Located in Pearl Harbor's Battleship Row in Honolulu, Hawaii, the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park commemorates the service of the USS Bowfin, a Balao-class fleet attack submarine famous for its “silent service” in the Pacific Theater of World War II. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor at the start of World War II, the Portsmouth Navy Yard in Kittery, Maine was commissioned to begin construction on a fleet of Balao-class submarines.
The third boat in the class was named USS Bowfin, after the bowfin fish, an aggressive freshwater fish species of ancestry dating back to the Jurassic Period, known for its ability to survive in waters with low oxygen content for extended periods of time. USS Bowfin was launched exactly one year following the Pearl Harbor attack, earning her the nickname the “Pearl Harbor Avenger.”
USS Bowfin completed nine patrols in the Pacific Theater during the course of World War II between August 1943 and July 1945. It was best known for its secret missions, including the sinkings of the passenger-cargo ships Kirishima Maru, Chowa Maru, Shinyo Maru, and Tsushima Maru, the latter of which was noted for carrying civilian evacuees, including more than 800 schoolchildren. Following her ninth patrol, she returned to Pearl Harbor in preparation of a patrol in the Marianas, but upon receiving news of the end of the war as a result of the surrender of the Empire of Japan, she was diverted to Tompkinsville, Staten Island and served as part of the Atlantic Fleet until her decommissioning in February of 1947. After a brief recommissioning as part of the Korean War, she served as a Naval Reserve training craft in Seattle, Washington for a decade before being permanently docked in Pearl Harbor for use as a public memorial.
Permanent Exhibits and Attractions
Today, the USS Bowfin operates as a living history museum, offering self-guided tours with an audio component. Visitors may choose between a standard audio tour or a family-friendly version, which may be used in correlation with a Junior Submariner program that offers badges in exchange for completion of activity worksheets. A VIP Captain’s Tour package is also offered, which includes a full two-hour guided tour of the submarine and adjoining facilities, led by a former United States Navy Commander.
Admission to the facility’s Submarine Museum is also included with tour admission, and features a number of artifacts and exhibits related to the history of United States Navy submarine operations. The intact Poseidon C-3 Missile, a 12,000-pound fleet ballistic missile, is on view with all of its electronics and propulsion technology shown in a cutaway display. The recovered USS Bowfin Bell is also displayed, along with four other submarine bells from the USS Narwhal, USS S-9, USS Snook, and USS Wahoo. The Bowfin’s second battle flag is part of a collection of submarine battle flag replicas from ships that served in the Pacific in World War II. Other artifacts held by the museum include a launching cachet and the Purple Heart medal posthumously presented to Bowfin crew member Reid Lee.
Outside the museum, a Waterfront Memorial commemorates the lost submarines and crewmen of World War II. Several missiles are displayed nearby, including the nuclear-armed Cold War jet Regulus I and a Japanese Kaiten, a manned suicide submarine missile. The McCann Rescue Chamber, used in 1939 to rescue 33 survivors from the USS Squalus (SS-192), is also displayed, along with the Conning Tower of the USS Parche (SS-384), which visitors may climb aboard and explore.
Ongoing Programs and Education
Tour rates for school groups, scouting groups, and homeschool students are offered daily, along with a Spend the Day, Stay the Night program that allows students to visit all four ship museums along Battleship Row and spend the night inside the USS Missouri. In-school presentations for Oahu fourth and fifth graders are offered on the history and technology of submarines, including a pre-prepared 20-question quiz available for educators. A research library containing materials related to submarine operations from World War II through the Cold War, as well as submarine design and technology and uses in underwater archaeology, is also available for students and researchers by appointment.
Scholarships are offered yearly by the Pacific Fleet Submarine Memorial Association for submariners stationed at Pearl Harbor. Since 1985, more than $800,000 in scholarship funds have been presented in the form of 10 scholarships named for individuals involved in the development and operation of the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park. Applications are submitted in March, with a scholarship presentation ceremony awarding funds in April.
11 Arizona Memorial Dr, Honolulu, HI 96818, Phone: 808-423-1341