USS Silversides Muskegon

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MUSKEGON, MI — Sitting in the Muskegon Lake channel is an 82-year-old piece of World War II history. And you can sleep on it.

The USS Silversides is one of the most successful submarines of World War II and the main attraction of Muskegon’s submarine museum, located at 1346 Bluff Street.

The USS Silverside (SS-236) arrived in Muskegon in 1987 after making the voyage across Lake Michigan from Chicago’s Navy Pier, where it was used as a training vessel after the war.

The two-story submarine museum next to the submarine details the many adventures of the USS Silverside throughout World War II, its significance in battle and personal accounts from its crew.

“We don’t want to cater only to the history buffs,” executive director Bethann Egan said.

“We want to make you curious about it afterwards. This isn’t a place you have to know something about World War II, you’re going to learn when you come here. You don’t have to be intimidated.”

USS Silversides Muskegon (photo by USS Silversides)

The museum and submarine tours are open seven days a week starting Friday, March 1.

The museum allows overnight stays for groups who want to fully immerse themselves in history.

Groups up to 72 people can stay onboard, hang out below the water line and sleep next to torpedoes.

Unlike modern-day submarines, the Silverside does not have a round exterior. Instead, the ship has a flat surface and looks similar to a fleet ship.

As part of the Gato-class of submarines, Silversides was among the first mass-production submarine class to be shipped out after the attack on Pearl Harbor thrust the U.S. into war and weakened its Pacific surface fleet.

The submarine was originally designed to run alongside a Navy fleet but when the U.S. fleets were depleted after Pearl Harbor, the submarine’s mission changed to “hunter killers,” said museum preservationist Matt Kervin.

The USS Silverside fought in the war from April 1942 to July 1945. Painted on the side of the ship like a tattoo are 30 Japanese flags representing the enemy ships the submarine sank during its 14 patrols.
USS Silversides Muskegon (photo by USS Silversides)

On the tour, patrons can get a taste of the tight quarters occupied by 83 crew members, many of which were young men in their late teens and early twenties.

Walking the length of the 312-foot vessel, visitors can picture different scenes of life at war, from the stacked cots next to torpedoes, the galley kitchen outfitted with a massive coffee tank, to the lights and levers of the control room.

Patrons get a sense of how nimble and agile the crew must have been — especially the crew manning the elevated conning tower 36-feet up who would jump down the hatch and into battle position in 30 seconds.

However, they won’t envy the lack of privacy these men endured with only three showers and four toilets among them.

The USS Silverside has a rich history in battle, as its ranked third among all U.S. submarines in the war for most enemy ships sunk. The naval history credits the submarine with 23 confirmed sinkings, despite more flags marked on the ship.

Of the top three submarines, the Silversides is the only surviving ship, making its history all the more important to preserve. The submarine had a series of dramas battle, weather and equipment related.

USS Silversides Muskegon (photo by USS Silversides)
“Not only is your enemy trying to kill you, the sea is trying to kill you, your boat is trying to kill you,” Kervin said.

Inside the Silversides museum are enlarged logs from crew members detailing their patrols.

Ten days out on its first patrol, the Silversides crew had its first fatality. A young gunner from Oklahoma, Mike Harbin, was shot dead on the deck while helping reload ammunition. According to the crew log they buried him with full honors at sea at sunset.

“It was a bad way to start out, but some of the guys say that Mike must have watched over us for the rest of the war, for the rest of us made it home.”

The Silversides had its fair share of drama below deck as well. On Christmas Eve of 1942, fireman George Platter started complaining of stomach pain. Onboard the pharmacist mate “Doc” Thomas Moore identified it as an appendicitis.

The submarine was hundreds of miles from an ally or shore leaving them without an option to transfer Platter to a medical unit and surgical theater.

The “Doc” and a small crew orchestrated an unauthorized surgery on the table of the Officer’s Wardroom, or mess hall. Despite the limited equipment — Doc bent spoons to use as retractors — they successfully removed the appendix.

The Silversides crew was full of characters but perhaps none more famous than its captain.

Lieutenant Commander Creed C. Burlingame became infamous for a photo of him wearing a rain hat and coat and smoking a corncob pipe onboard during a 1942 war patrol. The official U.S. Navy photograph is now in the collections of the National Archives.




Lieutenant Commander Creed C. Burlingame (c. 1942) on board the USS Silversides

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