PATROL 2 - PRESIDENTIAL UNIT CITATION
1 November 1943 to 9 December 1943
On USS Bowfin’s second war patrol they sailed from Fremantle towards the South China Sea with a new commanding officer, LCDR Walter Thomas Griffith. This was LCDR Griffith’s first war patrol as commanding officer, before he had served five years aboard USS Porpoise (SS-177). The challenge of being alone in enemy territory started on 9 November when Bowfin encountered a convoy of five two-mastered schooners scattered throughout the South China Sea. The crew of Bowfin sank four of the five with their deck guns before being forced under by a patrol plane. Two days later Bowfin encountered two small tankers that were sitting low in the water, indicating they were near maximum capacity. Bowfin hit both vessels from the forward and aft torpedo rooms and set them ablaze. Quickly vacating the area Bowfin checked on the burning ships from 20 miles away and saw both ships lit up like the Fourth of July.
It was smooth sailing until 26 November when Bowfin saw more intense action. LCDR Griffith and crew had spotted several ships about a mile away from them, as well as several that were right on top of them! Griffith had been maneuvering Bowfin to avoid underwater obstacles until he realized they were in the middle of a Japanese convoy! The convoy was traveling two by two in parallel columns and Bowfin’s first target was going to be one of the lead ships, which was a tactic Griffith thought best for the situation they were in. Three torpedoes were fired at the tanker’s bow which all hit their marks. As the tanker went down Griffith finessed the submarine to set up for the next target. Torpedoes were fired at the second vessel and hit the target head on which sent it up in what one of the crewmembers describes as a “volcanic blast.” Griffith assessed the situation in front of him expecting escort ships at any moment to fire upon them, but none came. Satisfied with the effect of their torpedoes they pursued the rest of the convoy. A few hours later a 5,000 ton freighter came into their view, Bowfin launched four torpedoes which all hit. After closer inspection it turned out that the freighter had been a French vessel that the Japanese had seized. This capture is indicated by the French flag on Bowfin’s battleflag.
On 28 November Bowfin and USS Billfish (SS-286) made a coordinated attack on a large convoy. Bowfin fired four torpedoes at the leading target, sinking it. Then Bowfin fired two more torpedoes from the forward torpedo room which both hit the second vessel, leaving her sinking. The third vessel turned and headed straight towards Bowfin and opened fire. One shot from the large gun hit Bowfin; ricocheting from the hull into the superstructure and exploded between the pressure hull and the starboard induction pipe, which made it so that they could not submerge. Even though Bowfin was hit the crew worked well together to fire two torpedoes at the attacking ship and sank it. Bowfin loaded the last two torpedoes on board and fired at one of the remaining ships in the convoy but the first one fired prematurely which sent the second off course. Out of torpedoes Griffith turned Bowfin away from the convoy and started a course to Fremantle for repairs.
On the way back to Fremantle Bowfin encountered a 75-ton yacht and sank it quickly with the deck gun. A few days later on 9 December Bowfin arrived in Fremantle and was set up with repairs so it could be ready for the next patrol, and the rest of the war.
PATROL 2 SUMMARY
USS Bowfin was underway for 10,023 miles during her second patrol. LCDR Griffith and higher authorities believed Bowfin sank 70,948 tons (nine large vessels plus five small craft). JANAC credited USS Bowfin with 26,458 tons sunk (five large vessels plus eight small craft). LCDR Griffith was awarded the Navy Cross and Bowfin was later awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.