Sunday, April 3, 2011

Things to Do: Pearl Harbor USS Bowfin Submarine Exhibit and Park

Also located on the grounds of the Arizona Memorial/Valor in the Pacific Park is the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum.  The USS Bowfin, nicknamed the "Pearl Harbor Avenger" since it was launched one year to the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, was one of the most distinguished submarines in the Pacific.  On nine patrols, the USS Bowfin sank or damaged approximately 54 ships.  The sub was named after an aggressive freshwater fish that survives in oxygen-poor waters by coming to the surface and filling its swim bladder, that can serve as a lung, with air.  This epitomized diesel-electric submarines on patrol.  Diesel-electric submarines need to surface regularly to run their diesel engines and recharge batteries.

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The park is open daily from 7:00 am to 5:00 pm, with the last admission at 4:30 pm.  Admission for adults is $10, kids are $4, senior citizens are $7, and if you just want to see the museum and not the USS Bowfin admission is only $5.  However, children under 4 years are not permitted on the submarine for safety reasons.  Remember, security restrictions prevent any bags from being taken in the park.  A bag storage area is located outside the park to the right of the entrance.  

Outside the museum is a memorial for over 3600 submariners that are still on Eternal Patrol.  There are 52 plaques for the 52 submarines and men lost at sea.

Each plaque has an inscription of the sub, its crew, and their patrols.  The life of a World War II submariner was dangerous, almost one in four Navy submariners didn't return to port.

Walking from the memorial to the museum are several outdoor displays.  One of the most unusual was the Kaiten manned torpedo.  Designed for a human pilot to guide the torpedo to it's target, many were not built with an escape hatch.  The torpedo was carried by a submarine "mother ship" until near their target.  The torpedo could hold 3960 pounds (1796 kilograms) of TNT and had a range of about 38 miles (62 kilometers).

Also on display is the McCann Rescue Chamber.  The Rescue Chamber is a modified diving bell and is lowered from a ship to attach on a submarine's escape hatch.  Considered a breakthrough at the time since they were few methods of rescuing the crew of a stricken submarine.  This was key in the successful rescue of the USS Squalus in May 1939.  The Squalus had a main induction valve fail and immediately flooded the aft (rear) torpedo room, engine room, and aft crew quarters.  Quick action by the rest of the crew prevented the loss of all hands.  The Navy dispatched several ships and team of divers with the McCann Rescue Chamber to bring them back alive.  After a grueling 13 hour rescue operation, the remaining 33 men were safely rescued.  

Conning Tower and Periscope Display of the USS Parche.  This is an eight foot diameter of the conning tower directly above the sub's control room.

The main and controversial weapon of submarines in World War II, the Mark 14 steam driven torpedo.  The Mark 14 was beset by technical problems at the beginning of the war, but with increased testing and improvements became the standard torpedo of the US Navy's sub fleet.  The Mark 14 suffered from running too deep, premature explosions, duds, and circular paths.  The last problem was the most dangerous since the torpedo sometimes circled back on the sub that fired it.  The final improvements made in 1943 dramatically increased the sinking of enemy ships. 


On to the Bowfin.  I would recommend getting the audio tours, since at the time of this writing, there are no guided tours and no written guides in the Bowfin.  I didn't get the audio tour and felt I missed out on a lot of history.

The tour is meant to go down the ladder and through the sub.  You come out at the aft (rear) torpedo room at the end of the sub and walk forward towards the conning tower and deck guns.  So follow the signs and down the hatch we go.  

Climbing down the ladder is like walking back in time.  This brings back memories of old movies like Das Boot or U-571, everything is small and cramped.  On a submarine, some of the crew had to sleep near their equipment.  

Space is at a premium and your bunkmates are 3,000 lb torpedoes.  In some cases, the crew would "hot-bunk".  When one man got up for his shift, another man jumped in his bunk to sleep.  Also notice the fan, there is no air conditioning on the sub and it gets warm down here.  

The hatches are small.  Watch your head and pick up your feet as you walk through the sub.

Through the hatch, you make your way to the control room, the brain of the sub.  I think this is the helm, but not sure since I didn't take the audio tour.

And here is the ballast control center, I think.  This is one of the most critical operations on the sub.  This station controls the depth and trim (angle) of the sub by filling and distributing water in tanks across the hull.  The weight of the water will keep the sub at depth or angle it up or down to aid in steering.  Helm and ballast control worked hand-in-hand in maneuvering in through island chains or around enemy ships and subs.  Also, the USS Bowfin had an improved pressure hull that allowed her to dive deeper than her predecessors.  

Going further in the sub, you come across the crew's accommodations.  Privacy is a luxury as seen by the combination of the washroom, bunks, and desk.  

Everything needed to be secured, including the water glasses.  

The all important radio room where the sub maintained contact with the world above.  

The more important room, the kitchen.  Yes, the radio room was important, but the crew cannot operate on an empty stomach.  I am amazed at the small size of the kitchen given the number of crew.  This is the equivalent of a studio in New York City, but you have to prepare three meals a day, seven days a week for everyone.

The other important room is the galley or cafeteria.  Here is where you eat the food prepared by the cook.  Like everything else onboard the room is small, cramped, and stuffed with valves, lines, and panels.

A favorite room of the crew is the rear crew compartment.  This is the one of largest compartment in the sub.  

The engines on the Bowfin.  Some of the literature on submarines said it gets hot back here when the engines are running.  The fans throughout the sub aren't for show, they are there to keep air circulating to make working conditions bearable.

Here is the control panel for the engine room.  There's more compartments to see, but it's better if you see for yourself.  

And the aft (rear) torpedo room.  This concludes the interior tour of the sub and it's time to get back up to the deck.  

One of the deck are USS Bowfin's hull mounted guns.  I think this is 5-inch Mk 40 deck gun and behind it on the conning tower is the 40 mm Mk 3 gun with the 20 mm Mk 10 gun behind it.  I'm not certain and really wish I took the audio tour.  

Walking through the Bowfin was warm and if you visit in the summer, it will get hot.  After going through the USS Bowfin you can check out the Submarine Museum.  As an added bonus, the museum is air-conditioned.  There's a lot of artifacts and history in this museum, hanging from the ceiling are reproduced battle flags of submarines that fought in the Pacific.

The submariner's equivalent of a slide rule.  For those that don't know what a slide rule is, it's a mechanical analog computer that engineers used before calculators were massed produced.  This is an old firing board for torpedoes.  Submariners would manually calculate a firing solution based on available data.  This is a far cry from modern computers that calculate firing solutions in seconds.    

On display is a bottle of water taken during the historic North Pole voyage of the USS Nautilus.  The USS Nautilus was the first nuclear powered submarine in the US Navy and the first submarine to travel under the North Pole.  Nuclear power revolutionized the submarine fleet, as they no longer had to surface to recharge their batteries and could stay submerged for the entire patrol.  This enabled the Nautilus to travel beyond the previous limits of submarines.


One of the notable exhibits is an old Poseidon C-3 Submarine Lauched Ballastic Missile (SLBM).  It is the only public, full scale mock-up of a Poseidon missile showing its electronic, hydraulic, and propulsion systems.  The Poseidon missile carried nuclear warheads and served as a deterrent during the Cold War.  This exhibit is big, it's about 34 feet (10.4 meters) long, over 6 feet (1.8 meters) in diameter, and weighs about 12,000 pounds (5443 kilograms).  

But wait, there's more.  There are obsolete missiles, torpedoes, uniforms, equipment, and other exhibits both outdoors and indoors.  Some guides recommend 2 hours per museum here, but it can easily go to 3 hours.  It all depends on how much you want to see.  If you missed the post for the Arizona Memorial, check it out here.

If you want to see another great exhibit, check out the battleship the USS Missouri.  You can get tickets for the shuttle bus at the ticket desk in the central courtyard.  Past the two Polaris missiles is the bus stop that will take you to the USS Missouri.  

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