Savannah, GA – This past weekend was the 2013 Museum Ships on the Air Weekend. The purpose of Museum Ships on the Air is to get as many museum ships as possible on the air on the amateur radio bands; for 2013, there were 106 ships participating as of 31 May 2013. I find it a very fun event to take part in because it combines my interests in history (particularly military history) and radio. Beginning on Friday evening as the clock turned 1 June 2013 UTC time, I began hunting for ships. To be honest, HF conditions weren’t the world’s best, but I found nine ship stations, two ship memorial stations (the Edmund Fitzgerald and the Daniel J. Morrell), and a museum station (The Watson Museum). Although just over half of my contacts were on the 20 Meter band, the 40 Meter band actually seemed to be a in better shape. Unfortunately I could never find the 15 Meter band, one of my favorites open. Among the ship stations were the three Battleship museum ships on the east coast and one Battleship museum ship on the Gulf coast, three Destroyers, a US Coast Guard Cutter, three Submarines, and an Edwardian Era Steamer (the math doesn’t work, some stations were activating multiple ships). One of the things I enjoy about Museum Ships on the Air is learning about the ships on the air and through research after the contacts. Here are the ship stations I worked over the weekend and some of the history on each; I hope you enjoy the stories behind the ships as much as I have. It was interesting to find that the Battle of the Philippine Sea was a common thread that connected several of the ships. Each section below only scratches the surface for each ship, you can use the source list at the end to find out even more about each one.
W5BII – USS Orleck (DD-886): The Southwest Louisiana Amateur Repeater Club was operating from the USS Orleck, a US Navy Gearing class Destroyer that saw service with both the US and Turkish navies. Her namesake is Lt. Joseph Orleck, the commanding officer of the USS Nause (AT-89), who was killed in action in the Gulf of Salerno during World War II on 9 September 1943 and posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. He was also awarded the Navy and Marine Corps medal for his actions in helping save the crew of the SS Lancaster on 31 December 1942. She was commissioned on 15 September 1945; after service in the Pacific after World War II she saw combat during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. The Orleck fired more shells than any other Destroyer during the Vietnam War. In 1982, she was turned over to the Turkish Navy, where she saw service as the TCG Yucetepe (D 345). Decommissioned by the Turkish Navy in 1998, she was acquired for the purpose of a museum ship in 2000 by the Southwest Texas War and Heritage Foundation in Orange, TX. The Orleck was damaged during Hurricane Rita in 2005 and after repairs, eventually found a new home in Lake Charles, LA where she reopened as a museum ship in April 2011.
NR4DL – USCGC Ingham (WHEC-35): The Ingham ARC operated from the USCGC Ingham, a Treasury class Coast Guard Cutter. (Note: The amateur radio callsign, NR4DL, signifies the Ingham’s radio callsign while in service: NRDL.) Named after Samuel D. Ingham, Secretary of the Treasury under President Andrew Jackson, the Ingham was the only US Coast Guard Cutter to be awarded two Presidential Unit Citations and was the most decorated vessel in the US Coast Guard. Commissioned on 12 September 1936, she saw extensive action in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of World War II, service during the Korean War, and service during the Vietnam as well as serving the country in regular Coast Guard duties. The Ingham escorted 27 convoys in the Atlantic Theater of World War II, sinking the German submarine U-262 while in escort duty with Convoy ON-152. During the Vietnam War, she performed boardings off of the Vietnam coast, provided gunfire support, performed medical missions, and performed replenishment missions for Swift boats and 82 ft Cutters. The Ingham was decommissioned in 1988 and moved to Point Pleasant in Charleston as a museum ship in 1989. In 2009, she underwent minor repairs and moved to the Key West, FL Maritime Memorial Museum. The USS Ingham was declared a National Memorial by the Commandant of the Coast Guard in remembrance of the 912 Coast Guardsman killed in action during World War II and the Vietnam War.
NS7DD – USS Turner Joy (DD-951): The USS Turner Joy ARC operated from the USS Turner Joy (DD-951), a US Navy Forrest Sherman class Destroyer. Named after Vice Admiral, Charles Turner Joy, the Turner Joy was commissioned on 3 August 1959 and has a place in history as one of the Destroyers involved in the Gulf of Tonkin Incident in August 1964, which helped lead to the escalation of the Vietnam War. Beyond the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, she saw extensive action off of Vietnam, suffering three deaths following a hang fire in one of her 5-inch turrets later in 1964 and receiving damage from a North Vietnamese shore battery in 1967. She was decommissioned in 1982 and was donated to the Bremerton Historic Ships Association in 1991, opening to the public as a museum ship in Bremerton, WA in 1992.
NJ2BB – USS New Jersey (BB-62): The Battleship New Jersey ARS operated from the Battleship USS New Jersey (BB-62). Commissioned on 23 May 1943, the Iowa class Battleship was decommissioned and recommissioned several times over her US Navy career. The New Jersey saw combat operations in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Lebanese Civil War, and also saw service in the Persian Gulf before her final decommissioning in 1991. In World War II, she provided gunfire support and anti-aircraft support. Among the battles the New Jersey took part in was the Battle of the Philippine Sea, providing anti aircraft support during the “Marianas Turkey Shoot” which broke the back of the Japanese carrier force. Her massive 16″/50 caliber guns proved their worth in Korea, Vietnam, and Lebanon. Following her final decommissioning, the New Jersey was restored to her 1990 appearance and opened as a museum ship in her namesake state in October 2001.
NI4BK – USS North Carolina (BB-55): The Azalea Coast Amateur Radio Club operated from the North Carolina class Battleship USS North Carolina (BB-55). (Note: the amateur radio callsign NI4BK signifies the North Carolina’s callsign while in active service: NIBK.) Commissioned on 9 April 1941, she was namesake of the class that included herself and the USS Washington (BB-56). Initially, the North Carolina was retained in the Atlantic Theater as a counter to the German Battleship Tirpitz but moved to the Pacific Theater in the summer of 1942. As the only Battleship in the Pacific Fleet at the time, she helped protect the forces taking part in the Invasion of Guadalcanal. She went on to participate in every major naval offensive in the Pacific Theater. The New Jersey received torpedo damage in September 1942 but over the course of the war only lost 10 men killed and 67 wounded. In 1958, she was scheduled to be scrapped but North Carolina students raised over $300,000 in spare change to purchase the ship. On 29 April 1962, the New Jersey was opened as a museum ship and memorial to the State of North Carolina’s World War II veterans and North Carolina’s 10,000 World War II dead.
N4WIS – USS Wisconsin (BB-64): The USS Wisconsin Radio Club operated from the Iowa class Battleship USS Wisconsin (BB-64). A Sister ship of the USS New Jersey above, she saw service in World War II, the Korean War, and the Persian Gulf War. Commissioned on 16 April 1944, she entered World War II late but still participated in the liberation of the Philippines, the Battle of Iwo Jima, and the Battle of Okinawa. Decommissioned on 8 March 1958, she was recommissioned on 22 October 1988 under President Ronald Reagan’s plans to create a 600 ship Navy. During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the Wisconsin and her Sister ship USS Missouri (BB-63) used Tomahawk missiles and their massive 16″/50 caliber guns against Iraqi targets. During the Persian Gulf War, the Wisconsin fired 319 16″ rounds but one of the most memorable actions involved Iraqi forces surrendering to her RQ-2 Pioneer drone used for target spotting! Decommissioned for the final time on 30 September 1991. She became a museum ship owned by the US Navy at the Nauticus National Maritime Museum in Norfolk, VA. Her weather decks were opened to the public in April 2001 and on 14 December 2009 she was transferred to the City of Norfolk.
KK5W – USS Stewart (DE-238) and USS Cavalla (SS-244): The Brazos Valley Amateur Radio Club activated the USS Stewart (DE-238) and USS Cavalla (SS-244) for Museum Ships on the Air by operating from the American Undersea Warfare Center at Seawolf Park in Galveston, TX.
The USS Stewart (DE-238), commissioned on 31 May 1943, is one of only two surviving Destroyer Escorts and the only surviving ship of the Edsall class Destroyer Escorts. Named after Rear Admiral Charles Stewart, who commanded the USS Constitution for two cruises during the War of 1812, the Stewart primarily saw action in the Atlantic Theater during World War II but was transferred to the Pacific Theater in July 1945. As a Destroyer Escort, she saw duty as a convoy escort. While able to provide convoy protection against aircraft and small vessels, her primary job was anti-submarine duty. Decommissioned in December 1947, the Stewart was donated to the City of Galveston, TX in June 1974 for Seawolf Park, a memorial to Texans killed during World War II. In 1998, the City planned to scrap the Stewart but a public battle resulted in the Cavalla Historical Foundation raising money for the restoration of the ship, which had declined into a poor condition. In 2008, the Stewart was also damaged by Hurricane Ike and more restoration and repair efforts followed.
The USS Cavalla (SS-244) is a US Navy Gato class submarine commissioned on 29 February 1944 and decommissioned and recommissioned several times over her US Navy career. She may have joined World War II late but she definitely made an impact. During the Battle of the Philippine Sea, she tracked and reported the location of a Japanese task force, helping lead to the US Navy’s overwhelming victory and crippling of the Japanese carrier force in the “Marianas Turkey Shoot.” During that battle, she sank the Japanese aircraft carrier Shokaku, which took part in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. For her actions in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the Cavalla and her crew were awarded a Presidential Unit Citation. In 1961, the Cavalla assisted the nuclear submarine Thresher when the Thresher suffered a generator failure while her nuclear reactor was shut down; the Cavalla provided power to the Thresher, allowing her to successfully restart her nuclear reactor. After her final decommissioning on 30 December 1969, Cavalla was transferred to the Texas Submarine Veterans of World War II and is now on display with the USS Stewart at Seawolf Park. Like the Stewart, she declined into poor condition and faced the scrapyard but a public fight with the City of Galveston led to her restoration.
W4BPR – USS Alabama (BB-60) and USS Drum (SS-228): The Battleship Park Radio Club operated from the Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile, AL – home of the USS Alabama (BB-60) and USS Drum (SS-228). I’ll never forget visiting the park as a kid during one of our family travels between New Orleans and Savannah; the Alabama was and remains a mighty and impressive sight. You don’t quite understand how massive those 16″/45 caliber guns and the shells it fired are until you see them firsthand.
Commissioned on 16 August 1942, the US Navy South Dakota class Battleship USS Alabama (BB-60) served in the Atlantic and Pacific Theaters during World War II. In early 1943, she served with the Royal Navy Home Fleet due to the Royal Navy’s lack of heavy ships. She saw action with the Home Fleet in the area of the northern convoys to the Soviet Union and Norway. In late 1943, the Alabama transferred to the US Navy in the Pacific Theater, seeing extensive action in the island hopping campaigns. During the Battle of the Philippine Sea, Alabama’s radar picked up attacking Japanese aircraft at a then impressive 190 miles and gave the US Navy the first warning of the incoming Japanese attack. Decommissioned on 9 January 1947, the Alabama was awarded to the State of Alabama in June 1964 and opened as a museum ship in January 1965. During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, 18 families of park employees used her as a shelter; the ship suffered damage from Katrina, resulting in an 8 degree list to port and a shift in her anchorage. Repairs were made and Alabama remains open to the public.
The oldest Gato class submarine remaining in existence, the USS Drum (SS-228) was commissioned on 1 November 1941 and was the first of her class to see action in World War II. The Drum saw extensive action, making 13 patrols in the Pacific Theater of World War II, 9 of which were designated successful, sinking 15 ships/80,580 tons of shipping, eighth among US submarines in World War II. In November 1944, she was heavily damaged in a depth charge attack which resulted in the replacement of her conning tower. Late in World War II as contacts with Japanese shipping became increasingly scarce, she performed intelligence and lifegaurd duties associated with the island hopping campaigns. Decommissioned on 16 February 1946, she was donated to the USS Alabama Battleship Commission in April 1969 and opened to the public as a museum ship in July 1969. She received significant damage from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and as a resulted was moved on shore. After repairs, she remains on public display for tours.
VA3VGC – SS Keewatin: The Keewatin Operators operated from the SS Keewatin for Museum Ships on the Air weekend. I had the pleasure of working the Keewatin on its final operation while in the US when a group operated from it as W8CJQ around Memorial Day 2012. This year was her first Museum Ships on the Air operation from her new Canadian home, so I was very happy to put VA3VGC in my logbook. The SS Keewatin was a combined passenger liner/freighter that carried passengers and freight between Thunder Bay (then Port Arthur/Fort William) on Lake Superior and Port McNicoll on Lake Huron for the Canadian Pacific Railway. She was built by the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company in Scotland; launched in 1907, she operated until 1966. After retiring from service as a passenger and cargo ship, the Keewatin moved to Douglas, MI where she became a museum ship. The SS Keewatin is considered to be the last remaining Edwardian era Steamer left in existence, making her a significant museum ship, representative of ships like the Titanic and Lusitania. In 2011, the Keewatin was sold and the decision was made to move her back to Port McNicoll, her home port with the Canadian Pacific Railway to be restored and continue operation as a museum ship. The move began on 31 May 2012 and she arrived back in Port McNicoll on 23 June 2012, 100 years to the date she had arrived there to make it her home port.
Despite the abysmal band conditions, the 2013 Museum Ships on the Air weekend was a fun operation, as it always is. I would like the thank all of the amateur radio operators who took the time out of their schedules to plan and participate in the operations at each station so that the rest of us could make contact with them. I would also like the thank the Museums for allowing amateur operators to operate from their facilities and ships. I can’t wait until next year rolls around and it’s time to hunt for museum ships again!