Pride of the Fleet.

“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” -Robert Burns, Scottish Poet.

Sunday morning, I had it all figured out. I would depart my home and head to Quincy, Massachusetts, to visit the home of President John Adams and his son, President John Quincy Adams, the second and sixth Presidents of the United States, respectively. Their homes are now part of Adams National Historic Park, which is overseen by the National Park Service. The park is so popular that you can only visit as part of a tour group, led by a park ranger. I should have known that things were not going to go according to plan when I realized, halfway to Quincy, that I had forgotten my National Park Services Passport. Then, despite using GPS, I managed to get lost twice while looking for the park’s Visitors Center. Finally, I parked and made my way to the Visitors Center, only to find out that the tours of the park were completely sold out for the day.

Dejected, as I walked back to my car, I scrolled around the map application on my phone, trying to find anything of interest nearby, so as to salvage the trip. There, in the corner of the map, was the United States Naval Shipbuilding Museum, which houses the USS Salem, a heavy cruiser that served in the US Navy in the mid-20th century. I headed east on Route 3A before my GPS directed me into a very gritty train yard and dock. I was about to turn around, figuring that I had gotten lost once again, when I spotted a tiny sign for the museum and an arrow pointing down an access road. Through dirt, gravel, and a bit of mud, I pressed onward until I turned a corner and came face to face with a 17,000 ton warship.

The USS Salem heavy cruiser was designed during the Second World War and built in Quincy, Massachusetts. The vessel was capable of traveling at a very fast 33 knots (which is still an impressive speed for a ship of this size), its four boilers producing 120,000 horsepower. The ship was well-armed, with nine 8″ guns, twelve 5″ guns, and twenty 3″ guns. This 717-foot long vessel was operated by a crew of 1,799 sailors and officers. It served for only ten years, however, as by the early 1950s, it was already obsolete: missiles were the way of the future, and this all-gun design was behind the times. It was decommissioned in 1959, two months shy of ten years of service (via Wikipedia). For a naval warship to only serve ten years is the equivalent of buying a brand new car and only owning it for a year or two before trading it in. The Salem was stored at the Philadelphia Naval Yard until 1994, when it returned to its birthplace to form a new museum.

USS Salem Map
The US Naval Shipbuilding Museum in Quincy, Massachusetts, about 12 miles south of Boston.
Driving down the access road toward the museum, I kept thinking of the lyrics from the Bon Jovi song, Livin on a Prayer: “Tommy used to work on the docks, union’s been on strike, he’s down on his luck, it’s tough… so tough…”
Turn a corner and the Salem appear in front of you, as if by magic. It’s really well hidden, which I am sure is not so great for attracting tourists.
Obligatory DH photo. Of course.
All aboard!
Standing at the bow of the ship, looking aft. The Fore River Bridge, which spans the Weymouth Fore River, is in the background. 
Two of the ship’s 3″ guns, which would have primarily been used to defend against attacking aircraft. 
I climbed up to the bridge and looked out. You can see the dock and train yard past the ship. In the foreground are the Salem‘s forward turrets for its primary 8″ guns, as well as a 5″ gun turret directly beneath the bridge.
One of the 5″ gun turrets on the starboard (right) side of the ship. Please take note of the fresh paint on the gun turret. The Salem is really a tale of two ships.
Why is it a tale of two ships? The port side of the vessel is heavily rusted. Compare this 3″ gun mount with the one seen previously.  The port (left) side of the vessel is in worse shape, rust-wise, than the side that you see when you first arrive.
Atop this tower is one of the ship’s Mark 37 Fire Control Directors for aiming its guns. This is on the port side, and if you look at the unit atop the tower, you can see it is also covered in surface rust.
Lest anyone think I am complaining about the well-used condition of the vessel, I am not. The rust and peeling paint give the ship a patina of authentic use, which I really appreciate. Even this electrical junction box, which is inside the vessel, is succumbing to the effects of a life at sea.
The reality is that for a ship that is maintained solely by volunteers, it is in very good condition. The decay of time just gives the ship some character… and makes for interesting photos.
I climbed inside the rear 8″ gun turret, which was open to the public. You can see a red 8″ shell and its charge (the bronze tube behind the shell which would detonate and launch the shell away from the ship) ready to be loaded into the gun. Despite safety precautions, this was very dangerous work. An accident during the Vietnam War aboard the Salem‘s sister ship USS Newport News killed 19 sailors inside one of its turrets when a defective fuse caused a shell to blow up inside the turret as it was being fired during combat in 1972.
A “computer,” 1940s edition. Used to help aim the guns, this Mark 6 Stable Element would measure gyroscopes and also the flow of mercury between two tanks in order to determine how much the ship was pitching and rolling at sea. It was essentially a mechanical level to keep the guns even with the horizon.
I next ventured below decks to see the rooms that were necessary for the day-to-day functioning of the ship. This is the officer’s wardroom, where breakfast, lunch, and dinner were served..
Now THAT is what I call a dishwasher!
The machinist’s room, where the vessel’s tools were held.
The surgery and recovery suite.
Even at sea, there’s no getting away from a visit to the dentist. Side note: I would not want to be having my teeth scraped as the ship goes up and down on the waves.
The chaplain’s quarters. I almost joined the Coast Guard after high school, and later I gave serious thought to becoming a minister. Sometimes I ponder the road(s) not taken…
Bunks for the enlisted crew. Not much in the way of privacy here.
Several rooms have become spaces to display these scale model ships. My Dad loves building scale models- the level of realism of the tanks he builds is astounding. This shot is for him.
The USS Arizona was destroyed at Pearl Harbor when bombs from attacking Japanese planes detonated the ship’s gun shells. To minimize the chances of that recurring, shells are held in armored compartments deep within the Salem and are brought up to the gun turrets by a series of elevators. This is a 5″ shell.
At the rear of the ship (aft), this crane sits over the aircraft hanger. Originally designed to carry two float planes, the Salem did operate a HUP-2 utility helicopter to ferry supplies between it and other ships.
As I was leaving the ship, I spotted this oddity. Talking to one of the museum employees, I found out that it is a German Seehund midget submarine. Crewed by only two people, this minisub was a desperation weapon used by the Germans at the end of WWII, as the Nazi Reich ran short of men and material.  Despite its limitations, it was an effective weapon, sinking 120,000 tons of Allied shipping.
The USS Salem. All things considered, it is in pretty good shape for a 70-year old ship!
DH and his big brother. Fun fact: the wharf where DH is parked was deemed structurally unsound in 2013 and had to close for almost two years in order to be made safe again.

Despite only being in service for 10 years, the Salem had a busy career. It served primarily in the Atlantic and Mediterranean Oceans. It was called on for disaster relief after an earthquake in Greece in 1953, it patrolled the Mediterranean during the Suez Crisis of 1956, and it paid a visit to Monaco to celebrate the birth of Prince Albert II, who is the current leader of that principality. It has also been a movie star, as well! It portrayed the German battleship Admiral Graf Spree in the 1956 film The Battle of the River Plate. More recently, many of its interior spaces were used during the filming of the 2016 film The Finest Hours, as it stood in for the doomed freighter SS Pendleton, which broke in half off Cape Cod during a violent winter storm in 1952.

The USS Salem is a terrific place to spend a few hours. Less well known than Battleship Cove in nearby Fall River, the ship is a quiet spot, staffed by a friendly and knowledgable group of volunteers. The ship is open Saturdays and Sundays from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and children 4 -12, and children 3 and under can visit for free. While there were other guests on board, for long periods of time I had entire sections of the ship to myself. If you are in Quincy, I would highly recommend making a detour to this very cool exhibit. Thanks for coming along on another Voyage of DH!

‘Til next time.

3 thoughts on “Pride of the Fleet.

  1. Those crew bunks are tight quarters. I’d get claustrophobic AND seasick! Thanks for the inside look! And so cool you got to drive right onto the pier.


    1. Thanks! There are also numerous reports of haunting aboard the ship- and when you’re alone in some of the spaces, the creepy factor is high. Claustrophobic, seasick, and scared out of your mind, too…


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