THE USS CAVALLA
The submarine sits next to the destroyer escort USS Stewart in Galveston's Seawolf Park.
• Length:</STRONG> 300 feet.
• Width:</STRONG> 24 feet.
• Displacement: 1,900 tons.
Source: John McMichael, Seawolf Park manager
GALVESTON — Hurricane Ike did to the USS Cavalla what Japanese destroyers tried and failed to do. The storm punched a gaping hole in the bow of the World War II submarine that survived depth charge attacks during the battle of the Philippine Sea.
Ike floated the Cavalla, although its hull had been buried 15 feet in the ground when it was placed in Seawolf Park on Pelican Island in 1971. The storm surge washed earth beneath the floating sub and left it 5 feet higher when it subsided, said John McMichael, Seawolf Park manager.
The storm also floated the destroyer escort USS Stewart, another park attraction that sits next to the Cavalla, and deposited a boat underneath it that had to be removed.
More than two years after the storm, volunteers such as former submariner Bob Gawe, 66, and his wife Sharon, 58, from Bridgeport, Conn., and hired hands are at work repairing a 30-foot hole in the Cavalla's bow where rusted steel plates gave way under Ike's blows.
McMichael, who served on 11 submarines over his 32 years in the silent service, had to raise $86,000 before repairs could begin. He now needs to raise $520,000 for restraining systems that will keep the Cavalla and the Stewart stable if another Ike-size storm strikes.
The engineering plan calls for driving 3-foot diameter pipes 90 feet in the ground on each side of the Cavalla and welding inch-thick steel straps to them that would stretch across the sub under its wooden decking, McMichael said. The Stewart would have a metal brace attached to its hull that would slide up and down a 12-foot high steel retainer with a base buried 90-feet deep.
The quest for funding is never-ending for a boat that has earned its place in history yet has never gained the attention McMichael thinks it deserves. He often encounters Galveston residents who have never heard of the storied submarine.
"This is one of Galveston's best-kept secrets," McMichael said.
The Cavalla, a Gato-class submarine named after a salt-water fish, was commissioned June 19, 1944. On its first patrol, it was harried by Japanese destroyers but put three torpedoes into the aircraft carrier Shokaku. By sinking the Shokaku, one of the carriers that attacked Pearl Harbor, it became the first U.S. submarine to sink an aircraft carrier.
Work in progress
The Navy donated the vessel to the U.S. Submarine Veterans of World War II, who gave it to Galveston to become the basis for Seawolf Park. The veterans wanted the park named after one of the 52 submarines sunk during the war. They chose the Seawolf, lost at sea after sinking more tonnage than any other U.S. sub.
Despite its place in history, the Cavalla nearly ended up on the scrap heap in 1998. The submarine was allowed to fall into disrepair over the decades and the Galveston Park Board proposed to get rid of it to make way for an RV Park.
Submarine veterans found out and mounted a fund-raising effort to save the vessel. McMichael arrived from Dallas with a couple of dozen other former submariners in 1999 to begin restoring the Cavalla with their own labor.
"It was a disaster," McMichael recalled. The entire superstructure had rusted beyond repair, visitors had stolen vital parts including pieces of the periscope, vandals had shattered dials and every bunk bed had vanished.
Veteran submariners formed the Cavalla Historical Foundation to raise money and it has trickled in over the years. McMichael was asked to take charge of restoration and jumped at the chance.
Over the last decade, McMichael has replaced all the bunks and the periscope among countless other renovations, but many repairs remain. The sub and the destroyer escort both need new paint jobs, he said.
USS Cavalla Needs Your Help
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