|Ship Class||Balao-class Submarine|
|Builder||Portsmouth Navy Yard, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, United States|
|Laid Down||23 Jul 1942|
|Launched||7 Dec 1942|
|Commissioned||1 May 1943|
|Decommissioned||12 Feb 1947|
|Displacement||1,526 tons standard; 2,414 tons submerged|
|Machinery||Four General Electric diesel engines, four General Electric electric motors|
|Bunkerage||94,400 gallons, two 126-cell main storage batteries|
|Power Output||5,400 SHP|
|Range||11,000 miles at 10 knots|
|Armament||10x21in torpedo tubes with 24 torpedoes, 1x4in/50 deck gun, 1x40mm, 1x20mm|
|Submerged Speed||8.75 knots|
Contributor: David Stubblebine
ww2dbaseBalao-class submarine Bowfin was laid down on 23 Jul 1942 at the Portsmouth Navy Yard located on islands in the Piscataqua River between New Hampshire and Maine, United States. The boat was launched on 7 Dec 1942, sponsored by Mrs. Jane Gawne, wife of Captain of the Yard James Gawne. USS Bowfin was commissioned 1 May 1943 with experienced submarine captain Commander Joseph H. Willingham in command. Because the boat was launched on the first anniversary of the Pearl Harbor Attack, it earned the nickname "The Pearl Harbor Avenger."
ww2dbaseFollowing fitting out and shakedown training, Bowfin transited to Brisbane, Australia. Bowfin shifted to Darwin and then embarked on her first war patrol on 25 Aug 1943. Bowfin patrolled the South China Sea and Philippine waters for six weeks before arriving at Fremantle, Australia on 10 Oct 1943. On this patrol, Bowfin worked together with submarine USS Billfish in the South China Sea to stalk a Japanese convoy and separately engaged in a couple of surface actions against lightly armed ships. Bowfin claimed 24,000 tons of shipping sunk but this is uncertain, post-war analysis only confirmed 8,300 tons. She also engaged in a secret operation to supply Philippine guerilla fighters on the island of Negros and to evacuate seven escaped American military personnel and two Philippine officials. For his performance on this patrol, Commander Willingham received his third award of the Navy Cross.
ww2dbaseAt Fremantle, Commander Willingham was relieved as commander of the Bowfin and was elevated to commanding a submarine division. Lieutenant Commander Walter Griffith assumed command of Bowfin. LtCdr Griffith was another experience submariner with five years prior service aboard USS Porpoise and USS Gar.
ww2dbaseBowfin departed Fremantle on 1 Nov 1943 for her second war patrol, again to the South China Sea and again teaming occasionally with Billfish. Despite persistent bad weather and rough seas, Bowfin engaged 14 vessels, both large and small, and claimed 71,000 tons sunk. Bowfin returned to Fremantle on 9 Dec 1943 and was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for this patrol. For his performance, LtCdr Griffith was awarded the Navy Cross.
ww2dbaseThe submarine remained at Fremantle for a month this time tending to some minor battle damage from the previous patrol plus some mechanical repairs. Bowfin cleared Australian waters on 11 Jan 1944 for her third war patrol. Again, Bowfin found ample shipping targets, this time in the area of Makassar Strait, but was plagued by faulty torpedoes. Bowfin returned to Darwin early for replacement torpedoes and embarked Rear Admiral Ralph Christie, commander of submarine forces in the area and inventor of the magnetic torpedo fuzes being used. Admiral Christie wanted to see the torpedo performance for himself. Bowfin returned to her patrol with the Admiral on board. Torpedo performance was improved and Bowfin finished the patrol 5 Feb 1944 at Fremantle claiming three ships sunk and two damaged. At the end of this patrol, LtCdr Griffith was promoted to full Commander and presented with the Silver Star.
ww2dbaseAfter her post-patrol refit, Bowfin shifted to Darwin and then departed for her fourth war patrol on 6 Mar 1944. Her assigned patrol area was 150 square miles around southern Mindanao but Commander Griffith spent 75% of his time in the area of the Talaud Islands between Mindanao and Morotai. Hampered on this patrol by the confined waters of Obi Strait, persistent anti-submarine measures by the enemy, and Japanese ships that stubbornly would not sink when torpedoed, Bowfin conducted eight torpedo attacks resulting in three ships sunk and three damaged. Bowfin arrived at Fremantle on 1 Apr 1944 where Commander Griffith was awarded his second Navy Cross.
ww2dbaseAfter a standard refit, Bowfin had another routine change of command. Commander Griffith was relieved by Commander John Corbus. Following ten days of drills and shifting to Darwin, Bowfin was ready to set out on her fifth war patrol. This patrol took her to the waters around the Palau Islands where Bowfin's hunting efforts were frustrated on many levels. Targets were scarce and after spending much time stalking one large Japanese merchantman, Cdr Corbus had to watch the ship blow up right in front of him up from torpedoes fired from another submarine shooting from the opposite direction. Bowfin spent three days in early Jun 1944 on an unspecified "special mission" before departing the area bound for Pearl Harbor, Hawaii via Midway. Just as Bowfin was departing the Palau area, she struck what was believed to be a submerged oil drum that bent her starboard propeller. Bowfin stopped briefly at Midway before arriving at Pearl Harbor on 21 Jun 1944 after traversing 15,000 miles since leaving Fremantle.
ww2dbaseOn 16 Jul 1944 Bowfin left Pearl Harbor on her sixth war patrol, this time to the waters around Okinawa where she arrived on 31 Jul 1944 in the midst of a growing typhoon. After the storm passed on 9 Aug 1944 Bowfin made periscope observations of a new concrete pier on the west side of Minami Daito that was not reflected on the charts. The next day, Bowfin followed three vessels to this pier and Cdr Corbus decided to do something about it. One ship was laying to off the landing area and Bowfin lined up on this one first. Three torpedoes were fired, one ran up on the beach and exploded, the second struck the ship in the stern and the ship was "literally torn apart," and the third was not observed amidst the turbulence of the second torpedo's explosion. Shifting to the pier, Corbus planned to fire three more torpedoes in the hopes of not only sinking the two ships moored there but also destroying the pier. Corbus wrote in his patrol report, "All three explosions were tremendous. The debris was thrown at least 200 feet in the air. A large automobile bus on the dock was being loaded with personnel just before we fired. When the debris had settled the bus was just a tangled mass of wreckage. The dock was practically obliterated and of course there was no sign of the merchant ship." A crane that had been on the pier was also destroyed and this event is reflected on Bowfin's battle flag with an image of a dock, a bus, and a crane.
ww2dbaseDuring the latter portion of this patrol, Bowfin was plagued by numerous false contacts on surface radar that submarine commanders had found to be common in very calm seas within sight of land. The phenomenon became known as "The Galloping Ghost of Nansei Shoto." On 22 Aug 1944, Bowfin engaged a convoy of three transport ships and three escorts. Capitalizing on favorable positioning, Bowfin fired torpedoes from her bow tubes and her stern tubes. The 6,754-ton Tsushima Maru broke in two and two escorts disintegrated in blinding flashes of light. The other two merchant ships were damaged and believed sunk, though post-war analysis only confirmed the Tsushima Maru. Sadly and unknown to Cdr Corbus, the Tsushima Maru had been carrying a total of 1,661 civilian evacuees from Okinawa, including 834 schoolchildren.
ww2dbaseBowfin continued her patrol and encountered a trawler on 28 Aug 1944 that she engaged with surface gunfire. The trawler was left burning from stem to stern and her crew abandoned ship. Probably due to her small size, however, Bowfin was not credited with the sinking. Bowfin left her patrol area on 31 Aug 1944 bound for Midway but on 4 Sep 1944 she came across three small merchantmen. Bowfin engaged the Hinode Maru #6, the largest of the three, with gunfire resulting in several fires and causing the crew to abandon ship. Bowfin tried to finish the ship off with torpedoes at point blank range but four separate fish ran erratic and missed. The submarine left Hinode Maru to her fires and continued on toward Midway. After stopping briefly at Midway for fuel, Bowfin ended her patrol at Pearl Harbor on 13 Sep 1944.
ww2dbaseThe submarine departed Pearl Harbor two days later bound for Mare Island Naval Shipyard in San Francisco Bay for a much needed overhaul and upgrades. Bowfin arrived at Mare Island on 21 Sep 1944 and two days later received a change in command. Commander Alexander K. Tyree relieved Commander Corbus as commanding officer and Lieutenant C.L. John relieved Lieutenant D. Cone as Executive Officer. There were large scale replacements among the crew as well. On 16 Dec 1944, after thirty major improvements including the installation of an ice cream maker, Bowfin departed San Francisco Bay bound for Pearl Harbor. Once in Hawaii, Bowfin entered a period of intensified training.
ww2dbaseBowfin left Pearl Harbor on 25 Jan 1945 on her seventh war patrol but this time as part of a wolfpack with submarines USS Piper, Trepang, Pomfret, and Sterlet. Officially the four submarines were known as a coordinated attack group, or Task Group 17.17, but were informally known as "Mac's Mops" after wolfpack commander Bernard McMahon in Piper. The group sailed initially to Saipan, arriving 6 Feb 1945 and then sailed two days later for their patrol area southeast of Honshu, Japan. The primary mission, as always, was to sink enemy shipping but by this stage of the war, there was not much Japanese shipping left on the open seas so Mac's Mops' secondary mission was lifeguard duty to rescue any downed airmen from the many air raids taking place over Japan. Bowfin spent five weeks off the coast of Japan having more contact with American aircraft and submarines than with Japanese air patrols or shipping. She did exchange surface gunfire with two picket boats on 4 Mar 1945 where one Bowfin sailor suffered severe shrapnel wounds to both legs. This would be the only injury from enemy action sustained by any member of Bowfin crew during any of her war patrols. As for lifeguard duties, on 19 Mar 1945 a TBM-3 Avenger from Torpedo Squadron 83 flying from USS Essex made a water landing close aboard Bowfin due its tail being shot away on a raid on the Naval base at Kure, Japan. Within minutes, pilot Lieutenant Ray Plant and gunner Aviation Machinists Mate 3rd-class James Papazoglakis were safely aboard the submarine.
ww2dbaseThe next day, Bowfin and the rest of Mac's Mops left their patrol aera. Piper, Pomfret, and Sterlet sailed for Midway while Bowfin and Trepang arrived at Guam on 25 Mar 1945. For his performance on this patrol, Commander Tyree was awarded the Navy Cross. Bowfin spent a month in refit while her crew spent the month at Camp Dealey, a Rest and Recreation camp on Guam used primarily by submarine crews between patrols. Bowfin's crew won a closely contested baseball tournament against the crews from submarines Springer, Trepang, and Bluefish.
ww2dbaseBowfin sailed on her eighth war patrol on 23 Apr 1945. This was to be another solo patrol effort originally set for the East China Sea but after two days at sea, her orders were changed and she sailed toward northeastern Japan instead. On 1 May 1945, Bowfin's third birthday, she spotted the 2,720-ton Passenger-Cargo ship Chowa Maru southeast of Hokkaido, Japan. Bowfin fired two torpedoes and Chowa Maru sank within 10 minutes with the loss of 41 crewmen. She would sink another smaller vessel a week later but this would be all for Bowfin for this patrol. She left her patrol area on 10 May 1945 and arrived at Guam five days later.
ww2dbaseAfter a brief refit, Bowfin began training for her next patrol, which would be groundbreaking in submarine warfare. On 24 May 1945 while returning to Guam from one of her daily training voyages, an alert bridge watch saw a friendly F6F Hellcat crash into the sea six miles away. Bowfin sped to the location and rescued Marine pilot 2nd-Lieutenant E.D. Van Keuran from the water.
ww2dbaseFor her ninth war patrol, Bowfin and eight other submarines had been fitted with FM sonar designed to detect underwater objects, particularly mines. Together, these nine submarines were to implement a daring plan created by Commander William "Barney" Sieglaff and approved personally by overall Pacific Area submarine commander Vice Admiral Charles Lockwood. The plan involved the large wolfpack using the FM sonar to navigate through the heavily mined Tsushima Strait and into the previously inaccessible Sea of Japan. The operation would be known as Operation Barney and would be under the tactical command of Commander Earl Hydeman, captain of the submarine USS Sea Dog. The nine submarines involved would be known collectively as Hydeman's Hellcats but the nine boats were subdivided into three sections of three boats each. Section One, commanded by Hydeman, was known as Heydeman's Hepcats and consisted of Sea Dog, Spadefish, and Crevalle. Section Two was known as Pierce's Polecats, after USS Tunny captain Commander George Pierce, and consisted of Tunny, Skate, and Bonefish. Section Three was known as Bob's Bobcats, after USS Flying Fish captain Commander Robert Risser, and consisted of Flying Fish, Tinosa, and Bowfin.
ww2dbaseBowfin, Flying Fish, and Tinosa departed Guam on 29 May 1945 bound for the Sea of Japan. On 1 and 2 Jun 1945, the submarines were diverted to lifeguard duty on a report of a downed B-29 Superfortress near their track about 150 miles north of Chichi Jima. Heavy fog prevented an efficient search but 24-hours after the aircrew bailed out, Tinosa located them and took aboard ten uninjured airmen of the bomber "Sky-Scrapper."
ww2dbaseBowfin and the other Bobcats transited the dangerously mined waters of Tsushima Strait on 6 Jun 1945 and entered the Sea of Japan, known as "the Emperor's Back Yard." During the transit, the FM sonar sounded its alarm when an underwater object, like a mine, was detected within 300 feet of the submarine. So startling was the sound of the alarm that the system was known as "Hell's Bells." At one point, Bowfin's crew listened ominously as a mine's mooring cable scraped down the length of the boat's steel hull. Once in the Sea of Japan, Bowfin took her station patrolling off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula. On 11 Jun 1945 off Wonsan Harbor, Bowfin developed a torpedo attack on the 1,898-ton Passenger-Cargo ship Shinyo Maru No. 3 steaming alone. One of Bowfin's four torpedoes struck the ship and she sank within 3 minutes. Two days later in the same area, the 887-ton cargo ship Akiura Maru met the same fate. The three Bobcat boats were set to rendezvous on 16 Jun 1945. Bowfin showed up at the rally point but never made contact with Flying Fish or Tinosa. After six hours and with daylight approaching, Bowfin continued on her way without making contact with her mates. On 18 Jun 1945, Bowfin came under surface attack by two Japanese escort vessels in a heavy fog. Despite the poor visibility, the gunfire closed in on Bowfin until one shell sprayed the boat with shrapnel. At that point, Bowfin went deep and evaded the attackers. The experience convinced Cdr Tyree that the Japanese were able to coordinate an attack while using a radar band the Bowfin could not detect but with the ability to detect the submarine's surface radar band. On the night of 23 Jun 1945, Bowfin finally made her rendezvous with Flying Fish and Tinosa. The following night, the three submarines made a daring dash through the dangerously well-patrolled, not to mention heavily mined, La PĂ©rouse Strait at the northern end of the Japanese island group between Japanese and Russian islands. Although uncertain at the time, these were also the waters where the submarine USS Wahoo was lost in 1943 and whose revenge Operation Barney was all about. Despite the risks, the three submarines made the transit into the vast Pacific and set their courses for Midway. Bowfin's log for the mid-watch on 26 Jun 1945 says they witnessed a partial lunar eclipse as they sailed eastward. Bowfin reached Midway on 30 Jun 1945 where she received fuel, fresh provisions, mail, and two Japanese prisoners for transportation to Pearl Harbor. After only four hours at Midway, Bowfin pressed on toward Pearl Harbor in company with USS Skate. At dawn on 4 Jul 1945 off the coast of Oahu, Bowfin met up with Flying Fish, Spadefish, Tinosa, and Skate along with destroyer USS Pruitt as escort. Pruitt had embarked the photographic units of both the submarine commander Admiral Lockwood and the fleet commander Admiral Nimitz to photograph the submarines on their triumphant return. By 1030 that morning, all five submarines were tied up side-by-side at the submarine base in Pearl Harbor.
ww2dbaseUSS Bonefish was never heard from again but all eight of the other Hydeman's Hellcats returned safely. So impressed was Admiral Lockwood with the mission's success in penetrating the Sea of Japan that he awarded the Navy Cross, or gold star in lieu thereof, to all nine boat captains. That included a posthumous second gold star to Commander Lawrence Edge of Bonefish. Admiral Lockwood also created The Distinguished Order of the Mighty Mine Dodgers with suitable certificates issued to every officer and crewmember who made this patrol.
ww2dbaseBowfin submitted to the usual post-patrol refit before preparing for her tenth war patrol. She departed Pearl Harbor on about 11 Aug 1945 bound for Guam where she was to begin her patrol but on 15 Aug 1945, with the surrender of Japan, Bowfin was ordered to return to Pearl Harbor. Bowfin was transferred to the Atlantic Fleet and departed Pearl Harbor on 29 Aug 1945 bound for Tompkinsville on Staten Island in New York via the Panama Canal. Bowfin served in the Atlantic Fleet until she was decommissioned at New London, Connecticut on 12 Feb 1947 and placed in reserve.
ww2dbaseBowfin completed nine successful war patrols during World War II (nine battle stars) and traversed over 98,000 miles just on her patrols alone. Her four commanding officers reported that she sank 34 large ships and 10 smaller vessels totaling 179,646 tons and damaged seven others of 33,934 tons. Like most submarine totals, the official Navy assessment was somewhat lower, largely due to the vastly incomplete Japanese shipping records. The most generous post-war tabulation credits Bowfin with sinking 22 ships amounting to 71,000 tons. Even so, this places Bowfin seventeenth among the 188 United States submarines with official credit for at least one sinking. Bowfin was the only United States submarine in World War II to receive both the Presidential Unit Citation and the Navy Unit Commendation and she was also awarded the Philippine Presidential Unit Citation. Her wartime commanding officers amassed six Navy Crosses and one Silver Star while aboard.
ww2dbaseBowfin was recommissioned on 27 Jul 1951 for service during the Korean conflict and operated out of San Diego, California as a training submarine for the next two years. She was decommissioned for the second time on 8 Oct 1953 at San Francisco and placed in reserves at Mare Island. Bowfin saw life again as a training submarine based in Seattle, Washington between 1960 and 1971 but was finally struck from the Navy list on 1 Dec 1971. In 1979, Bowfin was formally acquired by a non-profit group seeking to make her a museum ship based at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. After much restoration work, the USS Bowfin Museum opened to the public on 1 Apr 1981 immediately next to the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument in Pearl Harbor. With the closure of the Navy's official submarine museum in 1989, all of their artifacts were transferred to the Bowfin Museum so that now the Bowfin Museum serves as the primary museum for the entire United States World War II submarine effort in the Pacific. To this day, Bowfin continues to receive thousands of visitors a year.
United States Navy
USS Bowfin Museum & Park
Pearl Harbor Historical Tours (pearlharbor.org)
NavSource Naval History
CombinedFleet Japanese Naval History
USS Piper Veterans Association
Last Major Revision: Aug 2021
Submarine Bowfin (SS-287) Interactive Map
Bowfin Operational Timeline
|23 Jul 1942Â||Balao-class submarine Bowfin was laid down at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, Portsmouth, New Hampshire|
|7 Dec 1942Â||Balao-class submarine Bowfin was launched at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, Portsmouth, New Hampshire|
|1 May 1943Â||Submarine USS Bowfin was commissioned at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, Portsmouth, New Hampshire with Commander Joseph H. Willingham in command.|
|10 Aug 1943Â||Submarine USS Bowfin completed her transit from the United States arriving in Brisbane, Australia for a period of tender upkeep alongside USS Fulton.|
|26 Oct 1943Â||Lieutenant Commander Walter Griffith relieved Commander Joseph Willingham as commanding officer of submarine USS Bowfin at Fremantle, Australia.|
|26 Nov 1943Â||In a blinding rainstorm at night, submarine USS Bowfin accidentally found herself in the midst of a Japanese convoy of large merchant ships off French Indochina (Vietnam). Nearly ramming one large tanker, Bowfin fired torpedoes in all directions sinking two ship and probably damaging others. In the exchange, Bowfin was struck by gunfire with a ricocheting shot that came up into her island. Damage was minor but affected Bowfinâs diving ability until adequate repairs could be made.|
|24 Jan 1944Â||Submarine USS Bowfin returned to Australia early for replacement torpedoes after several malfunctions. She put into Darwin where Rear Admiral Ralph Christie, submarine commander for the aera, came aboard to sail with Bowfin and watch the torpedo performance first hand.|
|2 Feb 1944Â||Rear Admiral Ralph Christie disembarked submarine USS Bowfin at Exmouth Gulf after observing the second half of the boat's third war patrol.|
|11 Mar 1944Â||US submarine Bowfin (SS-287) sank the Japanese army cargo ship Tsukikawa Maru, off Halmahera Island in Dutch East Indies, hitting her with all four of four torpedoes fired. Bowfin continued to attack the Asaka Maru, which had arrived to rescue Tsukikawa Maru's survivors, with four torpedoes, all of which missed. The Japanese minelayer Wakatake and army aircraft carried out ineffective counterattacks on the American submarine.|
|17 Jun 1944Â||Submarine USS Bowfin arrived at Midway en route Pearl Harbor, Hawaii following her fifth war patrol.|
|16 Jul 1944Â||Submarine USS Bowfin departed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii for her sixth war patrol.|
|10 Aug 1944Â||Submarine USS Bowfin attacked merchant ships at a dock on the west side of Minami Daito. Six torpedoes resulted in the destruction of three ships, the dock, a crane on the dock, and a motorbus on the dock being loaded with personnel.|
|22 Aug 1944Â||American submarine USS Bowfin attacked Japanese convoy Namo 103 and sank passenger ship Tsushima Maru near the island of Akusekijima. 2,251 aboard were killed, including 767 children; most of those killed were civilian evacuees from Okinawa.|
|21 Sep 1944Â||Submarine USS Bowfin entered Mare Island Naval Shipyard for a much needed overhaul and upgrade that would last three months. While at Mare Island, Bowfin received a change of command.|
|1 May 1945Â||On USS Bowfin's eighth war patrol, she spotted the 2,720-ton Passenger-Cargo ship Chowa Maru southeast of Hokkaido, Japan. Bowfin fired two torpedoes and Chowa Maru sank within 10 minutes with the loss of 41 crewmen.|
|29 May 1945Â||Submarines USS Flying Fish, Bowfin, and Tinosa, the âBobâs Bobcatsâ element of âHydemanâs Hellcats,â departed Guam bound for the Sea of Japan.|
|6 Jun 1945Â||Submarines Flying Fish, Tinosa, and Bowfin, the Bob's Bobcats element of Hydeman's Hellcats, used FM sonar to transit the heavily mined Tsushima Strait to enter the previously inaccessible Sea of Japan.|
|11 Jun 1945Â||Submarine USS Bowfin, patrolling the east coast of the Korean peninsula, torpedoed and sank the 1,900-ton passenger-cargo ship No. 3 Shinto Maru off Wonsan Harbor.|
|24 Jun 1945Â||Submarines Flying Fish, Tinosa, and Bowfin, the Bob's Bobcats element of Hydeman's Hellcats, exit the Sea of Japan with a daring dash through La PĂ©rouse Strait at the northern end of the Japan.|
|4 Jul 1945Â||Five of the eight surviving submarines of Operation Barney's Hydeman's Hellcats arrived safely at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii: USS Flying Fish, Spadefish, Tinosa, Bowfin, and Skate. All nine submarine captains from Hydeman's Hellcats received the Navy Cross, or gold star in lieu thereof, for this patrol.|
|31 Jul 1945Â||USS Bowfin, USS Pruitt, USS Florikan, and USS Hoe conducted exercises off Pearl Harbor, US Territory of Hawaii.|
|1 Dec 1971Â||Submarine USS Bowfin was decommissioned for the last time and struck from the Navy list.|
|1 Apr 1981Â||Submarine USS Bowfin Museum and Park officially opened in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.|
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