Inside the USS Razorback Submarine in Little Rock, Arkansas

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Have you ever been inside a real submarine? I’d never been down inside a submarine before a couple weeks ago. We were in Little Rock for the Arkansas Flower and Garden Show, and we were crossing over the Arkansas River, making our way home. As we came to the other side, I happened to look down and see, of all things, a submarine on the banks of the river. Jaden gasped when he saw it. Of course, we had to go check it out! Inside the USS Razorback Submarine in Little Rock ArkansasIt was one of those spur-of-the-moment roadside stops that we usually like to make when traveling together as a family. Of course, the boys were ecstatic and couldn’t wait to see and explore this awesome military installation right there in the Arkansas River.Happy boys at the USS Razorback in Little Rock

As we walked up to the location, we found that this was an actual museum, the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum, and the submarine we’d spotted was the USS Razorback. USS Razorback Submarine in ArkansasInteresting fact: The USS Razorback was, in fact, not named after the famous Arkansas razorback, but rather the Razorback Whale. She was built at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine. She served in World War II and in Vietnam; she was also active during the Cold War.

During World War II, she patrolled, sunk Japanese ships, captured Japanese POW’s, and rescued American pilots who’d been shot down. I believe our tour guide said that 1 in 6 submarines were destroyed during World War II, and that usually meant no survivors; so, the fact that she and her crew survived is nothing short of a miracle. In fact, if I remember correctly, she didn’t lose a single sailor.

In 1970, the USS Razorback was sold to the Turkish Navy, which is why there’s a Turkish flag flying alongside the United States flag on the sub; however, the city of Little Rock bought the sub in 2004. USS Razorback SubmarineVisitors can tour the submarine, exploring both the outside and climbing down into the submarine to walk through from end to end. You can read more about her history on the museum’s website.

As we met our tour guide, he told us a bit of the history of the USS Razorback, and then he took us up on the ship itself. We started at the end of the submarine, climbing down in, via a ladder and a fairly skinny hole.Climbing down the ladder into the USS Razorback Submarine Space was tight, and as we got down in the bowels of this huge ship, I couldn’t imagine having to live like that for months at a time or longer. Amazing men, these sailors who volunteered to serve in submarines, because they weren’t forced into this; and only men served in submarines. Yes, the Navy paid them double the wages, but they raised their hand to serve in a sub. Bunks were tight, and just to give you a small picture, this was a top bunk that noone wanted, mainly because there was little space between the bunk and the vent, as you can see. Can you even tell there’s a bunk there?Skinny bunk in USS RazorbackMen shared the bunks, taking triple shifts – meaning they worked one shift, slept another shift, and had “down time” the other shift. As one was rolling out of bed to go to work, another was rolling right into the same bunk to take his place. They called it hot racking. Bunks in USS Razorback

Because of the heat from the engines, the temperature on the sub stayed in the upper 90’s on into the 100’s. So, you can imagine how hot, sweaty, and stinky these guys must have been. Water was also limited, so they took very few showers and then only 30 seconds at a time. Our tour guide told us that they generally worked in their underwear and flip-flops because of the extreme heat.

As we walked through, we saw the tiny bathrooms, the mess hall, the kitchen, and more. Kitchen in USS Razorback SubmarineFood was stored wherever possible. The question was asked what would happen if someone died while out to sea. As a matter of fact, the body would be stored in the freezer, right along with the food. The freezer was actually below your feet in the mess hall; there was a ladder that went down to it in the mess hall floor.

The officers’ quarters were a bit more roomy, and we even happened on a few Louis L’Amour books in the Officers’ dining area.Louis L'Amour Books on USS Razorback Submarine The Officers ate the same food but did have a separate kitchen and dishes; they actually used fine china.

Then there was the control room, where all the main action took place. You wouldn’t believe all the buttons and levers….Control Room in USS Razorback Submarine

Of course, my boys were mesmerized by the torpedo room….Torpedo room on USS Razorback Submarine ….also with real torpedoes still in the sub, though not active torpedoes.Torpedo aboard USS Razorback They were both asking questions throughout the tour; they just came alive with everything they were seeing and were soaking it all up.

USS Razorback Hours, Tickets and Info

The museum is open Fridays and Saturdays, 10am-5pm and Sundays from 1pm-5pm. Full admission for adults is $7.50; children under 12, seniors, and military are $5. Museum with no submarine tour is $2. If you are visiting, I recommend ladies wear pants (skirts and ladders just don’t mix in such tight quarters), and closed-toe shoes like sneakers, no flip-flops. Between ladders and making your way through different compartments, it’s just better to be completely comfortable and able to freely move from place to place.

The museum is also available for group events like birthday parties, group tours, school field trips, and something my boys got pretty hyped up about…. a group sleepover in the actual submarine with a real submarine veteran. You can find more info about the overnight stays aboard the USS Razorback here. Prices are very reasonable, in my opinion; this is something we may have to do at some point because sleepover guests get to explore even more parts of the submarine than the general public. The boys would just eat that up. As a homeschool mom, I was also thrilled to find that the museum provides lesson plans and activities on their website, as well. Very cool!

You’ll also find other exhibits at the museum. We definitely need to go back to explore even more.

Happy travels!

11 thoughts on “Inside the USS Razorback Submarine in Little Rock, Arkansas”

    • Stephanie, oh you should! I get claustrophobic too, you should have seen me on my first subway ride back in college. Whew! But this really wasn’t that bad, not near as bad as I thought it might be. It was definitely an experience.

  1. Kudos to you guys!! There is no way on earth that I would have went down that ladder and hole!! But what an awesome experience for all of you, especially the boys to see!

    • Tonya, it really wasn’t as bad as I’d thought it would be. The tour guide was fantastic too; he was able to keep our attention with all of his stories and such interesting facts. Go for it!

  2. Amazing! We’re fortunate to have a sub as part of a museum near us – the U.S.S. Becuna at the Independence Seaport Museum in Philly. The inside of yours looks so similar to ours which was also a WWII sub.

    2 of my kids refused to go inside the sub. They had to climb down a steep ladder to get in. The other 2 were fine. I ended up coming back with the 2 kids who wanted to go in and doing our own visit.

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