Archives For Museum Ships

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.

Captain Cook

HMB Endeavour
CC Image Courtesy of Alex Bikfalvi on Flickr

Launched in 1993, HMB Endeavour is a faithful recreation of the bark used by Lieutenant James Cook on his expedition to Australia and New Zealand from 1768 – 1771. Cook and his crew explored various parts of Australia and New Zealand, gave Botany Bay its name and even ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef. Returning home a hero, Cook led two more expeditions of discovery before his death at the hands of natives in the Hawaiian Islands. The Endeavour continued in his majesty’s service as a troop transport before being sold into private hands. Renamed Lord Sandwich the bark was eventually scuttled as a blockship off Providence, Rhode Island during the American Revolution.

Having sailed over 170,000 nautical miles and visited 29 countries, the bark now calls the Australian National Maritime Museum home. Located in Sydney, the Australian National Maritime Museum has more than a half dozen museum ships including the patrol vessel HMAS Advance, submarine HMAS Onslow, destroyer HMAS Vampire, and barque James Craig. The bark is open for tours and more information can be found here.

british warship

Mary Rose Museum & HMS Victory
CC Image Courtesy of Ian Stannard on Flickr

This week marks the 30th anniversary of the recovery of the 16th century English warship Mary Rose which sank on July 19, 1545 with nearly 500 officers and crew. Historians believe the ship was constructed around 1510 in Portsmouth and displaced 500 tons when it first entered service. The ship underwent two refits and during the second refit in 1536 the Mary Rose was strengthened and her displacement increased to 700 tons.

Mary Rose served the English Navy in wars against France and Scotland and it was during the Battle of Solent against a fleet of 200 French vessels that the Mary Rose was lost. Accounts differ as to the exact cause of the Mary Rose’s loss – the French believed they had sunk her while English accounts indicate that the ship most likely foundered due to poor seamanship by her crew.

Salvage efforts were launched immediately utilizing an age old technique used for recovery efforts the world over. Using two hulks and various winches, the salvors would straddle the ship with the two hulks, flood them, secure cables around the Mary Rose and then re-float the hulks. This process would be repeated until the ship reached water shallow enough where repairs could be made and the Mary Rose herself be re-floated. The salvors were unsuccessful in raising the ship and it remained hidden until 1965 when it was re-discovered by British diver Alexander McKee. The ship was finally recovered in 1982 and has been painstakingly preserved beneath a glassed-in drydock in Portsmouth. A permanent museum display is under construction and will be opened in early 2013. The museum is open to visitors during the transition period and visitors can also view Admiral Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory (not to be confused with Admiral Balchin’s HMS Victory) at the dockyard. More information can be found on the Mary Rose’s website.

st. louis low water ship

Wreck of USS Inaugural
Photo: Dillon Fulcher

Low water levels on the Mississippi have revealed the wreck of the USS Inaugural, a World War II minesweeper which sank in the Great Flood of 1993. The Inaugural began life in Washington state where it was built for the US Navy during World War II. A member of the Admirable class of minesweepers, the ship was commissioned in December of 1944 and earned two battle stars for its service in the Pacific Theater. Inaugural and her crew fought in the Okinawa campaign and swept more than 80 Japanese mines from the Pacific.

Following World War 2, the ship was mothballed in Texas as a member of the Atlantic Reserve Fleet until an enterprising St. Louisan named Robert O’Brien discovered the ship in a military surplus catalog. O’Brien purchased the ship and moved it to St. Louis where he charged $1 per person to tour the Inaugural. The Inaugural changed hands several times throughout the intervening years until she was ripped from her moorings during the Great Flood of 1993. Efforts by the US Coast Guard and other vessels allowed the ship to be safely beached just south of downtown St. Louis, however, the ship sank a few days later in what some believe to be mysterious circumstances – possibly flowing out of the owner’s desire to collect insurance on the vessel and pay off looming creditors.

The ship now breaks the surface every time the river level is below average and under current conditions is almost completely above water. The Inaugural is not the only recent maritime oddity on the St. Louis riverfront as a cement barge sank while at anchor just last year and a fire claimed the steamboat Robert E. Lee in 2010.

Go here for more pictures of the wreck.

Coast Guard Cutter Ingham

CC Photo Courtesy of Kay Gaensler on Flickr

During a career spanning more than 50 years, the USCGC Ingham kept the shores of the United States safe for mariners in both war and peace. Commissioned in 1936, the cutter protected the Bering Sea and the fisheries of the Grand Banks until ordered to participate in neutrality patrols upon the outbreak of World War 2. After America’s entry to the war, Ingham helped convoy hundreds of Allied ships across the Atlantic. On December 15, 1942, during routine convoy operations, the Ingham detected and sank the German U-boat U-626. In late July 1944, the Ingham underwent alterations in the Charleston Navy Yard to prepare it to serve as a combined operations and headquarters and ship in the Pacific Theater. Ingham served briefly as a headquarters ship for General Douglas MacArthur prior to his landing in the Philippines.

Following World War 2, the ship returned to peacetime service and her missions included maritime rescue and oceanographic surveying. Ingham was called upon once again to serve in wartime during the Vietnam War. During the war she and her crew became the only Coast Guard cutter to earn 2 Presidential Unit Citations for her naval gunfire support and replenishment missions. Ingham responded to yet another crisis when Cuban dictator Fidel Castro allowed thousands of dissidents to flee his autocratic regime in what became known as the Mariel Boatlift. The Ingham rescued several boaters and towed half a dozen vessels to freedom in the United States. At the time of her decommissioning, the ship was the oldest and most decorated Coast Guard cutter in service. The ship now resides in Key West, Florida as a memorial to the 581 Coast Guardsmen killed in action during World War 2 and the Vietnam War. The ship is open for tours Monday thru Saturdays and more information can be found on their website.

landing ship tank

Photo: US Navy

World War 2 saw the perfection of modern amphibious operations with successful landings in North Africa, Italy, Normandy and throughout the Pacific contributing to the demise of the Axis Powers. Among the innovations which made these operations successful was the Landing Ship, Tank (LST). LSTs were designed with massive bow doors and a bow ramp that enabled Allied forces to deliver tanks, half-tracks, deuce and a halfs and other vehicles directly to the beachhead. After disgorging their cargo, the LST’s crew could use a winch system to extricate the ship from the beachhead and return to port for another load. Of the 1,051 LSTs produced for Allied naval forces, most were scrapped or converted to use as merchant vessels after the war while a few saw service through the Vietnam War. One even served as a produce carrier for Los Angeles Mafioso Jack Dragna, hauling bananas between Latin America and California.

LST 393, one of only 2 surviving LSTs, now serves as a museum ship in Muskegon, Michigan. The ship delivered 9,000+ troops and 3,248 vehicles to the beaches of Salerno, Sicily, and Normandy. Following her wartime service, LST 393 was renamed M/V Highway 16 and plied the Great Lakes as an automobile carrier for decades. In 2000, a group began restoring the ship as a memorial to the officers and crew who served aboard these important vessels. The ship is open for tours and can be rented for special occasions. More information can be found at the ship’s website:


Photo: US Navy

One wouldn’t expect to find a museum ship in Oklahoma, much less an American World War 2 submarine, but the USS Batfish has made its final resting place in Muskogee, Oklahoma just southeast of Tulsa. The Batfish, a Balao class submarine, was commissioned on August 21, 1943 and made 7 war patrols during the course of World War 2. She is officially credited with sinking 6 Japanese ships, however, her ship’s crew claimed 15 ships sunk and such discrepancies are not uncommon. Among those 6 ships were 3 Japanese submarinesgranting Batfish entry into the exclusive fraternity of submarines that have sent other submarines to the bottom. The Batfish and her crew earned a Presidential Unit Citation, 10 Bronze Stars, 4 Silver Stars and a Navy Cross for their actions in World War 2.

Following World War 2, the Batfish served as a training vessel in the Pacific Fleet and was decommissioned in 1969. In 1973, after much political wrangling by various parties, the Batfish made her final voyage up the Arkansas River to Muskogee where she now continues her service, this time as a museum and memorial to the valiant submariners who perished defending liberty and freedom in World War 2. The ship is open to visitors from March to November.