Never has history been so exciting.

The USS Pampanito - the acclaimed World War II submarine - is preserved and operated by the San Francisco Maritime National Park Association, under agreement with the U.S. Navy.

One of the most popular historic vessels in the U.S. with almost 200,000 visitors each year, the Pampanito is the only WWII submarine on the West Coast open to the public, and is acknowledged as one of the world's finest examples of maritime restoration.

While touring the submarine, visitors are transported back in time with the award-winning audio tour, "Voices of the Silent Service," which features voices and stories of the Pampanito's World War II crew.

The USS Pampanito is an authentic submarine
The boat (submarines traditionally have been called boats) has been restored to a condition representing a specific point in time - late summer 1945 - offering visitors an invaluable link to a critical period in our nation's history. In 1986 the Pampanito was designated a National Historic Landmark. The quality of national significance is ascribed to districts, sites, buildings, structures and objects that possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States in history, architecture, archeology, technology and culture; and that possess a high degree of integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association. Today fewer than 2500 places nationally have been deemed worthy of Landmark designation.

The USS Pampanito is permanently berthed at Pier 45, at the foot of Taylor and Embarcadero Streets in San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf district.

This is a Balao Class Submarine
The USS Pampanito (SS-383) is a Balao class submarine. The Balao class was a type of World War II submarine that could operate at a depth of 400 feet instead of 300 as did a previous class of submarine. This fact was kept secret. On its first patrol, the Pampanito dived to below 600 feet while under attack from Japanese warships. Its depth capacity may have saved the boat from being destroyed.

How the Pampanito got its name
The boat is named after the Pampanito - a small brown, black, silver and yellow fish that lives in the Pacific Ocean off Central America. All Balao class World War II submarines were named after fish. Disney designed the insignia of the Pampanito that's illustrated on the boat's battle flag.

When and where it was built
The boat was built in 1943 at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in New Hampshire.

The Pampanito's record
The Pampanito sunk 6 enemy ships, damaged 4, and saved 73 POWs. In accordance with navy tradition, the boat flies a broom from its mast on return to port, indicating a "clean sweep," which means a successful patrol "swept the enemy from the seas." The crew performed a dramatic at-sea rescue of the 73 former prisoners of war from certain death.

Important facts

  • Crewmen are called submariners (pronounced "submareener")
  • 70 enlisted crewmen and 10 officers lived aboard the submarine
  • 70 crewmen shared 60 bunks; officers had their own bunks
  • 70 crewmen shared three toilets, two sinks and two showers
  • War patrols lasted 45 to 60 days
  • The Pampanito had its own ice-cream maker - an authentic machine is on board for viewing
  • The boat has near-perfect restoration to its 1945 configuration
  • Letters, artifacts and memorabilia from crewmen and their families have been preserved
  • True to the submarine service's reputation, Pampanito chefs dished up the best meals in the Navy in its shoe-box size galley

The significance of this World War II submarine, or, Why we should care about the past
Looking backwards lets us study human nature and human interactions. We get insights into the causes and reactions people had to what was happening around them.

World War II shaped an entire generation, and changed forever the way people would see themselves and the United States. Living memory of the World War II generation is rapidly fading. The Pampanito is one of the last remaining artifacts of that era.

The Pampanito tells a hidden yet important story in local and state history. "No other state was as radically transformed as California by the events of World War II," says Eamon O'Byrne, Executive Director of the San Francisco Maritime National Park Association (SFMNPA), which preserves and operates the Pampanito.

"During the war this submarine was repaired and refitted right here, in local shipyards. The towns and neighborhoods of Richmond, Hunter's Point, and Marin City were created to house the African American workers seeking skilled jobs in the giant shipyards that built and serviced the naval and merchant fleets.

"The sheer speed at which these vessels had to be designed and built meant that the old way of doing things was not an option, and no other region in the U.S. was as rich in innovation and entrepreneurship as the Bay Area. The men and women who built and repaired the complex technology of the boat were among those who formed the nucleus of what is today our aerospace and computer industries. It's no accident that scientists were working across the Bay in Berkeley on what would later become the atomic bomb."

Why kids love to visit the Pampanito submarine
Going down on the submarine is cool. Being able to say, "I've been on a real submarine!" is a unique bragging right. It's an adventure into a mysterious, unknown place where a child's imagination runs wild. And it's an opportunity for them to learn scientific principles in an extraordinary, fun setting.

The Silent Service
Much of what submarine sailors do is secret. Because submariners didn't talk about what they did in World War II and even less during the Cold War, submarine service has become known as The Silent Service. Even today, life aboard a submarine is somewhat of a mystery, known only to those who work or live on one.

Symbol of honor
The Pampanito is a symbol of honor to the people who served. The San Francisco Maritime National Park Association staff, along with many dedicated volunteers and veterans, keep the boat in tip top condition and care for it so that future generations will be able to enjoy and learn from it.

Who operates the Pampanito
The San Francisco Maritime National Park Association preserves and operates the USS Pampanito.

About the San Francisco Maritime National Park Association
The San Francisco Maritime National Park Association (SFMNPA), has been bringing maritime history to life for more than 50 years. A community-based non-profit organization with thousands of members, SFMNPA supports the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park - the nation's only floating National Park at Hyde Street Pier. SFMNPA presents public education programs about the City's maritime heritage, and preserves and operates the USS Pampanito submarine under agreement with the U.S. Navy.

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For more information:
Director, SFMNPA
(415) 561-6662

Pampanito Home Page


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Version 1.04, 26 Nov 2008