Bringing out the Big Guns in Alabama

On our trip through lower Alabama last year, as we crossed Mobile Bay, I looked to my left and saw a huge gray vessel moored there.  I later learned that it was the USS Alabama, a WWII battleship.  With the unmistakable 16 inch guns pointing to the sky and the sleek curving lines of it’s bow, I knew that it was a place I wanted to visit when we had more time.

Growing up in Detroit, I have always been fascinated by mechanical things.  It must have something in the water around there. Heck, Henry Ford and I practically drank from the same well!  As a tot, my parents used to take me to Historic Fort Wayne in Detroit to explore the grounds.  One of my favorite things to do was to climb in and on the old tanks and anti-aircraft guns.  There were switches, dials and cranks that did all sorts of things, and I loved playing with them to see what they were used for.  I never gave much thought to what happened on the receiving end of the shells that were fired from those guns; I was simply amazed at the complexity of the machines themselves and the way the systems worked in unison. Tanks were cool, planes were cooler and battleships…well those were downright legendary!  I’ve never lost the desire to see them, as they represent some remarkable seat-of-the-pants engineering that was accomplished in an extremely short time frame.

As part of our trip west this year, we made plans to stay over and visit Mobile and the USS Alabama. 

Construction on this ship began on February 1, 1940 in Norfolk, Virginia.  Two years and fifteen days later, the Alabama was launched.  A mere six months later, the ship was commissioned, and her sea trials were completed by the end of the year.

Beginning her career as an escort in the North Atlantic, the Alabama was soon sent to the Pacific to participate in the shelling of several Japanese-occupied islands.  The ship’s nine 16″ guns were a force to be reckoned with, not to mention the wide array of other firepower that adorned her decks.

Just in case they decide to try them out, I’ll plug my ears.  🙂

There are three self-guided tours on the ship:  red, yellow and green.  We opted for the yellow tour first, as it concentrated on everything from the main deck upward.  The mid-ship tower rises 8 levels from the deck.  If you’ve ever been on a navy ship, you know that the stairs rise nearly straight up and the doorways are short hatchways.  Lots of climbing and bending!  The scent of oil was one of the first things that hit me, and it took me back to my paternal grandfather’s garage in River Rouge, Michigan.  Grandpa B loved working on anything mechanical, and I loved the smell of his shop.  While the Alabama was clean, it still had its 1940’s patina, which made it all the better.

We were amazed at the complexity of the tower, as there were not only guns, but a vast array of navigational systems.

Not only was there the main bridge, which was used during normal operations…

…but there was also a ‘battle bridge’, which was encased in thick armor.  This is where the captain and the lead officers would command the ship from during battle.

Back on the deck, we saw that the rear hatches to the huge gun turrets were open.

We were able to get up inside to see where the shells were loaded into the barrels!

This door separated the end of one of the guns from the area where the gun’s operators worked.  It was tight, stinky and grimy.  Yep…it was great!  One fact I found interesting was that the turrets aren’t attached to the ship.  They sit on rollers and if the ship were to capsize, they would fall out.

But as impressive as the yellow tour was, I knew there was more to see below deck.  

This is the area outside one of the turret housings.  Bunks were put in whatever available space there was.  I was surprised that the ceiling heights were actually a lot taller than they were in the tower.

These are the shells from the big guns.  They traveled a half mile a second and were extremely accurate to 24 miles.  That would mean they would take 48 seconds to reach their target.

Ok…I needed to find the engine room.  On the way down, I saw this:

Oh, my!  More switches!

And the engine room was full of cool stuff!

How did they get this all to work in unison?  Simply amazing.

Back on deck, we checked out the stern of the ship.  This is looking out towards the Gulf of Mexico.  When Hurricane Katrina rolled in here, they used the Alabama as a shelter.  That’s putting a lot of confidence in something that is floating!

Our admission also included a tour of the USS Drum, a WWII era submarine.  There are also several aircraft on display, both inside the aircraft pavilion and outside on the lawn.  There are $2 off coupons (from full price) available at the Alabama welcome center.  Seniors 55 and older get the same discount without the coupon, as do AAA members.  If you are ever in Mobile, make sure you take the time to tour the USS Alabama!

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21 thoughts on “Bringing out the Big Guns in Alabama”

  1. Jim,

    We grew up in the same world — just a few hundred miles apart. For us it was a frequent trip from Milwaukee to the Chicago Museum of Science & Industry where there were interactive exhibits and switches and knobs and gauges and dials and a model train layout bigger than 4 of these 40 x 90 mobile home sites. I couldn’t wait for the next visit and my folks couldn’t get me out of the place when it was time to leave.

    Nowadays we don’t do as many museums — as you know — but they are a wonderful resource that I’m glad exist for those who enjoy them. History and Life can become much more real when we take the time to understand what our predecessors went through. I’m not sure we learn enough as a society to avoid repeating their errors but hey, one never knows!

    LOL about the not-attached-to-the-ship. Wouldn’t want to be there to witness the turrets falling out!

    You can now appreciate the old expression “like a well oiled machine” even better.

    Safe travels, my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. To actually see the process and hardware it took to get one of those shells from Point A to Point B is so much more ‘real’ than seeing that black and white photo of the ship firing her guns. There’s a huge wow factor, for sure! You just can’t get that from a book.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Agreed! I’ve seen other war machines, and agree about the impact of seeing it with your own eyes. I guess I just can’t get excited about seeing things that rain death and destruction down on people in general. I’m awed by the technology — and it WAS technology back in the day — but my mind always goes to the beyond that action such that the act of war has never been something that I could personally get excited about, there are too many subsequent effects. Besides — I get physically sick thinking about it. I know the would would not be safe if everyone were like me; fortunately they aren’t — but as long as the rules of this country allow me to be a pacifist I am what I am.

        Liked by 1 person

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