Midwestern Submarines
July 23, 2009 12:57 PM   Subscribe

Relying on depth to avoid detection is a submarine's greatest ability, so the shallow water of our nation's rivers doesn't seem to work within a sub's advantages (just don't tell Kentucky). During WWII, however, the waterways of North America were exactly what U.S. submarines needed in order to avoid detection. The shipyards of Manitowoc, Wisconsin produced submarines for the war effort, but getting them to the sea proved difficult. German U-Boats waited outside the St Lawrence to torpedo any ships leaving the Great Lakes for the Atlantic. The submarines, instead, went cross-country - over two dozen subs were towed through the Heartland during WWII over several years, making their way from the Great Lakes, through Illinois and passing Peoria via the Illinois River, then entering the Mississippi River and past Cape Girardeau, where they entered the Gulf of Mexico at New Orleans. Four of the subs were lost in battle, the rest scrapped over the next fifty years, and none ever saw St Louis again.
posted by AzraelBrown (40 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
Good one AB.
posted by doctor_negative at 1:07 PM on July 23, 2009


Wow, nice find. That's cool as hell.
posted by absalom at 1:12 PM on July 23, 2009


Very keen find! I think I will be distracted for days by the Historical Marker Database. Additionally, for the casino riverboat destroying submarine resolution language:
A RESOLUTION encouraging the purchase and vigorous use of the USS Louisville 688 VLS Class submarine.

WHEREAS, in the past few years the scourge of the casino riverboat has been an increasingly significant presence on the Ohio River; and

WHEREAS, the Ohio River borders the Commonwealth of Kentucky; and

WHEREAS, the siren song of payola issuing from the discordant calliopes of these gambling vessels has led thousands of Kentucky citizens to vast disappointment and woe; and

WHEREAS, no good can come to the citizens of Kentucky hypnotized from the siren song issuing from these casino riverboats, the engines of which are fired by the hard-earned dollars lost from Kentucky citizens;

NOW, THEREFORE,

Be it resolved by the House of Representatives of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky:

Section 1. The House of Representatives does hereby encourage the formation of the Kentucky Navy and subsequently immediately encourages the purchase and armament of one particularly effective submarine, namely, the USS Louisville 688 VLS Class Submarine, to patrol the portion of the Ohio River under the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth to engage and destroy any casino riverboats that the submarine may encounter.

Section 2. The House of Representatives does hereby authorize the notification of the casino riverboat consulate of this Resolution and impending whoopin' so that they may remove their casino vessels to friendlier waters.
Yes, that is the real language. I downloaded the MS Word document and everything, just to be sure.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:22 PM on July 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


Holy shit, that's wild. I'd never heard of that.

That must've been a trip, seeing a sub go down the river.
posted by COBRA! at 1:23 PM on July 23, 2009


Submarine awesomeness, thank you.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 1:26 PM on July 23, 2009


Submarines. From. Wisconsin.

ho-lee sheet.
posted by GuyZero at 1:29 PM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks. Next time I am in Cape Girardeau, I'll check out the new plaque, story-board, and the Missouri Wall of Fame on the river front. Good Post.
posted by QueerAngel28 at 1:32 PM on July 23, 2009


Unless they were on a barge,and uncovered, I doubt anybody knew they were going down the river at that time. I got the impression that they were staffed with the appropriate crew, and sent off on their mission, making their way down the river.

I totally loved the Kentucky post, seriously...I knew Kentucky was messed up, but damn!
posted by QueerAngel28 at 1:39 PM on July 23, 2009


Here's a short film, "Manitowoc World War II Shipbuilding" (RealPlayer), from the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections.
posted by steef at 1:56 PM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


filthy light thief, you might have bothered to check out Snopes.com while you were at it:


The resolution was introduced by Tom Burch, a state representative from Louisville, as a wry commentary on Kentucky's continued prohibition of gambling. Kentucky doesn't allow it*, yet thousands of Kentuckians simply cross the Ohio River to Indiana, where gambling is legal, and drop an estimated $500 million per year in their casinos. Wouldn't it make more sense, Rep. Burch reasoned, to allow casinos to operate in Kentucky and funnel some of that money into education and social service programs rather than filling Indiana's coffers?

The resolution "was done in jest", Burch said, "but it was done for a purpose."





*Not exactly true. We have horse race gambling and a state lottery.
posted by magstheaxe at 2:12 PM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I knew that subs were made in Manitowoc from side trips camping in nearby Kohler State Park, but always assumed they went out the St Lawrence seaway.

Cool.
posted by readery at 2:19 PM on July 23, 2009


I clicked all the links but I didn't see any pictures of the subs being moved... are there any?
posted by exhilaration at 2:29 PM on July 23, 2009


"Later in the season, the submarines become fattened up in their feeding grounds in the Atlantic. Lured by some primeval siren-song, they instinctively travel back upstream to Wisconsin, avoiding predators and preparing for the elaborate spawning ritual."


*cues video of a bear on the riverbank, slashing at a passing submarine*
posted by darkstar at 2:36 PM on July 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


I was just about to make a submarine-related post myself, so here, for posterity, is some more submariney goodness:

Steely-Eyed Hydronauts of the Mariana - from the new-look Damn Interesting and

Overhauling Alvin - from the amazing-as-always-look National Geographic.

Great post!
posted by Acey at 2:41 PM on July 23, 2009


Workers and engineers rapidly developed innovative con­struction methods, including side-launching of submarines.

Reading this in one of the links, I thought "heh, I'll bet they just roll it off the dock... yeah, right"...

Then I found the picture here.

Bet they quadruple-checked all the hatches before trying that maneuver. Great stuff AB, thanks for posting it.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 2:44 PM on July 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


Also here, with non-submarines: Side-Launch (YT)
posted by Pantengliopoli at 2:46 PM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


German U-Boats waited outside the St Lawrence to torpedo any ships leaving the Great Lakes for the Atlantic.

It's just like the Nazis to camp out at a spawn point.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:49 PM on July 23, 2009 [18 favorites]


Good thing they didn't get stuck on a rock.
posted by mrmojoflying at 2:59 PM on July 23, 2009


the rest scrapped over the next fifty years,

I'm always saddened to hear this kind of thing. Sell them to the public so that we can restore them and use them as floating museums or bars or brothels or whatever.

I would love to be able to visit a WW2 sub that had been converted to some other purpose. Scrapping them denies us a cool piece of history.

(For the record, if I had a functional WW2 sub, I would take great joy in scaring the hell out of pleasure boaters on lake Michigan. So maybe it's actually not such a bad idea that they regulate this kind of thing...)
posted by quin at 3:11 PM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


USS Silversides is on display at Muskegon, Mich. One of the lucky boats. U505 at Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago is a great tour if from the wrong side. . .captured during last-ever high seas boarding / seizure party.
posted by charris5005 at 3:18 PM on July 23, 2009


@quin: docked another river (it wasn't a Manitowoc, so I didn't think it fit), you can see the WWII submarine USS Lionfish at Battleship Cove, in Fall River, Massachusetts. Here's alink to the Silversides, too
posted by AzraelBrown at 3:34 PM on July 23, 2009


Your use of 'over several years' made me initially think that it took several years to move the subs across the country.

I was imagining this epic slog by mule or something. :-)
posted by Malor at 4:03 PM on July 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


magstheaxe - that's the last time I trust the government to take submarine warfare seriously. Thanks for the extra info!
posted by filthy light thief at 4:31 PM on July 23, 2009


The idea of a shipyard in Wisconsin is a little weird. I'm used to thinking of the great WWII American shipyards as being in places like Oakland, Portland, Long Beach, and Connecticut. You know... near the ocean. (Portland, the ships had to sail down the Columbia, but that was easy and not very far.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:51 PM on July 23, 2009


QueerAngel28: "I knew Kentucky was messed up, but damn!"

You live in Missouri, sir, and ought not to throw stones.
posted by Roman Graves at 4:55 PM on July 23, 2009


Well done.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:53 PM on July 23, 2009


Richie and co. from Happy Days were always taking dates to the submarine races. I think they lived in Wisconsin.
posted by Sailormom at 7:20 PM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


If anyone's interested in reading more about this in dead-tree version, a friend of mine wrote about this in his memoir (the first half of his life, anyway). He was a plankholder on the USS Jallao (meaning he helped with getting the boat ready in Wisconsin). Then he goes on to tell what he did while serving aboard that submarine and what life was like in those long-gone days, including the peculiar terror of hearing depth charges above you.

A Thousand Turns, by Douglas N. Merritt.
posted by bryon at 7:25 PM on July 23, 2009


The idea of a shipyard in Wisconsin is a little weird.

But the Great Lakes is one of the world's largest freshwater shipping markets, e.g. the Edmund Fitzgerald, and the lakes are inland and protected from enemy action. It's really pretty logical.

In fact, the Navy used to have three training centers, but when it consolidated them to just one, they chose Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Waukegan, Illinois. For the last decade and a half, every US Navy seaman receives initial training on Lake Michigan.
posted by dhartung at 8:01 PM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is a terrific post, well put together. I've been writing a lot for a WW II magazine lately, which mentioned Wisconsin's freshwater submarines back in its December 2008 issue.

Just offshore from Bar Harbor in Maine, where I tour guide almost every day in the summer, German u-boats definitely cruised the water. (One even landed two spies ashore on the other side of the bay in late 1944.) The Bar Harbor Inn, in those days, served as an anti-submarine base as well.

AB's post here inspired me to dig deeper into a story I often mention on tour, but never knew the details about. Turns out there's a page online about the USS Piper, which is one of the subs that carried out torpedo testing a few hundred yards from Bar Harbor near the end of the war. In October 1944 the Piper fired a dozen torpedos into the side of Acadia National Park's scenic Bald Porcupine Island, 11 of which exploded. [Photo.]
posted by LeLiLo at 8:04 PM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Now I wonder if the Wisconsin Ducks could go on land, water and underwater...
posted by davejay at 1:50 AM on July 24, 2009


*Not exactly true. We have horse race gambling and a state lottery.
posted by magstheaxe at 2:12 PM on July 23 [1 favorite +] [!]


Thoroughbred handicapping is not gambling, unless you are picking cute names/colors.
posted by OneOliveShort at 2:09 AM on July 24, 2009


Thoroughbred handicapping is not gambling, unless you are picking cute names/colors.

Then I supposed you must be a multimillionaire. Mind telling me when the next 50-1 horse is going to win the KY Derby?
posted by T.D. Strange at 6:46 AM on July 24, 2009


Thoroughbred handicapping is not gambling, unless you are picking cute names/colors.

Then I supposed you must be a multimillionaire. Mind telling me when the next 50-1 horse is going to win the KY Derby?


Serious handicappers do *much* better than people like me that just go for the spectacle. I went to the Derby with friends years ago, one of whom belonged to a prominent horse family and grew up at the track. I made just one of the bets she recommended (as I don't gamble) and I paid for my trip. She, and the other friend that did gamble, made several thousand dollars each. Handicapping *is* gambling, and you *do* lose, but just like people that always seem to do good with NCAA brackets and Oscar polls, obviously knowledge and experience eliminate some of the randomness.
posted by mrmojoflying at 7:56 AM on July 24, 2009


The Kentucky submarine resolution is great, even if it was a stunt. I wonder if there's some sort of index or compendium of similar bills online.
posted by notashroom at 8:11 AM on July 24, 2009


Huh, like others, I assumed they went up the St. Lawrence out to the Atlantic. I gotta assume that's what the Littoral warships they build up in Marinette WI do. And now I know far more about warship and submarine drafts than I did before, because I had to check that out. I guess I'm surprised that the subs couldn't sneak out the St. Lawrence amidst the general noise and hubbub of other shipping operations, but I suppose pre-nuclear subs weren't half as stealthy as the modern subs.
posted by Kyol at 8:57 AM on July 24, 2009


And the stupid thing is I've killed time at the Manitowoc Submarine Museum, and I still didn't know they went down the Mississippi..
posted by Kyol at 8:59 AM on July 24, 2009


QueerAngel28: "Unless they were on a barge,and uncovered, I doubt anybody knew they were going down the river at that time."

The Mississippi River is shallow enough that they would have had to pilot the sub either on the surface or just below it for most of the trip, I'd think. Not to mention the number of locks they'd go through -- it's a little hard to sneak through when it takes 45 minutes to get the river to the right level for you to float on down.
posted by mikeh at 1:50 PM on July 24, 2009


The idea of a shipyard in Wisconsin is a little weird.

They build more than submarines around there, too. I was just looking up the history of this 113-foot yacht that's been tied up near my tour boat for the last few days, and found that it was built by a company that's been building ships in Manitowoc since the Civil War.
posted by LeLiLo at 2:08 PM on July 24, 2009


Huh, like others, I assumed they went up the St. Lawrence out to the Atlantic. I gotta assume that's what the Littoral warships they build up in Marinette WI do.

That's exactly what they do with the Littoral Combat Ships. I don't think taking it cross-country was an option -- it's got a shallow draft, but not quite that shallow.
posted by somanyamys at 6:27 AM on July 27, 2009


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