The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park

Down in southern Alabama on the Gulf of Mexico sits the city of Mobile, which boasts a long history of shipbuilding. During World War II, Mobile employed thousands of workers who built liberty ships and tankers for the war effort. That’s why it’s so fitting that the USS Alabama (BB-60) sits in Mobile Bay at the Battleship Memorial Park.

On January 9, 1965, Battleship Memorial Park opened to the public. Since then, over 15 million visitors have passed through the gates. The first 75 acres of the 155-acre park was created from 2.9 million cubic yards of dredge material pulled from Mobile Bay. Located throughout the park are the South Dakota class battleship USS Alabama, the Gato class submarine USS Drum, and wonderful collections of aircraft, tanks, helicopters, as well as a Redstone short-range ballistic missile.

USS ALABAMA (BB-60)

The USS Alabama started its journey on February 1, 1940, when its keel was laid at the Norfolk Navy Yard in Portsmouth, Virginia. It was a “treaty battleship” built in compliance with the 35,000-ton size limit set by the Second London Naval Treaty signed after World War I; the “Mighty A” was the last battleship built of the South Dakota class. The normal build time for this class of ship was four years. 

With war breaking out in 1941, construction went into high gear. As men were volunteering for military service, it was up to the ladies to step up and help finish the job, and they certainly did. The Alabama was christened on February 16, 1942, removed from dry dock, and tied up to her new moorings in the shipyard to be fitted out.

USS Alabama Visit (3)
The USS Alabama (BB-60), last of the South Dakota class battleships. She’s 680 feet long, 108 feet wide, 194 feet tall, and weighed 45,000 tons when fully loaded. For armament, she’s equipped with nine 16-inch, 45-caliber Mark VI guns, 20 twin-mount, 5-inch, 38-caliber guns in 10 smaller turrets, 52 20mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns, and 48 Bofors 40mm anti-aircraft guns, for a grand total of 129 guns.

The ship was commissioned on August 16, 1942 — it took only 2.5 years to build the USS Alabama.

With its 2,500-man crew, it was initially sent to the Atlantic with the mission to sink the Bismarck class German Battleship Tirpitz. Military planners hoped the presence of the Alabama in the north Atlantic would draw the Tirpitz from its hideout in the Norwegian Faettenfjord. Unfortunately, the Tirpitz didn’t take the bait, and the Alabama would return to Norfolk for repairs and upgrades. 

One upgrade that wasn’t completed in Norfolk and had to be done while at sea was the installation of the new SK-2 radar system. With the upgrade complete, the Alabama headed to the Pacific to join Task Force 58.7. As the Task Force approached the Marianas, the Japanese were waiting to launch an aerial attack against the Pacific third fleet.

With the new radar system, the Alabama was able to detect the incoming Japanese ships and aircraft further out than ever before. With the extra time to prepare and move assets, the task force was ready for battle, resulting in the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot.” When the smoke cleared, the Japanese lost almost 500 aircraft. The Alabama continued service in the Pacific, participated in the capture of Guam, and saw action at Okinawa, Luzon, and the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

USS Alabama Visit (4)
AD-4N Skyraider: This particular Skyraider was purchased by a collector and shipped to the U.S. from France. Upon arrival, it was seized by U.S. Customs, as the 20mm Oerlikon machineguns in the wings were still functional. The aircraft was forfeited to DHS, turned over to the U.S. Navy, and now on loan here at Battleship Memorial Park.

Along with several other ships, the Alabama was caught in a typhoon in December 1944. The storm was so violent that three destroyers were lost. In the aftermath of the storm as well as some battle damage, the Alabama received orders to head for Bremerton, Washington for repairs. In January 1945, repairs were completed, and the “Bama” set sail for Pearl Harbor and on to Okinawa in preparation for the shelling of the island. 

The Alabama’s wartime journey ended on September 5, 1945, as she led the American fleet into Tokyo Bay the day after the Japanese signed documents of surrender. On September 20, 1945, she left Japan for the last time and headed home to Bremerton, Washington, stopping along the way in Okinawa to pick up 350 sailors and servicemen who needed a ride home. The Alabama would end its WWII career logging 218,000 miles, earning nine battle stars, and shooting down 22 enemy aircraft.

The Alabama was decommissioned on January 9, 1947, in Bremerton, Washington, and sent to the reserve, aka the “Mothball” fleet. In 1962, the U.S. Navy decided it was headed to the scrapyard unless someone wanted it and would pay to remove it from Bremerton. The State of Alabama stepped forward and requested the ship for a museum in Mobile. 

Kitchen sink bomb: The idea for the kitchen sink bomb came from VA-195 Executive Officer M.K. Dennis, remarking in a Korean War press interview that, “We dropped everything on them except the kitchen sink.” Reluctantly the Fleet admiral gave his permission and, in August 1952, a kitchen sink attached to a 1,000-pound bomb was dropped on Pyongyang, North Korea.

The U.S. Navy agreed and then all that had to be done was to pay for the towing — the cost was estimated at $1 million. That’s a lot of money in 1962. Of the $1 million, about $100,000 was raised by schoolchildren who donated their pocket change and lunch money. For their donations, they received a free admission card to the Alabama. 

With the purchase complete, the Alabama was towed from Bremerton to Mobile. The trip was almost three months long, passing through the Panama Canal and arriving at Battleship Memorial Park on September 14, 1964. The tow is still the longest non-military tow ever, and one of the tugboats, Sea Lion, sank en route to the Panama Canal, claiming two lives.

THE BIG GUNS

Let’s face it, people are enamored with battleships because of one thing — the big guns. The USS Alabama is equipped with three main turrets that each housed three 16-inch, 45-caliber Mark 6 guns. The 16-inch gun could put massive ordnance downrange at long distances. 

The Mark 8 armor- piercing projectile displayed by the turret weighs 2,700 pounds. The gun fires this round at 2,300 fps or 1,568 mph, and it’s accurate up to 20.97 miles from the ship. The round is propelled by six silk-wrapped powder bags of propellant, which combined weigh 540 pounds. Therefore, each time a round is fired, the ship becomes 3,240 pounds lighter. Each turret could fire each gun at a rate of two rounds per minute.

The rest of the armament on the Alabama isn’t too shabby either. She’s also equipped with 20 twin-mount, 5-inch, 38-caliber guns in 10 smaller turrets, 52 20mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns, and 48 Bofors 40mm anti-aircraft guns — for a grand total of 129 guns.

USS DRUM (SS-228)

For you submariners out there, Battleship Park has something for you too. Sent to the park in 1969, the USS Drum is a Gato class submarine that was commissioned just one month before Pearl Harbor, so needless to say it saw a lot of action. The Drum made 13 war patrols lasting approximately two months each. It officially sank 15 Japanese ships, although the crew claims 27, for a total of 65,000 tons, ranking it eighth in total tonnage sunk. 

USS Alabama Visit (11)
USS Drum: The Drum is a Gato class World War II submarine. It’s 311 feet long, 27 feet wide, and can operate at a depth of 300 feet officially.

On its first patrol, it sank the seaplane tender Mizuho, which had been converted to a mini-submarine transporter. The ship was on its way to Midway Island loaded with 10 mini-subs. On its eighth patrol in November 1943, the Drum suffered severe damage to its conning tower due to a depth charge attack.

It made its way back to Pearl Harbor in December 1943 and was sent to the West Coast for repair. The entire conning tower was replaced with one that came off a new-construction Balao-class boat. As a result, the conning tower was rated for a deeper depth than the rest of the boat. The Drum arrived back at Pearl Harbor over a year later in March 1944.

The crew consisted of 65 enlisted men and seven officers. Submariners will tell you they are a different breed. They live in a hot, cramped, smelly pipe that’ll try to kill you if you don’t pay attention. The submarine fleet in WWII made up just 2 percent of the Navy but was responsible for 65 percent of all Japanese vessels sunk. The cost to the submarine service was high, as the U.S. Navy lost 52 submarines during WWII — 20 percent of the submarine fleet.

USS Alabama Visit (1)
Mark 14 torpedo: The Mark 14 was the U.S. Navy’s standard submarine launched anti-ship torpedo of World War II. Early on, the Mark 14 had numerous technical problems. After a redesign, the Mark 14 was a devastating weapon.

Battleship Park isn’t the first place the Drum and Alabama have met. In June of 1944, they were both moored in Majuro, Marshall Islands, undergoing repairs. 

AIRCRAFT PAVILION

If you’re into aviation, Battleship Park also has a superb collection of aircraft inside its pavilion, including a CIA A-12 Oxcart, the predecessor to the SR-71. There’s an A-6 Intruder surrounded by its ordnance accouterment. The park also features an RF-8A reconnaissance aircraft that flew over Cuba during the Missile Crisis, a Vought OS2U Kingfisher seaplane as used on the Alabama, an old-school AD-4N Skyraider, and much more.

USS Alabama Visit (6)
A-12 Oxcart: The A-12 was developed for the CIA by Lockheed’s Skunk Works as a successor to the U-2 Spy plane. The A-12 is the predecessor to the USAF SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft. Despite bearing the insignia of the USAF, the A-12 was flown exclusively by the CIA.

REENACTMENTS, SCOUTS, AND MOVIES

A few times a year the park performs battle reenactments with their Living History Crew drills. Some of the Bama’s starboard guns have been modified to simulate actual fire and defend the ship from a few attacking YAK fighter aircraft that have been modified to look like Japanese Zero’s. The reenactments are quite an experience, as the attack aircraft come over Mobile Bay at deck height and pull up at the last second while the Alabama’s anti-aircraft guns are blazing away.

USS Alabama Visit (7)
PGM-11 “Redstone” short-range ballistic missile: The Redstone was a direct descendant of the German V-2 and was designed by German engineers brought to the U.S. after WWII. It carried a W39 nuclear warhead to a range of 175 miles. The contractor for this missile was the Chrysler corporation.

The Alabama is also host to Scouts who spend the night aboard the ship. They get a close-up, firsthand look at where young men who weren’t much older than they are called home for four years of their lives.  

If the Alabama looks familiar, you might be a movie fan. The Alabama has been a part of several movies and television programs, such as Under Siege and War and Remembrance. Both the Alabama and Drum were used during filming of USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage. 

EXPLORING THE PARK

Battleship Park is a must-see. The USS Alabama and USS Drum are historic examples of courage under fire. Whether you’re into ships, submarines, helicopters, tanks, armored vehicles, or aircraft, Battleship Park has something for everyone. 

USS Alabama Visit (10)
Mark III patrol boat.

USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park

Address:

2703 Battleship Parkway

Mobile, Alabama 36602

Hours: 

  • 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Last ticket of the day sold at 4 p.m.
  • Battleship Memorial Park is open every day except Christmas Day

Admission:

  • Children up to 5: FREE
  • Ages 6-11: $6
  • Ages 12-55: $18
  • Ages 55+: $15
  • Active-duty military: FREE
  • Parking: $5

More Information:

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