December 7 1941 PDF Print E-mail

Submarines in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941

There were four U.S. submarines in Pearl Harbor during the attack:

Smoke rising from damaged shipUSS Narwhal (SS-167) - Moored starboard side to pier No. 4, Submarine Base, Pearl Harbor, T. H.
USS Dolphin (SS-169) - Moored port side to pier No. 4, Submarine Base, Pearl Harbor,  T. H.
USS Cachalot (SS-170) - Moored port side to Berth 1, Naval Shipyard, Pearl Harbor,    T. H.
USS Tautog (SS-199) - Moored port side to south side of pier No. 2, Submarine Base, Pearl Harbor, T. H.

Please note: some sources list five submarines in Pearl Harbor during the attack, the fifth being USS Cuttlefish (SS-171). According to her official history, "She departed Pearl Harbor on 5 October 1941 and was in drydock at the Mare Island Navy Yard on 7 December 1941 when Japanese forces made their infamous attack on Pearl Harbor." At least one source lists USS Gudgeon (SS-211) as being present during the attack, but according to her official history, on that day "she was at sea and out of the attacking area."

USS Narwhal (SS-167)USS Narwhal (SS-167)

Completed fifteen patrols in World War II. Sank seven vessels for a total of 13,829 tons. Bombarded airfields and oil tanks with her six-inch gun, delivered supplies, landed and picked up agents, and evacuated a great number of civilians and POWs.

USS Dolphin (SS-169) USS Dolphin (SS-169)

Completed three patrols in World War II. Performed reconnaissance in the Marshall and Kurile Islands, and served as a training vessel.



USS Cachalot (SS-170)USS Cachalot (SS-179)

Completed three patrols in World War II. Conducted reconnaissance of Wake, Eniwetok, Ponape, Truk, Namonuito, and Hall Islands, and served as a training vessel.

USS Tautog (SS-199)USS Tautog (SS-199)

Completed thirteen patrols in World War II. Sank 26 vessels for a total of 72,606 tons, ranking her first among all U.S. submarines in number of ships sunk and eleventh in tonnage. Laid mines, landed agents, and bombarded island bases. Received three Naval Unit Commendations.

Comments on the Pearl Harbor Attack
by a World War II Submariner

Bernard Clarey, a lieutenant on 7 December 1941 and executive officer of the submarine USS Dolphin, was a survivor of the Pearl Harbor attack. He spent all of World War II serving in submarines in the Pacific. He was also a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam Wars. In 1973, he retired from active duty as Commander in Chief of the United States Pacific Fleet. This is his account of his experiences on 7 December 1941.

Thank you. That day of great tragedy and heroism, I was having breakfast at our home, about ten minutes from Pearl Harbor, and getting reacquainted with my 15 month old son, following a 58 day patrol off Wake Island. The submarine force of the Pacific Fleet had been conducting defensive patrols off Wake and Midway Islands since early July.

At 0900, I was scheduled to take over command duty on USS Dolphin. Just before 0800, I looked out toward Hickam Field from our hillside house and saw smoke coming from the hangers and many aircraft flying very low and fast in the vicinity. There were also many bursts of anti-aircraft fire visible over Hickam and Pearl Harbor.

We did not have our radio on at that time and I thought perhaps a plane had crashed or that the explosions came from the ammunition depot at West Lock.

My wife, my son, and I, departed immediately to get me to my submarine moored at the Subase. I turned on the radio at once and we heard of the attack. We took the back road to the base which in a few minutes gave us an overview of the horrible sight of battleship row and the smoke and fire from burning planes and buildings.

7 December 1941. Note attacking aircraftConcerned for my wife and son, I got out of the car on the highway leading to the Pearl Harbor Gate and told my wife I would call home as soon as I could. I hitchhiked to the base about a mile away, arriving about 0810. USS Dolphin's duty crew had manned all our machine guns and small arms and men were shooting at the enemy planes as they passed about 400 yards astern of our position at the pier. None of us expected to hit anything but we led the planes like good duck hunters. They were just too far away.

There were four submarines in port that morning, which had arrived two to four days previously from patrols at Midway and Wake. Two of the submarines were given credit along with a destroyer for shooting down one enemy plane. These submarines were undergoing repair and refitting period with some of their machinery dismantled and some removed for ship work. Few naval vessels are more vulnerable to air attack as a surfaced submarine with hatches open and electrical and water lines connected to the shore. Yet the four submarines caught at their Pearl Harbor base gave a good account of themselves that day and in the following four and a half years of the war.

On that fateful Sunday, the submarines of the Pacific Fleet were widely dispersed. Of the 22 which comprised the force, 16 were modern fleet type, up to date submarines. Six others were many years older. There also were 39 submarines in the Far East at the time based in Manila.

Throughout the attack, the officers and crew of the Submarine Base were in the thick of the fight. Those who were not manning guns were rushing ammunition to the gun crews, serving in the Navy Yard with fire fighting details or working with hospital and ambulance crews and rescue parties. Some 1500 blankets and 2000 mattresses were distributed to sailors of the shattered surface fleet. Divers from the escape training tank and the submarine rescue vessel Widgeon rushed to assist in the rescue of men trapped in damaged ships.

The Submarine Base itself did not come under direct attack that morning. In light of subsequent events in the war, the Japanese must have felt many times over that they should have knocked out the Submarine Base and as many submarines as possible.

Our submarines quickly took the war to the Japanese homeland sinking ships along its coast and cutting off supplies from the rest of Asia. Fifty-five percent of all Japanese shipping, about 5,000,000 tons, and 215 naval vessels totalling over 500,000 tons were sunk by our submarines. They also rescued 511 aviators who had been shot down by the Japanese in various attacks. These accomplishments were not achieved without sacrifices from our small force. We lost 52 submarines, about one fifth of our force, and over 3,600 personnel. The total submarine forces of the Navy were comprised of about 18,000 officers and men, only two percent of the Navy's wartime personnel.

Admiral Clarey was largely responsible for saving USS Bowfin from being scrapped or sunk as a target, for bringing her back to Pearl Harbor, and for her eventual restoration. Bowfin serves as a continuing memorial to the supreme sacrifice paid by the gallant officers and men of the "Silent Service."



Secrets of the Sub

Hawaii Themed Submarines

Hawaii Themed Submarines


USS Kamehameha (SSBN-642) was launched on 16 January 1965 and commissioned on 10 December 1965.  This submarine holds the name for King Kamehameha the Great.  It is fitting that one of our submarines bear the name of this striking figure in Hawaiian history.  His people were intrepid seafarers and knowledge of stars, winds and currents still arouse wonder and admiration.  For much of USS Kamehameha's service, she was based in Rota, Spain conducting deterrence patrols during the Cold War.  Commissioning gifts to the submarine are on display at the museum.

USS Honolulu

USS Honolulu (SSN-718), a Los Angeles-class submarine, was the third ship of the United States to be named for Honolulu, Hawaii. She was launched on 24 September 1983 and commissioned on 6 July 1985.  Honolulu’s patrols are commemorated by ten surfboards signed by the crews aboard her at the time. One of the four surfboards held at Bowfin Park is on display in the museum.

USS Hawaii

The USS Hawaii (SSN 776) is the first commissioned vessel of its name. Launched June 17, 2006 and Commissioned May 5, 2007 she is fortunate to be homeported in her namesake state. The submarine was named to recognize the tremendous support the Navy has enjoyed from the people and state of Hawaii, and in honor of the rich heritage of submarines in the Pacific.

Hawaii is the third of the Virginia Class submarines.  The Virginia-class of attack submarines surpasses the performance of any current projected threat submarine, ensuring U.S. undersea dominance well into the next century.

Bowfin Museum collections include models of all three submarines.