Museum Ships weekend is an annual amateur radio operating event, in which HAMS operate on the amateur band waves from retired maritime vessels, both military and commercial, from all over the world, to enable the amateur community at large the opportunity to contact these historic museum entities and receive written confirmation of the contact. Maritime museums, maritime memorials, historic aircraft, and other appropriate entities also participate. Many, if not most of the ships participating in MSW have an active and ongoing relationship with an amateur radio club or group.
The event dates back to the mid 1990s, when it was sponsored by the USS Salem (CA-139) Amateur Radio Club. Since 2006, The Battleship New Jersey Amateur Radio Station has assumed sponsorship. Participating amateurs receive a certificate for successful contacts with 15 of the museum entities, and hams who operate from the Ships receive a separate certificate confirming their valued participation. While the primary purpose of the event is to offer the amateur community worldwide access to these historic vessels, the hams operating from the vessels enjoy contacting each other, and pass along frequencies where other ships are operating. Many of the ships have /their original radio equipment restored to operating condition by the hams who operate during the event, and it is always a bonus to make a contact where one or both ends are using communications technology dating back several decades, particularly in Morse code.
Participating museum entities usually number between 80 and 100, mostly located in North America and Europe, but also from as far away as Brisbane, Australia. Some of the participants during past years have been----- ---- Battleships, Aircraft Carriers, Cruisers, Destroyers, Frigates, Corvettes, Minesweepers, Coast Guard Cutters, Hospital Ships, Ice Breakers, Lightships, Presidential Yacht, Landing Craft, Landing Ship Tank, Missile Ship, Patrol Boat, Rocket Corvette, Victory Ship, Submarines (including U-Boats), Cargo Ships, Tugboats, Fireboats, Freighters, Cruise Ships, Paddle Steamer, and even a Railroad Car Ferry.
Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose has participated in the past, as has a US Navy version of the Lockheed Super Constellation, the last 4 engine propellor passenger airliner before the transition to jet engines. The Navy used the aircraft as a radar picket off the coast of the US in the 1950s.
The Five Sullivan Brothers Amateur Radio Club participates annually. The five brothers were aboard the Cruiser USS Juneau (CL-52) when it was sunk by a Japanese submarine on November 13, 1942. A Destroyer, USS The Sullivans (DD-537) was named after the brothers, and is now itself a Museum Ship in Buffalo, NY.
While all of the participants in MSW have a significant history in that they are all museums, some histories are particularly poignant. The USS Indianapolis Memorial, in downtown Indianapolis, recalls a compelling story.
The USS Indianapolis (CA-35), a Heavy Cruiser, delivered the materials for the first operational atomic bomb to Tinian Island in the South Pacific on July 26, 1945. The bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945. A second bomb dropped on Nagasaki compelled the Japanese surrender, ending World War Two.
However, on completion of her mission to Tinian, the Indianapolis was ordered to proceed to the Philippine Islands to prepare for the then expected invasion of the Japanese Home Islands. Her Captain, Charles Butler McVay III, requested destroyer escort for fear of enemy submarine attack, but was denied. Nor was he advised of known Japanese submarine activity in his area. (Subsequent historical documentation would reveal that the Indianapolis had been tracked by at least one enemy submarine while en Route to Tinian.)
On July 30, 1945, the Indianapolis was struck by two torpedos from the Japanese submarine I-58 in vital areas, which essentially broke the ship apart. She sank within twelve minutes, no life rafts were launched. Of her crew of 1,196, some 300 went down with the ship and approximately 900 men went into the shark infested waters of the South Pacific wearing only kapok life jackets.
In what can most charitably be described as bureaucratic indifference, She was not reported missing and no search/rescue effort was mounted.
Four days later, a Navy aircraft on routine anti-submarine patrol passed over the scene and radioed a report of ...hundreds of men in the water... to his base. An amphibious PBY Catalina was dispatched.
En route to the scene, the Catalina encountered the USS Cecil Doyle (DD-368) and advised the ship of its mission. The Destroyer's Captain, acting upon his own initiative, diverted his ship to the ...men in the water..., following the Catalina.
Reaching the survivors, the Catalina dropped emergency supplies, but upon observing men being attacked by sharks, on his own initiative, the pilot disobeyed standing orders not to land on the open sea and pulled the men most at risk onto his aircraft. When the fuselage was full, additional survivors were tied to the wings with parachute cord.
The Doyle arrived on the scene later that night. At risk to his own ship, given the presence of the enemy in the immediate area, the Doyle's captain ordered his ship's searchlight to be pointed at the sky to direct other rescue efforts to the scene.
Eventually, of the 900 men who went into the water, 317 were rescued, due solely to the courage of the Catalina pilot and the Doyle Captain.
Captain McVay, who spent 5 days in the shark infested waters along with his men, was court-martialled by the Navy for ...hazarding his ship....
Despite repeated efforts by the survivors of the Indianapolis tragedy to clear their Captain of the charges against him, the Navy was adamant. The Indianapolis survivors continued to support their Captain through the ensuing decades, arguing, essentially, that it was the Navy that was at fault in the loss of the Indianapolis and the loss of life, and that they did not hold their Captain responsible for the tragedy, and that they would be proud to continue to serve under him. The Navy was unmoved.
Captain McVay committed suicide in 1968.
Eventually, through the continued efforts of the Indianapolis survivors, Captain McVay's family, a 12 year old school student's research project, a best selling book, Fatal Voyage, the United States Congress, in 2001, passed a Resolution exonerating Captain McVay from responsibility for the loss of the Indianapolis. President Clinton signed on to the Resolution. However, Captain McVay's court-martial conviction remains on the books.
This is history that is not taught in schools. It is part and parcel of the allure of Museum Ships Weekend, and the USS Indianapolis Memorial is always a valued partner in the event.
We here in Wilmington have a particular tie to MSW, since we are an ...Affiliated Organization... with the USS North Carolina Battleship Memorial and Museum. As you might expect, while we do treasure amateur contacts with any Museum Ship, we are partial to Battleships. And there are not many of those left, and the United States has virtually all of them.
HMS Dreadnought, launched by the Royal Navy in 1906, is the prototype for most of the Battleships launched in the early years of the twentieth century. There is one remaining Dreadnought class Battleship in the world. She is the USS Texas (BB-35). More on her later.
The United States has ten remaining Battleships. Utah and Arizona, of course, are at the bottom of Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands.
Utah (BB-31) was struck by a torpedo and sunk during the Japanese sneak attack on the U.S. Naval Base Pearl Harbor HI on December 7, 1941.
Arizona (BB-39) was struck by eight bombs which essentially ignited her powder magazines and destroyed the ship.
Both Utah and Arizona sank with members of their crews who are permanently interred therein. There are memorials to both Utah and Arizona at Pearl, and the Arizona Memorial, situated above the sunken ship, is a moving tribute to all who died at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
The USS Texas (BB-35) is the last Dreadnought Class Battleship existing today. She is berthed at San Jacinto State Park as a Texas State Memorial. The Texas, launched in 1912, took part in the Vera Cruz Incident in 1914, was present with the Allies accepting the surrender of the Kaiser's High Seas Fleet as part of the Armistice ending World War I on November 11, 1918, participated in the Allied amphibious landings in Morocco in 1942, providing shore bombardment—a run up to D-Day--, and then shelled the beaches of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944 in support of the Allied invasion of Hitler's ...Fortress Europe... She later went on to the South Pacific where she participated in shore bombardment in support of the amphibious invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. She earned 5 WWII Battle Stars.
The North Carolina (BB-55) was the first of a new class of ...Fast Battleships... (28 Knots). She was the first US Navy Battleship built in 20 years, since the West Virginia (BB-48). (The keels were laid for Battleships BB-49 through BB-54, but they were never launched due to the restrictions imposed by the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922.) Details of the North Carolina's exploits during WWII can be found on her own web page, and the Azalea Coast Amateur Radio Club's web page. She was the first American Battleship into Pearl Harbor, in June of 1942, after the December 7th 1941 surprise attack by the Japanese, and her arrival in Pearl represented the will of the American people to avenge the losses of December 7th with the latest developments in her naval technological arsenal. The arrival of the North Carolina in Pearl within six months of the devastating attack was a great morale booster. She earned 15 Battle stars, the most of any battleship in WWII. She has been a Museum and Memorial in Wilmington, NC since 1961 and is considered the City's most popular tourist attraction.
Massachusetts (BB-59) earned 11 WWII Battle Stars, and serves as a memorial to State Veterans in Fall River, Ma.
Alabama (BB-60) earned 9 WWII Battle Stars and serves as a memorial to State veterans in Mobile, Al.
Iowa (BB-61) earned 9 WWII Battle Stars and 2 Korean Battle Stars. She has been in the “Mothball Fleet” in the San Francisco Bay area since 2001. Recent news has reported that interested groups are exploring bringing her to the Los Angeles/San Pedro area as a memorial/tourist attraction.
New Jersey (BB-62) earned 9 WWII Battle Stars, 4 Korean Battle Stars, and 3 Vietnam Battle Stars, and is the most decorated Battleship overall. Since 2001, she has been berthed at Camden, NJ as a memorial.
Missouri (BB-63) earned 3 WWII Battle Stars, 5 Korean Battle Stars and also served in Operation Desert Storm. The Instrument of Surrender was signed by the Japanese on her deck on September 2, 1945 formally ending WWII. Since 1999, she has been berthed adjacent to the Arizona in Pearl Harbor, HI as a memorial.
Wisconsin (BB-64) earned 5 WWII Battle Stars 1 Korean Battle Star, and served in Operation Desert Storm. Since 2000 she has been berthed at Norfolk, VA as a memorial.
While BB-65 through 71 were planned, and construction had actually begun on 65 and 66, neither was ever launched. Keels were never laid for 67 through 71. The last 5 were cancelled in July, 1943 as events dictated that the Aircraft Carrier would be the primary warship of the future.
Museum Ships Weekend 2011 is scheduled for June 4th and 5th. If past experience is any guide, there will be many contacts from Hams who are eager to advise that they, their fathers, uncles etc. served on board particular ships in WWII, Korea, Vietnam etc., were radio operators themselves, have actually been on one or more of the Museum Ships, or just plain look forward to contacting the same ships every year.
Museum Ships Weekend presents amateur radio operators worldwide the opportunity, if only for a short time and if only tangentially, to participate in the worldwide history which these Museum Ships created .
Bill Usher AG4PA