010(!!!!), the “Gizmo” was barely big enough for a pilot and two Korean infiltrators and was designed to deposit said infiltrators onto the Japanese islands for espionage and sabotage actions. Very cool.

The second egg of nerdy goodness sits in the aft section of the Joseph P. Kennedy, where inside the helicopter bay are two Gyrodine drone gyrocopters used on the ship for anti-sub duties.

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While I knew drones have been around since the 1900’s, I did not know I’d find a pair of 1950’s drones sitting on Joey P. Again, very cool.

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From an logistical perspective, again travelling with two seniors, and a wife with baby in a carrier harness, movement is slow and steady up and down decks. Moving too fast has potential to miss exhibits, and if you have troubles moving around, I’m truly uncertain what accommodations the museum has as I saw no elevators and few ramps. Groups on the Massachusetts would do well to plan out places to regroup as my group ended up separated several times, and often could not resort to text or phone contact due to the lack of signal. At least twice we ended up moving to ports leading up to the outside deck to regain phone coverage and doubling back the way we came to gather our wayward party member. Other visitors, specifically unruly children darting out of doorways are also something to watch out for.

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Still, if you have the time, I highly recommend this museum. Even with two ships closed off season I highly recommend this wealth of naval history and knowledge. It was a great show, and a fantastic change of pace away from Revolutionary sites. Thanks for reading.

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Traveling Review: Battleship Cove

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