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Friday, April 3, 2015

Submarines on the Marine Railway

Blog #46. April 3, 2015 by Marcus W. Robbins
A true multi-functional shipyard not only can perform work on ships but submarines also.  “America’s Shipyard” otherwise known as the Norfolk Naval Shipyard is well into its second century providing this important service to our country.  While often overshadowed by larger warships the submarine repair world is just as important thus I wanted to provide equal time to honor them with this “History Matters” blog.

We can trace our submarine heritage all the way back to SS-1 USS Holland, which is recognized as the first modern submarine in today’s unbroken chain of under water craft as it was commissioned on 12 October 1900.  While it was home ported north of here for most of its career we decommissioned that same submarine on 21 November 1910 thus continuing on a long line of “first accomplishments” for Norfolk being involved in this new cutting edge marine technology even back in the day.  Norfolk can repair and support every vessel the United States Navy operates including submarines and continues that fine tradition to this day.

Anyway, I wanted to share first a very common view of submarines not in dry dock or pier side as is the common practice today but on our long gone Marine Railway.   Many of you might have seen this view near the site of the current Rusty Anchor Snack Bar as it has been often reproduced and displayed in our work spaces.

Photo #1 ~ USS Moccasin & USS Adder
(Historic Norfolk Navy Yard Glass Plate Collection, #331 taken April 1904)

Now look at this rare glass plate view from the other direction and you can see that the location of the Marine Railway was actually to the north of today’s modern Wet Slip #2.  In this view and the following views you can see progress being made as the Wet Slip is created from the ruins of destroyed ex-Shiphouse “C” and its stone building ways of the Civil War era.
Photo #2 ~ Unidentified Small Ship and Submarine on Marine Railway
(Historic Norfolk Navy Yard Glass Plate Collection, #412 circa late 1904)

And another view of our work upon an even different submarine, perhaps in the 1905 timeframe.  Note the workmen and crew, they seem to be right on top of the job.
Photo #3 ~ unidentified submarine on Marine Railway
(Historic Norfolk Navy Yard Glass Plate Collection, #451 circa 1905)

Well I made reference earlier to the stone building ways and the ruins of ex-Shiphouse “C”.  I dare say that no one alive today has ever seen this image in person yet but this postcard from my personal collection confirms the Marine Railway location in great perspective.  The large building in the rear is the southern elevation of ex-Building 28 the Mast House that was constructed in 1828 and the site of Building 1575 that we know today.
Photo #4 ~ Submarine Boat in Navy Yard
(Postcard courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins collection, view circa 1903)
And finally a real picture postcard that captures both a Marine and a Sailor posing for a picture.

Photo #5 ~ USS Moccasin on Marine Railway
(Postcard courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins collection, view circa 1903)

In conclusion I hope you have enjoyed looking back to the earliest support that Norfolk provided to the submarine fleet.  While the physical location of the work has changed and the Marine Railway is beyond anyone’s memory it is still important to know where we came from.  Our shipyard has been providing world class service to the United States submarine fleet now into a second century because –“history matters”.

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