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On December 11, 1941, the USS Perch (SS-176), captained by Lieutenant Commander David A. Hurt, headed out of Manila Bay on her first war patrol. As she cleared the Cavite Navy Yard that day her crew was able to witness the complete destruction of the base by Japanese bombers. Under the capable hands of Lieutenant Commander Hurt the Perch escaped damage from the bombers and successfully navigated through the Corregidor minefields into the open sea. The previous day ComSubsAF had given Hurt his secret patrol orders. Her assignment was to search for and sink enemy shipping in the area between the northwest coast of Luzon Island and Formosa. On December 18, 1941, after an unproductive week in this area, ComSubsAF shifted Perch to a location off Hong Kong. On Christmas night, at 2010 hours, the Perch sighted a Japanese steamer. Hurt decided to make a night surface attack. He fired four Mark 14 torpedoes at the steamer from 2,000 yards. Three of the torpedoes ran straight and normal, but too deep, passing underneath the target. The fourth torpedo broached when launched, then took its depth and started circling to the right. When it was just forward of the Perch's beam it broached again, resumed its depth, and then exploded throwing up a considerable geyser of water and emitting a large flash. Thus the Perch's first attack in the new war was unsuccessful and marked by one of the most feared events World War II submariners would come to know - an "erratic" or "circular" run by one of their own torpedoes.

The next day, at 0948 hours, the Perch sighted the masts of a ship bearing 256° true, at an estimated range of 17,000 yards. The ship was definitely Japanese and it appeared similar to the Shinwa Maru #2, as shown in the official identification book. Hurt made a submerged periscope attack. From 2,000 yards he fired two Mark 14 torpedoes at the vessel. Both torpedoes missed the target. On December 27, 1941, at 0833 hours, Perch spotted ship masts bearing 50° true, at an estimated range of 20,000 yards, on a westerly course. Hurt conned Perch to intercept the ships. By 0853 it became clear there were three Japanese ships, two destroyers, a light cruiser, and a large loaded tanker. The two destroyers led the procession in line, followed by the tanker and the light cruiser. Hurt closed the distance and set up for a shot at the tanker. At 0931 hours, from 500 yards he fired two stern Mark 14 torpedoes. He heard one torpedo hit the tanker and when he raised the periscope to look he saw him lying to. He also saw a plane from the cruiser bearing down on him at a range of about 4,000 yards. Hurt pulled the plug and put Perch on the bottom under 170 feet of water. They heard four explosions, none close. At 1725 hours, they stopped hearing pinging or propeller noises. Hurt brought Perch to periscope depth, and a sweep confirmed that all was clear. ComSubsAF would later credit Perch for sinking a 5,000-ton enemy cargo ship in this attack. After the war, the JANAC assessment did not score the Perch for sinking any ships. The Alden-McDonald assessment credits the Perch for damaging the 8,215-ton miscellaneous auxiliary Nojima in this attack. Their assessment indicates the Nojima was hit by the Perch's torpedo and beached because of the damage. The Nojima sustained additional damages from the heavy seas. On January 29, 1942, the ship was towed to Hong Kong where it underwent repairs, which were completed on December 8, 1942.

On December 29, 1941, ComSubsAF ordered Perch to head south through the Makassar Strait and to refuel at the Dutch port at Balikpapan. Perch reached that port on January 8, 1942. Earlier that day ComSubsAF had ordered her to head for Port Darwin after she topped off her fuel. She was underway for Australia the same day. On January 12, 1942, in the Flores Sea, Perch made the last attack of her first war patrol. Hurt coordinated a submerged night attack on a ship that appeared similar to the Sen Yo Maru #70 in the official identification book. At 0447 hours, from 2,000 yards he fired two Mark 14 torpedoes at it. Both missed the target. On January 17, 1942, at 0544 hours, Perch tied up at Port Darwin next to the tender Otus.

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