Built by the Electric Boat Company of Groton, CT, USS BONEFISH (SS-223) was commissioned on 31 May 1943. Less than two months later she was on her way to her new homeport in Brisbane, Australia; her first war patrol began on 16 September. The month-long prowl, which earned the boat her first Navy Unit Commendation, resulted in the damage of a freighter and two cargo ships and the sinking of two transport ships (9,900 and 10,000 tons, respectively) and a cargo vessel (4,200 tons). It was an auspicious beginning.
The majority of the next six patrols were just as successful. BONEFISH terrorized enemy shipping in and around Indonesia, Singapore, and the Philippines, sending a variety of vessels to the bottom or rendering them incapable of continuing to fight. On 6 February 1944, during her third war patrol, the boat had a close call when, as she moved into position to launch torpedoes from her aft tubes, she suddenly lost depth control, submerging her periscope. As nine tons of seawater gushed into the forward end of the boat crewmembers rushed to close the appropriate valves, saving her from a swift trip to the bottom.
At the conclusion of her sixth patrol in October of 1944, BONEFISH departed Australia and steamed to San Francisco for an overhaul at the Bethlehem Steel Submarine Repair Basin. Then she moved on to her new homeport—Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
At the end of May, BONEFISH set out on her eighth war patrol alongside USS TUNNY (SS-282) and USS SKATE (SS-305). Named “Pierce’s Pole Cats” after TUNNY commanding officer Commander George E. Pierce, the wolfpack’s assignment was to invade the Sea of Japan, along with two other packs of American subs (Hydeman’s Hepcats and Bob’s Bobcats), and destroy what remained of Japan’s overseas supply lines. BONEFISH made scheduled rendezvous with TUNNY on 16 and 18 June, but when TUNNY, SKATE, and the six other American subs that had been patrolling the area met up on the 24th to begin the trip back to Hawaii, BONEFISH was nowhere to be found. While the other boats transited La Perouse Strait and headed home, TUNNY waited three more days, hoping her sister ship would appear. She never did. The boat was presumed lost on 30 July.
Japanese records examined after the war indicate that on 18 June an American sub torpedoed a 6,000-ton cargo vessel in Toyama Wan Bay, where BONEFISH had been operating. The vessel sank, but its five escorts mounted a vicious counterattack that soon covered the ocean’s surface with oil and debris. BONEFISH’s luck had finally run out.
Eighty-five men were lost with BONEFISH. The boat was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation five times and received seven battle stars for her wartime service.