Motor Machinist Mate Alf Weidner of Venice, Fla. joined the crew of the submarine USS Bowfin (SS-287) in 1944. He was 18-years-old when he first went aboard. The Bowfin was a sub with a fighting reputation. She made nine combat cruises into Japanese held territory and sank 44 enemy ships. Weiner served aboard the boat during her last three cruises.
He took part in many of the sub’s exploits that would eventually make the Bowfin a legend. Today the sub is on display at Pearl Harbor.
“Our skipper during the seventh, eighth and ninth patrols I was involved in was Capt. Alex Tyree,” Weidner recalled more than 70 years later. “He took command of our boat in December 1944 when the Bowfin headed for the war zone off the Japanese home islands.
“We had a good patrol on my first raid. We were out in the shipping lanes looking for targets of opportunity and found a couple. We sank a Japanese freighter and damaged a tanker, “ he said.
“We didn’t know it at the time, but just below the horizon Japanese frigates were searching for us. They came up on us so fast we couldn’t do anything but a crash dive to escape. They were throwing depth charges all around us. We were down 300 feet and the depth charges kept coming. We finally reached 600-feet and eventually slipped away,” Weidner said.
This was about the time the Bowfin got an important visitor. Fleet Adm. Chester Nimitz was a guest aboard the Bowfin. His presence aboard their submarine would make a big difference to U.S. submarine warfare in the months ahead.
He was there to check out the American torpedoes. The sub fleet was having poor results with its torpedoes. If they hit their target with their torpedoes many did not explode. To make matters worse, some of these “fish” also had detonator fuse problems.
“Nimitz thought the torpedo problem had to do with the skippers of the American subs, not the torpedoes themselves,’ Weidner recalled. “The sub skippers told the admiral the torpedoes were duds. They wouldn’t explode even when they hit their mark.
“When we came off our seventh patrol, Nimitz said, ’I’m going with Capt. Tyree and watch what happens with their torpedoes. When the admiral realized the torpedo problem was real he demanded, ‘Take me back to Australia right now!’
Tyree headed for Australia. Nimitz fixed the torpedo problem American submariners were having with their torpedoes almost immediately.
“Operation Barney” is what they called our eighth patrol. They took our best subs and formed a wolf pack and sent them to the South China Sea off the coast of Japan. Bowfin was one of the nine submarines selected,” Weidner said.
“The wolf-pack had to slip into the Sea of Japan. That was a big deal,” Weidner recalled. “The Japanese mined the entrance to the Tsushima Strait, between Japan and Korea, the American subs had to navigate the treacherous waters. The crew of the Bowfin could hear mine cables scraping the side of their submarine as they slipped by in the dark.”
Once inside the sea, the American wolf-pack played havoc with Japanese shipping. On 11 June 1945 the Bowfin fired four torpedoes at a Japanese cargo ship. One of their torpedoes hit its mark . The enemy transport, Shinyo Maru, went down in three minutes. A couple of days later the Bowfin sank the 887-ton fighter Akiura Maru.
Of the nine American subs that slipped into the Sea of Japan near the end of the war, only the USS Bonefish was casualty of war. She didn’t survive the trip to what some called “The Emperor’s Back Yard,” the Sea of Japan.
Bowfin patrolled the eastern coast of Korea with two other subs, USS Flying Fish (SS-229) and USS Tinosa (SS-283).
On their way out of the Sea of Japan the eight remaining subs in the wolf pack made a high speed surface run through the La Perouse Strait between Sakhalin and Hokkaido Islands. It was a gamble that paid off for the American submariners.
“We returned to Guam in good shape,” Weidner said. “We went back to Pearl for a short refit. Then sailed for the coast of Japan and our ninth patrol. We were on the Pacific side of Japan this time. Allied forces were ready to invade Japan. The Bowfin and its crew were six miles off the coast, 200-feet down.
“We had no idea what was going on topside. All of a sudden we lost trim and buoyancy. By the time we got our trim back we were at 300 feet, down another 100 feet.
Our orders: ‘Stay right there. Don’t bother coming up. ‘
We were a few miles off Hiroshima when they dropped the first atomic bomb. We knew nothing about the bomb. We were lucky because we were 300 feet below the surf when it detonated. We were just sitting there in our submarine not knowing what was going on. Then we got the word ‘Continue up to periscope depth.’
“They kept us on station three more days after they dropped the second bomb. Then they told us to head back to Guam immediately. We went into Guam just to get our stuff and then we headed for Pearl Harbor.
We ended up back at Pearl unloading all our armament. Then we sailed for the USA.
“When we reached New York City we found everyone celebrating the end of World War II.
After he was discharged, Weidner went to work with Jersey Central Power & Light Company.
“I started at 89-cents per hour. When I retired 35-years later, I was the residential representative for the power company. He and his wife, Mae, moved to Florida in 1977. The couple has two grown children: Alpheus II and Roger. His first wife passed away several years ago. Weidner has a new partner, Mary. They live in Venice.
USS Bowfin’s historical significance
The USS Bowfin took on a life of its own after rusting in dry dock for decades following World War II. In 1972 RADM “Chuck” Cleary and RADM Paul Lacy asked the Secretary of the Navy for permission to acquire the rusty old submarine and turn it into a memorial in Pearl Harbor.
Almost a decade later the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park became a reality and merged its historical facilities with The Pacific Submarine Museum. It is supported entirely by private denotations.
The Bowfin was launched exactly a year after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. At the time she was known as “The Pearl Harbor Avenger.” During the war the sub made nine combat patrols into enemy territory and sent 44 enemy ships to the bottom.
Today the Submarine Museum & Park not only includes the World War II submarine, but a 10,000 square foot educational facility containing thousands of related memorable from the period. It’s within walking distance of the Arizona Memorial. Thousands visit the facility annually.
Name: Alpheus Weidner
D.O.B: 23 Sept. 1924
Hometown: Philadelphia, Penn
Currently: Venice, Fla.
Entered Service: 13 Aug 1943
Discharged: 7 Dec 1945
Rank: Motor Machinist’s Mate 3c
Unit: USS Bowfin
Commendations: Asiatic-Pacific Ribbon 2/Stars
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Feb. 19, 2018 and is republished with permission.
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