First introduced as early as the 18th century, submersible vessels became a staple of warfare in the 20th century. Submarines made their first significant military impact in World War I, specifically as the German U-boats gained notoriety for their action in the Atlantic, disrupting shipping to Britain.
During World War II, submarines returned in even greater numbers, again with Germany’s U-boats causing a devastating amount of damage in the Atlantic. In the Pacific, submarines weren’t as pivotal to the war as were the aircraft carriers and battleships, but they still played a significant role. In fact, the very first US engagement in World War II was between the USS Ward (DD-139) and a Japanese midget submarine near the entrance to Pearl Harbor. Exactly one year after the December 7, 1941 surprise Japanese attack, the United States launched what would become one of the Navy’s most recognized subs – the USS Bowfin (SS-287).
After her service ended, the Bowfin joined the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, and in April of 1981 became the the centerpiece of the Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park. Within the museum is a series of exhibits dedicated to submarine warfare. Among the more interesting artifacts is a collection of submarine bells from World War II, each one in near pristine condition as they were never taken into combat.
At the museum, guests find bells from the following five World War II submarines:
Launched on December 7th, 1942, the Bowfin carried the nickname the Pearl Harbor Avenger. Over nine patrols, she served in the South China Sea, Java, and the Celebes Sea, where she took part in a skirmish during which she avoided damage from 20 depth charges.
After World War II, she served in the Korean War and was decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Register on December 1st, 1971.
Launched on Valentine’s Day, 1942 and sunk in late 1943, the Wahoo (SS-238) served seven patrols and earned three awards. While trying to exit the La Perouse Strait, Wahoo was fatally struck by a Japanese combined air and sea attack and sank with her entire crew. On December 6, 1943, she was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register.
Commissioned in 1930, the Narwhal (SS-167) was in overhaul when the Japanese launched the deadly attack on Pearl Harbor. Her gunners were responsible for taking down two torpedo planes.
She took part in 15 patrols, assisted in the Philippine guerrilla movement, and assisted in the liberation of 31 POWs from Siari Bay. On May 19th, 1945, before the war in the Pacific even ended, the Narwhal was struck from the Register and immediately sold for scrap.
Besides her bell at Pearl Harbor, two 6” guns are displayed at the Naval Submarine Base New London, in Connecticut.
On April 8th, 1945, the USS Snook (SS-279) vanished east of Taiwan and was never recovered. She served nine patrols since being launched in 1942 and, on the ninth, it’s believed she was sunk by the Japanese coastal defense vessels Okinawa and one or more Type C escort ships.
An S-class submarine, USS S-9 (SS-114) was launched in 1920 and didn’t see wartime service. She was decommissioned in April of 1931 and struck from the Naval Register in early 1937.