July 06, 2018

Museum Review - USS Batfish

I visited Batfish with Andrew Hunter, who is familiar here, and Ryan Holbrook of SSC. We drove out from Oklahoma City to Muskogee, about 2 hours away, and toured the submarine and accompanying military paraphernalia.


Ryan, me, and Andrew at Batfish1
Type: Museum Submarine with military museum
Location: Muskogee, Oklahoma
Rating: 3/5, Worth it if you're in town, but don't go out of the way2
Price: $7 for normal adults

Website

Overall, I thought Batfish was OK, but not great. The submarine itself was a fairly typical fleet boat, with a walkthrough from the forward torpedo room to the aft torpedo room, covering the officers' quarters, lower control room (but not the conning tower), the enlisted berthing and mess, the two engine rooms, and the maneuvering room.


Me going through one of the very small hatches3

The museum aspect onboard was decent. There were videos in several rooms, talking about how the systems worked, but the signage was pretty skimpy, and lots of spaces were glassed in, which I'm not a fan of. Particularly annoying was that the conning tower was sealed off, and the ladder had even been signed for no climbing. Overall, I'd put Drum a bit above Batfish.


The mast section from Oklahoma

A neat thing they had was a section of the mast of Oklahoma, which had been discovered in the mud of Pearl Harbor in 2005. There wasn't much signage, but it was the first piece of a battleship I've seen since leaving Iowa. There was also a nice memorial to every submarine lost during WWII. Seeing that and thinking about it was rather sobering.


16" AP shell

The rest of the park ranged from a couple of interesting pieces to some that were done very badly. The highlight was a 16" AP shell outside the entrance, which was a Mk VIII Mod 3, and which may be the first real 16" AP shell I've ever seen. (Iowa only has practice shells, painted to look like real ones.) There were a bunch of weapons, guns, torpedoes, a few missiles, and even a mine, some rather interesting, but the signage ranged from decent to missing, and there were a couple that even I wasn't entirely sure of due to missing labels. Inside there's a gift shop and museum, which was a little bit underwhelming. A weird aspect was that there was very little discussion of the event Batfish is best known for, sinking three Japanese submarines off the Philippines.


Batfish

My biggest problem was that some of their signage seemed to be the work of a German-obsessed curator at some point in the past, although I've been in contact with the staff, and they've fixed the worst example, and said they'd look into the others.


In the spring of 2019, 9 months or so after my visit, Batfish was badly affected by flooding in Oklahoma, coming afloat and shifting position significantly. She's currently closed to the public, although I intend to visit when she reopens.


1 Andrew's photo.

2 OK, it might be worth the detour if you're on I-40. But there's another submarine, Razorback, in Little Rock, which is directly on I-40.

3 The rest of the photos here are mine.

Comments

  1. July 06, 2018gbdub said...

    "their signage seemed to be the work of a German-obsessed curator at some point in the past"

    What do you mean by that?

    I think sub musuems are especially hard to do well - mostly they seem to play off the novelty "look how small everything is" and that wears off fast if you've seen a sub before.

    I did enjoy the Nautilus, although of course you don't get to see the thing that really makes her special (the reactor room and associated gear). She is glassed in with an autoplaying audio tour - not a big fan of glassing in either, but it seems like the best solution other than having literally a dozen or so full-time guides in an already cramped space making sure the kiddos don't get their snotty mitts on things. The quarters are too tight just to rope things off.

  2. July 06, 2018bean said...

    What do you mean by that?

    They had a big model of Bismarck with a sign that said she was the second-largest battleship class after Yamato (I nearly went off on the clerk for that before Andrew and Ryan calmed me down, but they've changed it after I emailed them), and several of the gun signs were done in German nomenclature. 127mm (5") L/38 gun, for instance, instead of the correct 5"/38.

    I think sub musuems are especially hard to do well - mostly they seem to play off the novelty “look how small everything is” and that wears off fast if you’ve seen a sub before.

    That's a good point.

    I did enjoy the Nautilus, although of course you don’t get to see the thing that really makes her special (the reactor room and associated gear). She is glassed in with an autoplaying audio tour - not a big fan of glassing in either, but it seems like the best solution other than having literally a dozen or so full-time guides in an already cramped space making sure the kiddos don’t get their snotty mitts on things. The quarters are too tight just to rope things off.

    That's a hard balance to find. Iowa has basically nothing glassed off, but she's a battleship and as you rightly note, much larger.

    I'm really looking forward to seeing Nautilus. I should also pick up Albacore and whatever sub is with Massachusetts. I'm going to be writing reviews for weeks.

  3. July 06, 2018Johan Larson said...

    How did they get a submarine that far inland?

  4. July 06, 2018bean said...

    They floated it up the Arkansas river (Muskogee is at the upper limit of navigation on the Arkansas river, and has an actual port) while it was high. They dug a big pit out and towed the submarine in, then put a berm up between it and the river. You can sort of see that the line of the ground is well above the bottom of the boat in the last picture. The picture I used on the WWII ASW Forces post shows it much more clearly.

  5. July 06, 2018BakerEasy said...

    @gbdub

    I think sub musuems are especially hard to do well - mostly >they seem to play off the novelty “look how small >everything is” and that wears off fast if you’ve seen a sub >before.

    Then you can come out to Chicago and see U-505, and say, "wow, those other boats were palaces!"

    @bean

    A friend visited Iowa over Memorial Day weekend, and overheard someone trying to impress his girlfriend by telling her that Iowa was "almost as powerful as Bismarck." He didn't have the opportunity to throw him overboard.

  6. July 06, 2018bean said...

    I would dearly love an explanation for how 8 15" beats 9 16" with better shells.

    And I've been to U-505, but it's been so long that I'm not going to do a review until/unless I go back.

  7. July 06, 2018gbdub said...

    So my real pet peeve in ship (and general military history museums): terrible, cheesy mannequins.

    Seriously, unless you're going to do a Madame Toussard's quality display, just throw a uniform on a dress form if you have the need to show it at all.

    Who are all these museum curators that think a department store reject with a 70s hairdo is adding to the experience?

  8. July 06, 2018Johan Larson said...

    Did the Iowa ever defeat anything as resoundingly as the Bismarck defeated the Hood?

  9. July 06, 2018gbdub said...

    @Johan Larson - was Little Boy more powerful than the Tsar Bomba? The latter never defeated anything.

    I can see why the Bismarck is more famous. Why anyone would think it was more "powerful" or "larger" than Iowa is baffling.

  10. July 06, 2018bean said...

    @gbdub (1)

    I'm with you on the manakins in general, and particularly how I saw them used on Alabama and to a lesser extent Midway. They'll dress a space up reasonably nicely, then put manakins in uniform inside it and glass the whole thing off. I find it sad and static and two-dimensional. My preference is to put a rope up, and just put plexiglass over anything you don't want people actually touching. It's much nicer, and gives a much better feel for the place.

    @Johan Larson

    She never got the chance. But I'm sure she would have done quite well for herself. Bismarck has her beat on exactly zero metrics I can think of, and since the only battleship Iowa ever fired on was Nevada, we don't have combat data.

    @gbdub (2)

    On the "larger" thing, it's complicated. My suspicion is that someone got deep displacements for Bismarck and standard/treaty displacements for Iowa, and compared the two. Or they were using a really idiosyncratic method of counting, maybe ships launched, including those not yet commissioned.

  11. July 16, 2018Anonymous said...

    On the "larger" thing, it's complicated. My suspicion is that someone got deep displacements for Bismarck and standard/treaty displacements for Iowa, and compared the two. Or they were using a really idiosyncratic method of counting, maybe ships launched, including those not yet commissioned.

    Or they took the ratio of the actual displacement divided by the claimed displacement (I'll call it the treaty violation factor here).

    That'd give you a larger number for Bismarck.

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