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Want to See A Real U.S. Navy Battleship? Head to Battleship Cove

Battleship USS Massachusetts
Image: Creative Commons.

It is hard not to find history in New England. It was here that some of the earliest English colonies were founded, while the land played a pivotal role in the American Revolution. South of Boston is Fall River, Massachusetts – a town known for the macabre for being home to Lizzie Borden as well as where a series of gruesome homicides were allegedly committed by a satanic cult that took place in the late 1970s.

For military history buffs, Fall River is also home “Battleship Cove,” which maintains the world’s largest collection of World War II naval vessels including the highly decorated battleship USS Massachusetts (BB-59), the third of four South Dakota-class battleships, the Gearing-class destroyer USS Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. (DD-850), Balao-class submarine USS Lionfish (SS-298), and the Baltimore-class heavy cruiser USS Fall River (CA-131), as well as PT-796 and PT-617 – the only pair of restored PT boats on display in the world.

Battleship Cove is also home to the former German Navy corvette Hiddensee. She originally began her career as a Soviet vessel before being transferred to the East German Navy (Volksmarine) as the Rudolf Egelhofer and later the navy of the reunified Germany. The Taratul I-class missile corvette was later transferred to the U.S. Navy as the USNS Hiddensee, and was likely the only warship from the former Soviet Union to see service with the U.S. Navy.

Big Mamie

As the largest vessel in the Battleship Cove fleet, USS Massachusetts (BB-59) is the centerpiece of the collection. Known as “Big Mamie” to her crewmembers, she was the seventh ship of the United States Navy to be named for the Bay State. Her keel was laid down in July 1939 and she was launched in September 1941. Commissioned in May 1942 with Captain Francis E. M. Whiting in command, the battleship went on to receive a total of 11 battle stars for her service during the Second World War.

Built by Bethlehem Steel Company in Quincy, Massachusetts, the warship measures 681 feet in length with a 108-foot beam, and weights 35,000 tons. She is representative of the South Dakota-class of American battleships that fought against Japan in World War II.

It has been reported that “Big Mamie” fired both the first U.S. Navy’s 16-inch (406mm) guns for the first time during the war when the U.S. battle wagon fired at the Vichy French battleship Jean Bart during the Naval Battle of Casablanca in November 1942 as part of the Allied invasion of Vichy French-controlled North Africa during Operation Torch. The warship also had the distinction of conducting the last firing of 16-inch guns when the warship targeted a Japanese steelworks facility in Hamamatsu just hours before the Japanese surrender.

The ship earned the reputation “Work Horse of the Fleet,” but during the war, no U.S. Navy personnel were killed in action on board the warship. After the war, the battleship was transferred to the reserve fleet, and while plans were drawn up to convert the vessel to a guided missile battleship, instead she was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register. A group of her former crew successfully lobbied to have Massachusetts preserved as a museum ship.

Ownership of the battleship was transferred to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in June 1965, and two months later she was anchored at Fall River. Today she is just one of only eight United States battleships remaining. The ship has been maintained and 20 years ago underwent a major renovation to ensure her continued presence as the centerpiece at Battleship Cove. Along with the other warships, she remains one of the area’s most popular tourist attractions.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.