Many of us might be curious, if not intrigued, to know what it’s like inside a submarine. The modern submarine USS Florida, for instance, is massive at 18,000 tons at full displacement and can accommodate up to 160 crew on board. Things were different for the sailors of WWII when even the most advanced warships could be cramped. So if you ever imagined submarines as cruise ships under the sea where you could watch schools of fishes swim by the window, then you’re wrong. It’s far from being luxurious.

USS Pampanito

World War II submarines were a lot smaller. For instance, the Balao-class USS Pampanito, launched in July 1943, only had a displacement of 1,526 long tons when surfaced and 2,391 long tons when submerged(The weight difference was due to water in her ballast tanks)In that very small space packed with machinery, 80 people (70 crewmen and 10 officers) had to fit in. Add their equipment, gears, bunkbed, food storage, toilets, sinks, and showers. There wasn’t much place to stretch. In fact, enlisted men had to share their racks on 12 hour shifts. Senior enlisted had their own, but junior enlisted had to practice what was known as “Hot Racking.” 

According to, here’s the specifics of USS Pampanito:

  • 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
USS Pampanito (SS-383). SuperchilumCC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • War patrols lasted 45 to 60 days
  • The Pampanito had its own ice-cream maker – an authentic machine is onboard for viewing.
  • The boat has a 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

At least it has room for an ice-cream maker? 


The forward torpedo room was generally the largest compartment on the submarine, until you started putting torpedoes in their racks, then it got a lot smaller. Sailors were also berthed in this compartment as well, so you tried to sleep while work was going on all around you.

Forward Torpedo Room, USS Pampanito (SS-383)

Torpedoes are underwater ranged weapons carried by submarines. They are launched, when needed, to fire at enemy ships or submarines where it explodes either at contact or at close proximity to the target.

Going back to the USS Pampanito, there were both forward and after torpedo rooms that carried a total of 24 torpedoes. Some crewmen even had to share their compartment space with 16 torpedoes.

Crewmen didn’t have much time to enjoy their food. They were almost always in a rush for their shifts, and heading to your post meant passing through all these tiny compartments as quickly as possible. They were working 24/7 for the ship’s vital maintenance.