The Perisher Club
LOUISE MERCIER-JOHNSON
© 2010 FrontLine Defence (Vol 7, No 3)

In 1917, the Royal Navy (RN) established a formal submarine commander’s qualifying course in response to unacceptable British submarine losses in WWI.

Informally known as “Perisher” because of its high attrition rate, the RN Submarine Command Course (SMCC) was credited with reducing United Kingdom submarine losses in WWII. Since 1917 the British Royal Navy has twice a year graduated officers of British Submarine Command Course, and according to Vice-Admiral Peter Cairns, only 50 Canadian Naval ­officers have graduated from this battle hardened training environment since World War II.

The name ‘Perisher’ originates from the fact that, with a failure rate of 40-60 percent, many high-calibre officers nevertheless “perished” on course. Success ensured selection for submarine command; failure resulted in an immediate return to the ­surface fleet, never to see the inside of a submarine again.

Serving and retired submarine commanding officers meet bi-annually to welcome new members to the “Perisher” Club. Twenty-four of these accomplished and highly decorated officers recently dined in celebration at Ottawa’s Hy’s Steak House.

Organized by ‘Perisher’ graduates, Commodore Larry Hickey and retired Navy Capt Jay Plante, these highly decorated officers came together to share stories and to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Navy, with an eye to the impending 100th Anniversary of the Submarine Service in 2014.

On this special occasion, Canada’s oldest Perisher graduate, Lieutenant-Commander “Freddy” Sherwood, DSC RCNVR, who is 95 years young, was also in attendance.

LCdr Sherwood was the first Canadian Officer to command a British Submarine during WWII, HMS Spiteful. Under his command, Spiteful totalled the three longest patrols for an S-Boat at the time, sinking multiple Japanese ships. By April 1945, Spiteful had bombarded installations on the Andaman Islands and Christmas Island.

In perfect symmetry, LCdr Sherwood dined across the table from LCdr Alex Kooiman, who is Perisher’s newest Canadian graduate and current Commanding Officer of one of Canada’s modernized submarines, HMCS Cornerbrook.

Joined by other accomplished graduates including Commodore Ken McMillan, Vice-Admiral Bruce Maclean, Vice-Admiral Peter Cairns and Rear-Admiral Bob Davidson, over the course of exceptional food, and attentive service, they relived their “at-sea days.” with great gusto.

With shared experiences, friendships and an appreciation for a new navy that has emerged from their collective experiences, 67 years of consecutive submarine command was celebrated in style.

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© FrontLine Defence 2010

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