May 21, 2016 | Patriots Point | Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina
Last weekend, we took the opportunity to immerse ourselves with all things Naval history and paid a visit to Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum in Mt. Pleasant. We went in hoping for a tour and to learn from the history of this ship, but were blown away by all we were able to see here – I mean, the main attraction is a HUGE aircraft carrier with 5 different tours on board, then besides that there are 2 other ships and other exhibits on land. We easily spent over 4 hours just touring the ships, and we definitely didn’t see everything we could have. And if all the information we were learning about wasn’t enough to wear us out, all the walking would do it – at the end of the day, the step counter on my phone told me we walked more today than on our hikes last weekend. I believe it. I’m not saying all this to make you think twice about visiting – quite the opposite actually. We definitely feel like this is a museum where you get your full money’s worth in the tour. I’d go as far as saying we enjoyed this more than our Plantation visits and it was more worth the price of admission. (In case you’re wondering, yes, this is Jess writing!) 🙂
We got there around 11 on Saturday, and the parking lot was already packed…we didn’t even bother though, we parked across the street so we could stroll through a Submarine memorial. After we crossed the street and started heading to the museum, we smelled a familiar smell, looked up and confirmed it was mulberries! We stop and picked some before making our way to the museum. They were perfectly ripe, juicy, and delicious. Continuing on, we bought our tickets and began walking out to start our tour on the Yorktown. A kid waved us over to the side of the dock and pointed down to the bay. “It’s a stingray!” he exclaimed, and there it was! Our first stingray in the wild, just swimming around in the shallow waters. What do you know, we hadn’t even gotten to the ships yet, and we already had two highlights of the day!
We started with the USS Yorktown. A volunteer gave us a map and showed us the 5 self-guided tours we could take on board. There is an audio tour you can choose to use throughout the tours, but we opted not to for this visit. There were a few points where we wished we had it, but just reading all the signs kept us plenty busy.
And now, I’m going to let Curtis share the history and other takeaways from our visit. Obviously he loves sharing history here, but being in the Navy makes him all the more interested in what we learned here! Enjoy hearing his thoughts!
Where to start with these ships? Talking about a battlefield in a war is one thing. Especially battlefields in smaller wars. There you can break up narrative from the war at large, the campaign, down to the engagement and then back up and place things reasonably into context. But a ship is a whole different item. Especially ships which served in the Pacific during World War II. To talk of a ship is to basically give a biography of a person’s life. This is in fact very accurate. We (the Navy) give out awards to ships; and just as I wear my awards as ribbons and medals on my uniform, the ship has the ribbons painted onto its bridge and will fly pennants of like design, marking its achievements in battle, readiness, and participation in campaigns. Although the crew of the ship may change, the ship as a force persists. That being said, I will try to be brief in my histories while also giving some insight into the Navy (as much as I can).
We begin with the U.S.S. Yorktown (CV-10). As many know, following Pearl Harbor, the USN Pacific Battleship force was crippled, leaving the Navy to rely on a carrier-centric fleet (something we still do today). At the time, there were only six carriers in active service, and only three in the Pacific (the Yorktown (CV-5) was soon moved to the Pacific Theatre). But even before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Yorktown (CV-10) was already under construction under the name “Bon Homme Richard”.
Initial Allied operations in the Pacific consisted of halting the Japanese expansion through the Pacific islands. This is best epitomized through the Battles of the Coral Sea (May ’42) and Midway (June ’42). Although I could get bogged down in specifics of battle, the important take away from these battles was the increased significance of aircraft carriers in Naval Warfare. In the Battle of the Coral Sea, no ships directly engaged other ships. All the fighting was done by ship vs. aircraft.
What is important to note for this post is the fate of the U.S.S. Yorktown (CV-5). In the battle of The Coral Sea, the Yorktown was severely crippled and ended up being towed back to Pearl to be repaired. But, American intelligence knew that the Japanese were planning an attack on the Island of Midway, so repairs that should have taken three months were rushed in 48 hours, enough to get her maneuverable. Sadly, at the Battle of Midway, the Yorktown (remember this is CV-5 not CV-10) was sunk, but not after aiding in the sinking of four Japanese carriers.
We now fast forward to the completion of CV-10 almost a year later (April ’43), christened in honor of the ship that sunk at Midway. She sailed from the East Coast to the Pacific theatre where she began operations, assisting in the invasion of the Gilbert Islands (November ’43) and Marshall Islands (January ’44). Throughout 1944, she aided operations in the Mariannas and Phillipines, and in 1945 saw operations near Iwo Jima and Mainland Japan until the Japanese surrender in August.
Over her operations in the Pacific, the Yorktown was engaged in numerous engagements earning herself 11 battle stars and The Presidential Unit Citation.
Following the war, the Yorktown was mothballed until 1953 when she was refitted for more modern planes, put to sea too late to participate in the Korean War. The Yorktown was reclassified for Anti-Submarine Warfare, and outfitted accordingly. She saw limited action during Vietnam and participated in the retrieval of the Apollo 8 capsule. She was finally decommissioned in 1975.
Obviously, I have glossed over MUCH of the history of this ship. Partially because it spans three decades, and partially because the bulk of day to day operations for a ship are boring. (Especially since WW2).
Today you can obviously tour (effectively) the entire ship and an assortment of period Naval Planes that could have flown off the Yorktown at some point or another. From the flight deck, through the hanger, down through the berthing and auxiliary areas, and even the engine room. I particularly enjoyed the engine room (and the engine rooms on the other ships as well) as I am finally able to take an appreciation to the engineering behind all the numerous systems. (For those curious the Yorktown and Laffey were both steam turbine ships, while the Calamagore was diesel electric).
There were also numerous (and I mean numerous) memorials and informational placards throughout the staterooms and mess halls giving homage to other carriers, battleships, cruisers, and merchant marine vessels from World War 2 (oddly no submarine section, although we didn’t see all of the ship).
The U.S.S. Laffey (DD-724), like the Yorktown, was named after another ship that had sunk prior during the War in the Pacific. The first U.S.S. Laffey (DD-459) was a Benson Class destroyer that went down “guns ablaze” during an engagement before the Battle of Guadalcanal (Nov. ’42). (Quite literally taking on two battleships and two destroyers at near point blank range).
The second Laffey (DD-724) was completed in November 1943 (after only five months of being built), and served in the Atlantic Fleet. As a destroyer, her primary purpose was for Anti-Submarine Warfare and to protect capital ships or troop ships otherwise engaged. (Some may recall us visiting the U.S.S. Cassin Young (DD-793) in Boston. A different class of destroyer, but same concept and design). She participated in the Utah Beach Assault during the D-Day invasion (June ’44). Following some refitting, she was sent to the Pacific in time to participate in the invasion of the Phillipines and the Battle of Leyte Gulf (Oct. ’44). In 1945, she then participated in actions at Iwo Jima and against mainland Japan. While engaged in surveillance off the mainland in April ’45, the Laffey was attacked by a group of 50 some aircraft. This late in the war, Japanese airmen were prone to kamikaze attacks and the Laffey was no different. The ship was hit by no less than 4 kamikazes and numerous torpedoes/bombs. Saved by a nearby escort carrier, the Laffey managed to survive the attack and was towed back to Okinawa, earning her then name “The Ship That Would Not Die”.
She was briefly mothballed before returning to service in time to participate in blockade duty in Korea. And then continued to patrol the Atlantic for much of the Cold War, eventually being retired in 1975.
Like the Yorktown, you can tour basically the entirety of the ship. Stem to stern as it were. And although significantly smaller than the Yorktown, I appreciated even more the engine room display. They had it set up so as to simulate operations complete with loud noises! It also helped me solidify my understanding of steam plant systems.
The final ship at Patriot’s Point is the U.S.S. Calamagore (SS-343) a Balao-class diesel electric submarine. Unlike the other two that share her pier, the Calamagore did not see service in WW2 being completed in June ’45 (unlike the U.S.S. Silversides, which we visited in December of 2014). But in the Cold War she thrived in only the way a submarine can. With the growth of Soviet sub forces, it became increasingly important to maintain and upgrade the US sub force. The Calamagore received both GUPPY conversions to make her more adept at her job. But as the sub force switched to being completely nuclear, the Calmagore too was decommissioned in 1973.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to talk about what the sub force does or did in detail, especially during the Cold War. General operations taken against the Soviets are still largely classified so one can only really speculate at what any one boat did.
The tour on this boat is very simple. Start at one torpedo room and walk the length of the ship to the other. Only one deck is open and the sail is closed. Subs are small and I really felt like the tour helped communicate that. Some may view it as boring but being a future submariner I have a different appreciation for the tight quarters. I’ve accepted my fate.
Sadly the Calamagore is showing her age. The pressure hull is rusting quickly to the point that soon it may not be fit for even pier-side. The museum could attempt restoration, but the capital required to do so would be in the millions. According to the volunteer we spoke to at the beginning of the day, it’s likely she’ll have to be scrapped.
While disappointing, it’s the way of a ship’s life I suppose. Proportionally, the Navy really doesn’t give that many ships (or planes) away and it really is a miracle that we have so many still around as museums. For example, did you know that there are no American WW2 cruisers existing today? I’m sure there is some philosophical statement that could be made about life or history or something from this, but I’ll refrain.
(Back to Jess) I think for getting the most out of your tour, it’s best to go with someone who’s in the Navy to gain extra insight, and it really helps if they have a great appreciation for history. My “tour guide” had both, AND he was super attractive…anyway, I digress. 😉 I’m always blown away by how big aircraft carriers are. Like, we spent over 3 hours touring the Yorktown, and still didn’t see it all. I bet you could be deployed on it for 6 months and still not see the entire ship – I’d get lost for sure! Then you have to consider how detailed the whole thing is, how all the engine rooms and living quarters and everything fit together, and how long it would take to build this. It’s no small project, that’s for sure.
After finishing up touring the 3 ships, we ended our trip with walking through a featured exhibit set up outside called the “Vietnam Experience.” It was a pretty neat set up, but we didn’t take a lot of time here because we were tired and hot. I guess the heat is all part of the Vietnam experience though! Overall, we loved our tour here and highly recommend it if you’re ever visiting Charleston!
A couple tips before visiting:
- Dedicate at least a half a day to touring if you want to see a lot and make the most of your tickets
- If you want to beat the heat and the crowds, start early! The museum opens at 9.
- So we visited in mid-May and it was around 80º and a little humid. As you can imagine, it got hot and stuffy on some parts of the ship – especially on the submarine. Thankfully there were fans in some areas, but I can imagine it’ll only get hotter as the summer wears on…dress accordingly!
- Curtis brought a water bottle which was genius with the heat and all the walking we were doing.