Warship Wednesday August 27, the plucky Perch, hardy frogman steed
Here at LSOZI, we will take off every Wednesday to look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, August 27, the plucky Perch
Here we see the Balao-class submarine USS Perch (SS-313) as she appeared in the late 1960s off Pearl Harbor with her crew in summer whites. This hardy vessel made seven war patrols during WWII then remained one of the last operational smoke boats in the U.S. Navy, seeing hot service in both Korea and Vietnam.
The 128-ship Balao class were classic 311-foot, 2500-ton ‘fleet boats’ designed to roam the Pacific on patrols that could last some 75 days due to their 11,000-nm range. Capable of making over 20-knots in a surface attack, they carried a staggering 10 torpedo tubes for which they stocked two dozen steel fish, as well as a reasonably well-armed battery of deck and AAA guns to sink smaller vessels like sampans and defend themselves against aircraft. We have covered ships of this class in the past here at LSOZI but don’t complain, they have lots of great stories.
Laid down on 5 January 1943 at Electric Boat in Groton, she was commissioned 367 days later and departed for Key West for training. Needed for service in the Pacific, she arrived in Pearl Harbor at the beginning of April 1944. Just three weeks later she left on her first war patrol. For the next year, she conducted a total of 7 patrols in enemy waters, often working as part of a small U.S. submarine wolf-pack, chasing down the few Japanese merchant and warships that remained afloat. She lurked in the South China sea, trading an attack on an oilier for a counter-attack by a Japanese sub buster. Perch managed to send a few small trawlers and coasters to the bottom in surface gunfire actions while plucking Navy Corsair pilots and USAAF B-29 crews from the Pacific.
In a sign of things to come, she was used to land a 12-man Australian commando force of the famous Z Special Unit on a reconnaissance mission to Balikpapan Bay, Borneo, Indonesia (then in the Japanese-occupied Dutch East Indies). The ill-fated force under the renowned Aussie commando leader Major John Stott was lost through no fault of the Perch.
Ending the war off the coast of Imperial Japan, Perch was decommed and placed in reserve in 1947. However, unlike many of her class, she was soon dusted off and in May 1948 she was converted to a Submarine, Transport (SSP-313, later ASSP-313, then APSS-313, then LPSS–313, all with basically the same meaning) then recommissioned.
Soon after the balloon went up on the Korean peninsula, Perch was used for landing British Commandos on raids behind North Korean lines. These were so successful not to mention hazardous, that Perch’s CO was made the recipient of a Bronze Star, the only such sub commander to win one in action during the Korean conflict. The sub added a fifth battle star to her record to go with the four she earned during WWII.
Except for 20 months when she was laid up (1960-61), Perch spent the next 15 years shuttling around the Pacific from the Aleutians to the Gulf of Siam landing groups of Navy UDT teams, Army Green Berets, and Allied troops up to company-sized on exercise beaches under all conditions. While the equipment was stored in an external dry deck shelter bolted to the outside of the hull aft of the conning tower, the embarked commandos had to hot bunk with the crew. Since there were some 70 enlisted berths, this meant an additional 70 foot soldiers could be taken aboard, if uncomfortably.
While many of her class had been upgraded or decommissioned, Perch remained largely in her WWII configuration, even retaining some of her deck guns in an era when most submarines in the fleet had removed theirs.
Then came Vietnam. From August 1965-October 1966 she landed UDT troops as well as South Vietnamese commandos up and down the coastline, performing classified “Deck House” beach reconnaissance missions and “Dagger Thrust” amphibious landings. You see these old smokers could come much closer to shore than many other warships, capable of floating in 17 feet of seawater when surfaced. This made them popular for these littoral missions conducted in the dark of night, especially in areas without much enemy ASW capability.
It was during this Indochina service that Perch became the last U.S. submarine to conduct a surface gunfire action while engaged in Operation Deckhouse III.
The last gun-armed US Submarine in commission was USS Perch APSS-313. She was armed with a wet mount 40MM cannon on a sponson forward of the bridge and a 40MM cannon on the cigarette deck. Her last battle stations gun-action took place on August 20, 21, 1966 near Qui Nhon viet Nam. Perch opened fire with both 40MM’s and .50 Cal machine guns to assist extraction of a UDT team that was receiving Viet Cong fire from the beach. On the night of August 21, 1966 lying to on the surface 500 yards from shore she again opened fire with her deck guns and machine guns on enemy troops moving into position around a small ARVN force on the beach. Several secondary explosions of VC ordnance was observed. The ARVN force was extracted. USS Perch was relieved by USS Tunny APSS-282 the following month. Perch returned stateside for decommissioning. Tunny had several members of her crew trained for rigging topside to allow UDT teams to concentrate on the mission, and a portion of the crew trained as a “reaction force” to assist UDT extraction, or repel an enemy vessel. Tunny carried .50 Cal Machine Guns as did many smoke boats that operated in that area. Source–SEALS, UDT/SEAL Ops in Viet Nam, T.L. Bosiljevac, Ivy books New York, 1990.
Her third war over, Perch was sent back home and used as a training and auxiliary vessel, rarely getting underway after 1968. On 1 December 1971, she was decommissioned and, at age 27, stricken. She was sold for scrap in 1973.
While Perch no longer exists, of her 121 other Balao-class sisters, one (Tusk) is still in some sort of service with the Taiwanese Navy while at least eight are preserved in the U.S.
Please visit one near you if you can and remember the old Perch.
USS Batfish (SS-310) at War Memorial Park in Muskogee, Oklahoma.
USS Becuna (SS-319) at Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
USS Bowfin (SS-287) at USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park in Honolulu, Hawaii
USS Clamagore (SS-343) at Patriot’s Point in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.
USS Ling (SS-297) at New Jersey Naval Museum in Hackensack, New Jersey.
USS Lionfish (SS-298) at Battleship Cove in Fall River, Massachusetts.
USS Pampanito (SS-383) at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park.
USS Razorback (SS-394) at Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum in North Little Rock, Arkansas.
Displacement: 1,526 tons (1,550 t) surfaced
2,424 tons (2,463 t) submerged
Length: 311 ft 9 in (95.02 m)
Beam: 27 ft 3 in (8.31 m)
Draft: 16 ft 10 in (5.13 m) maximum
4 × General Motors Model 16-278A V16 diesel engines driving electrical generators
2 × 126-cell Sargo batteries
4 × high-speed General Electric electric motors with reduction gears
5,400 shp (4.0 MW) surfaced
2,740 shp (2.0 MW) submerged
Speed: 20.25 knots (38 km/h) surfaced
8.75 knots (16 km/h) submerged
Range: 11,000 nautical miles (20,000 km) surfaced at 10 knots (19 km/h)
Endurance: 48 hours at 2 knots (3.7 km/h) submerged
75 days on patrol
Test depth: 400 ft (120 m)
Complement: 10 officers, 70–71 enlisted. After 1948, 75 commandos for short periods.
Armament: 10 × 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes
(six forward, four aft) 24 torpedoes
1 × 5-inch (127 mm) / 25 caliber deck gun, Oerlikon 20 mm cannon (Removed 1948)
Bofors 40 mm
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