Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park: Outdoor Exhibits


By: Mark Loproto

One of the main attractions of the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites is the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park. In addition to the iconic submarine herself, the site features an indoor museum with artifacts and memorabilia from many different US submarines. Outside, there are more exhibits and artifacts. These are some of the fascinating things you can see on your next Pearl Harbor tour.

Kaiten Manned Torpedo

When it came to devastating Allied ships, the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Kaiten manned torpedo posed a deadly threat. The suicide vessel started to see use toward the end of the war, as the Japanese grew desperate to inflict whatever damage they could.

The sleek black torpedo sitting on the grounds of the Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park is a reminder of the dangers submariners faced at the height of the War in the Pacific. Powered by a Type 4 oxygen-kerosene engine, each Kaiten carried 3,960 lbs of explosives, enough to do significant damage to an American vessel.

Kaiten were credited with sinking the destroyer escort USS Underhill (DE-682), the  oiler USS Mississinewa (AO-59), and an infantry landing craft.

McCann Rescue Chamber

Bowfin outdoor exhibits: McCann rescue chamber

McCann rescue chamber

When a submarine sinks to the bottom of the ocean with her crew trapped inside, rescue seems like a remote possibility. That’s where the McCann Rescue Chamber came into play.

In 1939, the McCann Rescue Chamber took part in the only successful rescue from a sunken American submarine. After USS Squalus (SS-192) sank during a test dive, the rescue vessel USS Falcon (ASR-2) deployed the McCann Rescue Chamber. The chamber made several trips to the sunken ship, ultimately saving 33 survivors who had been trapped aboard the disabled Squalus.

Though the chamber didn’t see use during World War II, it’s a fascinating piece of submarine history and a fitting addition to the Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park.

USS Parche Conning Tower

Bowfin outdoor exhibits: USS <em>Parche</em> conning tower at the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park

USS Parche conning tower at the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park

From the conning tower of a submarine, a sailor could man the periscope to guide the vessel through the water and launch a torpedo attack on an enemy vessel. The conning tower is the “sail” that sits atop the submarine’s frame, a watertight compartment designed with numerous instruments and controls to help with the overall operation of the vessel.

Bowfin still has her conning tower attached, but it’s inaccessible to visitors. Instead, guests can explore the tower of the USS Parche (SS-384), a World War II-era submarine that was decommissioned immediately after the war.

Regulus I Cruise Missile

Bowfin outdoor exhibits: Regulus I cruise missile

Regulus I cruise missile

Another artifact that wasn’t used in World War II but still became a part of US naval history, the Regulus I first came into use during the Cold War.

Submarines and surface ships alike launched Regulus I missiles, which cruised for approximately 500 nautical miles before detonating. Though it was designed to cause extensive damage to enemy ships, in 1959, the Regulus I was used for a rather innocuous purpose.

On June 8, a Regulus I was loaded with approximately 3,000 letters and launched from a US submarine. Over the course of 22 minutes, the missile traveled just over 100 miles before landing at a naval air station in Mayport, Florida. Rather than detonating or serving as a test launch, the missile safely delivered the letters, which were written by the US Postmaster General, Arthur Summerfield, to political figures including President Eisenhower.

The launch became known as the “First Official Missile Mail.”

Waterfront Memorial

World War II Submarine Memorial

World War II Submarine Memorial

The USS Bowfin survived the war and became one of the most successful submarines in the Pacific, but there were many others that never got to witness the Japanese surrender. It’s estimated that more than 3,500 submarine officers and crewmen were lost during the war. Their lives were lost aboard the 52 submarines that were sunk in the Pacific during the many engagements with the Japanese Navy.

The Waterfront Memorial is dedicated to these brave men and the ships on which they served. Fifty-two plaques are arranged in a semi-circle around the American flag, detailing the specifics of each of the lost submarines. Information includes the vessel’s history and the names of the crew who were serving on board when she was sunk.

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