Archives For Museum Ships

coastal steamer

SS Robin
CC Image Courtesy of Paul Hudson on Flickr

Entering service in December 1890, the SS Robin is the world’s oldest coastal cargo steamer still in existence. Robin spent the first 10 years of her life shuttling between British, Irish and continental ports. In 1900, Robin was sold to Spanish owners, renamed the Maria and spent the next 72 years plying Spanish and French coastal waters. The ship survived the ravages of both World Wars as well as the Spanish Civil War and was destined for the breakers yard in the early 1970s when the Maritime Trust purchased the ship intending to restore her for use as a museum ship.

After extensive restoration from 1974-1975 the Robin was placed on display until 1991 when the ship was mothballed. The ship was purchased by the SS Robin Trust in 2002. Beginning in 2008 the Robin was subjected to a multi-million dollar exterior and interior restoration which is now nearing completion. The Robin now resides atop a custom built floating dock reminiscent of a heavy lift ship like the M/V Blue MarlinThe interior of the floating dock will house exhibits detailing Robin’s history as a coastal steamer. SS Robin’s website describes the ship as possessing True Grit for surviving as long as she has. On a slightly related note, Charles Portis, the author of the American novel True Gritresides in Little Rock, Arkansas – the location of last week’s featured museum ship. Even though the Robin won’t be open to visitors until next year, its website extensively documents the ship’s history and provides a 360 degree virtual tour of the area surrounding the vessel.

Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum

USS Razorback
CC Image Courtesy of thomas23 on Flickr

Much like in Muskogee, Oklahoma, one would not expect to find a submarine museum ship in Little Rock, Arkansas. Beginning in 1963, though, the US Army Corps of Engineers embarked on a project that opened the Arkansas River in 1971 to commercial traffic from Tulsa, Oklahoma to its confluence with the Mississippi. Thus arose the opportunity for museum ships such as the USS Batfish in Muskogee and the USS Razorback in Little Rock to be created.

The Razorback has the unique distinction of being one of the longest serving submarines in the world. The boat served from 1944 to 1970 with the US Navy and from 1971 to 2001 with the Turkish Navy. Commissioned in April 1944, the Razorback was not named after the University of Arkansas’ mascot, but rather a species of whale. During her 5 war patrols, the sub sank over half a dozen Japanese merchant and warships, rescued multiple Allied airmen, participated in the surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay and earned 5 battle stars.

Following the war, the Razorback continued her service and received upgrades from 1952 to 1954 based on knowledge derived from captured Nazi U-boats. The boat patrolled the waters of the South China Sea during the Vietnam War and earned an additional 4 battle stars before being decommissioned in 1970. Following decommissioning, the Razorback was transferred to the Turkish Navy where she was renamed TCG Muratreis.

In 2001, the boat was sold to the city of North Little Rock and opened as a museum ship at the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum. If visiting, also be sure to take a stroll across the Big Dam Bridge, the longest pedestrian bridge in the US never having been open to vehicle traffic. Today the USS Razorback stands as a silent sentinel guarding Little Rock and the Arkansas River.

tall ship hawaii

Falls of Clyde
CC Image Courtesy of Wally Gobetz on Flickr

Falls of Clyde is today the only surviving four masted iron-hulled sailing ship. Built in Scotland in 1878 when the clipper ship reigned supreme, the Falls of Clyde operated as a tramp merchantman between the US and locations in the British Empire. Falls of Clyde later was converted to use as an oil tanker and even served as a floating fuel depot in Alaska.

Perhaps the most intriguing fact about the Falls of Clyde is her backdoor entry into US passenger and cargo service at the turn of the 20th century. The Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1886 prohibited foreign flagged/built ships from ferrying passengers between US ports. Today, the Jones Act (passed in 1920) maintains a similar prohibition. A US company purchased the Falls of Clyde in 1899 and registered the ship under the Republic of Hawaii’s flag. Thus, in 1900 when the US annexed Hawaii the Falls of Clyde, despite her foreign origins, was allowed to fly the US flag and operate between US ports.

Falls of Clyde was restored in the late 1960s and served as a museum ship in Honolulu, Hawaii however the ship fell into disrepair after neglect by her parent museum. In 2008, the Friends of the Falls of Clyde purchased the ship and are working to restore her.

Graf von Goetzen

M/V Liemba
CC Image Courtesy of Kobus Botha on Flickr

Lake Tanganyika in southeastern Africa is the world’s longest freshwater lake and the second largest by volume. Plying the lake’s waters for nearly 100 years is the M/V Liemba. Originally built as the Graf von Gotzen in 1913 in Germany, the ship was intended to serve the colony of German East Africa. Upon the outbreak of World War I, though, the Graf von Gotzen was converted for use as a warship to help defend German East Africa. The commander of German forces in the region, Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck , waged such a brilliant and effective defense of the colony that his forces were still at large at the time of the 1918 Armistice.

The Graf von Gotzen and her fellow gunboats so threatened Allied control of Lake Tanganyika that the Royal Navy dispatched two armed motorboats to defeat the German flotilla. Following a backbreaking journey through the jungles of Africa, the Royal Navy motorboats regained control of the lake and forced the Germans to scuttle the Graf von Gotzen in July 1916. Graf von Gotzen’s wartime experience served as the inspiration for C.S. Forester’s German gunboat Luisa in The African Queen.

In 1924, a British salvage team raised the Graf von Gotzen and, after substantial refitting, recommissioned her as the M/V Liemba, the Swahili name for Lake Tanganyika. The Liemba has been in constant use ever since and has subsequently become seriously run-down. Debates over whether to overhaul or scrap Liemba have raged for several years. The most recent plan is for an overhaul costing 20 million Euros to occur and for the ship to revert to museum ship duty after her retirement.

Mardi Gras Shipwreck

CC Image Courtesy of Andy Castro on Flickr

Mardi Gras is often associated with images of raucous partying and parades in New Orleans, Louisiana. However, for archaeologists and conservationists with the Louisiana State Archaeology Department, Mardi Gras represents an ongoing shipwreck recovery project. First located by surveyors for an oil and gas concern, the Marid Gras Shipwreck was named for the Mardi Gras pipeline that runs near where it was discovered.

Although excavations began more than 5 years ago, none of the wreck’s artifacts have been made available for public viewing until recently. Last month, the West Baton Rouge Museum opened an exhibit featuring some of the wreck’s preserved artifacts on loan from the Louisiana State Archaeology Department.

Artifacts recovered from the site as well as shipping records have led researchers to believe the ship sank during the War of 1812. Specifically, there is circumstantial evidence pointing to the ship being the Rapid, a privateer operating out of New Orleans, which sank in a squall after being pursued by the HMS Herald. Regardless of the ship’s identity, its artifacts are helping archaeologists better understand 19th century life at sea as well as educating the general public while on exhibit. Information about visiting the museum can be found at the museum’s website.

japanese submarine

Japanese Midget Submarine HA-19
CC Image Courtesy of Brian Bennett on Flickr

Located in Fredericksburg, Texas, the National Museum of the Pacific War honors the sacrifices made by American and Allied Coast Guardsmen, Marines, sailors and soldiers during World War II. Surrounded by picturesque ranches, Fredericksburg is in the heart of Hill Country and the hometown of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Theater during World War II. Among the Museum’s artifacts is the HA-19, a Japanese midget submarine that ran aground during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

HA-19 was only one of several midget submarines deployed by the Japanese to torpedo American ships at anchor in Pearl Harbor during the air raid. The submarine was discovered and depth charged by the USS Helm and subsequently wrecked on a reef near Waimānalo. Recent photographic analysis has led some to suspect that one of HA-19’s sister ships successfully launched her torpedoes at the USS Oklahoma or USS West Virginia on Battleship Row. US forces later recovered HA-19 and paraded it around the US during war bond drives.

Unlike modern SEAL Delivery Vehicles, the Royal Navy’s X type submarinesor the Kriegsmarine’s Seehund subs, the Japanese Navy’s midget submarine program was largely unsuccessful and is today a minor footnote in the greater story of World War II. For more information on planning a visit to the National Museum of the Pacific War, go to their website here.


Admiral Nelson’s Flagship HMS Victory
CC Image Courtesy of Nigel Swales on Flickr

Today marks the 207th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar – perhaps the most noted victory by the Royal Navy in its 400 year history. Fought during the Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800s, the battle was the result of Napoleon Bonaparte’s efforts to invade Great Britain. Napoleon dispatched a fleet to rendezvous with a Spanish fleet in the Caribbean and then return to France to provide an armed escort for Napoleon’s invasion fleet. The combined French and Spanish fleet numbered 41 ships and was commanded by Admiral Pierre-Charles Villeneuve. After the rendezvous in the Mediterranean, the fleet sailed to Cadiz, Spain where they were found by Admiral Horatio Nelson and his 33 ship fleet.

Napoleon had changed his plans for an invasion of Great Britain and decided instead to have Villeneuve sail to the Mediterranean to support his operations there. Eager to engage the enemy, Admiral Nelson kept only a few frigates on station close to Cadiz in order to lure Villeneuve into making a run for the Mediterranean. Sensing an opportunity to break out of Cadiz, Villeneuve ordered his ships to weigh anchor.

Upon receiving the signal that Villeneuve was setting sail, Nelson laid out a daring and audacious plan to his officers in the cabin of his flagship, HMS Victory. Instead of following the traditional tactics of the day and sailing abreast of the Franco-Spanish fleet, Nelson divided his fleet into two squadrons. Each squadron was to sail perpendicular to Villeneuve’s fleet and slice through their battle line. If successful, the plan would split Villeneuve’s fleet and allow Nelson’s fleet to riddle them with broadsides from both sides.

Before engaging the Franco-Spanish fleet, Nelson ordered the signal “England expects that every man will do his duty” to be raised from the Victory. Nelson’s plan worked brilliantly and before the day was over more than 21 ships of the Franco-Spanish fleet had been sunk or captured. Tragically, Nelson paid for his triumph with his life as a French marine mortally wounded him with a musket shot.

Today, Admiral Nelson is honored as one of, if not the, greatest admiral who ever served in the Royal Navy. His statute guards Trafalgar Square in London and the HMS Victory serves as the flagship of the First Sea Lord and as a museum ship alongside the Mary Rose.