Authored By Dan Alex (Updated: 3/17/2015):
It All Goes Back to Pearl
While the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by the Empire of Japan on December 7th, 1941, proved a costly loss for the Americans, the Japanese missed out on delivering a knock-out punch to the slumbering giant. The attack left the harbor facilities, fuel stores, aircraft carriers (away at sea) and lesser warships all intact - within this group of survivors was the burgeoning fleet of American submarines. Ironically, it would be the American fleet of aircraft carriers and submarines that would play a crucial role in the systematic dismantling of the Empire of Japan. By the end of it all, America would become a major world military power with a battle-tested fleet of silent killers while Japan would cease to be the mighty empire she aspired to be - now reduced to a conquered shell by her ultimate victors. Though Japan gained a tactical victory in the assault, it served as fuel to enrage and mobilize the American nation, now with nothing but vengeance on its mind.
The Balao-class Submarine is Born
In response to the attacks, the USN quickly put to order the new Balao-class of submarines. The Portsmouth Navy Yard at Kittery, Maine, was selected as the construction zone and work began on the vessels. Third in the class became the USS Bowfin (SS-287), named after the aggressive Mississippi/Great Lakes ray-finned fish, and her keel was laid down on July 23rd, 1942. Launched on December 7th, 1942 - exactly one year to the day of the infamous Japanese attack - with Mrs. Jane Gawne as her sponsor, the boat carried the unofficial name of "Pearl Harbor Avenger" throughout her distinguished tenure. The new vessel was officially commission on May 1st, 1943, with Commander Joseph H. Willingham at the helm.
USS Bowfin Walk-Around
The Bowfin was a perfect example of American submarine design of the time, full of clean lines and purposeful dimension. She maintained the typical design appearance of her counterparts featuring a flattened topside and a smooth contoured underside. The flat topside served the surface crew well and contained the sail, deck gun emplacement and anti-aircraft weapons as well as applicable surface systems. Her dive planes were held along the forward sides of the hull. When at rest on the surface the Bowfin exhibited a discernable "nose-up" stature. Her sail was held conventionally amidships and affixed atop the structure were her communications antenna and periscopes. The sail was stepped forward and aft, resulting in two platforms. Each platform mounted a trainable anti-aircraft gun mount. The deck gun was fitted a ways aft of the sail along the surface deck of the submarine. Railings were nothing more than two levels of rope strung across her design edges. The vessel was typically complemented by ten officers along with approximately 70 enlisted personnel.
Power was supplied to the vessel by 4 x General Motors Model 16-248 V16 diesel engines used to power electrical generators. There were 2 x 126-cell Sargo batteries and 4 x high-speed General Electric GE electric motors with reduction gears for undersea activity. All this power - measured to total approximately 5,400 shaft horsepower when surfaced and 2,740 shaft horsepower when submerged - was delivered to two propellers held underneath the hull at the rear. Top speed along the glassy blue was just over 20 knots while the vessel could gallop at just under 9 knots when underwater. Her range was roughly 11,000 nautical miles when on the surface, less that when submerged.
The Bowfin displaced at 1,550 tons when surfaced and 2,453 tons when submerged. She held a running length of 311 feet, 9 inches with a beam equal to 27 feet, 3 inches. Her draught was measured at 16 feet, 10 inches. Types like the Bowfin could go as deep as 400 feet in ideal conditions though, in practice, these depths were only used in extreme instances.
Armament centered around her 21-inch (533mm) torpedo tubes. As an attack boat, the Bowfin made use of ten total torpedo tubes, six facing forward in the bow and four facing aft at the stern. This is uncommon on modern submarines where the torpedoes are general launched from bow-only fittings. The stern tubes meant that the target in question be positioned off to the stern for these tubes to be effective. The officer in charge could then rotate his periscope to face the stern and call out the appropriate action. Twenty total torpedoes were carried aboard allowing for a great deal of potential damage to be delivered.
For surface work, the Bowfin was fielded with a 102mm (4-inch) /50 caliber deck gun. The deck gun could be elevated and rotated along its mount and engage targets within range and within its firing arc. Several crew manned the weapon and the system could only be accessed and fired when the vessel was (naturally) on the surface. Such a weapon was ideal in tangling with lightly-armed and armored surface ships where the danger level to the Bowfin was not overtly high. The deck gun could be fired with explosive or armor piercing projectiles and crews were trained well-enough to target specific portions of an enemy ship (waterline, bridge, etc...).
To defend against incoming aerial threats (or double the offensive power against enemy surface ships), the Bowfin crew manned a Bofors 40mm and a Oerlikon 20mm cannon system, both in single barrel mountings. The 40mm type sat at the lower rear step aft of the conning tower with the 20mm system on the step just forward. Despite the superstructures implements in the way, all gun positions enjoyed a large firing arc and the vessel could be adequately positioned to help engage a target more efficiently.