25 August 1943 to 10 October 1943

After the launching of Bowfin she headed west towards Australia from Portsmouth via the Panama Canal, which she passed through on 15 July 1943. Then on 10 August 1943 Bowfin sailed into Fremantle. From Fremantle, Bowfin traveled over 2,000 miles to Darwin where she refueled, loaded up with fresh supplies, and torpedoes, then got underway. Once Bowfin was in open waters where communication was limited, Commander (CDR) Joseph H. Willingham announced to the crew that they would be performing a secret mission. The crew of Bowfin was ordered to transfer reports of secret and confidential operations, and other various supplies to guerrilla fighters in the Philippines. On 2 September 1943 Bowfin entered Mindanao Sea from the Surigao Strait in the darkness of the early morning and submerged near Camiguin Island to begin reconnaissance for the secret mission called BAKER. There were two parts to BAKER, the first was to drop off the supplies and the second was to pick up and bring home Americans. Later that day the signal was given from shore to Bowfin, once confirmed that the man was American, Bowfin moved in closer and waited until dark to surface and commence with the mission. When darkness fell, Bowfin surfaced and a double outrigger banca canoe flying a U.S. flag came alongside her to transfer men and goods. Once the transfer was complete Bowfin slipped out of the area and continued on with a very successful patrol.

Sinking of the Kirishima Maru, sunk on Patrol 1
Sinking of the Kirishima Maru, sunk on Patrol 1

On 25 September Bowfin sighted USS Billfish (SS-286) and together they performed a submerged attack on a large convoy. Of the five ships assigned to her for this attack, Bowfin sank a cargo ship and a tanker, and set another tanker alight. The next day Bowfin continued to follow the remaining ships in the convoy, however the gap between the convoy and Bowfin grew periodically throughout the day and they were not able to make any attacks. On 27 September Bowfin attempted an attack on an island steamer but the torpedoes failed to hit their marks, and one failed to leave the tube when fired. 

All was calm until 29 September when Bowfin geared up for the second part of the secret mission BAKER. Bowfin sailed for Iligan Bay off the coast of the Philippines and submerged off Salimbal Point to wait for the signal. They waited until the cover of darkness and at 1700 Bowfin surfaced one mile off the beach and took a banca alongside to prepare for men coming aboard. Nine men were taken aboard for transportation to Australia:

  • Grashio, Samuel C, 2ND LT U.S. Army Air Corps
  • Morgan, Luis P, Capt. Philippine Constabulary
  • Glover, Dewitt L, CQM, U.S. Navy
  • Offret, Elwood H, CMM, U.S. Navy
  • Owens, Paul A, CMM, U.S. Navy
  • Napolillo, Francis J, SC1c, U.S. Navy
  • Tucker, Tracy, Tech. Sgt. U.S. Army
  • Minter, Leonard, Sgt. U.S. Army
  • Kurder, E.M., Civilian Director of Affairs

Samuel Grashio, a pilot in the Army Air Corps, was a survivor of the Bataan Death March, and was confined in three different Japanese prison camps before finally escaping from the Davao Penal Colony. Once he had escaped with 10 other P.O.W.s he joined up with the guerrillas to aid in the fighting.

Grashio, Samuel C, 2ND LT U.S.A.
Grashio, Samuel C, 2ND LT U.S.A.

After the success of the second part of BAKER, Bowfin headed back out into open water to finish her first war patrol. At the beginning of October Bowfin started to make her way back to Fremantle, where they arrived on 10 October. 


USS Bowfin was underway for 14,430 miles during her first war patrol. CDR Willingham and higher authorities believed, based on crew records that Bowfin sank 23,753 tons consisting of three large vessels plus two small craft. The post-war Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee (JANAC) credited Bowfin with sinking only 8,120 tons consisting of one large vessel of that tonnage plus two small craft. For this patrol, CDR Willingham was awarded a second gold star in lieu of his third Navy Cross, and Bowfin was awarded the Philippine Presidential Unit Citation.


On 26 October 1943 CDR Willingham was relieved by LCDR Walter Thomas Griffith. LCDR Griffith had previously served on USS Porpoise (SS-177) and USS Gar (SS-206). Willingham continued his submarine service, first as a division commander, and in the closing months of the war, as Commander of Submarine Squadron 28.