USS Alabama: World War II Hero Turned Museum Battleship

Lisa Fritscher March 4, 2011 No Comments

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The USS Alabama, Mobile

The USS Alabama is an impressive battleship

The USS Alabama, a World War II battleship docked in Mobile, Alabama, has been on my bucket list for some time now. Dad saw it several years ago with my then-husband, but as the day was snowy and icy, my mom and I elected not to go. When Dad and I found ourselves in Mobile Alabama on a gorgeous February day this year, I finally had my opportunity.

History of the USS Alabama

The USS Alabama Height

The USS Alabama is taller than a 20-story building

The sixth of seven ships to carry the Alabama name, the battleship USS Alabama was commissioned in 1940. Following a series of training drills, the Alabama briefly participated in the Mediterranean theater of World War II before departing for the Pacific in late 1943.

The Alabama saw heavy combat throughout 1944, participating in a series of battles that changed the course of the war. According to historic records, the Alabama fired 1,250 shells, shot down 22 enemy aircraft and never took damage from the enemy. Five men were lost on board due to a malfunction of one of the ship’s own guns, but none were lost to the enemy. The Alabama earned a total of nine battle stars for her service. By the time the ship entered drydock in January 1945, the war was nearly over.

After the war, the Alabama served as a transport ship, bringing American soldiers home. The ship was decommissioned in 1947, but remained in the United States Pacific Reserve Fleet until stricken from the records in 1962.

The USS Alabama Battleship Commission was formed by citizens of Alabama to raise money to turn the ship into a memorial. Local schoolchildren raised nearly $100,000 in small change, while a large corporate fundraising effort brought in almost $1 million. In 1964, the ship arrived at its new home in Battleship Memorial Park, in Mobile. It was opened to the public in 1965.

USS Drum Submarine

The USS Drum Submarine

The USS Drum submarine was a lot of fun

The USS Drum joined the Alabama at Battleship Memorial Park in 1969. Commissioned in 1941, the Drum was the 12th of its class but the first completed and the first to enter World War II. The Drum saw heavy combat off the coast of Japan in 1942 and 1943. Having sunk 15 ships for a total of 80,580 tons, the Drum received 12 battle stars for her service. The Drum was decommissioned in 1947, but provided service for the Naval Reserve in Washington, DC until 1967. She joined the reserve fleet in Norfolk, Virginia in 1967.

Hurricane Damage

Battleship Memorial Park during Hurricane Katrina

The park sustained major damage during Hurricane Katrina in 2005

Mobile Bay has been battered by hurricanes over the years, most notably Hurricane Georges in 1998 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The Drum was originally docked behind the Alabama, but Hurricane Georges violently moved both ships, nearly causing them to collide. For safety reasons, the Drum was moved on land for permanent display, reopening in 2001.

Hurricane Katrina flooded southern Alabama, causing almost $7 million in damage to Battleship Memorial Park. The aircraft pavilion was virtually destroyed and the Alabama was violently rocked, creating a list of approximately eight degrees to the port (left) side. After extensive repairs, the park reopened in January 2006, although the Alabama retained a three degree list.

Visiting Battleship Memorial Park

Battleship Memorial Park Aircraft Pavilion

The aircraft pavilion was well done

Today the park is a massive tribute to military history, encompassing not only the two ships but also an aircraft pavilion. Although the official recommendation is to allow two hours, Dad and I spent closer to three hours exploring and still felt rushed at the end of the day.

As of 2011, admission is $12 for ages 12 and up, and $6 for ages 6 through 11. Kids under age 6 are free. Parking costs $2 per vehicle and must be paid in cash as you enter the lot.

Access to the Drum is through the aircraft pavilion, offering an efficient way to tour both. Since we had just been to the National Naval Aviation Museum a few days prior, we did not take a lot of time to explore the pavilion. It appeared very well done, though, with informational signs providing details about each aircraft.

Inside The USS Drum Alabama

Watch your head and step in the small hatches

The submarine was fascinating to both of us. Watch out for low overheads and a high step through each hatch, as well as narrow stairs to enter and exit. The focus is on how sailors lived on board, and a series of signs explains what you are looking at and what role it played in the activities of daily life.

USS Drum Alabama Engine Room

The engine room was slightly creepy

Next up was the USS Alabama. There are three separate self-guided routes which, when taken together, allow you to visit virtually every inch of the ship from the engine room to the top of the conning towers. The sheer size of the battleship should not be underestimated. Approximately two football fields in length and taller than a 20-story building, the ship was a floating city carrying nearly 1,800 men. Access between levels is via narrow metal ladders.

USS Alabama Tour Routes

Pay attention to the colors and numbers of the route markers

The self-guided routes can be slightly confusing, but it is well worth the trouble to follow them. It would be easy to get lost on board, as Dad and I found out! Some work was being done on the ship, requiring a detour on one of the routes. We decided to climb a couple of unmarked ladders to see if we could find another way to the inaccessible spots, and ended up climbing the entire conning tower by mistake! Each route is a marked by a different set of colored and numbered signs. Pay attention to the signs and check your paper tour map periodically.

Tips for Parents

Tour Entrance USS Alabama Battleship Museum

All three battleship tour routes converge at the Tour Entrance

Both ships were built for warfare, not comfort. Hatches have low overheads and a high step-up, while ladders are narrow and metal. Keep a close eye on your kids and do not let them wander off on their own. All three battleship tour routes begin and end in the same spot, near the battleship entrance. Consider taking a break between routes to rest everyone’s legs or let the children burn off some energy.

Consider reading up on the ships’ history and life on board before your visit. My dad was stationed on a nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser when I was small. Though the ships were different, there were many similarities. Dad was able to fill in many of the details for me, which further enriched my experience.

Allow as much time as you possibly can. We could easily have spent an entire day seeing things in more depth and taking a bit of time to relax. With smaller children, I doubt that we would have gotten through everything in the three hours we had.

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Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

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