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Dr. Beynon sailed USS BOWFIN during WWII at the sound of HellsĀ· Bells. He is the author of The Pearl Harbor Avenger.

The following quotation comes from an article in the Smithsonian Magazine, May 2002 issue, page 28:

“and the feeling that comes over us … when we hear the bell calling us … the feeling that we are obliged to go.?”

The use of the bell in the early 1800s to call persons to meal times, to start and end work shifts, and time to retire from the busy day was a method to keep people on a strict schedule. The culture created by the ringing of the bell was a new phenomenon for the people who left the farm for employment in the factories of America. This newness regulated the lives of the workers as lamented in the story the Spirit of Discontent. One character in the story complained

“.. I am going home, where I shall not be obliged to rise so early in the morning, nor be dragged about by the ringing of the bell .. .I object to the constant hurrying of everything. We cannot have time to eat, drink, or sleep … Up before day at the clang of the bell … and out of the mill by the clang of the bell… into the mill, and at work, in obedience to that ding-dong of a bell-just as though we were so many living machines.”

During World War II, the ringing of the bell took on an entirely new meaning. Instead of the use of the regulation of the factory worker, the bell was a toll of danger. The United States Navy Submarine Service used the bell to detect the minefields within the Japanese sea lanes which were laid to disrupt the effectiveness of the efficiency of the undersea vessel.

The vast Pacific Ocean was dominated during the early years by the Japanese Navy. The almost 70,000,000 square miles of seawater were the domain of the Japanese warlords. A strong merchant marine was used to create the war-making potential of the Japanese economy. Ships containing war materials supplied the manufacturing power through the importing of oil, iron ore, coal, rubber, and foodstuffs from the neighboring islands. These materials were converted into arms, ammunition, and aircraft that the army and navy needed. It became a virtual necessity for the American armed services to stem the tide. America answered the call after December 7, 1941. Most important to this cause was the American submarine, which slowly began to stop the flow of Japanese goods.

As the 70 million square miles of the Pacific Ocean grew smaller and smaller, the submarine offensive was looking for new areas of penetration. About the only remaining area was the body of water lying between Japan and the mainland of Asia. This area was heavily protected, it was an in-land sea, and only approachable by three entrances. After much study seeking possible entries, only two were considered feasible. Russia was using the northernmost passage for passageway to the Port of Vladivostok. The logic and reasoning detailed that a submarine could tail gate a Russian vessel into the area. Such a decision was risky, but considering the possibility of available Japanese shipping the decision was made to give it a try. Before a final decision was made, the question was what would happen if an American submarine were detected while patrolling the waters. It was projected that all entrances would be blocked and the trapped boat would be sealed inside and hunted down until all food and fuel was exhausted. In light of all the scenarios, the decision to go forward was given by Admiral Lockwood.

It was into these waters a wolfpack of nine submarines commanded by E.T. Hyderman entered the Sea of Japan, known as the Emperor’s Bath Tub. The task force was coded Operation Barney and the nine boats nicknamed the Hell Cats. Entrance into the sea was effected by three boats entering on three separate days. Each boat was assigned an area for patrolling and seeking out the enemy.

Intelligence reports indicated the scheduled path into the Sea of Japan was protected by four lines of mines. These explosives were set at 13 meters to interrupt periscope depth entry. A second line was set at 23 meters and the third and fourth lines were at depths of three and four meters to intercept boats entering on the surface.

To prepare for the invasion of the Emperor’s sacred waters, a new field detection instrument, the FM sonar, was installed on the selected submarines. USS BOWFIN had tested an earlier version on its seventh patrol. The new system was capable of detecting individual mines at a distance of one-third of a mile-1760 feet. When a mine was detected the sonar gave off a clear bell tone. This sound became known as Hell’s Bells. The sound and the distance allowed the submarine skipper time to evade the inevitable.

The author was aboard USS BOWFIN (SS 287) as she began her venture. On June 6, 1945 at 0318 the boat dove to 150 feet and slowly progressed on her journey. The time elapsed into a trip of 17 hours and 24 minutes. BOWFIN was assigned an area near the Port of Kanan. The area proved of little value as only fishing boats became possible targets. Succeeding days proved more successful. The second day on station, the submarine spotted a freighter. Battle stations were ordered and four bow torpedoes were fired. The bridge station witnessed one hit at midships. Six minutes later the ship’s bow pointed skyward and 30 seconds later she was gone.

White patrolling the Gensan-Konan traffic lane another freighter became a target. Three forward torpedoes proved the death of another enemy vessel. A periscope look only revealed one life boat upside down and one sailor holding on for dear life. What was had disappeared. Eleven days into the patrol run, BOWFIN headed for a rendezvous with two other boats. Transmitted messages were unheeded. Not being able to interpret the silence, Captain Tyree returned to his original assigned station. Luck was not the skipper’s escort. The only target available was a clearly identified Russian freighter.

June 23, 1945 was gathering day for the nine boats which had entered the private lake. Eight boats reported; one was missing. USS BONEFISH was last reported in the Bay of Toyama Wan off the North coast of Honshu. With the loss of BONEFISH the Silent Service cannot consider any foray into enemy territory a success. With deep regrets for loss shipmates, the remaining boats returned to Pearl Harbor. After the war the accomplishments of the nine boats was best described as:

What they had done was remarkable in anyone’s book. They had sailed up through the East China Sea, and then through Tsushima Strait that runs between T-sushima Island and Kysuhu and had gotten into the innermost of Japanese waters. This was a protected area where shipping moved freely. The Japanese had believed that no enemy could ever penetrate the minefields of this region. The Sea of Japan was the area most used by the war machine of Japan. Escorts and destroyers were protecting vessels transporting war materials and personnel between Korea and Manchuria where most of the materials were manufactured. Foodstuffs had been cut off from Indochina, Thailand, and Manila and were now being shipped out of South Korea. These commodities were vital to Japan and were now eager targets for the nine American submarines.

So go the stories of The Ringing of the Bells. In one instance a call to work, in another, a warning of imminent danger.

Naval Submarine League

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