The Silent Hero of Pearl Harbor: A Salute to the USS Bowfin
The USS Bowfin, often christened as the “Pearl Harbor Avenger,” has graced the pages of World War II history with a distinctive blend of bravery, resilience, and resolve. This formidable warship played a pivotal role in the Pacific theater, earning a reputation as a force to be reckoned with and becoming an enduring symbol of America’s fighting spirit.
Launched on December 7, 1942, precisely one year after the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor, the USS Bowfin seemed destined for vengeance. Named after a freshwater fish found predominantly in North America, the USS Bowfin (SS-287) was a Balao-class submarine. Her commissioning into the United States Navy in May 1943 marked the beginning of a series of successful war patrols that would indelibly ink her name into the annals of naval history.
In the days following her commissioning, the Bowfin wasted no time in making her presence felt. Her first patrol, which began on August 19, 1943, set the tone for the exploits to follow. Under the command of Lieutenant Commander Joseph H. Willingham, the submarine engaged the enemy off the coasts of Japan and the East Indies, sinking two enemy cargo ships and damaging two others.
In total, the USS Bowfin embarked on nine successful war patrols, sinking a confirmed 15 Japanese vessels and inflicting significant damage on a further seven. Despite facing close calls, including a devastating depth charge attack during her second patrol, the Bowfin emerged from each ordeal more resolute than ever, reinforcing her status as the Pearl Harbor Avenger.
Her exploits in the Pacific were instrumental in destabilizing the Japanese naval supply chain, directly contributing to the Allied victory in the Pacific. It was a tactical triumph of undersea warfare, a story of raw courage and the unyielding determination of the crew, each of whom played their part in steering the course of World War II.
Post-war, the USS Bowfin was decommissioned and eventually struck from the Naval Vessel Register in 1971. She avoided the scrapyard, though, finding a new purpose as an artifact of history, serving as a living testament to the valor of those who served on board.
Today, the USS Bowfin rests in the heart of Pearl Harbor, berthed adjacent to the USS Arizona Memorial. As part of the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, the submarine is a poignant reminder of the past and an opportunity to step into the shoes of the brave men who served during one of the most turbulent periods in global history.
Her war record and post-war reincarnation as a museum give the USS Bowfin a dual legacy. She exists not only as a symbol of American heroism and resilience in the face of adversity but also as an educational tool, providing a tangible connection to a momentous era that reshaped the world.
Visitors to the Bowfin can take a journey back in time, exploring the torpedo rooms, the control room, the galley, and the cramped quarters where the crew slept. The experience is both sobering and enlightening, revealing the reality of submarine warfare in a way that books and films can never fully encapsulate.
Despite the passage of time, the USS Bowfin’s legacy remains undiminished. She continues to be a powerful symbol of American resilience and resolve, an embodiment of the unyielding spirit that led the United States through some of its darkest hours. As we remember the events of Pearl Harbor and World War II, the Bowfin stands as an enduring testament to the tenacity of those who fought, and an ongoing reminder of the immense sacrifices made in the name of freedom.
Mission Statement: USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park’s mission is to restore and preserve the WWII submarine USS Bowfin (SS-287). Bowfin Park’s parent organization, the Pacific Fleet Submarine Memorial Association (PFSMA), is a non-profit group that receives no state or federal funding. The museum includes an extensive look at the fascinating history of submarines from the first daring attempt in 1776 to use a submersible in warfare to the feats of today’s nuclear submarines. The submarine provides an opportunity for visitors to go below deck aboard this National Historic Landmark, the Famous World War II submarine, USS Bowfin (SS-287). Launched on December 7, 1942, she was nicknamed the Pearl Harbor Avenger and sank 44 enemy ships during the course of her nine extraordinary war patrols. The Waterfront Memorial stands in silent tribute to the 52 American submarines and the more than 3,500 submariners lost in World War II. The USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park is operated by the non-profit Pacific Fleet Submarine Memorial Association. Proceeds from admissions and gift shop sales are used to continue the preservation and restoration of the USS Bowfin. Write USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park, 11 Arizona Memorial Drive, Honolulu, Hawaii 96818, or call (808) 423-1341.
Submarine: Visitors are given a walkman-style cassette player that narrates their tour as they explore this historic WWII submarine to imagine what life on board must have been like for her 80-man crew. USS Bowfin was launched on 7 December 1942 and completed nine successful war patrols. For her wartime service she also earned both the Presidential Unit Citation and the Navy Unit Commendation. USS Bowfin was acquired from the U.S. Navy in 1979 and opened to the public in 1981. In 1986 she was designated a National Historic Landmark by the Department of the Interior.
Museum: Explore the intriguing world of submarines, both past and present. The 10,000 square foot Museum exhibits an impressive collection of submarine-related artifacts such as submarine weapon systems, photographs, paintings, battleflags, original recruiting posters, and detailed submarine models, all illustrating the history of the U.S. Submarine Service. Exhibits include a Poseidon C-3 missilethat allows visitors to examine its inner workings. It is the only one of its kind to be on public display.
Waterfront Memorial: Within Bowfin Park stands a public memorial honoring the 52 American submarines and the more than 3,500 submariners lost during WWII.
Hours & Admissions:
Located adjacent to the USS Arizona Memorial Visitor Center at Pearl Harbor
Open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., last tour of the submarine at 4:30 p.m.
Closed only on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day
Children under the age of four are not permitted on the submarine for safety reasons, however are allowed to tour the museum and mini-theater at no charge.