USS Bowfin SS-287 (1942-1971)

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The USS Bowfin was launched on December 7, 1942, and after fitting out and shakedown training, it traveled to the Mindanao Sea.

Action in World War II

On September 25, the Bowfin and the Billfish attacked a six-ship convoy. Two days later, the Bowfin fired at a 1,400-ton steamer with little effect. However, on the 30th, while leaving the Mindanao Sea, the Bowfin found a barge transporting more than 100 Japanese soldiers. It opened fire. The target retaliated with machine guns. The battle ended abruptly when a 4-inch round hit the enemy’s magazine, blowing apart the sinking barge.  At the end of its patrol, on October 10, the Bowfin came to Fremantle. Its commanding officer received the Navy Cross and the chance to head a submarine division.

The Bowfin headed for the South China Sea on November 1. Cooperating again with the Billfish, it tracked five schooners.  It sank three of the five before bombs forced it to dive and escape with the Billfish. After dark, it resurfaced and sank a large sailing ship. On the 26th, it sank the Ogurasan Maru, a 5,069-ton tanker, and dispatched the Tainan Maru, a 5,407-ton freighter. It also sank the Van Vollenhoven, a 691-ton cargo ship.

On the 28th, it rejoined the Billfish, and together they attacked and sank a 5,425-ton freighter and a 9,866-ton tanker. Shots fired at the Bowfin opened leaks but did not prevent it from launching its last two torpedoes.

After the War

While sailing for its tenth patrol, the Bowfin heard of Japan’s capitulation and reversed course. It served with the Atlantic Fleet until February 12, 1947, when it was decommissioned and placed in reserve. On July 27, 1951, due to the Navy’s need for an expanded fleet, it was reactivated.

It worked from San Diego port for two years in local exercises and training operations. It was again placed out of commission on April 22, 1954. It moved to Seattle on May 1, 1960 to replace a training submarine and remained there for over a decade. On December 1, 1971, the Bowfin was finally taken to Pearl Harbor to serve as a memorial.

Asbestos in Navy Ships

Although an essential component of the naval fleet, especially throughout conflicts of the last century, submarines also pose a lasting health risk to soldiers serving on them. However, these risks extend beyond the inherent dangers that existed while operating the vessels during military conflicts. Unfortunately, products containing asbestos were also common aboard submarines because of the material’s high resistance to heat and fire. Despite its value as an insulator, asbestos fiber intake can lead to several serious health consequences, including mesothelioma, a devastating cancer without cure. Furthermore, the enclosed environment of submarines put servicemen at an even higher risk of exposure. Current and former military personnel who came into contact with or served on submarines should seek immediate medical attention in order to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.

Naval Historical Center


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