USS Parche (SS 384) History

USS Parche SS 384
 
Parche fish

USS Parche (SS 384) was the first U.S. Navy ship to bear the name of the small, four-eyed butterfly fish known as the Parche (chaetodon capistratus).  Butterfly fishes are found among tropical reefs around the world but are concentrated in the Indo-Pacific oceanic region. The Parche is known for its uncanny ability to swim in and around coral heads and reefs as the fish is able to find its way through the most intricate passages by swimming on its side or upside down.

The submarine Parche was a Balao class boat built by the Portsmouth, New Hampshire Navy Yard. Her keel was laid on the 9th of April 1943 and she was launched on July 24th. Miss Betty Russell smashed the traditional bottle of champagne across the bow as Parche slid into the water for the first time. Miss Russell was the daughter of the U.S. District Judge Robert Lee Russell, formerly Judge Advocate General of the Navy. Parche was commissioned on November 20th, 1943 with Commander Lawson P. "Red" Ramage commanding. The boat was also assigned the naval radio call sign that would identify Parche for the rest of her years: "NJVW".

 

Commemorative Submarine Launching Tag
Launching of USS Parche (SS 384) at Navy Yard, Portsmouth NH on 7/21/43

Parche became one of the most highly decorated ships of the famous World War II Pacific Submarine Force. She made six war patrols, earning five battle stars and two Presidential Unit Citation awards.

First War Patrol

USS Parche (SS 384) Underway

On 3/29/44, Parche left Pearl Harbor in company with USS Tinosa (SS 283) and USS Bang (SS 385) for her first war patrol. After topping off fuel tanks at Midway Island, the three boats reached the sea lanes south of Formosa on 4/16. On 29 April Bang reported a large convoy 50 miles (80 km) away, and the wolf pack attacked, Parche sinking one ship. Tinosa reported a seven-ship convoy on the morning of 5/3 and Parche headed north at full speed to intercept. An hour after midnight Parche was in position and scored three torpedo hits on the leading ship and two hits on the second freighter, sinking both. Parche scored two hits on the third freighter, which settled by the stern and began to list to port. Post-war records credited Parche with sinking the Taiyoku Maru and Shoryu Maru. After making a thorough photo reconnaissance of military installations on the island of Ishi Gaki Jima, Parche returned to Midway on 5/23/44 ending her successful first war patrol.

USS Parche (SS 384) underway.
 
Second War Patrol

Parche's second war patrol is her most celebrated. She departed Midway 6/17/44 following a quick refit and formed up with a new wolf pack consisting of USS Hammerhead (SS 364) and USS Steelhead (SS 280). The patrol area was once again south of Formosa. A week into the operation, Parche sank a patrol vessel with gunfire. A less than ideal 4th of July was spent being depth charged by a Japanese cruiser and a destroyer. On 7/29, Parche sighted a convoy and, along with Steelhead, began a running battle that would last for several days and gain great fame for the boat and her Skipper Red Ramage. Here is a detailed account of those events:

Parche engaged in a predawn attack on the Japanese convoy on 7/31.. During this daring night surface action, the 384 worked her way in inside two escorts and began an approach on a medium AK (attack transport) at 0354. The target slid by about 200 yards away and then turned to avoid two torpedoes Parche had fired at her. That move effectively blocked an escort who had crept in behind her and also opened up an opportunity for shots at two tankers and the AK. A stern shot took care of the cargo carrier and four bow tubes knocked out a tanker. CDR Ramage ordered "Right-Full Rudder" to bring the stern tubes to bear on the second oiler and fired three torpedoes. One missed ahead of the ship but the other two fish hit the forward section slowing down the tanker but not stopping her completely.

  The escorts opened up with deck guns, machineguns and flares firing in all directions. The convoy started to mill about smartly with Parche in the middle. Suddenly a medium sized merchant-man with a sizeable superstructure came in sight. The torpedo reload crews forward and aft reloaded tubes as fast as they could and Parche fired two tubes as soon as the outer doors were opened. The two torpedoes broke the merchant-mans back, which sent her down within a couple of minutes.

   With the merchant-man out of the way Parche came back after the first tanker to finish her off. Parche crossed her track astern at only 200 yards. At 500 yards the tanker opened up on Parche with everything she had, but her trim down by the bow kept her from depressing her guns enough to do any good. The small arms fire was peppering the bridge enough that Ramage sent all hands below except the quartermaster, who stuck to the after TBT until he had the set-up. At 800 yards Parche fired three torpedoes from the stern tubes at the tanker. All hit the tanker with terrific explosions effectively silencing the gunfire from that quarter. With five torpedoes in her the big tanker gave and went down leaving only a small oil fire.

   The two escorts on the port quarter were now concentrating their machine gun fire on Parche. Ramage was about to come right to put them astern and head for the prize of the evening, a huge transport, when she spotted a ship coming in sharp on the starboard bow apparently intent on ramming. Ordering a full bell, Ramage sent the boat shooting across in front of the on-rushing enemy, then halfway across its track he ordered "Right-Full Rudder" swinging right the stern of the boat out of its path. The Japanese sailors were yelling as Parche barely missed being rammed by less than 50 feet. All hands exchanged mutual cheers and jeers.

Parche, now boxed in on both sides by several small craft and the big transport dead ahead had no alternative but to fire straight down the transports throat. The first fish started off to the right, so Ramage checked fire, spotted on, and fired two more. These were right in the groove and both hit the transport stopping her cold. Closing in on her starboard bow, the Parche swung hard left and fired one stern shot at 800 yards for a bull’s eye.

   Stopping to take account of the situation, Ramage counted eight ships still visible on her RADAR screen. The bewildered escorts were still busy firing weapons in the darkness at Parche and at each other. The big transport was stopped and down by the bow, but showed no further signs of going down. Just as the 384 started back to deliver the felling blow, the transport suddenly raised its stern into the air and went straight down, head first into the cold depths of the ocean. Parche then began an egress from the area yet one of the escorts continually challenged her with weapons fire amid the sounds of loud explosions in the darkness. The entire attack took 46 minutes.

When Parche was finished, she had caused the Japanese ships to open fire at one another and had sunk a 10,238 ton tanker, a 4,471 ton passenger-cargo ship, damaged several thousand tons of Japanese ships, and disrupted yet another convoy. She had also worked with Steelhead to sink an 8,990 ton transport. What made this more incredible was that this all occurred from the middle of a convoy of ships, on the surface, and at night. On 8/1/44, the sub departed for Saipan where she moored 8/5 before arriving in Pearl Harbor on 8/16. For this action USS Parche received the Presidential Unit Citation and Commander Ramage (left, post-WW2 photo) was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor (see citation below). The Submarine Combat Insignia was also authorized for the patrol.

Third, Fourth and Fifth War Patrols

Parche's third war patrol, lasting from 9/10/44 to 12/2/44 was one of the longest of the war, yet disappointingly enough, the boat did not encounter any targets. Japanese shipping, decimated by continual submarine and air attacks, was becoming increasingly difficult to find.

After a refit, the ship got underway 12/30/44 for her fourth war patrol, this time in the Nansei Shoto. Parche discovered a freighter and a tanker at anchor in Naze Ko 0n 1/19/45, firing six bow tubes at the tanker for five distinct hits and four stern tubes at the freighter for two possible hits. On 2/7, Parche sighted and sank the 984-ton Okinoyama Maru. Following a 2/16 fueling stop at Midway, the384 continued onto Pearl Harbor where she arrived 2/20.

When Parche left Pearl on 3/19/45 on her fifth war patrol, she headed directly for the east coast of Honshū, Japan. The 384 sank 615-ton Minesweeper No. 3 off Kobe Zaki on 4/9. On 4/11, Parche attacked and sank a small freighter of about 800 tons with gunfire. She torpedoed another small vessel the next day. On 4/13, Parche sank a fishing trawler. Two hours later she again opened fire on a small observation boat, leaving it blazing stem to stern. During this attack, two Japanese aircraft caused her to crash dive, leaving all her guns loose and much of her ammunition exposed. A heavy explosion shook her on the way down, but inflicted no damage. On 4/22/45, Parche sighted three small tankers in column, proceeding north along the coast south of Okama Saki. Parche launched three torpedoes at the second tanker and then shifted to the third, which was left down by the stern covered with a cloud of smoke. The sub sailed for Midway, arriving 30 April.

Parche crewman paints Japanese flag by control room manifold.
Sixth War Patrol

Parche got underway 5/5/45 for her sixth and final war patrol. Her first tasking was "lifeguard duty" (standing by to rescue downed Allied airmen) south of Honshū. She stayed on station off Honshū until 18 June, ready to pick up any aviators who might be forced down. No rescues were necessary, and on the 18th the 384 proceeded to Tsugara Strait.

Her first torpedo contact came 6/21 when she sighted a gunboat rounding Shiriya Saki. The gunboat was soon joined by a sub chaser and then by a freighter. Picking the freighter as the best target, Parche launched four torpedoes from her forward tubes for one hit which threw up a veil of dense white smoke. Expecting counter-measures, the sub went under, accompanied by the breaking-up noises of freighter Hizen Maru.

Parche attacked three luggers escorted by a small flat vessel on the afternoon of the next day and sank two. She sank several trawlers by gunfire on 6/23. Two days later she sighted three large ships and six escorts headed north along the coast, one of the most tempting convoys seen for some months in Japanese home waters. After Parche's attack, the escorts subjected the boat to a four and a half hour depth charging before she managed to slip away. Resuming her patrol, Parche sunk an ex-gunboat and badly damaged another ship.

After another round of lifeguard duty for the carrier planes of Task Force 38 0n 7/17, Parche rendezvoused with USS Cero (SS 225) to take aboard three fliers and then set course for Midway, arriving 7/23. Parche completed on final war patrol of World War Two on 7/28/25, mooring in Pearl Harbor. Japan surrendered on 9/2/45.

Post-War
After World War Two, Parche was assigned to "Operation Crossroads" as a target ship for the atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll. Parche survived both the airburst and the underwater detonationt, coming through relatively undamaged.

This view of USS Parche (SS 384) is believed to have been photographed immediately following Operation Crossroads.

 

   After post-nuclear testing decontamination, Parche proceeded to Mare Island Naval Shipyard at Vallejo, California. She was then decommissioned on 12/10/46 and in March 1947 was moved to Alameda, California to join the moth ball fleet. On December 1st, 1962, the boat's classification was changed from SS to AGSS (Auxiliary Submarine). AGSS-384 was then assigned as a Naval Reserve Training Submarine in Oakland, California.

Parche was stricken from the Navy list on November 8th, 1969 and sold for scrap on June 18th, 1970. Prior to that however, the conning tower barrel, bridge structure, shears, and 5-inch/25 gun were removed and transported to the Naval Submarine Base, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii for permanent display.

Parche's conning tower being moved off the USS Chara (AE 31).

 

  

This page last updated on August 21, 2010

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