Having given all before me a chance to pay tribute to the gallant submarine PERCH (SS 176), formerly P-5, constructed at the EB Company in Groton, CT, I hereby give my views on that great hunk of steel and of my shipmates that gave their all to keep her afloat.
Pig boats the call them, but that name never applied to PERCH. She was the thriving home and pride of some 55 men.
She was long and sleek and beautiful with a bone in her mouth and as fancy as they come with her plume in full stream. She took her place in the nest second to none.
She steamed in the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Indian Oceans. From the Caribbean Sea to the Bering Sea. From the Yellow Sea to the Java Sea. No doubt she passed the cracks in the ocean that Leviathan calleth his home many times .
Silent and seaworthy, she was a mighty fortress. Yet Portu-guese man-of-wars sailed from her prow and flying fish flopped on her decks. When the seas were blue with a white fringe on top, a grateful crew sunned themselves on her top side. Some sailed kites, releasing handkerchief parachutes to fall into the sea. At other times there were turtle hunts and picnics and a swim call in the Sulu Sea. Yes, she was a home away from home.
But there was another side to PERCH. After months at sea, she was gaunt, mossy, weathered by gales and typhoons. She prowled the seas looking for the enemy. She was the hunter on the trail of the hunted. The eyes of the front line, reporting the advance of the enemy; she was an artist at avoiding detection and cunning at deceiving the enemy.
A wisp of smoke, a glimpse of a mast behind a cloud, the silhouette of a possible target or the thud of a different propeller transformed her into something else-all eyes and ears to take her prey where she found it, making reports underway.
There were some disappointments and narrow escapes, like a circling torpedo, and a shell through the conning tower, scars from night raids on the enemy. Depth charge attacks were a common event in those days when the Rising Sun was still rising.
Though PERCH’s hull was badly flattened and her hatches badly twisted, she leaked very little to the eye. She was strong.
Though her propeller shaft was bent and her engines loose from their moorings, she held tight.
The acrid smoke from torpedoes that had run in their skids didn’t help. It was the chlorine gas and steady build-up of water in several bilges that was to seal her fate.
In the middle of the night, free from the bottom, she wallowed in the sea. No gauges, few lights. The getaway was slow.
Repairs having been completed, the predawn effort to submerge was made. The word came, “Take her down”, but she wouldn’t go! Like a giant dolphin she leaped and dove. Water poured under twisted hatch covers, which would not seat. After several attempts to dive and in the midst of enemy shell fire, the word was passed to abandon ship. As I passed through the control room, Charlie Cross, Chief of the Boat, on the manifold, said, “You bad better hurry. She is settling in the water and could go at any time.”
I sat on the deck aft, taking off my shoes-she slipped from under me and I floated off the deck into the sea and night.
Midst a background of red and yellow gunburst, she made a
grand entry into the Java Sea. Going down by the stem, raising her prow to an angle of about 35° she gave her last salute and silently slipped backwards into the sea.
In retrospect I recall several persons diving from the A frames into the sea just before she went down.
All bands got off OK and were later picked up by some of the Jap fleet that had been sheJling us.
We were off-loaded several days later at Makassar, a city on the island of Celebes, Netherlands, Dutch East Indies.