7 museum ships with a great story

Vasa, the ship that sank

The Vasa is a Swedish warship built in the early 17th century. The ship sank after sailing about 1,300 meters (1,400 yd) into her maiden voyage on 10 August 1628. Vasa was built top-heavy and had insufficient ballast. Despite an obvious lack of stability in port, she was allowed to set sail. After a few minutes she encountered a wind stronger than a breeze and started to heel to port, pushing the open lower gun ports under water, causing water to rush in on the lower gun deck. The gun ports were open because it was intended to give a cannon salute to the crowd and many VIP’s who were in the harbor to see the maiden voyage of Sweden’s biggest warship. The inflow of water heeled Vasa over further, and she quickly sank.


Vasa was forgotten after most of her valuable bronze cannons were salvaged later in the 17th century. After she was located again in the 1950s in a busy shipping lane just outside the Stockholm harbor, she was salvaged in 1961. The ship was housed in a temporary shipyard where she was continously sprayed with polyethylene glycol for 17 years to preserve the ship, and then moved to the Vasa Museum in Stockholm. The ship is one of Sweden's most popular tourist attractions and has been seen by over 29 million visitors since 1961.


U-505, the sub with bad luck

U-505 is a German Type IXC U-boat built for service in Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine during World War II. After three succesfull patrols (eight allied ships sunk) in the Atlantic Ocean, she ran out of luck and was attacked by a RAF patrol aircraft, which landed a bomb directly on the deck from just above water level. The explosion severely damaged the ship's pressure hull but also the aircraft was hit by shrapnel and crashed into the ocean near U-505.

With the pumps inoperative and water flooding the engine room in several places, the captain ordered the crew to abandon ship, but the technical staff insisted on trying to save her. The ship was made water-tight after almost two weeks of repair work and limped back to base on reduced power, earning the distinction of being the "most heavily damaged U-boat to successfully return to port". After six months of repairs, U-505 restarted patrolling. The next 6 patrols were also plagued by destroyer attacks and sabotaged equipment by French dockworkers working for the resistance, forcing her each time back to base after a few days at sea.

During her 12th patrol, U-505 ran into a U.S. Navy "Hunter-Killer" group and was attacked with depth charges, forcing her to surface. Believing his ship was seriously damaged, the captain ordered his crew to abandon ship before scuttling was completed. A boarding party came alongside U-505 in a boat and entered through the conning tower. There was a dead man on the deck (the only fatality of the action), but U-505 was otherwise deserted. They secured the codebooks, closed scuttling valves, and disarmed demolition charges. The U-boat remain afloat and was towed to Bermuda, where she was thoroughly examined by Navy engineers.

Navy sailors preparing U-505 to get towed

After the war, the Navy had no further use for U-505. She was donated to Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) and is now a permanent exhibit and a war memorial to all the sailors who lost their lives in the two Battles of the Atlantic.

U-505 in Chicago

USS Missouri, the last of the battleships

USS Missouri was the last battleship commissioned by the United States. In the Pacific Theater of World War II she fought in the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa and shelled the Japanese home islands with her 16 inch guns. During one of these actions a low-flying kamikaze crashed on Missouri's starboard side, just below the main deck level, inflicting only superficial damage. After the second atomic bomb was dropped, Missouri was the site of the surrender of the Empire of Japan which ended World War II.

USS Missouri
USS Missouri

Throughout the latter half of the 1940s, the Navy decommissioned several vessels of various types being and either sold them as scrap or placed them in one of the various reserve fleets. As part of this contraction, three of the Iowa-class battleships had been de-activated; however, President Truman refused to allow Missouri to be decommissioned because of his fondness for the battleship.

In 1950, the Korean War broke out, calling Missouri from the Atlantic Fleet to support UN forces on the Korean peninsula, where she conducted coastal bombardments and carrier escort missions. After the war, she was decommissioned in 1955 into the Bremerton Pacific reserve fleet. There she was placed very close to the mainland, and served as a popular tourist attraction, who came to view the "surrender deck" where a bronze plaque memorialized the spot where Japan surrendered to the Allies.

In 1984, almost 30 years later, Missouri was reactivated and was towed to the Long Beach Naval Yard to undergo modernization. Over the next several months, the ship had her obsolete anti-aircraft guns removed, and was upgraded with Harpoon anti-ship missiles, Tomahawk missiles, Phalanx Gatling guns for defense against enemy anti-ship missiles and a new fire control system.

USS Missouri
USS Missouri firing her 16 inch batteries

These new toys came to use in 1991 when Missouri was called to assist in the Gulf War, where she launched Tomahawk Missiles and provided naval gunfire support. The heavy pounding attracted Iraqi attention. In response to the battleship’s artillery strikes, the Iraqis fired two HY-2 Silkworm missiles at the battleship, one of which missed, while the other was intercepted by a missile launched from a British air defence destroyer.

With the end of the cold war in the early 1990s, the high cost of operating battleships as part of the United States Navy's fleet became uneconomical. As a result, Missouri was decommissioned in 1992 and returned to the reserve fleet at Bremerton. After she was struck from the Naval Vessel Register in 1995, the Navy wanted to pair the symbol of the end of World War II with one representing its beginning. Missouri was towed from Bremerton to Pearl Harbor and was docked facing the Arizona Memorial. In January 1999, Missouri was opened as a museum.

USS Nautilus, to the North Pole on nuclear power

USS Nautilus was the world's first operational nuclear-powered submarine. Nuclear power had the crucial advantage over diesel engines in submarine propulsion because it consumes no air, making it possible to stay submerged far longer. After her commissioning in 1954, Nautilus traveled 2,100 kilometres (1,300 mi) from New London to Puerto Rico. At the time, this was the longest submerged cruise by a submarine ever recorded.

The following years, Nautilus continued to investigate the effects of increased submerged speeds and endurance, rendering the progress made in anti-submarine warfare during the World War II obsolete. Radar and anti-submarine aircraft were now ineffective against a vessel able to stay submerged for very long periods.

USS Nautilus
USS Nautilus

In 1958 she became the first watercraft to reach the geographic North Pole, travelling under the pack ice. This mission was not without risk. Navigation beneath the arctic ice sheet was difficult as compasses become inaccurate. The commander had considered using torpedoes to blow a hole in the ice if the submarine needed to surface.

After this historical trip, Nautilus participated in several Navy exercises until she was decommissioned in 1980. The submarine has been preserved as a museum of submarine history in Groton, Connecticut.

USS Nautilus
USS Nautilus as a museum ship

USS Lexington, the oldest aircraft carrier

USS Lexington is an Essex-class aircraft carrier that saw extensive service through the Pacific War. She led the Fast Carrier Task Force across the Pacific, destroying several Japanese ships and hundreds of planes. The Japanese referred to Lexington as a ghost ship for her tendency to reappear after reportedly being sunk. This, coupled with the ship's dark blue camouflage scheme, led the crew to refer to her as "The Blue Ghost". For her combat actions in the Pacific she recieved 11 battle stars. After the war, Lexington was decommissioned a few years, but was modernized and reactivated in the 1950s. In her second career, operated most of the time as a training carrier.

USS Lexington
USS Lexington

Lexington was decommissioned in 1991, with an active service life longer than any other carrier. Following her decommissioning, she was donated for use as a museum ship in Texas. Lexington is the oldest remaining aircraft carrier in the world.

USS Lexington
USS Lexington as a museum ship

Cutty Sark, the last of the tea clippers

Cutty Sark is a British clipper ship. Built in 1869, she was one of the last tea clippers to be built and also one of the fastest. She was destined for the tea trade, then an intensely competitive race across the globe from China to London, with a substantial bonus to the ship that arrived with the first tea of the year.

Cutty Sark's most famous race against Thermopylae occurred in 1872, the two ships leaving Shanghai together on 18 June. Two weeks later Cutty Sark had built up a lead of some 400 miles, but then lost her rudder in a heavy gale. The ship's carpenter constructed a new rudder from spare timbers and iron. This took six days, the ship finally arrived in London a week after Thermopylae, a total passage of 122 days. This was the closest Cutty Sark came to being first ship home.

cutty sark
Cutty Sark

Five years later, in 1877, steamships were favoured for transporting tea and the ship had to find another source of income, the wool trade with Australia. These were Cutty Sark's glory days. She sailed from New South Wales to London in just 83 days, 25 days faster than her nearest rival. Cutty Sark was the fastest ship on the wool trade for ten years, but at the beginning of the 20th century, steam ships were also favoured here.

Cutty Sark was sold to a Portugese trading firm in 1895 and renamed Ferreira. She traded various cargoes and was by 1922 the last clipper operating anywhere in the world. She was sold and renamed Cuttu Sark again for use as a British cadet training ship until 1954, when she was moved to a custom-built dry-dock at Greenwich as a museum ship. The gallery beneath the ship now holds the world's largest collection of ships' figureheads.

cutty sark
Cutty Sark as a museum ship

RMS Queen Mary, the golden age of the ocean liners

RMS Queen Mary is a retired ocean liner that sailed between Southampton and New York City from 1936 to 1967. In August 1936, Queen Mary captured the Blue Riband from her rival, the French Normandie, making her the fastest trans-atlantic ocean liner. Normandie was refitted with a new set of propellers in 1937 and reclaimed the honour, but in 1938 Queen Mary took back the Blue Riband in both directions, a record which stood until 1952.

Among facilities available on board Queen Mary, the liner featured two indoor swimming pools, libraries, and children's nurseries for all three classes, a lecture hall and outdoor paddle tennis courts. The largest room onboard was the first class main dining room spanning three stories in height. This room had a large map of the transatlantic crossing where a motorised model of Queen Mary would indicate the vessel's progress en route. Accommodation ranged from large, luxurious first class staterooms to modest and cramped third class cabins.

queen mary map
Queen Mary's map in the dining room

As World War II broke out, Queen Mary was converted into a troopship. Her hull and superstructure were painted navy grey and a degaussing coil was fitted around the outside of the hull to protect her against mines. Inside, furniture and decoration were removed and replaced with triple-tiered wooden bunks Queen Mary and her sister ship Queen Elizabeth were the largest and fastest troopships involved in the war, carrying as many as 16,000 men and often travelling without escort. Their high speed made it difficult for U-boats to catch them.

After the war, Queen Mary was refitted for passenger service and resumed the transatlantic express service at high profits. But in 1958 the first transatlantic flight by a jet began a completely new era of transportation. By 1965, Queen Mary sailed into harbour with more crew than passengers and was operating at a loss. She was retired from service and sold off to Long Beach, California in 1967 after she had completed her 1,000th and last crossing of the North Atlantic.

Queen Mary now remains permanently moored. Much of the machinery were removed, and the ship now serves as a tourist attraction featuring restaurants, a museum, and hotel.

queen mary
Queen Mary as a hotel in Long Beach


Why is it that, every great story about the ship becomes a great story when it sank... Nobody praises that ship when it is well and good and running. A point to be considered and thought upon.

Hi ravi, from all 7 ships in this article, only the Vasa sunk. All the others were in service until they retired.