In Harm's Way: The U.S. Navy and World War II

The U.S. Navy Museum boasts the largest and most comprehensive exhibit detailing the Navy's role in World War II. Divided into the Atlantic and Pacific Theaters, and the Home Front, the exhibit follows in chronological order from Pearl Harbor to VE and VJ Days.

The Atlantic Theater

The Atlantic Theater is presented in the west (left) side of the museum and traces the technology and tactics employed fighting German and Italian forces. Just as in World War I, an important role of the Navy in the Atlantic was to ensure the safe transport of American soldiers and equipment overseas. Told chronologically, this exhibit details major battles in the Atlantic, while numerous maps chart the course followed by Allied forces in Europe and North Africa. Innovative technology is also on display, such as the XAF Radar Receiver, the first of its kind to detect enemy craft. Video presentations from "Victory at Sea" augment the exhibit, including a detailed view of the Normandy invasion. Examples of ammunition and firearms used by both Allies and Germans are out for visitors to touch and examine.
US Forces in Cherbourg, France
U.S. Forces in Cherbourg, France

Interesting artifacts from the Atlantic Section of the World War II exhibit include:

  • The first XAF Radar Receiver used onboard USS New York to detect enemy craft
  • Period military uniforms worn by naval officers between 1941-1945 - Camera(click here for picture)
  • An "Enigma" cipher machine used by the Germans to decrypt coded allied communications transmissions
  • Documentation of the capture of the German U-Boat U-505 by USS Guadalcanal, including the actual diving log from the U-505
  • Six-inch, 47-caliber shell and brass cartridges of the type used in Sicily between July-August 1943
  • German firearms of the type used during the Battle of Normandy (D-Day)
  • Browning .30 caliber machine gun used by American navy sailors during the invasion of Southern France in August 1944
  • Videotapes of "Convoy Battle," and "D-Day Invasion of Normandy"

The Home Front

Located within the Atlantic Theater portion, the Home Front focuses on the massive effort to increase public and corporate contributions to the war effort between the period 1941-45. Examples of how the advertising media and the entertainment industry participated in the effort by extolling the virtues of buying war bonds, giving blood, and rationing food are available in this section. Visitors may sit in a simulated movie theater and watch propaganda films, newsreels, and fictional sagas that focus on World War II. Also on display are posters that encouraged women to leave the home and work in defense industry factories, and to fill in the employment gaps left by conscripted males. Service by Navy WAVES, Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, is also detailed in this exhibit.

Interesting parts of the Home Front exhibit include:

  • Recognition area with collection of aircraft models which were used by military schools for pilots and enlisted members to recognize types of aircraft merely by their silhouettes.
  • Movie theater symbolizing the entertainment industry's role in promoting the war effort. The monitor shows selected clips from period war films.Storefront displaying perishable, and rationed food items and food stamps used during the period - Camera(click here for picture)
  • Re-creation of an "idealized" family living room during this period; note picture of service member displayed on the table, along with a V-mail, black-out curtain over the window, and bag of rationed food items.
  • Board displaying American Civil Defense procedures and associated visual aids.
  • Board displaying the role of the WAVES during World War II, including uniforms.
  • Photo of the Golden Thirteen, the first African-American officers commissioned
War bond booth : grocery store front on the home front
War bond booth : grocery store front on the home front

The Pacific Theater

A radio broadcasting President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's address to the nation declaring war on Japan begins the Pacific Theater portion of "In Harm's Way" on the east side of the museum. This exhibit displays the technology and tactics used across the Pacific while Americans battled Japanese forces. Submarine warfare is covered in detail, while a video presentation takes visitors inside a World War II submarine to explore its living conditions. Photographic displays depict battles for islands in the Pacific and the war in the Aleutians. A twin 5-inch 38-caliber gun turret sits on the museum floor for visitors to climb on and look inside. Video presentations portray elements of the war in the Pacific. Also displayed is an atomic bomb casing identical to that dropped on Hiroshima at the end of the War. Hanging above the exhibit are examples of aircraft used by both American and Japanese forces.
Re-created bridge from USS Fletcher
Re-created bridge from USS Fletcher


Interesting artifacts from the Pacific Section of the World War II exhibit In Harm's Way include:

  • Twin mount 5-inch, 38-caliber gun turret from USS Reno - Camera(click here for picture)
  • Enlargement of aerial photograph taken by a Japanese aircraft flying over Pearl Harbor the day it was bombed
  • Audio presentation of original announcement by President Roosevelt declaring war against Japan
  • Various photo-montages depicting influential military campaigns in the Pacific. These include:
    • The Battle of Coral Sea (1-8 May 1942)
    • The Battle of Midway (4-5 June 1942)
    • The Guadalcanal Campaign (August 1942-March 1943)
    • The Aleutian Campaign (1942-1943)
    • The Marianas Campaign (June-August 1944)
    • The Battle of Leyte Gulf (23-26 October 1944)
  • The Mark 14 torpedo; the flawed predecessor of the first electric torpedo, the Mark 18
  • Video presentations: "Submarine Life," and "Carrier Aviation"
  • Re-created bridge from USS Fletcher; a navy destroyer which was the first of its class - Camera(click here for picture)
  • Ship model of USS Leyte; an Essex-class carrier named to commemorate the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines
  • Ship model of USS Missouri, the site of the Japanese surrender to the United States which officially ended World War II
  • Interactive exhibit on the Battle of Leyte Gulf
  • Quad 40mm anti-aircraft gun mounts of the type used on U.S. Navy carriers and battleships
  • Japanese Ohka or Baka bomb, suspended above exhibit
  • F4U-4 Corsair fighter plane, suspended above exhibit - Camera(click here for picture)
  • "Little Boy" Version of Atomic Bomb - Camera(click here for picture)