Only one creature in the ocean is feared more than any natural predator: the submarine. Capable of swiftly sinking enemy ships from the darkness of deep waters and quietly infiltrating hostile territories for the support of Allies behind Axis lines, the USS Bowfin was armed with two dozen high-velocity torpedoes and an array of high-caliber firearms to defend the lives of both the men on board and the lives of their families at home in the United States.
The first crew aboard the USS Bowfin got their feet wet the day of the ship’s launch, one year to the day after the attacks on Pearl Harbor that forced U.S. involvement in World War II. The Bowfin became known as the “Pearl Harbor Avenger,” and went on to sink more than 70,000 tons of Japanese iron to the bottom of the ocean in the span of her career, living up to the nickname long before the ship’s final decommissioning in 1971.
Ten years later, in 1981, the Bowfin was opened to the public for tours at the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum, which is adjacent to the USS Arizona Memorial Visitor Center in Oahu, Hawaii. It’s a must-see attraction for anyone visiting Pearl Harbor. For over thirty-five years, people have experienced for themselves what it is like to walk through a true-life submarine that was used in top secret stealth missions around the globe, and played a critical role in the strength of the United States Navy.
Submarine technology has certainly evolved since ancient times—even Alexander the Great was known for developing his own rudimentary type of submarine. Informative exhibits at the museum explain the origins of submarines in detail, and the complicated engineering of modern submarines which far surpasses the ability of the USS Bowfin, with features such as nuclear-powered engines and noise-reduction technology,
The Bowfin Museum also features a variety of impressive exhibits displaying intricate 3D models, detailed weapons systems, and replica bombs used by Japanese and American forces during the conflict. There are also. photographs, paintings, and posters. Be sure to visit the waterfront monument, standing in memorial to the devastating loss of 52 American submarines during the course of the war, taking the lives of over 3500 submariners.
For decades, the submarines that perished in the depths of the sea were simply considered to be lost, a tragedy written about in history books but their final resting locations to remain a mystery. With modern innovations in technology there are now groups of people who are dedicated to uncovering the graves of these submarines. So far they have been successful in locating five of the 52 sunken ships, found in waters all over the world, from the Gulf of Thailand to the freezing waters of Kiska, Alaska. The submarines of the time were stationed strategically around the globe for a variety of assignments, and the Bowfin Museum provides plenty of information on a multitude of submarines and their respective accomplishments, as well as information about the men who served on them.
If you’re visiting Pearl Harbor, or if you’re a native and haven’t checked it out yet, the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park is the definitive submarine experience. It will keep you fascinated for hours with all it has to offer, and it’s only a short walk away from the Arizona Museum, another must-see attraction to visit before or after you visit the Bowfin Museum. This is the perfect place to go if it sounds like fun to explore an actual decommissioned submarine.
While you’re nearby, be sure to check out the other Pearl Harbor historic sites, which can easily make for an enjoyable day’s worth of activities. There are food and beverage stands within convenient access of the Bowfin Museum and cameras are allowed, so don’t forget to take pictures to capture the memories you make that will be sure to last a lifetime.