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.
The Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum
The 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.
Explore the USS Bowfin
Visitors over the age of four have the opportunity to explore the inside of a real World War II-era submarine. Get a feel for life under the sea in cramped conditions, and you’ll gain new respect for these brave sailors.
See the evolution of Submarine Technology
Submarine technology has certainly evolved since ancient times. Informative exhibits at the museum explain the origins of submarines in detail, and the complicated engineering of modern submarines which far surpasses the ability of the USS Bowfin, that have features such as nuclear-powered engines and noise-reduction technology.
The museum features indoor and outdoor displays of intricate 3D models, detailed weapons systems, and replica bombs used by Japanese and American forces during the conflict. Artifacts in the museum and on the grounds surrounding it include the bell of the USS Bowfin, the battle flag, and a Purple Heart given to the Bowfin’s only wartime casualty, Reid Lee. Find artifacts of four other World War II-era submarines, their bells, and battle flags. The impressive collection also includes the Conning Tower from USS Parche (SS-384), the McCann Rescue Chamber, and a Poseidon C-3— a 12,000 lbs and 34 feet long missile dissected to show the inner workings of this fearsome weapon of war.
The Waterfront Memorial
As with any class of vessel that served in the US Navy during World War II, submarines suffered a great number of losses. An estimated 52 submarines in total were lost and, with them, just over 3,500 submariners. The losses were terrible, but what’s worse is that the remains of those lost when a submarine is destroyed are typically never recovered. The memorial outside the museum is dedicated to these brave men and the ships on which they served. Fifty-two plaques are arranged in a semi-circle around the American flag, detailing the specifics of each of the lost submarines. Information includes the vessel’s history and the names of the crew who were serving on board when she was sunk.
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.
Pearl Harbor Tour