The USS Bowfin and the Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum

One year to the day after the United States was devastated by a Japanese aerial strike force, the US Navy launched a new Balao-class submarine, the USS Bowfin (SS-287). One of the Navy’s most iconic World War II-era submarines, the Bowfin became known as the “Pearl Harbor Avenger.” The Bowfin was a symbol of the American spirit and refusal to give up, even in the face of heavy loss. Formally commissioned into service on May 1, 1943, the USS Bowfin served in two conflicts, World War II and the Korean War, and was decommissioned twice before finally being struck from the Naval Vessel Register on December 1, 1971.

 

The Bowfin opened to the public on April 1, 1981, the Submarine Museum, now named the Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum, is a valuable resource for information on all the submarines of World War II. Learn how submarines engaged enemies, what armament was used, and what life was like aboard a World War II submarine in one of Pearl Harbor’s most engaging museums. 

 

Now a National Historic Landmark

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 admission charge for visiting the Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum includes an audio tour, available in multiple languages, and in regular and kid-friendly versions.

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The History of the USS Bowfin

Launched exactly one year after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the USS Bowfin (SS-287), was dubbed the “Pearl Harbor Avenger.” She went on to become one of the most decorated submarines of the Pacific Theater, credited with sinking more than a dozen enemy vessels.

 

After being commissioned into service on May 1, 1943, USS Bowfin immediately went to war. The Bowfin 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.

 

After the war ended, Bowfin returned to the east coast of the US, where she was decommissioned for the first time in February, 1947. She would be recommissioned twice more before finally being removed from service on December 1, 1971, when she was struck from the Naval Vessel Register.

 

After her final decommissioning in 1971, the USS Bowfin could have become just another vessel of the US Navy broken down and sold for scrap. Instead, the iconic submarine was in for a better fate: to serve as a lasting reminder of how the United States picked itself up after the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and went on to win the War in the Pacific.

The USS Bowfin and the Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum
21.3665° N, 157.9368° W

Helpful Tips

Be aware of the age requirements. Children under 4 yrs old are not allowed in or on the submarine.  That does not mean that they cannot visit the Bowfin Memorial. There is more to see there than just the submarine. This should not keep you from going.

Though you may be tempted to bring along a bag, you won’t be able to board the Bowfin with a backpack, purse, fanny pack, luggage, camera bag, or diaper bag. In fact, bags of any kind are not allowed anywhere at Pearl Harbor. There is a flat-rate bag storage facility near the entrance. Savvy visitors know to not bring anything that can’t be carried in their pockets.

A day at Pearl Harbor can be a long one, and the inability to pack a snack bag can make people grouchy. Luckily, there is a snack bar near the Bowfin that will help keep stomachs from grumbling. While the Bowfin has food offerings, most people prefer to eat at the USS Missouri or at the Pacific Aviation Museum. Those have more choices and full cafes.

The Bowfin is not as large as the USS Missouri or the Pacific Aviation Museum. If you have only 20 minutes, you should still visit the Bowfin. You will not have time to read every plaque and see every exhibit, but you can get the feeling of life in a WWII submarine.

Many people go to the Bowfin and board the submarine, but do not go inside to the museum. Besides the comfortable air conditioning on a hot day, the museum has some fascinating exhibits.

If you are claustrophobic, going inside a submarine will not be fun. You might pass on this one if that is the case. You can get great photos of it from the shore. It is close to the Pearl Harbor Visitor’s Center and absolutely worth the short walk.

It is operated separately from the Arizona’s gift shop and has items that you will not find in the other Pearl Harbor shops.

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