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USS Perch: SOF Submarine

In this new configuration, the Perch had accommodations for 115 troops, and the hangar could accommodate a landing vehicle tracked (LVT) capable of carrying a jeep and towed 75 mm cannon or eight 10-man rubber boats. In the months leading up to the Korean War, the Perch participated in numerous troop and cargo-carrying exercises.

On the morning of June 25, 1950, six divisions of the North Korean Army crossed the 38th parallel that divided the peninsula into North and South Korea. The Korean War had begun.

The Perch arrived in Japan in August and was soon joined by Royal Marines from Great Britain’s 41 (Independent) Commando under the command of World War II veteran Lt. Col. Douglas B. Drysdale. 41 Commando had been formed on Aug. 16 to assist in offensive operations against communist troops. The “Independent” designation gave Drysdale broader authority than normal, because it meant that he, and not his superiors in British headquarters, was responsible for all operational and logistical matters. The unit would later achieve notoriety in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir when, as part of Task Force Drysdale, it fought its way through Hell Fire Valley. 41 Commando later received the Presidential Unit Citation.

The unit arrived at Camp McGill, the U.S. Army post near the U.S. Navy base at Yokosuka, in late August. One of the first decisions regarding the unit was the issuance of quantities of American military gear and weapons for its use in order to simplify logistics issues. Intensive training ensued.

One individual who was skeptical of the British Commandos proposed contribution was the supreme commander of U.N. forces, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur. MacArthur, an Anglophobe, bluntly questioned the utility of the British Marines in raids to Vice Adm. C. Turner Joy, commander, Naval Forces, Far East. Joy did not share MacArthur’s prejudices and was a vocal proponent of special operations raids using the Commandos. In a rebuttal, Joy wrote, “The 41 Royal Marine Commando was formed and trained especially to conduct commando raids. Plans are ready for destruction of several key points between latitudes 40 and 41 on [the] east coast. Believe they can be executed without serious risk. Submarine crew and commandos are keen to fight and gain experience for evaluation of this type of organization.” Joy was able to carry the day against the general, which was no small achievement.

41 Commando During Korean War

Royal Marines of 41 Commando plant demolition charges along railroad tracks of an enemy supply line, which they demolished during a commando raid 8 miles south of Songjin, Korea. Perch’s work with the Royal Marines was the high point of her Korean deployment. Note the U.S.-issued equipment such as the M-1 Garand rifles. National Archives photo

Within a month of its arrival, a detachment of 41 Commando assisted in the Inchon landing. The unit’s first large-scale mission occurred on North Korea’s east coast about two weeks later; a sabotage mission in support of the post-Inchon offensive campaign to destroy rail tunnels on North Korea’s east coast, north of Hungnam. Previously the tunnels and rail lines had been hit by air strikes, but damage was minimal. Obeying MacArthur’s strict orders that capped the size of a special operations mission force at 70 men, Drysdale organized for the raid a contingent composed of himself, three officers, and 63 non-commissioned officers and men.

The plan called for a raid on two railroad bed and railway tunnel targets. The Perch, supported by the destroyers USS Maddox (DD 731) and USS Herbert J. Thomas (DD 883), would carry the Commandos to a predetermined location off the North Korean coast. Transport to and from the beach would be by inflatable launch rafts towed by a motorized skimmer that were all contained in the Perch’s afterdeck hangar. Intelligence for the mission was a mixture of good and bad. Reconnaissance photos were clear and gave much valuable information, but maps and charts were poor. Little was known about the sea depths and beach conditions around the landing site. Underwater mines, enemy patrol boats, and land patrols were another concern. Still, the risks were judged acceptable, and, on Sept. 25, the Perch entered the Sea of Japan and set course for North Korea.

BBC journalist and Member of Parliament Thomas E. Driberg had a rare opportunity to accompany 41 Commando on some of its missions. In a report broadcast on Dec. 20, 1950, he said, “These lads grew remarkably quickly into the mood and outlook that seem to be characteristic of this special kind of outfit: One might define it as a nonchalant self-sufficiency, a debonair assurance that is never arrogant, a self-mocking toughness. The common idea of Commando ‘toughness’ is wrong. They are not muscle-bound supermen. Many of them are quite slight and trim – physically compact, mentally alert. Their training fits them perfectly for such jobs as they had to do.”

The log of the Perch confirmed the high morale and ability of its passengers as well as how quickly the two disparate groups of sailors and Royal Marines melded into a team, particularly since they had only been together for two weeks. One entry in the Perch’s log noted, “The Royal Marines were experienced raiders with a ‘can do’ attitude comparable to that of the Perch’s. They seemed to enjoy having more thrown at them than they could possibly assimilate in the short time available, and rose to the occasion by becoming a well-trained and coordinated submarine raiding team in a remarkably short time.”

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DWIGHT JON ZIMMERMAN is a bestselling and award-winning author, radio host, and president of the...

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-42875">

    USS COD (SS 224) is still serving her Nation at 69 years, as are other memorial submarines, including USS DRUM, USS SILVERSIDES, USS PAMPANITO, USS COBIA, and USS CAVALLA. Heck DRUM and SILVERSIDES are already past 70 years! And although the Navy enjoys the sevices of these graybeards as recruiting and reenlistment assets, they don’t siphon money out of NavSea. Just thought you’d like that correction!

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-43662">

    I served on the USS Bergall SS320. I think she had a longer service life than the Perch.
    Comissioning to Strike .
    She was given to Turkey in 1958 and returned several years later and we struck the 320 and sunk her in the 70s to my estimation

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-55158">
    Bill Moore ET2(SS)

    I served on the USS Perch from 9April1964 through it’s day of decomissioning at Mare Island, 26May1967. We saw many interesting missions off the coast of North and South Vietnam, working with UDT Teams 11and 12, and Seal Team 1. I have many momentos, among which are about 900 color slides of my time on the Perch. As my watch station for Maneuvering Watch was Bridge Phonetalker, I got to see alot, and subsequently took many pics. I was an ET (Electronics Tech) and I also was the qualified escape trunk operator, assisting the Special Forces to go forth on their missions, day and night. We just recently had a reunion with our crew, officers and special forces personnel in Grand Rapids Michigan

    li class="comment byuser comment-author-chuck-oldham odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-55161">

    I would love to see those photos. I bet they tell quite a story.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-55166">
    Dwight Jon Zimmerman
    Dwight Jon Zimmerman

    I echo Chuck’s comments. The Perch had an extraordinary career. You must have some great photos!

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-117352">

    Dwight and Chuck,
    Drop me an email – we get hooked up, maybe I can get some of the photos (or the big DVD) to you.
    Happy New Year!

    Bill Moore

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-177592">
    William R Moore

    Chuck & Dwight,,
    I never did receive any email from you, regarding my sending you a copy of the DVD.
    Please let me know if you are still interested.

    Bill Moore

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-178064">
    Dwight Jon Zimmerman
    Dwight Zimmerman

    My apologies, William! Contact me at this email address and I’ll give you my mailing address: djonzimmerman@earthlink.net