Conserving a World War II relic
The last surviving Dreadnought-class battleship, USS Texas, is being painstakingly restored in Galveston, Texas. In the course of the work, a World War II operations map was discovered on a cabin wall, having been painted over and later cut into. Ariane Roesch and Zak Miano, who own OnAim Conservation, took careful steps to fully reveal what remained of the map, rectify the damage and restore it as best possible using modern materials to its original state.
Commissioned in 1914, the battleship USS Texas is credited with the introduction and innovation in gunnery, aviation and radar. It is the last surviving dreadnought and the only battleship still in existence that fought in both World War I and World War II. It is currently undergoing a major refit by Gulf Copper in the US after the shipyard retrieved and purchased a large floating drydock that had been sunk, broken over its length and cut in half during salvage in the Bahamas.
The approximately 8ft x 8ft (2.4 x 2.4m) map of the WWII Atlantic theatre was painted on a bulkhead in the captain’s cabin after September 1944 (based on references in the map). It shows the ports of call USS Texas made during WWII (white dots with anchors in them), where she performed shore bombardment (noted by little explosions), national capitals (yellow triangles), and a few surprise discoveries as the map was conserved.
Some time after 1966, which is when the only known historic photo of the map was taken, the map, along with the rest of the captain’s cabin, was painted white. That act was not great, but not terrible either. What was truly terrible is that a window was cut into the bulkhead right in the middle of the map some time in the late 1970s, after the map and compartment were painted white. The Battleship Texas Foundation believes that because the map had been painted over and knowledge of the map lost, those who made that decision did not know it was there.
Fast forward to around 2000, when the map began to reveal itself as the white paint began to flake off and the map was rediscovered during the planning for the captain’s cabin restoration. When the captain’s cabin was restored, the window was welded up and the map was partially uncovered, exposing the Mediterranean and most of Europe. In 2009, the 1966 picture of Chief McKeown with the map in the background was discovered, which spurred a lot of excitement about what possibly survived. However, due to budgetary constraints no real conservation treatments could be carried out on the map.
The map then sat partially uncovered and untouched until last summer. In partnership with TPWD (Texas Parks & Wildlife Department) Cultural Resources, OnAim Conservation was hired to stabilise the remaining paint on the bulkhead, just prior to the tow to Galveston. This initial step preserved what remained and protected it from any vibrations from the tow and/or shipyard work.
Read all about the conservation process on Protective Coatings Expert Magazine.