Launched on 9 May 1936 at the Electric Boat Company yard in Groton, Connecticut, the SS-176 U.S.S. Perch submarine was commissioned on 19 November 1936, under the command of Lieutenant Commander G.C. Crawford. Following shakedown in the North Atlantic, Perch joined SubRon 6 in San Diego in November 1937.
Participating in the usual peacetime exercises and cruises during the following year, Perch was transferred to the Asiatic Fleet in Manila in October 1939. Designated a division flagship, Perch followed the Asiatic Fleet routine, cruising to Tsingtao and Shanghai in the summer. As tensions increased, Perch found herself operating in Philippine waters during most of 1941.
At the end of November 1941, Perch, under the command of Lieutenant Commander David Hurt, escorted the 4th Marine Division, loaded aboard two transports, from China to the Philippines, after which she entered the Cavite Navy Yard. She was there when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into World War II.
Clearing the Navy Yard on 10 December (9 December Hawaiian time), Perch was able to observe the destruction of Cavite by Japanese bombers before slipping through the Corregidor minefields and departing on her first war patrol. Initially scouting between Luzon and Formosa, she was shifted to the area off Hong Kong.
On Christmas night, Perch fired four torpedoes at a large freighter, missing with all four. Two days later hurt claimed the sinking of the 7,190-ton Nojima Maru. She was credited with one ship for 5,000 tons, but JANAC didn’t confirm this after the war.
After resupply and some repair work in Darwin, Perch departed on her second war patrol on 3 February 1942. An enemy shell hit her bridge during a night surface attack on a small convoy on 25 February, temporarilly knocking out her radio and causing other damage.
Repairs were carried out while under way, and on 1 March Perch made an approach on a Japanese force landing troops on Java. Spotted by the destroyers Amatasukaze and Hatsukaze, Hurt ordered an emergency dive. But, instead of finding the deep water indicated on the chart, Perch bottomed abruptly at 140 feet. A heavy depth charge attack followed, but the Japanese destroyers, evidently believing Perch had been destroyed, eventually gave up their attack.
After making repairs, Perch surfaced early the next day, only to be spotted again, forced down, and subjected to another heavy depth charging. This time damage resulted in the release of both air and oil, convincing the Japanese commanders that the submarine had been destroyed.
With only one good engine, and still heavily damaged despite the best efforts of the crew to effect repairs while bottomed, Perch surfaced that evening and made for the nearest friendly port. Damage control crews did their best, but the first test dive was very nearly the last as water poured in through a sprung conning tower hatch.
Getting back to the surface with difficulty, repair crews set to work fixing the problem. In the midst of this, the destroyers Sazanami and Ushio spotted Perch and opened fire.
At this point, Hurt ordered the crew to abandon ship and all vents were opened, with the hatches left open, scuttling the boat. All 62 crew members were picked up by the Japanese. Fifty-three, including Hurt, survived to be released at the end of the war.