September 18, 2022

Museum Review - USS Turner Joy

Reader Evan Þ recently visited the destroyer Turner Joy, and has agreed to contribute a review.1

Several weeks ago, a few friends and I went to see the USS Turner Joy, a destroyer museum ship in Bremerton, WA, right next to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.

The Turner Joy is billed as the ship that fired both the first and last shots of the Vietnam War - she was involved in the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, and she was doing fire support off the DMZ up until the moment the armistice went into effect. The ship is set up as she was in the Vietnam era, complete with the Orders of the Day posted for the trip back across the Pacific after the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, and also complete with an ominous warning on the bridge of what to do in case of a nuclear attack.

Our first reaction was how small the ship was. I'd toured aircraft carriers before, and one of my friends had toured a battleship, but this was the first destroyer we'd been on. Once we were aboard and belowdecks, I could see how they'd made good use of the space, and we could almost forget how small things were - but only almost.

I can't say anything about the organized tours because we didn't take one, but they have a very good brochure with a suggested path through the ship to make sure you don't miss anything.

Most rooms are open, even most of the catwalks through the engines. (Many of them are dead-ends barely wide enough for two people, leading to a few awkward encounters between the three of us and some other visitors.) For most of the ones that aren't, you can look inside very easily. On deck, if you can contort yourself enough, you can even climb inside the gun turrets as if you're firing them. The people who turned this ship into a museum did a really thorough job.

Aside from the gun turrets, one of the most fascinating parts was the purpose-designed fire control computer, built in the 50's.

You could input by analog dials the coordinates of what you were firing on, and then the computer would tell you the exact angle and elevation to put the gun at to hit there. Or, even better, it would track other ships automatically by radar or visual feed. The radar antiaircraft and anti-ship system had been iterated throughout World War II, and this system was the culmination. It could produce firing coordinates within two seconds of acquiring the target. The ship was designed for a maximum range of 14.7 miles, with ten-yard accuracy at distances up to twelve miles - and it regularly achieved that in Vietnam.

Then there was the Combat Information Center. My friends and I agreed that it looked like something from a sci-fi story, and then we turned and saw the plaque explaining that the designer had been good friends with Lieutenant Robert Heinlein.2

There's also the Puget Sound Navy Museum a little ways down the waterfront, on the other side of the ferry dock, next to the Puget Sound Navy Yard (still a working navy yard; you'll probably see some ships docked there.) Of the two permanent exhibits, the one on life aboard aircraft carriers was rather disappointing; it seemed to be geared toward a younger audience and focused on life aboard the ship rather than the ship itself. Fortunately, the exhibit on the history of the shipyard itself was very informative and fun. The museum's free, so it's worth a visit while you're in Bremerton.

Also don't overlook the fin of the USS Parche outside the museum entrance. It was the most decorated ship in US naval history, but unfortunately the missions that led to those decorations are pretty much all classified.

1 I'm always interested in guest reviews of various military-related museums I haven't made it to (yet). If you have one, send it to me at battleshipbean at gmail.

2 bean: I don't think this was actually an influence. Heinlein had been retired for most of a decade by the time that the work that led to the CIC began, and a lot of the elements were developed in Britain. If anything, I suspect the causation runs the other way.


  1. September 18, 2022Echo said...

    Nice, a quality museum ship I can actually visit! Will definitely swing by when I'm in the area.

    How much time would you budget for a really thorough tour, E?

  2. September 18, 2022ryan8518 said...

    For what it's worth, when my friends and tried to go through, we arrive at 4 for a 5 pm closing time, and nearly got locked in the ship at 5:15 - I wish we'd had at least an hour and half, maybe 2 hours to really poke into everything - when Evan says everything is open he means it.

    We did the shipyard museum first - I'd recommend flipping the order to what it sounds like Evan did - Turner Joy first then the shipyard museum - the museum is nice, but nothing like the quality of the naval shipyard museum in D.C., while the Turner Joy is a fairly uniquely open warship experience.

    If you're in the area, the undersea warfare museum 30 minutes up the road in Kitsap is amazing, particularly their history of the torpedo section w/ cut open versions of various historical designs up to some 1960's vintage and some general explanations of evolutions to more modern designs. It's a relatively small museum - maybe an hour and a half is appropriate (about the same size as the shipyard musuem, but I wanted to spend more time on details here)

  3. September 19, 2022John Schilling said...

    The usual version of the CIC story is that the CIC was directly inspired by a similar concept in E. E. Smith's "Lensman" novels of the 1930s. If there is a role for Robert Heinlein in that story, it would be in introducing Cal Laning to early science fiction in general. This is at least plausible, but AFIK the whole thing is sourced to a single letter by John W. Campbell summarizing a conversation he'd had with Laning some time before, and it's quite possible he was misremembering or embellishing.

  4. September 20, 2022bean said...

    There's a book called An Astounding War that goes into more detail on this. Basically, there's no evidence that Lensman actually influenced CIC development, and someone just used the example to explain it to Campbell, who then got confused and claimed that the Directrix inspired the concept.

  5. October 02, 2023Mike Kozlowski said...

    ...RE Turner Joy's CIC - FWIW, USS Laffey at Patriots Point SC got her CIC completely refurbished in 2015, and they do a bang-up if all too short sound/light show about tracking a Russian sub in the Med.

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