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USS Perch: SOF Submarine

The Perch reached its first target area about 150 miles behind enemy lines on the night of Sept. 30. After Lt. Cmdr. Quinn completed his periscope reconnaissance of the target area, the Perch surfaced about 4 miles offshore. The deck was the scene of quiet but intense activity as lookouts on the conning tower scanned the beaches with their binoculars while sailors and Commandos broke out and inflated rubber rafts and worked on the skimmer. In about a half hour, seven manned rafts were in the water beside the Perch. But the skimmer’s engine could not be made to start. Excessive humidity accumulated during the prolonged submerged trip had caused the ignition to ground out. Worse, at about this time, the Perch’s radar began tracking an enemy patrol boat approaching, and lookouts saw two sets of vehicle lights on the road near the target area that suddenly extinguished. The signs were irrefutable: Somehow the Perch had been detected and a trap was being set. Quinn ordered the mission aborted. Quickly, Commandos, rafts, and skimmer were returned to the boat and the Perch headed east out to sea.

Later the following day, the Perch rendezvoused with the Thomas and Maddox (the latter being the flagship for the commander of Destroyer Division 92) and, while crewmen worked to repair the skimmer’s engine, Quinn, Drysdale, the Perch’s embarkation officer, and the destroyer captains held a quick conference aboard the Maddox. The decision reached was for the Perch to conduct her mission at the secondary target west of Tanchon while the Thomas conducted a diversionary attack on the original target site. The Maddox would shadow the Perch and stand by to assist if the submarine came under attack.

That evening, after darkness had returned, the Perch once again surfaced about 4 miles off the beach leading to the alternative raid site. This time, the skimmer’s ignition worked and eight rafts, seven containing Commandos and one containing demolitions, were towed toward land. Five hundred yards offshore, the skimmer’s tow ropes were released and the Commandos paddled ashore. The force landed unopposed and immediately separated into three groups, one to place the demolitions and the other two to protect the flanks. As the charges were being placed along the rail lines, in a culvert, and in two adjacent railway tunnels, a North Korean patrol encountered part of the Commando flanking force. A firefight erupted.

The sight of gun flashes and the sound of gunfire caused the anxiety level on the Perch to spike. As Quinn later recounted, “It wasn’t exactly conducive to our peace of mind. We could see the gun flashes and moving lights. We could hear the crack of rifles and the stutter of machine guns and yet we were just sitting there, powerless to help. Finally we saw a blinding explosion followed by instant shock waves that reached far out to sea. We knew the mission was completed, but we didn’t know at what cost.”

The Commandos retreated to the beach and successfully linked up with the skimmer that swiftly towed them back to the Perch and safety. The mission had been a success, but it had come at a cost. Pvt. Peter R. Jones had been killed in action.

The following day, Jones was buried at sea with full military honors, including a 24-gun salute from the Commandos and 21-gun salutes from both the Maddox and Thomas. For this action, Quinn received the Bronze Star and the Perch was awarded the Submarine Combat Insignia.

The Tanchon raid would be the Perch’s high point during the Korean War. The following August, the submarine was back at Mare Island, where it underwent another overhaul. From 1952 until its decommissioning in 1960, the Perch participated in reconnaissance and raid training missions that took it from the Aleutians to Iwo Jima, Hawaii, and the Panama Canal Zone. On March 31, 1960, the decommissioned Perch became a part of the Mare Island Group of the Pacific Reserve Fleet. It was recommissioned the following year, on Nov. 11. In March 1963, the submarine’s home port was now Subic Bay in the Philippines, and it began training with Marine, Special Forces, UDT teams, and special operations units from allies in covert reconnaissance missions.

In 1965, the Perch returned to war, its third. The Vietnam War would prove to be the conflict in which the Perch saw the most action, much of it special operations missions. The Perch’s deck armament now included two 40 mm guns and .50-caliber machine guns that could be mounted on its conning tower. The Vietnam War for the Perch began in March, when the submarine participated in Operation Jungle Drum III, an exercise in which a 75-man Marine Corps reconnaissance force was landed on the Malay Peninsula. In August and September, the Perch conducted search and rescue operations off the Vietnamese coast. Then at the end of the year, in support of Operation Market Time, the interdiction of communist supply and infiltration along the South Vietnamese coast, the Perch conducted amphibious landings as part of Operation Dagger Thrust.

USS Perch (APSS 313)

Sailors from the USS Perch (APSS 313) help prepare South Vietnamese marines for special operations ashore. U.S. Navy photo

In January 1966, UDT personnel from the Perch provided important beach reconnaissance in Quang Ngai Province for Operation Double Eagle, the largest amphibious operation in the Vietnam War. Following this, the submarine returned to Subic Bay, where it participated in the training of Taiwanese special forces and U.S. Army Special Forces.

By the middle of that year, the Perch was once again in the South China Sea off the coast of South Vietnam, this time in support of three phases of amphibious operations conducted under the code name Operation Deckhouse: Deckhouse II, III, and IV. Action began with reconnaissance missions in support of Operation Deckhouse II in northern Quang Tri province.

In Deckhouse III, an amphibious operation on the South Vietnamese coast about 60 miles east of Saigon in August, the Perch had to use its deck guns to defend UDT swimmers conducting beach reconnaissance when they were attacked by a Viet Cong patrol. And, on another Deckhouse III mission, the submarine provided similar gun support when another reconnaissance team was attacked by Viet Cong guerillas. This latter incident is believed to be the last surface combat action conducted by a U.S. submarine. The Perch returned to Quang Tri province for Deckhouse IV. In September 1966, UDT units operating from the Perch conducted five straight nights of beach reconnaissance in the vicinity of the mouth of the Cua Viet River. Deckhouse IV would prove to be the Perch’s last combat mission.

In early October, the submarine was ordered to Pearl Harbor. The Perch conducted patrols around the Hawaiian Islands until it was ordered to San Diego. There the Perch became a part of the Naval Reserve Training fleet. On Aug. 22, 1968, the Perch was classified a submarine transport (LPSS) and served in that capacity until the end of June 1971 when it received its final classification, IXSS, or unclassified miscellaneous submarine. Its service to its country was over. In December of that year, it was finally struck from the Naval Register and on Jan. 15, 1973, the Perch was sold for scrap.

Though the Perch never achieved great fame, it provided commendable service to those who served on it and for the special operations teams who needed it to take them safely into and out of hostile waters and shores. Lt. Cmdr. R.L. Rambeck noted in his 1992 monograph, “SOF Submarine Operations and National Military Strategy,” in which he examined special operations force (SOF) capability through the innovative use of submarines following the end of the Soviet submarine threat, that the Perch, along with the submarines Tunny and Grayback, were “the closest the U.S. Navy has ever been to having an ideal SOF submarine.”

Though the Navy’s new SSGNs may belie that statement, for the Perch, there can be no more worthy epitaph.

This article was first published in The Year in Special Operations: 2008 Edition.

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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