Anchored along the shoreline of the Taunton River, right below the Charles Braga Memorial Bridge in Fall River, Massachusetts, is the world’s largest collection of historic U.S. naval vessels. War machines, titans of the sea, and floating fortresses that once made oceans roar during some of history’s largest battles now sit silently. Although the guns of these old war horses may have fallen silent long ago, the history, memories, and stories of those who served still echo within the metal halls and chambers.
First opened in 1965, the collection at Battleship Cove consists of seven vessels alongside several aircraft. The main attraction at the maritime museum is the battleship USS Massachusetts BB59. Laid down in 1939 and formally completed in 1942, the ship participated in Operation Torch during the North African Campaign in November 1942 and later transferred to the Pacific where it took part in the Gilbert and Marshall Islands campaign of 1943, the Philippines Campaign in 1944, and the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. The boat was decommissioned in 1947 and, in 1962, was struck from the naval register. The boat was slated for disposal but its former crew were able to gather enough funds to purchase the boat from the Navy and preserve it as a museum ship. Much of the ship remains in its wartime configuration and offers an excellent glimpse of naval life and service during the war. The Massachusetts was also the first ship to offer overnight stays for Boy Scouts starting in 1972; other museum ships across the country would soon follow. It is the only battleship on display in New England.
Another notable vessel on display at the museum is the destroyer USS Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Launched in 1945, the boat arrived too late to participate in World War II but did see military action during the Korean War and took part in the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. The ship continued to sail to various locations across the globe including being part of the recovery team for the crew of Gemini 12. After U.S. involvement ended in the Vietnam War, the boat was decommissioned, stricken in 1973, and donated to the museum. The ship remains in very good condition and offers an interesting look into naval technology during the 1960s and the twilight years of traditional naval vessels and warfare.
Other vessels on display at Battleship Cove include the submarine USS Lionfish which saw brief action in the Pacific Theatre in 1945 and gives visitors an excellent feel of the small and cramped conditions crew members experienced during their time of service. The East German corvette Hiddensee is the only foreign vessel on display that the U.S. Navy acquired in 1991 and added to the museum collection in 1997 after being decommissioned the year before. Two PT boats, PT-796 and PT-617, are housed inside a small museum and the latter is notable as it’s the sole surviving 80’ Elco type PT boat which was the same model commanded by John F. Kennedy during his naval career in World War II. A Higgins boat, made famous by the D-Day landings, is also on display alongside the bow of the heavy cruiser, USS Fall River.
Overall, Battleship Cove is an absolute must-visit for those interested in naval and military history. Four of the vessels, (Massachusetts, Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., PT-796, PT-617) are designated as National Historic Landmarks. Although the generation of men and women who served aboard these ships and similar vessels will soon be gone into the pages of history, their stories and sacrifices shall forever be preserved and shared with future generations to come.