History of USS Bowfin

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History of USS Bowfin

The Pearl Harbor Avenger

USS Bowfin (SS-287) is a fleet attack submarine that fought in the Pacific during WWII, and helped to make famous the term, “Silent Service.”  Bowfin was launched on 7 December 1942, exactly one year to the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  She was nicknamed the Pearl Harbor Avenger, so it is fitting that she is permanently homeported at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Patrol Summary

On these pages, follow her history through nine arduous war patrols, filled with hard work, frustration, courage, and triumph.


Tsushima Maru

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Tsushima Maru Sinking

Off the coast of Akusekijima
22 August 1944


Not until more than twenty years after the end of the war did the crew of Bowfin learn that the unmarked, unlighted passenger-cargo vessel, Tsushima Maru, which Bowfin sank off the coast of Akusekijima on 22 August 1944, was loaded with 826 children. They, along with some of their school teachers and a few of their parents, were being transported from Okinawa to the mainland of Japan to escape the anticipated invasion of the Ryukyu Islands. Of those children, 767 were lost; only 59 were saved.

Survivors of the sinking were not allowed to speak of the incident under threats of extreme punishment.

The Convoy


Ships sailing in Convoy Namo 103 with Tsushima Maru, on 22 August 1944:

Kazuura Maru (listed as Waura Maru in some sources): 6,804 tons. May later have been declared and used as a hospital ship by the Japanese government.

Gyoukuu (source is unsure of transliteration) Maru. (Further information presently unavailable, although the ship may possibly be the 6,854 ton cargo vessel Gyoku Maru, which was sunk by USS Thresher (SS-200), at 35-05N, 124-24E on 18 September 1944.)

IJNS Hasu (destroyer, Momi or Kuri Class); Badly damaged 16 January 1945 at Hong Kong by aircraft of TF 38; surrendered September 1945 at Tsingtao and broken up 1946 at Sasebo. (from: Warships of the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1869-1945, pages 137-138.)

IJNS Uji (gunboat); Survived the war; surrendered August 1945 and transferred to China as Chang Chi; taken over by Communists in 1949 and re-armed by 1955. (from: Warships of the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1869-1945, pp. 118-119.)

After the War
The sinking has been the subject of many articles and books published in Japan, as well as a good number of documentary broadcasts and even an animated feature film. Memorial ceremonies are held at sea at the approximate location of the sinking, and there are monuments in Naha City, Okinawa, and on Akuseki Island for those lost at sea.

Recent Findings

An investigation team from the Japan Marine Science & Technology Center (JAMSTEC) found the sunken ship on 12 December 1997, in waters 10 kilometers northwest of Akuseki Island, Kagoshima Prefecture. The ship was positively identified by Dolphin 3K deep sea detection equipment, which video taped the portions of the sunken vessel and found the ship's name painted on her hull.


Following is a translation of a Waka Poem by His Majesty the Emperor of Japan, for his Year-end Presentation in 1997 (Ninth Year of Heisei):

The sighting of wreck of the Tsushima-Maru

Foundered, with lives
Of the young evacuees
Held in her embrace,
The ship has been discovered
Far down in the ocean depths.


Note of Interest

The periscope photograph shown below has appeared in publications both in the U.S. and Japan, misidentifying the vessel as Tsushima Maru. Because the attack occurred at night, between 2200 and 2230 (10:00 pm. and 10:30 p.m.), and the ship (confirmed by all accounts) sank in less than 15 minutes, this photo could not possibly be of Tsushima Maru. Furthermore, Bowfin did not take any photographs of this attack, and the vessel shown appears to be much smaller and of a different type than the 6,754 ton, 136 meter long passenger-cargo ship, Tsushima Maru.



Report of War Patrol Number Six, USS Bowfin (SS-287), pages 13 through 19, for 22 August 1944.
Information on Convoy Namo 103 from the Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare


Hoyt, Edwin P., Bowfin, Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, New York, 1983 (pages 144-150)
Jentschura, Hansgeorg; Jung, Dieter; and Mickel, Peter, Warships of the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1869-1945, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 1986.

Shinzato Seitoku, Ah, Gakudo Sokai Sen Tsushima Maru (Ah, School Child Evacuation Ship Tsushima Maru), Tsushima Maru Victim Bereaved Family Association, Naha, Okinawa, 1978 (in Japanese).


From Sea Technology: Tsuchiya, Toshio, "Acoustic Instruments in Deep Water Search for a Sunken Ship," Japan Marine Science & Technology Center (JAMSTEC), Tokyo, Japan

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Patrol 9

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USS Bowfin (SS-287) - Patrol 9 nc1star

Operation Barney
29 May 1945 to 4 July 1945tyree-a-k

USS Bowfin traveled from Guam to the Sea of Japan, then to Midway and finally, to Pearl Harbor. (Prior to departure for her ninth patrol, VADM Lockwood once again rode on board Bowfin for a day of training. Bowfin also rescued another downed fighter pilot. FADM Chester Nimitz came on board and presented CDR Tyree with the Navy Cross, which was earned for Bowfin's seventh patrol.)

On 29 May 1945, USS Bowfin departed Guam and headed for the Sea of Japan -- "the Emperor's backyard" -- which she and the other "Hellcat" submarines would enter through the heavily-mined Tsushima Strait. They would be using the new FM Sonar mine detecting equipment which had been recently installed on each of the boats. The sonar emitted an ominous, bell-like tone whenever it came within 300 feet of a mine. Reportedly, Bowfin's crew could hear the sound of a mine cable scraping along the side of the boat's hull during the transit.

Once safely through the strait and into the Sea of Japan, Bowfin proceeded to her assigned patrol area, off the eastern coast of Korea. On 2 June, the group searched for survivors of a downed B-29. USS Tinosa (SS-283) eventually rescued the group. Initially, only two ship contacts were made, and both times Bowfin scored a kill. On 11 June she found a cargo ship, sailing unescorted, and fired four torpedoes, one of which hit. The ship was the 1,898-ton Shinyo Maru and it sank in only three minutes. Two days later Bowfin torpedoed and sank the Akiura Maru, a small, 887-ton freighter.

Several harbors were entered for investigation, but were found empty. On 18 June, Bowfin was the target of uncomfortably accurate gunfire and submerged to escape. On 20 June, a submerged six-torpedo attack on a convoy of three enemy ships in very shallow water failed as a result of poor visibility and attack positions, and the necessity to avoid Bowfin's own fourth torpedo, which seemed to be circling back.

On 24 June, the Hellcats rendezvoused in preparation for the wolfpack's exit from the Sea of Japan. One of the submarines, USS Bonefish (SS-223), did not appear. The remaining eight boats made a daring but successful high-speed surface run out of the Sea of Japan through the narrow and heavily-patrolled La Perouse Strait.

On 24 June, the Hellcats rendezvoused in preparation for the wolfpack's exit from the Sea of Japan. One of the submarines, USS Bonefish (SS-223), did not appear. The remaining eight boats made a daring but successful high-speed surface run out of the Sea of Japan through the narrow and heavily-patrolled La Perouse Strait.

4 July, a triumphant USS Bowfin pulled into Pearl Harbor, having completed an historic patrol that, in the words of Commander, Subron Ten, "... will live long in the annals of submarine warfare." VADM Lockwood awarded each of the Hellcats' crew members with a certificate enrolling them as members of the "distinguished order of Mighty Mine Dodgers" for their success in transiting what he called "the most dangerous of war waters."

USS Bowfin's ninth patrol had been a life or death situation in more ways than one. An aerial photographer, Marshall LaCour, who now resides in Washington, was chosen to film Bowfin’s ninth patrol. Mr. LaCour recalls drawing straws in a pool of photographers to decide which submarine each person would be assigned to. Finally, it was down to only two submarines: Bowfin and Bonefish. However, it was then decided that the more experienced photographer would go aboard Bowfin, the more highly decorated submarine. If Mr. LaCour had been assigned to Bonefish, he would not be here today to tell his story. USS Bonefish, one of the nine submarines to participate in this dangerous mission, was the only submarine that did not return safely from the Sea of Japan.

USS Bowfin was underway for 8,559 miles during her ninth patrol. Commanding Officer Tyree and higher authorities believed Bowfin sank 6,300 tons (two vessels). The post-war Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee (JANAC) credited USS Bowfin with sinking only 2,785 tons (two vessels). CDR Tyree was awarded a Gold Star in lieu of his second Navy Cross.


Patrol 8

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USS Bowfin (SS-287) - Patrol 8 lomv

Hell's Bells
23 April 1945 to 15 May 1945tyree-a-k

USS Bowfin traveled from Guam to northern Honshu/Hokkaido, and then back to Guam for refit by Fulton. Prior to Bowfin’s departure for her eighth patrol, VADM Charles Andrews Lockwood, Jr., USN, ComSubPac, rode on board to observe training. Original patrol orders were to proceed alone and without a coding machine, via the heavily mined Tsushima Straits, to the Sea of Japan and, upon successful arrival there, to radio ComSubPac to report the track they had followed through the mined area, mines detected, etc., and then to patrol the Sea of Japan. However, two days out of Guam, Bowfin received a message canceling those orders and instead, instructing her to rendezvous with returning USS Sea Dog (SS-401) to get her coding machine and publications for a brief patrol off the east-north-east coast of Honshu before returning to Guam in preparation for her ninth patrol. Bowfin did sink an enemy merchant ship on 1 May, after which its escorts dropped 22 depth charges over several nerve-wracking hours and drove Bowfin dangerously deep. Using her special FM sonar, called "Hell's Bells" by the crew because of the chilling gongs it gave off when a mine was detected, Bowfin conducted investigations of minefields near the eastern entrance to Tsugaru Strait, where several U.S. submarines had been lost. On 7 May, Bowfin sank another merchant ship and damaged another following an end-around run which skirted the charted mine fields.

USS Bowfin was underway for 5,649 miles during her eighth patrol. Commanding Officer Tyree and higher authorities believed Bowfin sank 9,300 tons (two large vessels) and damaged 4,000 tons (one large vessel). The post-war Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee (JANAC) credited USS Bowfin with sinking only 3,399 tons (two large vessels). CDR Tyree was awarded the Legion of Merit with combat "V".


Patrol 7

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USS Bowfin (SS-287) - Patrol 7 nc

A Cutie
25 January 1945 to 25 March 1945tyree-a-k

USS Bowfin traveled from Pearl Harbor to Saipan, then to Nanpo Shoto, then to the area south of Honshu, and finally on to Guam for refit by Apollo (AS-25). Her travels took her as far west as an area south of Shikoku, almost to Bungo Suido and as far east as the waters east and east-south-east of Tokyo. Secret MK-27 acoustic guidance torpedoes (called "cuties") were selectively used on this and later patrols by other submarines. A coordinated attack group of five submarines were formed and guided under the command of CDR Bernard F. McMahon of USS Piper (SS-409). This wolfpack, which was designated "Mac’s Mops," departed from Saipan on 8 February and was charged with eliminating any Japanese picket boats. The area they were told to patrol was a path through which U.S. Fast Carrier Task Force 58 would pass for the first strikes on Tokyo/South East Honshu. Since no picket boats were sighted, the five submarines proceeded individually to lifeguard stations. The remaining portion of this patrol was mostly dedicated to lifeguard duties in support of carrier raids and B-29 strikes. Bowfin’s assigned patrol area was south of Honshu. A Japanese destroyer was sunk on 17 February and another escaped due to a premature torpedo explosion. Bowfin was also on the receiving end of an attack when 26 depth charges were dropped by the undamaged destroyer. After Bowfin reached her assigned patrol area, she sank a small, previously damaged picket boat with 20mm and 40mm gunfire. A large sea truck was sunk on 2 March with only one torpedo. On 4 March a 5-inch 25-caliber gun attack on two picket boats resulted in returned gunfire and a shrapnel injury to TM3c Reid Eldon Lee, then at his gun action battle station. He was later transferred, at sea, to USS Sennet (SS-408), which was en route to her home base. A U.S. Navy TBM pilot and his gunner were rescued from the water after they crash-landed on 19 March just south of Kii Suido during carrier strikes on Kobe/Osaka.

USS Bowfin was underway for 14,325 miles during her seventh patrol. Commanding Officer Tyree and higher authorities believed Bowfin sank 2,950 tons (two vessels ). JANAC credited USS Bowfin with sinking only 750 tons (one vessel of that tonnage plus one small craft). CDR Tyree was awarded the Navy Cross.


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Secrets of the Sub

How Does A Sub Stay So Quiet

How do submarines stay so quiet?

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Submarines are the ultimate “stealth weapon. Remaining underwater to attack or use its sensors, quietness is critical. Through design, modern nuclear submarines have equipment mounted on special mounts to isolate the noise from the outside and reduce the noise signature of the sub in the ocean. Rotating equipment is checked from the design through operation so it is always quiet and it is immediately repaired if it is not operating quietly. The sub checks itself with its own acoustic sensors and establishes the most quiet lineup of equipment for normal or critical operations. Overall, the reason the submarine is so quiet is because every member of the crew knows how important it is to remain quiet and undetected ensuring the submarine can perform all of its mission.

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