USS Silversides Submarine Museum
Preserving the history of the third-most successful Allied submarine of World War II, the USS Silversides Submarine Museum (formerly the Great Lakes Naval Memorial & Museum) is located on Muskegon Channel connecting Muskegon Lake to Lake Michigan. A two-story museum contains extensive information about the U.S. Navy’s role during World War II, but the highlights of the establishment are two preserved vessels: USS Silversides (SS-236), first of two submarines to bear the “Silversides” name, and the U.S. Coast Guard cutter McLane--the only Coast Guard cutter to ever sink an enemy submarine. The museum has been maintained at its present location since 1987, though Silversides herself has served as a museum ship since the 1970s.
Backstory and Context
Though her keel was laid down on 4 November 1940, more than a year before the United States Navy base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was bombed by Imperial Japanese forces, the Gato-class attack submarine Silversides (SS-236) was not commissioned until 15 December 1941--a week after war was declared. Her shakedown cruise off the California coast took her to Pearl Harbor the following April, sailing into a harbor still recuperating from the devastation of 7 December.
Her first war patrol took her straight to the Japanese Home Islands, and from 1942-1945, over the course of fourteen total patrols, USS Silversides went on to sink more than 23 Japanese warships, the third-highest confirmed total for any Allied submarine of the war. The submarine received 12 Battle Stars for her wartime service (for meritorious participation in battle or damage suffered).
Only one casualty was suffered in the course of her combat service--a crewman killed by machine gun fire on her first war patrol, as Silversides attempted to sink a Japanese gunboat with her three-inch deck gun. In another harrowing moment from her fourth patrol, the sub took damage from a Japanese bomber in December 1942 that locked Silversides’ diving planes in full dive position; the crew barely managed to level the vessel’s descent before reaching crush depth.
Decommissioned after the war, Silversides was used by the US Navy Reserve in Chicago as a training sub until 1969, when she was decommissioned. As she was being decommissioned her successor, the Sturgeon-class USS Silversides (SSN-679) was under construction in Connecticut. Soon rescued by the Combined Great Lakes Navy Association and kept behind the Chicago Armory, the original SS-236 was later put on display at Navy Pier in 1979 while undergoing constant restoration. Silversides was moved to Muskegon in 1987.
In 1993, the USCGC McLane joined the Silversides outside the museum. Named for the tenth U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, the McLane is a 125-foot-long Coast Guard cutter built in 1927. Early duties included chasing down rum-runners violating Prohibition-era laws forbidding the sale of alcohol in the United States. During World War II, the McLane was rearmed and assigned patrols along the Alaskan coast--where in July 1942, the vessel hunted down and destroyed a Japanese submarine, making her the only US Coast Guard Cutter to ever sink a submarine. Decommissioned the same year as Silversides, she was used for several decades by a Sea Scout group in Chicago before joining the USS Silversides Museum.
The present museum offers tours of both vessels, as well as overnight stays for groups aboard the Silversides. Science and technology courses in underwater robotics are also offered.
USS Silversides (SS-236). NavSource Online: Submarine Photo Archive. . Accessed October 02, 2018. http://www.navsource.org/archives/08/08236.htm.
Silversides I (SS-236). Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. . Accessed October 02, 2018. https://www.history.navy.mil/content/history/nhhc/research/histories/ship-histories/danfs/s/silversides-i.html. Naval History & Heritage Command