Ask McGehee

What is the history of the USS Drum?

The USS Drum has been a popular attraction at Battleship Memorial Park for 50 years. It sat moored at the park until 1998. Despite surviving harrowing attacks during World War II, the sub was no match for hurricanes and, as a result, was moved to dry land. In June, the USS Drum Crewmen’s Association hosted a reunion and a 50th anniversary celebration.

On April 14, 1969, the USS Drum was donated to Battleship Memorial Park. Two years earlier, its service with the Naval Reserve in Washington, D.C., had ended, and it was designated surplus. With its future in doubt, members of the Battleship Commission made an offer, and it was accepted with the provision that the Drum be maintained to bring credit to the ship and the U.S. Navy.

Roughly a month later, it was towed into Mobile Bay where it was met by the Jamelle, one of two official yachts owned by the Alabama State Docks. Among the yacht’s enthusiastic passengers were members of the Battleship Commission, as well as future governor Kay Ivey who, at the time, was an employee of Merchants National Bank.

As the submarine was towed northward up Mobile Bay, it got stuck in the mud. The overzealous captain of the Jamelle decided to give the sub a push and, miraculously, it worked, although the bow of the 90-foot yacht was damaged in the process. Not surprisingly, the newspaper printed quite a different account and claimed a tugboat had done the work.

As the submarine arrived, it was moored to the starboard side of the USS Alabama, with an estimated crowd of 500 to 800 looking on.

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A Fish Called “Drum”

The Drum is named for a freshwater fish, not a musical instrument. However, its official emblem features an octopus beating a drum and was designed by none other than Walt Disney. The sub was the first in its class to be launched in 1941 and the first to enter combat in World War II. It would ultimately receive 12 battle stars for its service.

While credited with sinking 15 enemy ships, the Drum experienced some close calls. It heroically survived a grueling 16-hour attack by depth charges, and on another occasion, it quickly submerged when spotted by enemy aircraft. In the rush, the captain left his mattress on the sub’s deck, and when it surfaced, the enemy pilots assumed the sub had been sunk and moved on.

Also Called “Pig Boat”

The Drum has a length of 312 feet and carried a crew of seven officers and 65 enlisted men. Due to missions lasting as long as two months, provisions were housed in every available space aboard the Drum, including the only two showers. Between poor ventilation and the lack of showers, sailors fondly nicknamed their vessel a “pig boat.”

There were many firsts for the Drum during World War II, and when it arrived in Mobile, it became the first American submarine to be placed on public view. Nature has taken its toll over the years, however. Hurricane storm surges led to moving the Drum to dry land in 1998 using a specially dug canal. Salt water has also taken a toll on its hull, and submarine veterans have volunteered to help make necessary repairs over the years.

Now in place for half a century, the Drum is a well-established component of Battleship Memorial Park. Both it and the USS Alabama have been designated as National Historic Landmarks.

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