A unique structure that is somewhere between a ship and a building, the USS Recruit is the U.S. Navy’s earliest scale-model training ship and the only of three built that remains intact to the present day. With neither crew nor engines, and having never once touched water, the ship was of key importance to the history of maritime combat and national defense during the Second World War and Vietnam War, being used to train more than fifty thousand U.S. Navy recruits over its eighteen years of use. The “ship” has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, in addition to being listed as a California historic landmark.
Known also as the USS
Neversail and by its terrestrial address of Building 430, the USS Recruit was a 225 foot long mock ship constructed
in 1949, under the orders of Rear Admiral Wilder D. Baker. The structure was built
as an exact replica of the Dealeyclass destroyer escort used by the U.S. Navy,
but at a two thirds scale to the normal size. It was used as a school for all
recruits going through the earliest stages of their naval training, when they
would learn the basics of seamanship. Despite the restricted space, the
trainees would practice fire drills, cast off lines, stand watch throughout the
night, and learn how to operate all of the equipment that would be found on an
actual wartime destroyer, such as lifelines, spotlights, telegraph, and signal
halyards. The original structure was built of a timber frame covered in sheet
metal (much of which was salvaged from decrepit ships), with four “decks” and a
forty one foot high mast. One poem written by George E. Johnson in the USS Recruit’s logbook is illustrative of
how the “dummy” ship was viewed by those who worked and trained there:
The, watch has begun.Moored port & starboard at NTCOn this very quiet NewYear's Eve Six hawsers to starboard,Seven hawsers to port,Starboard chain to Buoy 1,We're really held taut. Concrete and black-topHer make-believe sea,She strains her mooringsIn a ten-knot breeze. Draft nine feet forwardTen feet aft,It's never changeon this Naval craft. All services receivedDirect from the pier,She's had no enginesFor many a year. Electricity, steam,fresh water too,Furnished by Public WorksPower Plant Two. North Island to starboard,A beautiful sight.To port lies Gate Six,All's quiet tonight. Dead ahead lies Camp NimitzWhere training begins,Astern lies Point LomaAnd the Bali Hai Inn. Anchor lights bum brightNo stars are in sight,The decks are silent,On this New Year's night. She's made of plywood,Sheathed in steel.Her deck guns are wooden.Her K guns real. Recruits look forwardTo a trick at her wheel,To them her helmHas a magic feel. She's been in commissionThirteen long years.Started thousands of Sailorson Naval careers.
Admirals and GeneralsCivilians too, Have trod her decksand met her crew.She's a famous old ship, She's open for tours.To all of you.Happy New YearA Training Aid too, To all officers and men.Past, Present and FutureFrom an old wooden friend:USS Recruit (TDE-1).
(January 1, 1963)
Following the Second World War, the USS Recruit had to go into “dry-dock” for three months in the
mid-1950s, as it required some refurbishment and repairs. The non-ship went
back into service until March 1967, when a technicality caused the USS Recruit to be decommissioned (the
indexing system that the Navy were using to classify their ships would not
accept the non-ship as a valid vessel). However, the ship was recommissioned in
the early 1980s when renovations of the decrepit vessel took place to transform
her into a boot camp for operators of guided missiles. During this period of
use a wooden anchor, three-inch wooden guns, and a timber depth charge launcher
were installed on the vessel. Most of the original classroom spaces inside the
ship were modernized and enlarged; meaning that up to eighty recruits could be
trained within it at a time. By 1996 the ship was closed once again, as the Naval
Training Centre in the Point Loma neighbourhood of San Diego closed.
Despite being unsinkable the ship is under ongoing threat of
demolition, though there are continued calls to transform this historic
structure into a maritime museum. The most recent renovations of the ship’s
exterior were completed in 2015.