PATROL 3 - AN ADMIRAL ABOARD
1 November 1943 to 9 December 1943
On 8 January 1944 Bowfin and crew steamed away from Fremantle and set course for the Celebes Sea, yet again. The valiant crew was departing for their third war patrol and their second patrol with LCDR Griffith. When Bowfin was entering the Makassar Straight near Indonesia on 16 January the captain decided to remain in the area for an extra time to ensure they were not being followed or detected. The next evening they made contact with one large vessel and two escorts and Bowfin quickly set up for an attack. Griffith ordered four torpedoes to be fired, only one hit and they proceeded with two more torpedoes. One detonated prematurely soon after it left the tube but luckily didn’t cause much harm to the boat. The final torpedo hit the target but had only disabled the vessel. Two more torpedoes were fired, both detonated prematurely as well. As the moon began rising, Bowfin shifted position so they remained out of the moon light, and reloaded. When ready, Bowfin fired four more torpedoes all of which hit their targets and sunk one of the escorts.
The other escort was headed straight for Bowfin and the captain, by calculating the rate of closure, determined that there was not enough time to fire at it. They dove and rigged for depth charges, which meant closing all water tight doors, securing non-essential equipment and to begin silent running. By this time it was in the early hours of 18 January and over the course of the day Bowfin surfaced and submerged several times while trying to hide from the Japanese escort and other ships that had come up on the radar. They had radioed the task group commander to say they only had seven torpedoes remaining, which was not going to be enough for the rest of the patrol. Finally on 20 January, after evading enemy ships for two days Bowfin received orders to cancel the remainder of the operation and head to Darwin to refuel and rearm.
On 24 January Bowfin arrived in Darwin to reload and repair. When they left the next day their load included new torpedoes, more fuel and an Admiral. RADM R.W. Christie, the Submarine Force, Southwest Pacific Commander, who had served on submarines during WWI and the interwar period, arrived onboard Bowfin to see what it was like on a war patrol and to examine the torpedoes being used. Not too long after leaving Darwin, Bowfin damaged another ship in the Makassar Strait after a night surface attack, which had continued into the next day. On 27 January Bowfin sank a freighter in the Flores Sea, after which she began a day-long chase of a large tanker. Bowfin fired six torpedoes from the forward torpedo room, but all missed due to the target changing course. After reloading, Bowfin fired six more torpedoes for two hits. The Japanese tanker then fired upon Bowfin with four machine guns and two deck guns, forcing her to submerge. Bowfin fired six more torpedoes, two hitting below the tanker's bridge but the tanker remained afloat. The crew of Bowfin left the tanker, unable to destroy it without risking themselves.
Bowfin then laid a mine field in waters off Balikpapan. Post-war records indicate that at least two large vessels may have been sunk or severely damaged by these mines. Since Bowfin had no way of knowing whether or not enemy ships would eventually sail into this field, she claimed no results from them. On the way home, Bowfin sank two schooners with her 4 in. 50-caliber deck gun on 30 January. Bowfin and her crew arrived at Fremantle on 5 February 1944 after another successful patrol; this one made more interesting with the added crew member, RADM Christie.
PATROL 3 SUMMARY
USS Bowfin was underway for 7,949 miles during her third patrol. LCDR Griffith and higher authorities believed Bowfin sank 12,638 tons (three large ships plus three small craft) and damaged 18,200 tons (two large vessels). JANAC credited Bowfin with 4,408 tons sunk (one large vessel plus four small craft). LCDR Griffith, who was promoted to CDR on 1 February, was awarded a Gold Star in lieu of his second Navy Cross.