World War II submarine brings history to life

posted May 7, 2018 7:58 a.m. (CDT)
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by / Benjamin Wideman, Regional Editor |

  • BW USS Cobia Getaways 042518
    The USS Cobia submarine, which participated in six war patrols during World War II, is open for daily tours at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Manitowoc.

History enthusiasts can go beneath the surface, literally and figuratively, to explore the USS Cobia, touted as “the nation’s most completely restored World War II submarine.”

The nearly 312-foot submarine is moored in the Manitowoc River alongside the Wisconsin Maritime Museum in downtown Manitowoc.

During World War II, more than 7,000 workers at the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Co. built 28 submarines for the U.S. Navy. Twenty-five of those submarines saw action during the war, sinking a combined 132 Japanese ships.

The USS Cobia (SS-245) is a Gato-class submarine similar to the submarines built in Manitowoc, but it was built by the Electric Boat Co. of Groton, Conn., and launched on Nov. 28, 1943. It participated in six war patrols, sinking 13 Japanese ships carrying 20,000 tons of enemy shipping.

USS Cobia’s history is intertwined with that of two Manitowoc-built submarines. It was nearly sunk in May 1945 during an eight-hour depth charging by the Japanese minesweeper Hatsutaka. One week earlier, Hatsutaka sank the Manitowoc-built USS Lagarto. And one week after the attack on the USS Cobia, Hatsutaka was destroyed by the USS Hawkbill, another Manitowoc-built submarine.

By 1959, the Navy considered the USS Cobia obsolete as a deployable warship, so it was transferred to the Milwaukee Naval Reserve Center and used as a training platform for the next 11 years. In 1970, the Navy decommissioned the USS Cobia and it was towed to Manitowoc to serve as an international memorial to submariners. In 1986, the submarine became part of the Manitowoc Maritime Museum (now the Wisconsin Maritime Museum), declared a National Historic Landmark and placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Visitors can tour the submarine topside and inside, getting a glimpse of what life was like for the men who served aboard the USS Cobia. Torpedo rooms, crew’s quarters and engine rooms are among the many submarine sections open to visitors on the 45-minute guided tours.

From November through February, the museum also offers a limited number of “nook and cranny” tours, allowing visitors to see small spaces and other areas not included on regular tours.

In addition, the USS Cobia hosts overnight education programs, in which participants engage in various activities, receive supervised access to some non-public areas of the submarine and sleep aboard the vessel. The submarine is heated and ​air conditioned.

The USS Cobia is the most popular attraction at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum, but the facility houses an array of other displays and interactive exhibits showcasing the state’s maritime history in the Great Lakes region.

The museum is located at 75 Maritime Drive, Manitowoc. Admission is $15 for adults, $12 for seniors (ages 65 and older) and veterans, $8 for ages 4 to 12, and free for age 3 and younger. Admission includes access to both the museum and the submarine. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, active military personnel and their immediate families receive free admission.

Hours during spring (mid-March through June) and fall (September and October) are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Summer hours (July and August) are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Winter hours (November through mid-March) are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays).

On July 13-15, the museum will host its fourth annual Subfest. In addition to submarine tours, the event will feature musical performers, children’s activities, food and fireworks. Admission rates those days are reduced.

For more information about the submarine and its overnight education program, Subfest or the museum in general, call 866-724-2356 or visit

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