COURTESY OF KEVIN DENLAY
Divers came across what they believe is the USS Perch, scuttled in 1942 in the Java Sea, under a layer of more than a half-century of marine growth. Shown is the submarine's plaque, which reads "USS PERCH SUBMARINE." CLICK FOR LARGE
Sunken WWII sub found by accident near Java
The USS Perch was scuttled in 1942 after being attacked
The wreck of a World War II submarine was discovered by accident near Java on Thanksgiving Day, according to officials of the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum.
Charles Hinman,* the museum's education director, said the 300-foot diesel submarine USS Perch was discovered in 190 feet of water in the Java Sea by an international team of divers and photographers who were hoping to photograph the wreck of the British cruiser Exeter.
USS PERCH STATS
Length: 300 feet
Beam: 25 feet
Draft: 13 feet
Speed: 19 knots surfaced, 9 knots submerged
Armament: One 3-inch cannon; six 21-inch torpedo tubes
Source: U.S. Navy
The news of the discovery was welcome news to Robert Lents, who was a 20-year-old torpedoman when the Perch was sunk.
"I got $35 still in my locker," said Lents, 85, who now lives in Mountain Home, Ark.
"The only thing I grabbed when I left the ship was my toothbrush and the Japanese took that away."
Navy records show that the Perch, after a shakedown cruise in the North Atlantic, reported to the Pacific Fleet in November 1937.
On March 1, 1942, the Perch was on the surface 30 miles northwest of Soerabaja, Java, when it was attacked by an enemy convoy that was landing troops west of Soerabaja. Two Japanese destroyers forced the Perch to the bottom with depth charges, damaging the submarine's starboard engines. Two days later the Perch, while on the surface and unable to dive because of extensive damages, was attacked by two Japanese cruiser and three destroyers.
At that point, David Hurt, commander of the submarine, ordered the Perch to be scuttled. The crew of 54 sailors and five officers was taken prisoner by the Japanese. Six later died in prison camps of malnutrition.
Lents spent 3 1/2 years in two Japanese prison camps and was released on Sept. 18, 1945. He recalls that one of the camps housed nearly 600 sailors from the Exeter.
He had only been on the Perch for six months when it was sunk.
"There are only five of us left now." Lents said in a telephone interview last week.
Hinman said a team of divers led by Vidar Skoglie, who owns and operates the vessel MV Empress, found the wreck north of Surbaya City, Java. It was first discovered by the ship's sonar.
Dive team members Kevin Denlay, Dieter Kops, Mike Gadd and Craig Challen discovered a plaque, covered with more than half a century of marine growth, that read "USS Perch Submarine."
Hinman said Denlay contacted him and Navy officials in early December and sent the museum photographs and a DVD of the dive.
Hinman said the wreck, like all Navy warships sunk at sea, is protected from salvage operations by U.S. and international laws.
Cmdr. Mike Brown, spokesman for Pacific Fleet Submarine Forces, said the information he's seen indicates that the vessel looks like the Perch.
"However, official confirmation will have to come from higher headquarters."
The discovery of the Porpoise-class submarine follows other announcements last year of the location of three other submarines lost in World War II: the USS Wahoo north of Hokkaido in 1943, the USS Grunion near the Aleutian chain in 1942, and the USS Lagarto, which was sunk 62 years ago by a Japanese minelayer in the Gulf of Thailand.
More than 3,500 submariners lost their lives aboard 52 submarines that were destroyed during World War II, which is about the number of nuclear attack submarines that now make up the Navy fleet.
Hinman said the museum has played a crucial role in the attempts to find the Lagarto, Wahoo, Grunion and Perch.
"In the Wahoo and Perch discoveries, we were the people who contacted the Naval Historical Center and the local Naval commands, and provided them with the dive photos and historical material. We assisted with the Navy with the identification of Lagarto and Wahoo, and will be the site of the memorial ceremony for the Wahoo families this October."
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
» Charles Hinman is education director for the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum. A story on Page A17 on Sunday misidentified him as David Hinman.