When the USS SLATER arrived at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum on August 27, 1993, the throngs of DE veterans experienced a mixture of joy and disbelief. Here was an authentic World War II destroyer escort with all her World War II ordnance, yet the condition of the ship was appalling. Assuming she was headed for the scrap yard, all useable equipment had been removed from the interior of the ship, and inside she was practically an empty shell.
The first step was to survey the condition of the ship and develop a plan of action. Based on her configuration when she arrived, a restoration target date of June 1, 1945 was established. A survey was made of each compartment and all the items necessary to restore the ship were listed. The same was done topside. The machinery spaces were essentially intact with the exception of the removal of the auxiliary boilers and the evaporator from B-2. The anchor windlass room and aft steering were completely intact. All the essential equipment was still in the pilot house, but CIC and the radio spaces were gutted. In the living spaces, all bunks, locker tops, standing lockers and furnishings were missing. What furniture remained was non-USN issue.
Restoration of the ship began in earnest by the members of the Statue of Liberty Chapter of the Destroyer Escort Sailors Association, augmented by volunteers from the Connecticut and New Jersey Chapters. They began the project by clearing trash and removing the Greek modifications. They undertook the massive effort to scale the paint off all the topside areas. Major accomplishments during this time period included removal of the cover over the flying bridge, de-installation of almost all the Greek modifications, restoration of the ship's electrical systems and low pressure air system, and restoration of the pilothouse, wardroom and interior passageways. In addition, an incredible amount of paint chipping was accomplished and the entire exterior of the ship was repainted.
Finding the parts needed for restoration is an ongoing challenge. A major advance took place in 1994 with the donation of an estimated twenty tons of shipboard equipment by retired Navy Captain Bob Rogers. Captain Rogers had been granted access to the scrap yards at Terminal Island in the 1970's by Roy Coats. Bob had a dream of creating a naval museum in New Mexico and accumulated the WWII parts to replicate all the major compartments on a Navy warship, with the exception of the machinery spaces. Bob's plans changed and he donated all this material to the SLATER. Two eighteen-wheelers hauled the treasure from New Mexico. They held almost everything needed to make SLATER complete including bunks, lockers, officer's furniture, radios, and nearly every kind of electrical junction box, speaker, gyro compass and light fixture you could want.
In addition, over the years, the Maritime Commission and Naval Sea Systems Command have given the museum access to ships being disposed of at the old Philadelphia Navy Yard, the James River Reserve Fleet and the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet in San Francisco. Scrounging trips to these locations have yielded a wealth of needed parts including radio transmitters, radar consoles and antennas, life rafts, and engine room parts. Ships that have contributed greatly to SLATER's restoration include USS GAGE, CAVALLARO, NELSON M. WALKER, GENERAL POPE, LORRAIN COUNTY, SPHINX, CLAMP, DES MOINES, PETREL, KITTIWAKE, SUNBIRD, PRESERVER, FORRESTAL, VULCAN, RANGE SENTINEL, SANTA BARBARA, and LSM45.
In 1997, the management at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum made the decision to downsize and three of the ships on display were asked to find new homes, SLATER among them. The ship was towed to Albany and arrived on 27 October 1997 to a crowd of well-wishers. Here, a new group of volunteers began building on the work begun in Manhattan.
Once the ship arrived in Albany, the most urgent need was to get her open to visitors as quickly as possible to begin generating operating revenue. A restoration philosophy was established which put bringing the ship to an "Acceptable" standard, safe and clean, as the first priority. It was recognized that "Excellence" was a goal that would have to be achieved in phases. Excellence was defined as restoring a compartment to brand new condition, with every piece of equipment and detail that the ship would have had when in service in June of 1945. This was not achieved overnight, but over a period of years as time, manpower and equipment would allow. In cases where the actual piece of equipment was not available, a similar piece of gear was substituted that performed the same function until the authentic piece could be found.
The initial rework was done in stages, from the top down, forward to aft. The initial thrust was in the superstructure and compartments above the main deck, the only spaces that were originally open to the public. Then the crew moved on to the second deck forward, restoring one major compartment a year. From there it was on to the three berthing spaces aft, and finally the aft machinery spaces.
In each case, the first step was to document what we had, then research what should be there. Next, the Greek modifications were removed accordingly, often by cutting torch and Sawzall. The labor-intensive process of scaling old paint and repairing or removing old fiberglass insulation followed. One of the most difficult tasks proved to be the removal of thick layers of ceramic tile and grout that the Greek Navy added to many of the messing spaces, heads and passageways. Subsequently, metal work was completed as brackets and shelves were added to receive the WWII-era equipment. Electrical modifications were made including running new wiring and replacing postwar electrical and lighting fixtures with the authentic WWII parts. Compartments were then primed and spray painted. While this was taking place, the new equipment to be installed in the compartments was cleaned, restored and readied for display. When prepared, it was installed in the space and each area detailed with the helmets, life jackets, uniform parts, publications and personal gear that would have been in the space when the crew was living aboard. Finally, the decks were painted and the restored areas opened to the public. One last step that has yet to take place is the stenciling of all the piping and ventilation systems, common aboard Navy ships but lacking on SLATER due to the absence of a sign painter.
The whole painstaking process of restoring the ship, acquiring the parts and installing the refurbished gear has been documented in our monthly online newsletter SLATER SIGNALS. The entire restoration has been driven by volunteers and would never have been possible without these dedicated individuals. The SLATER's wooden whale boat has been restored to pristine condition, one of the last operational examples of 26,000 such boats produced. A major accomplishment in 2007 was the installation of the SL antenna and renovation of CIC with the restored SL scope from the USS CLAMP. In 2008, the crew fabricated the missing depth charge rack and the missing roller loaders for the depth charge projectors that the Greeks removed. We also activated the ship's sonar in active and passive mode. That year we began serious restoration of the aft machinery spaces, a project that is continuing. 2010 witnessed the completion of the restoration of the forward head, restoration of the reefer deck and upgrades to the radio room that included installation of the original TBL transmitter.
This process has turned the SLATER into one of the most authentically restored historic naval ships in the nation. The crew continues with maintenance painting and reworking spaces for a second and third time to bring them closer to our goal of perfection. The most critical future need is to raise the funds to drydock the SLATER in order to repair her underwater body and give attention to all those unglamorous spaces that the public does not see - the fuel tanks, voids and bilges. We estimate that this will be a $3,000,000 project, but if past accomplishments are any indication, we are confident we will reach that goal.
Click here to read about the special role the USS GAGE APA-168 played in the restoration of the SLATER.
To read about the entire restoration process, please see our monthly newsletter, SLATER Signals.
Wonder what it takes to restore one of SLATER's battle lanterns? Click here to find out!