The USS Pampanito was commissioned in November of 1943 and served in the Pacific Fleet during World War II. A Balao class submarine, she is 311 feet long, 27 feet wide and carried a crew of 80 sailors. Before being decommissioned in December 1945, the Pampanito completed six patrols, sank 7 ships and earned six battle stars. Most memorable may be her third patrol during which she rescued 73 British and Australian POW survivors from the wreck of the Rakuyo Maro, a Japanese transport ship.
The Pampanito was saved from the scrap heap and turned into a national museum in 1982. Restoration efforts since then have transformed her into one of the best preserved and most accurate of all the WW II fleet. She is docked at Pier 45 in San Francisco, and open daily for tours.
Tours are $9 for adults, $3 for kids and free for little ones under 6. They are self-guided and move from the aft torpedo room forward all the way through to the forward torpedo room. The cost of admission includes rental of a iPod Nano with a 12 chapter, 30 minute, section-by-section narrative that explains the ship’s operations and history. Many of the stories and descriptions are provided by crewmembers from the Pampanito.
The tour is highly recommended. Kids should think it is the coolest thing ever and, for adults, it is remarkable to think about what life must have been like during the war. 80 men, 3 bathrooms, showers no more than once-a-week, hot-swapped bunks (there were more men than beds) and extreme terror when the hull was being pinged. Spending time below deck is a powerful reminder of the sacrifices made by the “Silent Service.”
More impressive yet, the website hosts the now declassified Fleet Type Submarine training manual and 11 more multi-hundred page reference documents for every aspect of Baloa-class submarine operations including propulsion, air systems, sonar and torpedo tubes. Incredible!
Bonus link: more photos of my visit on flickr