In the summer of 1917 the Navy constructed a mock-up of a modern battleship in the middle of Union Square Park (Broadway between E. 14th and E. 17th Streets), which sits at the point in Manhattan where downtown ends and midtown begins. Made entirely of wooden materials, this “landship” wasn’t a replica or a model, as it was about 1/3rd the length of a modern battleship and half the width. Built only from the waterline up, the structure did have a complete topside, with several turrets and batteries of replica guns, the bridge, a wireless station, officer’s quarters and two cage masts for look outs and gunnery observation. Finished in September, the structure was named the ‘USS Recruit’, and was manned by a ‘crew’ of 40 officers and trainees on rotation from the Newport, RI Naval Station.
The mission of the Recruit station was threefold: (1) to serve as the primary enlistment center for the Navy in New York City, (2) to provide basic training in top-side duties and (3) to provide tours to civilians to give them a better understanding of the operation of naval vessels.
The crew lived in the structure, which also contained exhibit space, meeting rooms, two examination rooms and offices.
During its life, the Recruit station enlisted over 25,000 new sailors. It was closed in March 1920 and disassembled, with a stated intention of reconstructing it as an attraction at Coney Island, but the funds were never available for this and eventually the materials were scrapped.
Remembering the success of the Recruit, during World War 2 the Navy set up another recruiting ship in New York City, although this was a real vessel, the USS Illinois (BB-7)), a pre-dreadnought battleship that had been made a training ship for the New York Naval Militia in 1919. In 1941 the name was changed to the USS Prairie State (IX-15), as there was a new Illinois on the ways (never finished), and in 1943 the ship was converted to a U.S.N.R. midshipman’s training school. Not scrapped until 1956, it was the last of America’s pre-dreadnought battleships.
Also during World War 2 there was another “landship” (not in New York), nicknamed the Muroc Maru. Built in 1943 by the Army, it was a mock-up of a Japanese cruiser which sat on California’s Rogers Dry Lake Gunnery Range. It was used for practice bombing runs by Air Force planes up until 1950.
Between 1949 and 1997 the Navy used three land-locked training ships, the USS Recruit (TDE-1) in California, the USS Commodore in Maryland and the USS Bluejacket in Florida. There was also a minesweeper named the USS Recruit (AM-85) which was in U.S. service from 1943 to 1963 before transfer to the Mexican Navy.
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