Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Wilmington's Battleship North Carolina 8/12/14

     Welcome to the battleship North Carolina.  Lying a few miles up the Cape Fear River from the Atlantic, it now serves as a public museum and educational facility.

     This is actually the fourth ship to carry the name North Carolina.  Upon entering the facility the earlier namesakes are honored.

      One built in the early 1900's was the first ship to launch an aircraft.

     Construction on this vessel began in 1937 and was finished in April of 1941.  At the time of its commissioning it was considered the world's ultimate naval weapon.  

     This ship was involved in every major naval battle in the Pacific theater and traveled over 300,000 miles over the span of two decades. Six different times the Japanese announced that this ship had been sunk, and indeed once a torpedo did extensive damage.  But by the end of WWII the ship had earned 15 battle stars (commendations) and was decommissioned in 1947.  

     In 1958, when the navy announced that the ship was to be cut up for scrap, the citizens of North Carolina started a successful campaign to save the boat and bring it to North Carolina.  Above is a photo of the day in 1961 that it arrived in Wilmington, and below is a photo of her guns overlooking the river's tidal basin today.

     Secured on the front deck is a scout plane, a single engine amphibious aircraft of the type referred to as "Kingfishers." 

     A large crane was designed to lift the plane up and over the edge of the boat and lower it into the ocean.  From there the plane could scout the skies beyond the reach of that day's radar systems.

     The decks bristle with guns of various sizes and capabilities, some of them launching exploding shells and others the just belch large swarms of lead.

     Late in the war, the Japanese pilots would try to fly their airplanes into the decks of aircraft carriers or other boats in the fleet.  The crew of this boat is credited with shooting down 24 of these planes and assisting other boats in the downing of many more.

     But the most intimidating feature was the 9 huge 16 inch cannons that project from both the front and rear of the boat.  

     These guns were an engineering marvel at the time.  The gun itself sits atop a rotating platform that extends three decks deep into the ship.

     The portions of the lower deck that pivot along with the guns were dedicated to reloading.  In the above photo artillery shells sit at the ready on the circular turnstile, and deep below the decks were the canvas bags containing high explosive charges that launched the shells.  As you can see in the photo below, six canvas powder bags were used to launch one shell.

     But the greatest feature of the ship today are the many volunteers who give of their time and themselves to share with visitors their knowledge.  Meet Gene Oakley.

     Gene is a machinist who has used his skills to make working models of maritime engines spanning a couple of centuries.  Gene crafted every part on these models by hand, and they are presented in such a fashion that the inner workings are easily explained. 

    Gene takes his displays to schools, Boy Scout troops, museums - about anywhere there are people who would like to learn about the evolution of ship propulsion systems.  When he isn't doing this, Gene is the instrumental technician for the physics department of East Carolina University.

     Gene works along with other volunteers at the Carolina Living History Guild.  These guys are no ordinary re-enactors though.  They represent all of the eras of United States naval fleets through the late 1800's and have a large cache of historic items to display.  They use these items to demonstrate how sailors lived in days gone by.

     Pictured below are a few other volunteers who educate people on subjects varying from blockade runners, hand weapons, uniforms of different eras, torpedoes and other topics.  On the right is Andrew Duppstadt who currently heads this educational effort.

     There are many more volunteers aboard the ship, and I feel bad that I can only feature a few of them.  The interesting thing is that volunteers are matched up with areas of the ship in which they have expertise from their own life.  

     Meet Richard Johnson, a retired nuclear power plant operator who spends his time deep in the bowels of the ship where the engines and electrical generators are.  A few facts that he shared - this ship generated enough electricity to provide the power needs of 30,000 people in residential areas.  The boat sported four 30,000 horsepower engines, and used 130 gallons of fuel per mile it traveled.  The boat had a fuel capacity of 2 million gallons of fuel, giving it a range between fill-ups of about 15,000 miles.

Richard Johnson

     There was a whole section of the ship devoted to Damage Control.  When a ship is damaged, as was the case when this boat was hit by a torpedo in September of 1942, the ship will flip over sideways if it takes on too much water.  But internally sealing off the area that the water is intruding doesn't solve the whole problem.  The weight of the water has to be offset, or counter-balanced by adding water to other areas of the ship.  This way the ship can remain upright and in this case it was able to keep up with the rest of the fleet until it could get to Hawaii for repairs.

     And in this section, we find local fireman Sean Dunham who explains exactly how the crew goes about keeping the boat afloat and operating after sustaining severe damage.  They would quickly estimate the extent of the water intrusion and then flood tanks on the opposite extreme of the ship to keep it balanced.

Sean Dunham

     For me, the most amazing aspect of the boat wasn't the big guns.  It wasn't the huge engines, the big drive shafts or all the navigation equipment.  It was how the ship took care of the 2400 sailors, officers and marines who operated her during wartime.

     There were various kitchens scattered about the boat.  This one below was a bread and pastry kitchen.

    And here is the a larger food prep area.

     2,400 sailors in tight quarters operating in very hot conditions need clean clothes.  Numerous huge washing machines handled that task.

     How about a shoe-shine department?  Gotta look spiffy I guess.

     And a separate tailoring department.  Notice the bunk beds above the work stations.  These are all around the ship in the various departments.  

     And squeezed in between all of the working parts of the ship are larger sleeping areas.

     How about dentistry?  There was a volunteer here who works in a local dental clinic.

     The boat has a large sick bay and surgical suites.

     How about mail?  Notice the big bag on the floor used to haul mail aboard the ship.  I am sure on the days that the opportunity presented itself to send and receive mail these were some busy guys.

     Further humanizing this museum are signs adorning the walls of each department that share the words of the sailors who lived and worked in that specific department.  In this following one from the engineering department sailors talk about the challenges of living in 130 degree heat and what it was like when you were assigned your job.  The one author was dealing with the rigors of life at sea at the age of 16.

     There are a lot of things that have to be orchestrated mechanically for this ship to be able to show up and get its job done.  There were no computers to use in the 1940's, so all of the navigational and firing control calculations were handled by mechanical and analog calculating devices.

     Here is the huge hydraulic ram that drives the rudder back and forth to steer the ship.

     And those four monster engines turned four of these huge propellers.

     Many walls are covered with big banks of gauges, relays, switches and valves.

     And of course, if something breaks at sea, there is no one to bring along spare parts.  A large and well equipped machine shop fabricated items that were needed to keep the ship running.

     Of the 2,400 passengers about 100 were Marines who kept the peace and handled security issues.

     If you have any interest in these engineering marvels of the sea, this is a great one to visit.  There are many more areas of the ship than this limited space allows me to share.  The ship is clean, everything is well maintained, and between the volunteers and the signs adorning the walls you can learn about any aspect of this ships operation that you desire.

     Today's parting shot is "one of those couples."  Certain people I see pique my curiosity about them, and I don't have the time to meet very many.  This couple quietly talked, laughed and joked as they walked along - both seemingly completely comfortable in their skin.  I always wonder - what is their story?  Where are they from, what have they done and what drives them today?  

Have an awesome Tuesday

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