The USS Bowfin: The Pearl Harbor Avenger

April 07, 2017

The World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument at Pearl Harbor is a fitting tribute to the servicemen who lost their lives during the Japanese attack. Though many of the exhibits and memorials are directly connected with the attack, there’s one that may seem a little out of place. The USS Bowfin (SS-287) only entered service in 1942, meaning she couldn’t have been present during the Pearl Harbor attack. How is it the Bowfin earned a spot next to other notable vessels like the sunken USS Arizona and the Battleship Missouri?

Nicknamed the "Pearl Harbor Avenger," the Bowfin was launched on December 7, 1942, the one-year anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. Though the United States had long since engaged Japan in conflict since the surprise assault, the launch of the USS Bowfin marked a momentous occasion and proved that—despite the tragedy from which the country was still recovering—it would emerge stronger than ever.

Periscope view of sinking Japanese ship

Earning the Bowfin a place at the National Monument as the focus of a museum and park was more than just her launch date. During the course of World War II, the submarine took part in nine different patrols that took her across the Pacific. From the South China Sea to the Sea of Japan, the Bowfin patrolled enemy waters, sinking a number of enemy vessels like the Kirishima Maru, which she helped the USS Billfish sink on her first patrol. In total, the Bowfin is credited with sinking over 30 vessels and damaging another seven. In comparison to the 288 other submarines deployed by the US Navy and which saw combat during World War II, the Bowfin ranked 15th in the number of ships sunk during her patrols.

The Present

Decommissioned after World War II, the Bowfin was recommissioned in 1951 for the Korean War and once again sailed the Pacific. Until 1953, the submarine remained in service before being decommissioned again. In 1960, she was moved to Seattle to serve as a training submarine for the Naval Reserve, her last act of duty until her name was struck from the Navy list 11 years later.

Bowfin from Visitors Center

Bowfin seen from the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center

Today, the Bowfin is a National Historic Landmark, serving in Pearl Harbor as a landmark for guests wanting to know more about the vessels that served during World War II. Like the Missouri, the Bowfin is partially open to the public, allowing visitors to see and feel what it was like to live and serve aboard these tight ships of war.

The Bowfin Submarine Museum is a 10,000-square-foot display of over 4,000 submarine-related relics and artifacts. Museum guests can see battle flags, recruiting posters, and even a dissected Poseidon missile.

On the surrounding park grounds, more relics from the war can be found, including the periscope of the USS Parche—another highly decorated submarine of the war—and a Japanese Kaiten, or manned torpedo.

While the Bowfin wasn't yet built at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, her successes, proudly displayed on her battle flag, and nickname, the Pearl Harbor Avenger, are an indication of the United States’ resolve after the attack.

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