When Lieutenant Commander Eli T. Reich commanded USS SEALION (SS 315) in the Pacific during WWII he had, of course, no idea that the battle flag of his submarine would someday be exhibited in a museum he would help to establish. But that is the fortunate way history worked out. During the 1970s and 1980s Vice Admiral Reich, then retired, served as President of the Naval Undersea Museum Foundation and led an enthusiastic, effective, and successful campaign to raise funds and supervise construction of the Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport, Washington.
Today the Naval Undersea Museum, located at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Keyport, is the largest Navy museum on the West Coast. It is also a unit of the Naval Sea Systems Command (NA VSEA). The museum is accredited by the American Association of Museums; only two of the Navy’s eleven museums have earned this distinction.
The museum’s mission is to collect, preserve, and interpret naval undersea history, science, and operations for the benefit of the U.S. Navy and the people of the United States. It accomplishes this through programs of education, interpretation, collection, publication, and services to the fleet and Sailors in the Puget Sound area. The museum will host the state meeting of the Washington Museum Association in June 2002 and the national meeting of the Historic Naval Ships Association in September 2003.
The museum’s permanent and temporary displays focus on the U.S. Navy’s undersea accomplishments from the Revolutionary War to the present. The modem 68,000 square-foot building offers visitors more than 20,000 square-feet of exhibits which interpret the fascinating, mysterious, and often dangerous story of naval undersea history and operations in four thematic areas: Undersea Weapons Technology, Diving Technology, Submarine Technology, and the Ocean Environment.
Undersea Weapons Technology. Known as Torpedo Town USA since the establishment of the Pacific Coast Torpedo Station in 1914, the Naval Undersea Warfare Center at Keyport has long built, proofed and tested, and delivered torpedoes to the fleet. Due in great part to Keyport’s historical association with torpedoes, the museum holds within its walls what is very likely the most comprehensive collection of torpedoes in the United States, if not the world; ten torpedoes are on display and another ninety are safely housed in the storage facility.
The exhibits include a rare 1890s Howell torpedo which used a flywheel engine for propulsion, and a circa 1905 Whitehead torpedo. Also on display are the workhorse torpedoes of WWII-a Mk 14 submarine steam torpedo, a Mk 18 electric torpedo, and a Mk 13 air-dropped torpedo-as well as the newest torpedoes in the Navy’s inventory including a Mk 48 with its wire guidance spool and a Mk 50 antisubmarine torpedo.
The technology of launching a torpedo has evolved from a relatively simple process to one demanding complex mechanisms, interlocks, and safety precautions. Representing this technology is the single heaviest object in the museum: the two starboard torpedo tubes and a portion of the forward elliptical bulkhead from USS Tecumseh (SSBN 628) weighing 19,000 pounds. Visitors can see up close torpedo tube doors and touch the steel which separated the people tank from the water tank.
Undersea Range Technology, the museum’s most recently opened exhibit, explains the history of testing torpedoes on Navy ranges and demonstrates current technology.
The comprehensive mine warfare exhibit begins with a replica of a keg mine used by David Bushnell against the British fleet at Philadelphia during the Revolutionary War. Another replica, this one of the spar torpedo used by Lieutenant William Cushing against the Confederate ram Albemarle, lets visitors imagine both the daring and personal courage of sailors during the Civil War. A highlight of the exhibit is a Civil War mine captured from the Confederacy at the Battle of Mobile Bay in 1864. The mine warfare exhibit also includes recent weapons such as a CAPTOR mine.
Submarine Technology. The Museum’s submarine exhibits include “Silent Victory” the story of the U.S. Submarine Force in the Pacific during WWII. SEALION II’ s battle flag is a part of this exhibit as is a rare WWII Torpedo Data Computer. The museum has recreated the control room from USS GREENLING (SSN 614) using major equipment such as the Ship Control Panel and Ballast Control Panel which were removed at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard during the sub’s recycling. Enthusiastic young submariners can sit at the Ship Control Panel and move the diving yokes to simulate driving a submarine though the depths.
In the Diving Technology exhibits, visitors encounter a variety of diving equipment including one-atmosphere suits that allow divers to descend below 1,000 feet, remotely-operated vehicles, and models of a variety of undersea craft and habitats. Torpedo technology has long been important to NUWC Division Keyport; CURV III, which was used for many years to recover torpedoes from Keyport’s firing range, grasps a Mk 46 torpedo in its manipulator arm as it simulates a retrieval.
The Ocean Environment exhibit introduces visitors to the physics, chemistry, and science of the undersea world. Interactive exhibits let visitors hear undersea sounds such as whales, snapping shrimps, and ice floes. Youngsters can look through a microscope to see baby starfish and seaweed, and thousands of visitors have simulated diving and surfacing a submarine with the buoyancy exhibit.
The museum’s collections, numbering more than 7,000 items large and small, represent all aspects of undersea history. They range from early undersea demolition team equipment to hull sections of fleet ballistic missile submarines, from WWII submarine battle flags to maintenance manuals for early torpedoes. Museum personnel have consulted with film companies on many documentaries, and five torpedoes from the collection were featured in the History Channel program Torpedoes of WWII.
Outdoor exhibits include the sail of the fast attack submarine USS STURGEON (SSN 637), Deep Submergence Vehicle I (also known as TRIESTE II), and Deep Quest. The museum has recently completed refurbishing the end cap of SEALAB II and has placed it on display outside the museum. The end cap represented pioneering work in the use of explosive formation of large items of steel.
Information Resources. Integral to the museum’s mission is the preservation of the knowledge of past naval operations and technology. To accomplish this, the museum has developed a research and reference library which is becoming a regional center for undersea information. The library, named in honor of Captain Ralph Enos, a retired submariner and torpedo specialist, now holds more than 6,000 books, technical manuals, primary source documents, photographs, films, videotapes, and microforms focused on naval undersea history, science, and operations. It is rapidly developing particular strengths in its resources related to torpedoes, mines, submersibles and undersea vehicles, and Navy diving and salvage. Within the collection are rare volumes on submarine and diving history. The library’s 75 volumes from the U.S. Naval Institute’s oral history program represent the largest such collection west of Washington DC. Submariners will also find all the war patrol reports from WWII on microfilm as well as a complete run of the Naval institute’s Proceedings.
Programs. The museum has an active education program which serves the adults and students of Puget Sound. Over 3,000 students a year participate in museum focus tours, educational activities, and special events such as Engineers Discover E Day, Washington Water Weeks, and Kids’ Adventure. The museum also presents a Distinguished Speakers Series which brings scientists, historians, and authors to the museum. Among the speakers in the 2001 series was Dr. William Dudley, Director of Naval History, speaking about the career of the Confederate submarine HUNLEY.
Service to the Fleet. Because Navy men and women give so much to their nation, the museum concentrates on providing services to them. One of the ways it accomplishes this is by offering an appropriate, dignified setting for ceremonies and events which reinforce the Navy’s core values of honor, courage and commitment. USS HENRY M. JACKSON (SSBN 730) (Blue) held its change of command in the adjoining Jack Murdock Auditorium in 2001, as did Trident Training Facility and NUWC Division Keypon. Fleet sailors chose the museum as their preferred location for commissionings (6), re-enlistments (9), and retirements (16). Navy Band Northwest holds six well-attended concerts a year in the 450 seat auditorium.
Staff and Volunteers. The museum operates with a staff of six Navy civilians, one contractor, and a volunteer staff of more than 80 dedicated personnel. The volunteer staff contributed the equivalent of 4.5 full-time positions in 2001; volunteers participate in all activities and are integral to daily operations. The highly successful Student Guide program, now starting its eighth year, gives youngsters 13 to 16 the opportunity to contribute public service while learning work skills and responsibility. In 2001 the students contributed more than 1,900 hours and were particularly helpful in special events. More than ten Student Guides have qualified for Presidential Youth Service Awards based on their museum work.
Location and Hours. The Naval Undersea Museum is on State Route 3 on the Kitsap Peninsula; it is 3 miles east of Naval Submarine Base Bangor and 8 miles north of Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Admission is free, and the museum is open from 10AM to 4PM seven days a week from June through August and six days a week (closed on Tuesdays) the rest of the year. The museum is fully accessible to all visitors. Additional information about the museum and its programs and exhibits can be obtained from its website at: http://num.kpt.nuwc.navy.mil or by calling 360 396-4148. Inquiries may also be addressed to: firstname.lastname@example.org . The museum’s mailing address is Naval Undersea Museum, 610 Dowell Street, Keyport, WA 98345-7610