RAN Heritage Centre

 RAN Heritage centre

by John Ellis

 Heritage centre

 The RAN Heritage Centre, Garden Island, has replaced the old Spectacle Island Repository.

There is a story that there was a victualling storekeeper at the Royal Edward Victualling Yard, Pyrmont, before World War I, who did not fully follow directives from the newly established Navy Office, then in Melbourne. When a CNO came around, directing that certain items of victualling stores be discontinued, he was meant to put the surplus items up for disposal and that could include sale.

Sample under counter

He did follow the directive but also put a sample under the counter and forty years later, when he retired shortly after World War II, he had amassed a collection of badges, clothing, brushes, crockery, cooking utensils and so on. That post-war era coincided with the then still quite young RAN realising that something should be done to retain some aspects of historical interest.

CNS, VADM Sir John Collins, was not dismayed to hear of the collecting that had preceded his proposal to initiate a historic collection. Over the years, the historic collection was housed at Spectacle Island; however, there was always the tyranny of water transport that prevented easy access for the wider public to view the collection.

 Gun Barrels

In keeping with its original purpose, the Heritage Centre building displays old gun barrels, along with a Seacat launcher (background).

The Heritage Centre at Garden Island is in a building that itself is of historical interest. Originally a gun mounting workshop, it was opened at the northern end of Garden Island in 1922 to maintain guns from cruisers and destroyers. In the 1970s it became the FIMA (Fleet Intermediate Maintenance Authority) workshop and in the late 1990s it was renovated with a proposal to become a functions centre.

Naval Historical Society

Following the reclamation of land on the eastern side of the island, the former boatshed and slipway, built in 1913, became isolated from the water. After some years of disuse it was restored to provide a headquarters for the Naval Historical Society. The RAN Heritage Centre is located in and around the gun mounting workshop with the boatshed forming one boundary. The public can visit this important link with Sydney’s formative years by commuter ferry from Circular Quay. Alighting from the ferry, visitors have access to the knoll of what seamen from the First Fleet’s HMS Sirius called “the garden island”, having been granted access to the island to grow vegetables. Some of those jolly jacks appreciated their association with the new colony and carved their still visible initials and the year, 1788, into a rock.

The former signal station on the knoll has been modified to allow visitors to enjoy a spectacular 360 degree view of the harbour. Several memorials and relics have been established near the gun mounting workshop over the past 30 years and include the bow of HMAS Parramatta I, the first ship built for the newly formed RAN, the flag mast from Tresco and memorials to our County class cruisers and Bathurst class corvettes.

Boom Boat
This sturdy boom boat raised the midget submarine alarm in 1942.

Between the workshop and the boatshed are several items familiar to salts of yore — an Ikara launcher, a Seacat launcher, four-inch, 4.5-inch and five-inch gun barrels, an anchor from HMAS Melbourne II, the mast of HMAS Vendetta I and several radar aerials. The cradle for a 12-inch barrel is presently empty.

The gun mounting workshop houses two displays. Large items in one group include the centre section of one of the Japanese midget submarines that attacked Sydney Harbour in 1942 and the boom boat that first raised the alarm. There is a fully rigged Montague whaler, a pump from HMAS AE1 and the figurehead from Windsor Castle, a sailing ship built in 1876.

Timeline: 1788 to present

The main gallery, on two levels, allows visitors to experience the Navy’s story and gain a greater understanding of the Navy’s contribution to Australia’s history and development over the past century. Along one wall is a timeline from 1788 to the present with events significant in naval affairs listed.

There are items from the Boxer Rebellion up to the Persian Gulf, with World Wars I and II, the Cold War, Korea, Vietnam, Confrontation and peacekeeping missions in between. Different aspects have been grouped to illustrate the RAN’s widely varied skills and roles —aviation, medical, training, weapons, diving, navigation and engineering and so on and there is representation of Jack at sport and leisure.

There is a periscope, wrongly claimed to be the only fully operational one available to the public. The other one is in Holbrook.

There are several groups of medals, including those of our late member CAPT Peter Daish, and extracts of diaries, reports and letters amplifying particular campaigns. Those wishing to note the wisdom of SBLT Fred Lane should not leave without reading his remarks about armed reconnaissance in Korea.

Work in hand

The curators still have some work to do and this is in hand. There is a splendid dress tailcoat from the 1930s — as yet without a card explaining the owner. I suspect he might have been the late CAPT Bill Cook.

Silver drums
 Other items displayed include the silver drums of the RAN band (left) and the wheel from HMAS Protector.

There are two examples of diver’s badges that face in opposite directions and two examples of an artisan’s badge that have the axe and mallet on opposite sides, without an explanation of why they have been displayed. The diver’s branch badge has faced right for the past 60 years and my chart showing the artisan’s badge has the axe head to the left. Are these like the stamp collection whose owner values the printing errors more than the regular stamp?

Those who served in Perth II in 1969 will remember David Burchall presenting the top of a voice pipe recovered from Perth I in Sunda Strait — that priceless artefact is here on display.

Cannon balls

From the sharp end one can view examples of ammunition from cannon balls to a 12-inch projectile with 76 mm, four-inch, five-inch and eight-inch in between.

There is also a display of personal weapons, including machine guns, rifles, pistols, bayonets, swords and cutlasses. The splendid display of silver includes trophies for long past regattas, wardroom silver and the silver drums made for the 75th anniversary of the formation of the RAN. There are ships’ bells, lifebuoys and battle honour boards and a re-creation of a mess deck from the 1920s.

Ahh, it don’t blow nearly so hard at sea these days.

Do make a visit a priority in your calendar. Replenishment at the Salthorse Café and a ferry ride on the harbour is always a treat.

Aurora, St Petersburg


Aurora, the Russian history-laden pre-Dreadnought Pallada class armoured six-inch cruiser, is kept in mint condition just off the Peter and Paul fortress in the Neva River, St Petersburg. This cruiser was one of only three, along with Oleg and Zhemchug, to break free and escape from the Japanese fleet during the Battle of Tsushima Straits, 27-28 May 1905. Another two destroyers, an armed merchant cruiser and a few transports were the only other Russian 2nd Pacific Squadron ships to avoid destruction or capture in the battle. A numerically inferior Japanese fleet destroyed, forced to surrender or put to flight the entire Second Russian Pacific Squadron of 38 warships (Avramov 2004 pp. 2-4), including seven battleships and seven armoured cruisers (see Mikasa). Russian losses included over 11,000 men killed, wounded or taken prisoner. The Japanese lost only three destroyers and fewer than 700 killed or wounded.  

Aurora is a pre-Dreadnought armoured cruiser displacing 6731 tons from a 127 x 17 x 7.3 metres (416 x 55 x 24 feet) hull, one of three Pallada class ships built at St Petersburg. Commissioned in 1903, the ship’s three triple expansion steam engines were fed by 24 coal-fired boilers. The engines could develop 11,610 hp and drive the ship at 19 knots but, like all reciprocating engines of the day, they were prone to breaking down if operated at maximum power for anything longer than short bursts. Original armament included eight 152 mm (six inch), 24 x 75 mm (three inch) and eight 37 mm guns, together with three torpedo tubes and the ship carried a crew of 590.

The Russian cruiser lost her captain early in the Tsushima encounter when a 75 mm shell pierced the conning tower and killed or wounded everybody present. The ship’s next senior officer was wounded but assumed command. All told, Aurora lost 15 killed and 83 wounded before fleeing the carnage. One 152 mm and five 75 mm guns were destroyed and other damage included 18 holes in the hull and superstructure from shells ranging from 203 to 75 mm (eight- to three-inch).

Aurora's Captain 1905
The ‘tween decks display includes a photograph of CAPT Ye.Yegoryev, Aurora’s Commanding Officer, killed at Tsushima, framed in plating pierced by a Japanese shell splinter.

Very few naval battles had such a profound effect. By crushing the Russian Fleet, a prerequisite to victory in the Russo-Japanese War, this “Japanese Trafalgar” demonstrated with an iron fist that Asian nations need no longer kowtow to the whims of the major European powers. Tsushima also probably contributed indirectly to dangerous existing unrest in Russia. Mutinies at Sevastopol, Vladivostok, Kronstadt and in the battleship Potemkin followed not long after the horrific Tsushima massacre news filtered back to Russia. A revolutionary uprising induced the Tsar to renounce some of his dictatorial powers in the October Manifesto of 1905.

HIJMS Shikishima, Tushima
HIJMS Shikishima, built in Britain, was one of the six modern battleships brilliantly deployed by VADM Togo that destroyed the Russian fleet at Tsushima in 1905. The ship mounted four 305 mm (12-inch) and 14 x 152 mm (six-inch) guns.

Aurora, after internment in Manila, voyaged home to St Petersburg in 1906, to become a cadet training ship from 1906-12 and to contribute to fleet duties in WW I. In 1915 her main armament was changed to 14 x 152 mm guns. During a major 1916 refit in St Petersburg, Aurora’s crew were influenced by the revolutionary ferment of the city to the extent that on 13 March 1917 they mutinied and killed their captain after the latter had allegedly fired on the crew as they demanded the release of three worker-propagandists. A Ship Committee was elected that in turn elected a new ship’s captain. On 25 October 1917, the crew refused to take the ship to sea, but instead fired a blank shot that was the signal for a final assault on the Hermitage and other targets of the October Revolution.

Aurora aground
Aurora, hard aground at Oranienbaum after WW II.

 In 1918-22 the ship was put into reserve and her large calibre guns removed for service elsewhere. In 1922-23 the ship was restored to her former condition and once more became a training ship. In 1934, as a hulk, Aurora was towed to a wharf at Oranienbaum, 34 km west of St Petersburg, where she continued service as a training ship until 1941. During WW II some of Aurora‘s guns and gun crews were stripped again, this time to repel Nazi advances in the Lake Chudskaya area (on the Russian-Latvian border) and ashore as an anti-tank battery at Kranoye Selo (40 km south-west of St Petersburg.) The ship served as a submarine tender and was included in the anti-aircraft defence system of the nearby Kronstadt naval base. Repeatedly bombed and shelled during WW II, Aurora settled firmly into the mud around 30 September 1941 and spent the rest of the war sitting there. Divers counted about 1300 holes in the hull and superstructure after WW II.

Aurora as Museum
Aurora, in mint condition, October 2008.

Refloated in 1945, the ship has been virtually rebuilt from the waterline down, with new frames and welded plates replacing rivetted joints. Since 1952 Aurora has been moored in the Neva River and, except for a major 1984-87 reconstruction period, she has served as a museum ship and tourist attraction since 1956. The oldest commissioned ship in the Russian Navy, she proudly wears the St Andrews cross naval ensign under which she was originally commissioned. Manned nowadays chiefly by naval cadets and commanded by a Captain of the First Rank, it is claimed that more than 28 million people have visited the ship since 1956.

Aurora Bridge

 Aurora’s reconstructed bridge.

Admission is free and the ship is open to visitors 1030 to 1600 (closed Mondays and Fridays and the last Wednesday of the month, but some websites carry conflicting information.) Engine-room tours may be arranged by appointment.

Confirm open days on http://www.saint-petersburg.com/virtual-tour/cruiser-aurora.asp, http://www.aurora.org.ru/eng/index. or with your travel guide company.

The Central Naval Museum is on the same side of the Neva River, just short of the Dvortsovy Bridge and across the road from the two big red rostral columns. A half day visit there is strongly recommended.


Abramov, G. (tr. V. Fateyev.) The cruiser Aurora. Central Naval Museum: St Petersburg, 2004.

Maritime, St Petersburg

Russian Maritime Museum, St Petersburg

Dvortsovy Bridge

 The Dvortsovy Bridge crosses the Neva River from the Admiralty and Hermitage. Near the bridge’s end, is the first of two red Rostral Columns. The Central Naval Museum entrance and another Rostral Column lie directly behind the white building in the centre.

St Petersburg is filled with architecturally brilliant museums displaying priceless exhibits. The Hermitage Winter Palace, with its rare and historic paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Picasso and other masters, is virtually downtown, at the bottom of the Nevsky Prospekt. The Central Naval Museum (Birzha) lies just across the Neva River from the Hermitage, but it takes a little dedication to find it. Its contents, however, are as rewarding to the maritime scholar as the Hermitage paintings might be to the dedicated art lover.


To find the Naval Museum, cross the nearest bridge from the Hermitage and Admiralty, the Dvortsovy Most, and walk towards the pair of distinctive red-hued Rostral Columns. These tall stolid columns each carry half a dozen carved granite ship prow replicas. Before reaching the second column, cut left at a pedestrian crossing. Dodge traffic on the busy six-lane road and once on the other side look hard for a nondescript dirty little side door on the left hand side that leads down into a pokey little cellar entrance to the Naval Museum. It is open Wednesdays to Sundays, 1030 to 1800.

Pay your tariff, take a deep breath, and walk up grotty stairs back into magnificent earlier times. Like so many other aspects of Russian history, the 1500 dramatic exhibits here seem larger, more colourful and more elaborate than real life. Many of the intricate scale models are huge.


St Petersburg must be one of the most historic cities in the world. It has been a major seaport for centuries and was the capital of the Russian Empire. The city was renamed Petrograd (1914-24), then Leningrad (1924-91) before reverting to its original name. It spreads out across a number of islands in the Neva River delta, which in turn empties into the Gulf of Finland. For two important centuries it was the centre of Russian culture and power. The 1917 Bolshevik revolution started in St Petersburg but perhaps its greatest claim to fame was when, as Leningrad, it repulsed a decimating 900-day siege by three determined German armies between September 1941 and January 1944.

Cathedral of the Resurrection

 St Petersberg is also famous for both its distinctive “Kremlin-ugly” and classical Russian-style architecture. Here is the Cathedral of the Resurrection, within walking distance from both the Hermitage and the Central Naval Museum.

Huge sacrifice

Harrison E. Salisbury, in his The 900 days: The siege of Leningrad, Pan Books: London, (1969) states that the precise number of deaths during the siege may never be known (p. 617). Of the 2.5 million Leningrad civilians at the start of the siege, about one million were evacuated and another one million died of starvation or enemy action. All told, between 1.3 and 1.5 million Russian lives were lost from all causes in the siege. Salisbury also discusses the contributions of the Russian Navy to the city’s defence. Two battleships, two cruisers, 13 destroyers and 300-odd other naval craft helped to defend the city, despite being hemmed in by mines and subject to frequent air and artillery attacks. There were also 286 Russian naval aircraft and 400 naval coastal and shore battery guns thrown into the battle. More than 83,000 sailors fought ashore. The ships supplied devastating and frequently critical naval gunfire support (pp. 419-429).

Early ship construction model

 There are many exhibits in the museum. This is a beautiful well-worn and obviously cherished 17th century shipwright’s model.

The Naval Museum acknowledges Peter the Great (Tsar 1682-1725) as father of the Russian fleet. He visited European shipyards, learned the trade of the shipwrights, and laid the Russian fleet foundations from virtually nothing. He ordered commencement of the naval museum in 1709. Early progress was slow, yet the demand was urgent because during the age of colonisation by sea power, at the beginning of the 18th century, Britain possessed about a third of Europe’s naval power, France and Holland together had about another third and the rest of the nations together shared the remaining portion. Ship quality and training matched Peter’s bold initiative and Catherine the Great’s later leadership. The technically advanced Russian fleet gradually subdued the thorny and powerful Swedes in the Baltic and with strong British and French support went on to defeat a substantial Turkish fleet at the Battle of Navarino in 1827. This tradition continued unabated until the British-trained Japanese decimated the Russians in the 1905 Battle of Tsushima.

Nuclear submarines

Upstairs, on the museum’s crowded ground floor, are enormous 10- to 15-metre models of sailing ships, early steam warships and even a very early submersible. Other floors carry models of more modern warships, including a large aircraft carrier and a number of sectioned nuclear submarines. Every salon has its own sentry attendant, usually an elderly female, but don’t expect much more than a “nyet touch” or “nyet camera” response.

Aircraft carrier

 This model of the huge Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov carries a variety of very interesting fixed wing fighter models. A sister ship hull, initially Riga and ultimately named Varyag, has been purchased by Chinese interests.

No employee seemed to want to (or could) speak English. This was disappointing because there were many very interesting modern weapons on display, including what looked like sea-skimming rockets. There seemed to be no explanation other than bare names on cards in the Russian Cyrillic or Roman alphabets. Attempts to link a full-sized weapon with a ship model by sign language failed. Maybe the sentries did not know. Clearly an English-speaking navy-oriented guide is required to obtain full benefit from the visit, but this person might require knowledge quite different from the standard art historian guides who so eloquently explain the Hermitage and other artistic treasures. If the navy-oriented guide option is chosen, it’s probably best to tie this into a package deal made before arrival in the city. The best guides all seem to have full time jobs and they might require a few days to organise their reliefs to take time off. Alternatively, you might risk one of the many English-speaking ex-naval officers or merchant seaman captains begging for food or money inside the museum.


The famous cruiser Aurora may be inspected in model form in the museum and here, in real life, within long walking distance from the maritime museum, on the Neva River in St Petersburg.

The 6-inch cruiser Aurora, moored in the Neva River, is historic on at least two counts. Firstly, she was hit but survived the Battle of Tsushima and returned to St Petersburg in time to play a seminal role in the revolution of 1917. Secondly, it was her crew who fired the blank shot on 25 October that set off a massive ground assault on the Winter Palace, the very last stronghold of the Provisional Government. Aurora lies just beyond the Naval Museum, around the corner past the Peter and Paul Fortress (with its distinctive skinny spire). She is kept in sparkling condition. Confirm open days on http://www.saint-petersburg. com/virtual-tour/cruiser-aurora.asp, http://www.aurora.org.ru/eng/index. or with your travel guide company.

Tourist targets

St Petersburg is easily worth all the expense, visa negotiations and bottled water problems presently associated with travel to Russia. Primary tourist targets might well remain the Hermitage and Summer Palaces, but don’t overlook these maritime crown jewels in the Birzha Central Naval Museum. St Petersburg is living history. It is just one unique and historic place after another.

USS Hornet CV-12

USS Hornet CV-12

The West Coast’s USS Hornet, like Intrepid in New York, Yorktown in Charleston and Lexington in Corpus Christi, is one of the 22 WW II-built Essex class carriers. All the museum ships were in the group of 16 Essex class carriers selected for conversion to hurricane bow, strengthened deck, catapults and lifts, andangled deck layouts under Project 27 and 125 modifications that commenced in the 1950s. As museums, they attract thousands of visitors a day. There are two museum aircraft carriers on the West Coast, USS Midway in San Diego and Hornet in San Francisco.

Hornet MuseumHornet 1953
USS Hornet (left), at Alameda Point, and in her axial deck/open bow layout of about 1953 (right).

This “Grey Ghost” doesn’t carry as many aircraft or attract as many visitors as the longer-established and better-sited Intrepid, but her displays and vast hangar deck are worth the 30-minute trip out from San Francisco to old NAS Alameda. Ring (U.S.A.) 510 521 8448 or check out the ship’s programs through the web site http://uss-hornet.org, and ask for further details. Ask also about public transport, but remember San Francisco is not as well-blessed with public transport as some other cities. A few buses do run by the old Alameda gates, but it’s still a long walk to the carrier’s berth, a couple of kilometres or more across an empty air station.

Only 30 minutes or so from San Francisco, Hornet is best approached by car.

The museum is open, generally, 1000 to 1700 daily except 7 February, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Years Day. There are several entry packages, but full price Adult entry fees are $14, Seniors are $12.

This Hornet is not the one of Jimmy Doolittle’s “30 seconds over Tokyo” fame. That ship (CV-8, a Yorktown class aircraft carrier, launched 14 December 1940) reluctantly went to the bottom off the Santa Cruz Islands on 26 October 1942 after repeated bomb and torpedo hits by Japanese navy aircraft. Long after she had been abandoned, it required another nine torpedoes and 400 rounds of 5-inch shells from American destroyers plus, finally, four Long Lance torpedoes from a couple of Japanese destroyers to send her to her watery grave. A new Essex class carrier then building, hull number 395 and initially named Kearsarge, was quickly re-christened “Hornet“, the eighth USN ship to bear that name.

The origins of her “Grey Ghost” nickname are not clear, but they might be connected to the fact Hornet was the first of the USN fleet carriers to wear the odd “dazzle” camouflage system, predominantly light grey with contrasting darker-hued geometric shapes, while sister-ship Lexington became a “Blue Ghost” because she retained her old one-shade USN blue-grey paint scheme.

NAS Alameda deserted

The once-thriving NAS Alameda looks deserted. The main gates stand open and the proud guardhouse sentinel aircraft look on forlornly. Way down the bottom of the airfield at the end of a row of mothballed warships and transports is the spick and span USS Hornet. On the other hand, there is a big free car park nearby and the ship may be boarded from solid-looking brows.

CV 12 fell foul of the infamous 5 June 1945 typhoon. She recorded winds of 110 – 120 knots and seas of 100 feet or more broke over her bow, damaging her flight deck. The first 24 feet were so buckled that she could only operate aircraft by steaming astern at 18 knots and launching her aircraft “the wrong way”. This was a design feature of the Essex class, but the damage was severe enough to send Hornet back to the USA for repairs. On the other hand, this Hornet was a very lucky ship in that she was never hit even once in 59 air attacks by Japanese aircraft. At the same time, her aircraft and guns claimed 1410 enemy planes as well as considerable damage and destruction to ships and shore installations.

Hornet is the “Ship that Affected the Course of History,” say the pamphlets. Once aboard, watch an interesting 20-minute video detailing her life. Hornet‘s fighter squadron, VF 2, claimed no less than 72 Japanese aircraft in one day in 1944. Hornet was also the primary recovery vessel for a number of Apollo spacecraft in 1969. Visitors are free to wander about her flight deck and hangar, poke around her aircraft and view many of her operational and engineering spaces.

The 32-knot Essex class carriers served the USA very well in WW II, Korea, Vietnam and elsewhere. Sister ship Antietam was the first with an angled deck in 1952 and her fellow Essex class Hancock was the first operational carrier to launch an aircraft by steam catapult in 1954.

USS Lexington CV-16

USS Lexington CV-16

The USS Lexington is a WW II Essex class carrier first commissioned in February, 1943 . She is now rests as a museum at 2914 North Shoreline Blvd, Corpus Christi, Texas. Tokyo Rose christened her the “Blue Ghost” in 1944-45 because, unlike her camouflaged sister ships, she retained her original single-colour blue-grey hull colour scheme and she kept popping up after being confidently reported sunk no fewer than four times.

Lexington, WW II
Lexington, in her WW II axial deck layout, about 1943.

The original “Lady Lex”, the CV 2, was sunk after Japanese torpedo and bomb hits led to fires and internal avgas explosions during the important Battle of the Coral Sea, 8 May 1942.

Initially christened Cabot, this Lexington CV 16, was just the second Essex class carrier to be commissioned. When she finally decommissioned in 1991, she held the record as the longest-serving USN carrier, ever. During 21 months of hard combat in WW II, her aircraft and guns destroyed 387 enemy aircraft and 300,000 tons of shipping, as well as inflicting substantial destruction ashore in many island-hopping “fast carrier” raids and amphibious invasions.

A-4 SkyhawkUSS Lexington Museum
A pole-mounted A-4 Skyhawk in Blue Angels livery welcomes visitors to the USS Lexington museum, situated just over the bridge, to the north of the city of Corpus Christi.

Between 1947 and 1955 Lexington was either decommissioned or in dockyard hands for modernisation. Emerging initially as a “CVA” (assault), she became a “CVS” (anti-submarine) then from 1962 a “CVT” (training) aircraft carrier. Operating chiefly out of Pensacola, she logged many hundreds of thousands of deck landings and catapult shots as she introduced young student pilots to the make or break intricacies of operating tailhook aircraft at sea.

As a museum, she carries about 19 aircraft, all on loan from the National Museum of Naval Aviation, Pensacola. These include two A-4B Skyhawks, a TA-4J Skyhawk Trainer, an F-14 Tomcat and a rare WW II-era SBD Dauntless, as well as many other types. Her air-conditioned tour areas (the weather tends to get hot in Texas) are open daily from 0900 to 1700, except Thanksgiving and Christmas Days. Admission charges vary, but include $11.95 for Adults and $9.95 for Seniors. Parking nearby costs another $3.00. Call 361 888 4873 or log onto http://www.usslexington.com for further information.

USS Yorktown CV-10

USS Yorktown CV-10

The USS Yorktown was an Essex class carrier first commissioned on 15 April 1943. This “Fighting Lady”, of novel and movie fame, was the second of her class, renamed from Bon Homme Richard after the third USN ship to bear the Yorktown name (CV 5) was sunk by enemy aircraft and a submarine during the important Battle of Midway on 4 June 1942. Yorktown was the only American aircraft carrier sunk in that battle, but the Japanese lost four carriers, dramatically changing the balance of naval power in the Pacific in one day.

CV-10 was one of the ten original “short hull” ships that were otherwise identical to the other 23 of the Essex class, but 16 feet (4.88 metres) shorter with “unmodified” bows. She had an enviable war record, serving with distinction in many of the Pacific WW II battles, including raids on the Japanese strongholds Truk, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and she was there for the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot”. On 7 April 1945 her Air Group 9 participated in the destruction of the Japanese super battleshipYamato.

Yorktown, straight deckYorktown, angled deck
Yorktown in her axial deck/open bow days (left) and as an specialist ASW carrier after her “25C/125 conversions” (right).

Yorktown modernised with “25C” and “125” conversions (strengthened deck, bigger catapults, guns removed, angled deck, enclosed bow, etc.) during 1955-58 and recommissioned as a CVS (anti-submarine) carrier displacing 45,000 tons. She participated in the Vietnam War, launching A-4 Skyhawk and A-1 Skyraider strikes, and also in the Apollo moon walk program, recovering the first crew to orbit the moon in 1968. This was the flight that was struck by lightning after launching, leading to some doubts about the integrity of its re-entry heat shield and other equipment. She decommissioned in 1970 and became a museum at Patriots Point in 1975.

Across the harbour from Charleston, SC, is Patriots Point, where Yorktown and other ships may be found.

The USS Laffey DD 724 lies together with Yorktown, at Patriots Point, Charleston Harbour, South Carolina. Laffey is the “Ship that would not die”. Hit by no fewer than five kamikazes and three bombs, all in less than an hour, yet brilliant damage control and not a little luck managed to keep this destroyer afloat. Her surviving crew shot down 11 of the 22 attackers and kept her ready to fight another day. In the same museum display are the USS Clamagore SS 343, a diesel-powered submarine, and the Coastguard cutter Ingham WHEC 30. Yorktown also has an interesting collection of 25 aircraft aboard. Entry fees are $14 for adults and $12 for seniors. She is open to visitors 0900 to 1800 daily.

Museum area
The Yorktown Museum, with the destroyer Laffey, diesel submarine Clamagore and Coastguard cutter Ingham astern.

Travelling along the USA’s Deep South Atlantic coast, it is abundantly clear that Americans take much greater pride in their military than Australians. There are dozens of thriving maritime, military and air museums in the space of only 700-odd kilometres between Savannah GA and Norfolk VA. The maritime museums include ships such as the Essex class aircraft carrierYorktown CV-10in Charleston, SC, and the two battleships Wisconsin BB-64 in Norfolk, VA, and North Carolina BB-55 in Wilmington, NC. These are only three of many other carriers and battleships dotted around the country acting as museums and attracting hordes of young prospective recruits every day.

Other American aircraft carriers preserved as museums include three other Essex class aircraft carriers: Intrepid CV-11in New York, NY; Hornet CVC-12 in Oakland near San Francisco, CA; and Lexington CV-16 in Corpus Christi, TX. Additionally, the carrier Midway CV-41 is attracting many visitors in near-downtown San Diego, CA, and Forrestal CV-59 is slated for similar duties in Baltimore, MD. The Essex class Oriskanay CV-34 was scuttled 17 May 2006 to serve as a diving reef just south of Pensacola, FL.

Ownership varies

For instance, Yorktown is nominally owned by the local county while Wisconsin is no longer commissioned but remains under USN control. A process is under way to lease the battleship and ultimately transfer her to a civilian authority, provided the civilians show they can maintain the ship.

Fly 1, Yorktown
Yorktown‘s Fly One was in urgent need of descaling and painting.

Yorktown is clearly lagging in ship husbandry. When visited in May 2006, her sides showed rust streaks and her flight deck was patchy. Some areas have been restored, in that the midship flight deck section appears solid under a coat of fresh paint. In other areas, particularly in the forward deck park and aft of number one wire, the flight deck is so rusty that it seems to move uncomfortably underfoot.  It was sad to see Yorktown sporting a four to six centimetres thick band of marine growth around her waterline. There was no opportunity to inspect anything below the hangar deck, but her internal hangar deck spaces open to the public seem to be well-enough maintained. However, the 2006-08 US$60 million ship and pier refurbishment program for USS Intrepid is a salutary reminder that essential ship husbandry does not come cheap.

Other ships

Other ships at Patriot’s Point include the heroic destroyer Laffey, the Coast Guard cutter Ingham and the diesel-powered submarine Clamagore. The Laffey and Ingham look in good enough condition, but Clamagore is showing bad marine growth infestation around her waterline and rust is eating away prominent sections of her upper deck casing.

The battleship Wisconsin, on the other hand, only 300-odd miles away in Norfolk, looks better than brand new. Alongside the Nauticus Museum, all battleship’s areas open to public inspection, including her teak decks, are in a condition that reflects great credit on those who look after her.

Yorktown hangar
Yorktown‘s hangar houses a number of interesting exhibits, including a popular flight simulator and beautifully restored navy WW II and later aircraft.

Yorktown‘s exhibits are in excellent condition. The hangar houses half a dozen immaculately restored WW II – Korean War aircraft, including a Douglas AD Skyraider and an SBD Dauntless alongside a Grumman F6-F Hellcat and a Vought F-G1 Corsair. A Korean War-era Grumman F9F Cougar in B hangar, with its cockpit open, invites visitors to clamber aboard. In one amidships corner of the hangar a flight simulator takes passengers on a bumpy ride.

GE 16 jet engine
Yorktown‘s GE I-16 jet engine, modelled after the original Frank Whittle design.

Importantly, there is also a very rare I-16 General Electric jet engine. Derived from the Frank Whittle W1, it produced 1650 lbs of thrust and was one of the first jets built in the USA. It powered the Ryan Fireball, a composite piston- jet-engined aircraft, 66 of which were built before the contract was cancelled after VJ Day.

In Yorktown‘s forward hangar area there is a large Smokey Stover movie theatre that features thrilling “Fighting Lady” movies of the ship’s WW II deployments, including being on the wrong end of kamikaze attacks. Appearing in the film is Smokey Stover, a popular young officer lost on his first strike sortie from Yorktown.

Further details may be obtained from http://www.ussyorktown.com/yorktown.

USS Intrepid CV-11

USS Intrepid CV-11

In 2006, Intrepid was taken to Bayonne, New Jersey, for an extended refit that included hull maintenance and repainting but reported back for museum duty in November 2008. USS Intrepid CV-11 museum and the submarine USS Growler are back at Pier 86, near the bottom of 42nd St, on 12th Av, New York. As well as catching up on ship husbandry tasks, the $60 million refit included a comprehensive modern-look redesign of the exhibitions areas and refurbishment of the exhibits, including a BAE Concorde and a Lockheed A-12 Blackbird. USN, RN and other naval aircraft and helicopters, of course, dominate the aircraft displays and aircraft such as an A-4B Skyhawk and F-8 Crusader are popular attractions.

The third launched of the 22 Essex class carriers to be constructed in WW II, Intrepid earned the title “the most hit” (but not sunk) carrier, the hard way. She first commissioned on 16 August 1943, the fourth USN ship to bear that name.

 Intrepid1944Intrepid Post WW II

 USS Intrepid (CV-11), in the Philippine Sea in November 1944 (left) and with her post WW II angled deck layout.

The virtually brand new carrier was damaged in December 1943 by a minor altercation with a lock gate during her first transit of the Panama Canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. After quick repairs in San Francisco she rushed into combat but was damaged again, this time by something a little more lethal, a Japanese aircraft torpedo, on 16 February 1944, off Truk.

This torpedo jammed her rudder hard left and forced her to return to San Francisco once more for repairs. This voyage was interesting in that when steering with main engines (port half ahead, starboard idling) she performed well enough in low wind conditions, but was virtually unmanageable in any medium or stronger blow. The bow swung inexorably towards the wind, no matter what the trim or power configuration. A strong and steady wind started to blow from the direction of Tokyo, not San Francisco, so her captain wisely decided that perhaps additional measures were necessary. She became a little more manageable after fitting a jury rudder.

Sailing again for Pearl Harbour and the sharp end of the spear in early June 1944, she participated in a number of bloody but highly successful actions until 29 October 1944 when, off the Philippines, she attracted the attention of a suicidal Japanese pilot who crashed his aircraft into one of her gun sponsons. After temporary repairs she was again among a fleet of carriers that were attacked by no fewer than 40 kamikazes off Leyte. Having shot down one kamikaze but hit twice more by equally determined suicide aircraft within five minutes on 25 November, Intrepid‘s Gunnery Officer was attributed to exclaim, “For God’s sake, are we the only ship in the ocean?” Alert damage control crews saved the carrier but she was forced to withdraw to San Francisco yet again for major repairs.

By March 1945 Intrepid was back in operations, this time off Okinawa, but within a couple of weeks yet another kamikaze pilot chose her as a target from among the 16 fast carriers and 11 escort carriers in the area, registering a hit on 16 April. This put her out of action until the end of June. By remarkable coincidence, HMS Indefatigable and HMS Illustrious took a similar kamikaze hits about the same time but damage to the British carriers was limited to virtually three-inch dents in their armoured flight decks and both reported back for action within half a day.

Clearly, Intrepid had an affinity for San Francisco dry docks, but she was also in the thick of battle at Kwajalein, Truk, Palau, Okinawa, Luzon, Formosa and the Leyte Gulf.

Her guns shot down 13 aircraft and her own fighters claimed 186 more. Intrepid‘s aircraft were also credited with sinking 11 ships.

Intrepid paid off from her WW II career on 22 March 1947, but recommissioned as a CVA (assault carrier) in February 1952. Serving later as an anti-submarine (CVS) carrier and modernised with an angled deck and improved catapults, she served mainly in the Pacific theatre, including Vietnam, until finally paying off on 22 April 1974 and becoming a museum in 1982.

Pier 86Pier 86 map

USS Intrepid may be found together with the submarine Growler and sometimes other ships at Pier 86, near the bottom of 42nd St, Manhattan.

Intrepid houses an amazing variety of about 26 carrier-borne and other aircraft, some on the flight deck, others in the hangar. A British Airways Concorde is sometimes part of the display on barge alongside the same pier. Inside may be found an A6 Intruder simulator cockpit, among other exhibits that attracted nearly 700,000 visitors a year in recent times. The museum pier is open 1000 to 1700, except Thanksgiving and Christmas Days. Adults used to be charged $14.50 and Seniors had a discounted $10.50 entry fee. Contact the web site http://www.intrepidmuseum.org for additional information.