Wednesday, January 22, 2020
Depending on the mission, between 70 and 85 crewmen manned the Bowfin submarine during combat missions in the WWII Pacific Theater. The submarine sank a number of enemy vessels using torpedoes and deck mounted guns. Attacked vessels and convoys often fought back with depth charges and surface weapons (machine guns and cannons).
During some exchanges of fire, the submarine got damaged and sometimes a crewman was injured. Fortunately, none of the crew died during their missions but on occasion, the submarine was damaged enough that it required immediate repair.
Walking through the submarine and crawling through the interior bulkhead hatches, one feels claustrophobia. It is a wonder that 85 crewmen could occupy such a small space under crowded and hot conditions for months at a time.
The Bowfin Submarine is inside the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites Visitor Center area. Entrance to the Visitor Center complex is a security checkpoint. Items like large purses or camera bags are not allowed through the checkpoint. Refer to Bag Policy and Safety Information in advance to avoid having to leave valuables behind in cars.
Thieves breaking into cars parked in the Visitor Center parking lot is a persistent and long term problem. Be sure to lock cars and put valuables out of site.
There isn’t enough parking. Lots often fill up before lunch and can remain full all day long. Some street parking is available but requires walking on a street without shoulders or sidewalks.
Tickets can be purchased at either the USS Bowfin entrance or at the Visitor Center’s Tickets & Information.
The narrow gangplank drops visitors on the submarine’s forward deck.
The deck feels narrow. Space between the conning tower and the railings isn’t large enough for two sailors to easily pass each other.
The passageways below decks are narrow and steep. Visitors have to stoop to get down to the main deck.
The forward torpedo room is crowded. Four torpedoes could be loaded in these tubes. The torpedoes used during WWII were unreliable with failure rates higher than 50% at times. This doesn’t count the number of times torpedoes simply missed their target.
During one attack, a torpedo was fired and it exploded just outside the torpedo tube. Fortunately for the crew, it didn’t sink the submarine. Most of the failures were torpedoes just stopping well before their target. Like they ran out of gas or something.
Crew member beds were stacked in between torpedoes. There was very little room for each individual sailor.
In the main passageway, hatches provided access to each section of the sub. During combat, the hatches were closed tight to minimize flooding, fire or smoke in adjacent compartments in case the inner or outer hull was breached. Getting through hatches like this requires hunching over to keep from banging the head and making a big giant step over the wide step to keep from banging the knees.
The wardroom was used by officers for meals and meetings. It looks like no more than six men could sit around this table bumping elbows.
Another hatch to another section of the sub. The bottom of the hatches, the part to step over, is around knee height. The top of the hatch is below where one’s head would be.
The sub’s driver or helmsman sat in front of these dials and gauges. The helm or steering wheel is barely visible at the bottom left of the picture. It is difficult to tell if the helmsman faced forward or aft. Did he drive facing forward or backwards?
Ballast controls helped keep the submarine at a constant depth, neither sinking or rising. The big wheels with handles were used to open and close valves affecting the amount of air versus water in the ballast tanks.
No idea what this stuff was used for but it sure looks cool.
The kitchen/galley was so small that their never could be too many cooks to spoil the broth. There wasn’t enough space for two men to pass each other. It is hard to imagine feeding 80 men from a kitchen so small.
The dining room/mess hall, like everything else was small. Assuming six sailors per table, 24 men could be fed at a time here.
It looks like 27 bunks were located in the compartment between the kitchen and engine room. Crowded conditions. No privacy.
The engine room seemed to be the dirtiest, least shiny area of the sub. The engines could be used to drive the submarine at or near the surface and/or charge the battery banks. When running off batteries, the submarine would be relatively quiet and it would be hard for the enemy to find them.
The aft torpedo room, like the front, had the ability to load and fire four torpedoes at a time. The aft torpedo room also had bunks for sailors to sleep in.
For certain types of targets, the deck guns were more effective than torpedoes. The four inch deck gun could take down most smaller vessels with ease.
The conning tower machine gun could be used against aircraft and boats that weren’t armored. The bullets from the gun could easily pierce wood hulls.
Additional outside display space is on the left as visitors walk off the gangplank. In the middle is the Snack Shop. To the right is the gift shop. The USS Bowfin Submarine Museum is on the right behind the gift shop.
The Snack Shop food and service was atrocious. Prices were high. Servers were surly. Food was horrid. Better food choices can be found between the Book Store and the Road to War Gallery on the other side of the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites Visitor Center area. You have to walk out that way to leave.
The gift shop was nice. We didn’t buy anything there but it was fun to just look around.
This was my second visit to the Bowfin Submarine. The submarine’s interior is more restored to its original luster than in 2008 when I last came. Nice to see improvements being made.
I see myself coming back here again and again.
Hope to see you on the road ahead!