Thursday, August 27, 2009

USS Razorback

The stainless steel steps in the ladder-well of the aft hatch of the ancient diesel class World War II submarine are worn smooth by numerous feet on untold missions all over the world.

They lead down to a dim and once-ominous world of danger.

That feeling is enhanced when you add the faint odors of various oils and greases emanating from now silent engines, along with the sight of massive torpedoes filling the cramped space.

Welcome to the USS Razorback (SS 394).

A visit to this war sub from a bygone era was the highlight of a recent vacation trip to the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum in Little Rock, AR.

The decorated war sub (named after a species of whale, not hogs), served combat roles in World War II and Vietnam.

Launched in 1944, the USS Razorback entered Tokyo Harbor in 1945 and participated in the formal surrender of Japan at the end of WWII.

The Razorback was awarded five battle stars in the Pacific Theater in WWII and four stars during the Vietnam War where it participated in many covert operations with Special Forces troops, including Navy Seals. The vintage sub was also very active in the Cold War as well.

Many of the files regarding these special ops are still classified as “Top Secret,” though some files have been declassified and are available for public viewing on the Internet.

This honored veteran also served two nations, the U.S. and more recently Turkey, before it became a historical attraction at the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum in North Little Rock.

The sub is rated as 90 percent functional — international law required the removal of propellers and batteries since it is a weapon of war and owned by a city. The Razorback has an overall length of just over 311 feet with a beam of just 27 feet and boasts 10, 21-inch torpedo tubes.

Currently tied to the dock and manned only by tourists and occasional military veterans groups, in its day the Razorback routinely dove to its capable depth of 400 feet during combat maneuvers.

Its crew of 75-90 men lived in Spartan conditions, including sleeping in berths just inches above racks of live torpedoes, as well as sharing just two showers and four toilets.

Deployments at sea usually averaged 45 days during wartime.

As you make your way to the forward hatch along narrow passageways, a myriad of gauges and handles, most still bearing identification tags written in Turkish, are within inches of your face.

And as you learn how to maneuver through the sub’s many hatches, you also realize there were probably no tall, fat submariners on the Razorback.

The maritime museum boasts a large collection of artifacts from the Razorback, including the ship’s original bell donated by its last American captain.

Several souvenirs are also available, from caps and T-shirts to stamped dog tags for the kids.

Admission is $6 for adults and $4 for children 12 and younger, for military (past or present) and seniors 62 plus.

The maritime group in charge of the sub is also in the process of restoring a section of berths to serviceable condition and offers special “sleep overs” on the sub for Boy Scout, church and veterans groups.

Outside the museum are the large brass propellers from the sub, along with a large deck gun representative of the type that once adorned the deck of the Razorback and other submarines and warships.

PHOTO NOTES: Camera used for submarine shots, Sony Alpha 200 with 18-75 zoom lens and regular flash.Lighting inside sub, although dim by outdoor standards, was sufficient and a larger flash was not needed. Even a small point and shoot camera should take excellent shots inside the submarine and the museum.

Whether you are an Ark. native, or a visitor to our wonderful Natural State, make sure a tour of the Razorback is part of your agenda.

And as the sailors always say, "Fair winds and following seas!"

(published with permission from the Batesville Daily Guard)