Auburn Research Project Allowing the World to See Inside the USS Drum Submarine Like Never Before

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Bill Lister hadn’t been inside the USS Drum in years.

The 97-year-old resident of Edinburgh, Indiana, is believed to be the last living crew member of the World War II submarine, on display at the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile, Alabama, and it has been years since he hadn’t been able to make the trip to the bay and see the ship he spent time on during World War II. Lister, a first-class radioman during the war, was part of eight assignments on the drum. He thinks the last time he went to Mobile to see him for the annual meetings was around 2015.

But earlier this year, thanks to the marvels of technology, Lister was able to take a trip through the 311ft, 9in submarine he occupied with dozens of others during one of the most transformational times ever. of American history. Thanks to an intercollegiate project led by Junshan Liu of Auburn University’s College of Architecture, Design and Construction and Danielle Willkens of Georgia Institute of Technology’s College of Design, Lister was able to use virtual reality equipment to take a virtual tour of his old ship.

Liu, Willkens and their team used 360-degree cameras and Lidar scanners to capture images from inside the eight-compartment submarine and set up a highly interactive virtual tour accessible to everyone via the USS website. Alabama Battleship Memorial Park. The tour, which went live Friday, Nov. 11, Veterans Day, is a unique way to see the Gato-class submarine that includes commentary from Lister and video segments featuring Tom Bowser, a retired nuclear submariner who wrote a book about the USS Drum.

Lister – who served in the US Navy from 1942 to 1945 and 1949 to 1966 – was fascinated by the interactive tour after getting a glimpse of it during a nearly day-long visit with the research team and restoration earlier this year. Liu and Shea McLean, curator of the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park, traveled to Indiana to show Lister the technology and show him around the ship.

“It was very interesting, and I think it’s a good deal,” said Lister, who was also on the crew of the USS Nautilus while on duty. “I crossed the boat, and you have a good idea of ​​what is going on. They said, “Point a dot”, then zoom in, I was in the turret. I hadn’t been in the turret since the war.

Lister was able to spend a lot of time touring the boat and also watching her great-granddaughter navigate the interactive expedition.

“I went completely through the boat,” said Lister, who told researchers he now visits the sub almost daily from Indiana. “They can take someone like me, or someone who’s claustrophobic and prefers to do it [virtually]. You get the idea when you do this you’re actually over there pointing this [pointer] something. It’s very realistic, really.

“You smash your way with these little dots, and you hit the button and bing, you’re in the front drums. You point it at a point forward on the deck, press a button and close the zipper, you’re there.

Lister said the Drum’s tour – which was in service from 1941 to 1946 – brought back in so much detail memories of her days aboard the submarine from 1943 to October 1945.

“The submarine force never got a lot of publicity,” said Lister, who enlisted when he was 17. “We had 80 men on a 311 foot long mechanized sewer pipe. I fought a different war than my brother in the Marine Corps. Only 15,200 men patrolled and got on the boats during the war, and they killed 28% of us.

“We just weren’t around anyone [out at sea], and there were times when you were scared. I knew the war was going on and what we were doing. Each submarine had its zone, and you stayed in your zone.

One-of-a-kind research opportunity

The USS Drum project has given researchers a chance to provide access to a prized World War II relic to those who were previously unable to experience it, either in person or by descending to inside its narrow layout.

“The main goal of this project is to allow aging veterans and people with reduced mobility to virtually visit the USS Drum,” said Liu, who has worked on the project since June 2021. “Danielle and I use the same technology in documenting construction sites and historic buildings for years, but this was our first time testing it on a navy vessel.The whole experience was challenging, but also very rewarding.

“One thing we found most exciting about this project was that the virtual tour can serve as a repository to archive and share Bill’s incredible war stories aboard Drum and Tom’s incredible work restoring the submarine. , which is only accessible by stairs for in-person boat tours.

The USS Drum project was a unique undertaking for Liu and his team.

“As a researcher, you don’t get involved in this type of project every day,” Liu said. “I feel so fortunate to be part of this very meaningful work, with the support of my school, the CADC and a colleague at RBD’s Innovation & Research Commons. We started the discussion with the USS Alabama [Battleship Park] about our next projects including bringing the battleship online and showing their warplanes virtually etc.

For Willkens, the project was about both ensuring accessibility and preserving history.

“The virtual tour gives visitors a unique experience to interact with the submarine and its history at their own pace,” said Willkens, assistant professor at Georgia Tech’s School of Architecture. “They can delve into the technical aspects or explore the stories of those who have worked on board. I hope this is the first of many projects for us there at Battleship Park.

Next step in restoration, preservation

This USS Drum research project was the latest in a series of park administration commitments to restore and preserve historic vessels like the submarine. It reflects a concerted effort by the park’s team of restoration experts since 2007 to continue to build a living history in Mobile Bay.

“The video collaboration between the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park and Auburn University’s McWhorter School of Building Science is all about access to history,” said Maj. Gen. (Retired) Janet Cobb, executive director of the park. “It was created for those physically unable to access the USS Drum (SS-228) submarine, or for a curious schoolboy on the other side of the world. When you are greeted by the last living crew member of the USS Drum during World War II? A phenomenal experience.

McLean said the virtual tour provides a fun and interactive way to explore the USS Drum, the oldest U.S. submarine on display in the world, without having to physically navigate the tight spaces inside the ship.

“First, the USS Drum was never intended to be a ship with a lot of space inside, and the spaces inside are cramped and often difficult to navigate,” McLean said. “It’s filled with small compartments and narrow passages, and each compartment is separated by a small oval watertight door which is also somewhat difficult to get through. So, that being said, it can sometimes be quite difficult for anyone to visit the under sailor and this can be particularly challenging for anyone with any type of physical disability.

“These virtual tours, for the first time, will make The Drum accessible to anyone wishing to tour the ship from bow to stern. Additionally, these tours will make the ship accessible to people around the world who otherwise might not be able to travel to Mobile to see it in person. The addition of interactive personal interviews, combined with archival footage, gives the visitor a better sense of the ship’s history as well as what it was like to be aboard the warship during the most great historical conflict of the world, the Second World War.

Lister was very complimentary about the park’s restoration and preservation efforts.

“It’s probably one of the best military parks in the country, because there are so many there,” said Lister, who has raced O-boats, R-boats and S-boats. -boats during his time in the Navy. “They had to get the Drum out of the water. It was so damaged on the eighth pass that they had to replace the conning tower, and when they got it out of the water it was in pretty bad shape.

“This thing is in better shape now than it was when I left it. They did a great job there in Alabama at the military park.

History preserved through technology

Lister is thrilled that the Auburn-led research team has partnered with Mobile Park to ensure that future generations of visitors and history buffs have the chance to view the USS Drum in such a fun and interactive way.

“I’m hopeful to come back down to see the Drum again [at a reunion], but I don’t have high hopes of participating,” said Lister, who attended 30 to 40 USS Drum meetings at the park. “Walking around the boat they did a good job of stopping in the right places and pointing out this and that. I think what they are doing there is good and will preserve a lot of history.

“It’s good that there are people like that who are interested in preserving history. I’m amazed at what they’re doing with the story now. I’m really glad they’re doing this.

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