This is one of Alabama’s most popular attractions. Where else can you go to see three different accolades within one setting? The USS Alabama Memorial Park is filled with WWII artifacts that not only includes a 44,500 ton – 680 foot pure-war vessel, but the USS Drum submarine and a hanger filled with some of the Navy’s top-class fighter planes and helicopters.
There is so much to see and explore that it is almost impossible to see everything in one day. The sheer physical energy it takes to climb from the battleship’s lower decks to its towering command station, walk through the aircraft hanger exhibit and see the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial will wear anyone out. Especially in Alabama’s spring heat. If that’s not enough to make your day exhausting, try crawling around in the close quarters of a dry-docked submarine, and then tour all the planes and tanks that are displayed around the park’s grounds. With that said, I will try to divide this exciting exploration into two or three articles.
When I was walking around the battleship’s massive main deck, I stumbled upon a couple of Navy officers who were having their retirement ceremony on the very stem of the ship. What a back drop for their last days in the service. In 1985 Mobile, Alabama was homeport to four navel frigates. But in 1994 the base was shut down because of military budget restraints. However, there are still a lot of retired military in the area enjoying the weather and beautiful Gulf waters.
We elected to do the self guided tour. I started with the main deck and worked my way down. The USS Alabama is the sixth ship to carry the namesake and was built with plenty of firepower, which is very evident as I walk around. This floating fortress’s main threat were its three turrets that held a total of nine – 16 inch, 50 caliber guns that would send a 2,400 lb. shell up to twenty miles away. Not to mention with amazing accuracy.
Its twin mounted (shown below – left), twenty 5-inch, 38 caliber guns offered plenty of protection during air attacks and approaching vessels. There are also sea-to-air mounted machineguns (shown below – right) that put a full court press against enemy planes wanting to drop their bombs.
From the ships main deck we traveled down the metal stairs to the lower decks. The first of many sub-decks we came to is where the kitchen or mess hall and common areas are located. The ship’s Galley took up most of the floor. Here is where the sailors spent most of their time eating and having coffee while waiting to be called to duty. There were also other departments on this floor/deck that included a store and lounging area.
The next couple decks had bunks, the infirmary (pictured below – left), a small dental office and the laundry facility. The first 2 to 3 floors were also occupied with smaller quarters that house the ship’s communications office, a strategy room and even a pay-clerk or onboard bank per se (pictured below – right). Depending on which rank you carried at the time, your bunk (pictured below – left) was either closer or further away from topside.
The floating metropolis has about everything you would need for being out to sea for periods of time unknown to the crew. That’s to say if they would even make it back are not. During WWII, controlling the seas was just as important to the Allies as owning the skies.
Starting from the 4th deck and lower is where the assault operations start. You have the weapons command room where the 16 inch guns are controlled from. The powder charges and shells are also uploaded to the turret crews for immediate arming. The ships computer room – antiquated as it is (pictured right), calculates the coordinates and pitch of the ship to compensate for the projectiles destination. The target(s) are identified and the coordinates are communicated. More than 2,600 lbs. of shell and gun powder bails are sent to the turrets four decks above. The guns are loaded and the command to fire is radioed. All this is done within approximately a few minutes. Can you say teamwork!
The bails of highly explosive gun powder are sent to each turret via a conveyer belt. If you look at the photo below – right, you can see the white bails (lower -right) ready for uploading. Handling these delicate packages at lightning speed takes a lot of concentration to say the least. We went further into the ships bowels to view the engine and drive train room. Its sad to think that if the ship was sinking, these brave men had little to no chance of surviving. They and the captain would go down with the ship without a doubt.
As we made our way topside, we began to smell the fresh air that fades away from our noses while being below. We finally reached the main deck and looked around a bit more. We found the ships bell that rang out during an alert or warning of an approaching battle situation calling for, “All men to their stations”. We also located the ship’s ‘Depth Charges’ that were deployed during a submarine attack. A German U Boat is a ship’s worst enemy.
During our second stroll of the main deck, I found the entrance to a turret. It was a bit of a struggle to climb into. I had to squat, duck and maneuver myself under the body of the turret. Once inside, it is very cramped and literally felt a lot like being in a tin can. Everything around you is cold hard solid steel. It is also very hot and the air is stagnant with unfamiliar smells. the photos shown below – left and right are dark because there isn’t much light. When I turned on my camera’s flash, the light bounced off all the metal making for even a worse picture. I can’t imagine how 5 to 7 men fit into this small of an area. I have a new found respect for our sailors and what they had to go through.
We ventured towards the metal stairway that took us to the Catwalk that lead up to the Conning Tower – a structure that elevates upward from the main deck. Here is where I can oversee the ship’s perimeter and out into open waters. It is also where accompanying naval vessels can communicate via a signal lamp, or known to Navy personnel as an Aldis lamp.
We proceeded up towards the bridge, but the tour didn’t allow us any further access above 3 decks high. I took a few photos (shown below – right) of the levels above us. However, that was as close as I will get to seeing where the command station can order a battlewagon like this to takeout a small city twenty miles away within minutes. Never underestimate the US Navy’s firepower.
A visit to Mobile isn’t complete until you experience the USS Alabama Memorial Park. Seeing firsthand what our WWII veterans saw and felt while defending and then unleashing an indescribable amount of fury upon our enemies. All in the effort to keeping our nations freedom.
Author: Anthony Scopel
Photography: Anthony Scopel
Associate Editor: Maureen Scopel
Technical Mastering & Support: Matt Kemper
Stay tuned for the next sequel of this amazing park.