Bowfin submariner helps celebrate 70th anniversary

Published  12:18 AM HST Dec 04, 2012
Robert Beynon_Bowfin
PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii -

When Robert Beynon stepped on board the USS Bowfin as a 17-year-old sailor, there was a one in five chance he'd never make it back home alive.

"We had about 16,000 in the whole service (and) we lost about 22 percent," said Beynon. "It's the highest percentage among all the services, and unfortunately, I don't think we ever got the recognition we deserved."

Beynon is hoping to garner more interest about the harrowing experiences of World War II submariners as the Bowfin Submarine Park and Museum celebrates the 70th anniversary of the historic sub's commissioning.  Known as the Pearl Harbor Avenger, the Bowfin was launched exactly a year after the surprise attack that thrust America into the greatest global conflict ever fought.

"We sunk 44 enemy ships," Beynon said of the all-volunteer force that manned the Bowfin and the rest of America's subsurface fleet. "I remember one fella from Bakersfield, California who made one run and said, 'This is not for me,' and he got off."  

Beynon, 88 of DeLand, Florida, is on Oahu to share his intimate knowledge of the U.S. submarine force through his book, which was aptly named in honor of the Bowfin.

"I wrote it to preserve the history," said Beynon. "My book, The Pearl Harbor Avenger, is the authentic book written by one who sailed the Bowfin."

Among the stories Beynon shares with readers are the many close calls the crew of the sub lived through during nine war patrols.

There was the time the Bowfin had just torpedoed a tanker and was winning a game of cat and mouse with one of the doomed ship's military escorts.  Everything was going as planned until a metal drawer came loose and landed on the Bowfin's metal deck with a thunderous crash.

"As a result of that, he finally found us," Beynon said with a laugh.  "They went from the bow to the stern, dropped 21 depth charges in 20 seconds, (and) forced us down to 650 feet."

Diving into the depths of the ocean to elude destruction sounds logical enough. But there was one major problem – the Bowfin and other U.S. submarines like her were designed to withstand a maximum depth of about 300 feet.                                                                                                        

"We had 365 pounds of pressure per square inch on this quote, 'Old boat,'" Beynon said with a chuckle. "There was high-anxiety to say the least."

But perhaps the greatest trick pulled-off by the Bowfin and her crew came during the final war patrol in the summer of 1945.  That's when the sub found itself in a minefield in the Sea of Japan. Each one of the deadly mines was secured with a metal chain, and when one of those chains scraped the side of the Bowfin, it was several seconds of sheer terror for the 83 men on board.

"Fortunately, it scraped along the whole length of the boat, 315 feet, and didn't get hung up," said Beynon.

Although the submarine force comprised only 1.6 percent of the U.S. Navy's fleet during World War II, it was responsible for sinking 5,000,000 tons of Japanese war vessels, including eight aircraft carriers, one battleship and 11 cruisers. However, submariners paid a hefty price having lost 52 boats and nearly 3,600 men.

"I think we have to keep reminding the public about what happened, and hope that it doesn't happen again," said Beynon.

In honor of the Bowfin's 70th anniversary, the USS Bowfin Submarine Park and Museum will be offering discounted admission ($5 Adults) through Sunday, Dec. 8. 

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