Perisher: 100 Years of the Submarine Command Course
by David Parry
A Review by Rear Admiral John Lang
Submariner, former Perisher and Teacher
This is a unique book that records the history and story of, arguably, the world’s most rigorous, demanding, and formidable qualification course known as the “Perisher.”
Today it is called the Submarine Command Course and lasts five months but, when it started in 1917, it was a five-day course designed to train suitable submarine officers of the Royal Navy to conduct a dived attack using a periscope at an establishment called the Periscope School. The name “Perisher” is derived from this humble beginning.
The catalyst for the book was its 100 years of delivering excellence that led to Dr Parry researching its history to hope that all those who have ever qualified for, or aspire to, submarine command, would discover compelling reading.
By its very nature, the narrative embraces the language, abbreviations, and acronyms of the submariner. In amelioration, the author seeks the reader’s forgiveness for this necessity and includes a comprehensive list of abbreviations.
A good example is the rather curious order “Flood Q” that initiates a quick change of depth to duck under a rapidly approaching escort. Its inclusion, in both English and, curiously, Latin, will bring back many happy memories to those who qualified in a diesel propelled submarine (SSK). To those who seek further enlightenment I suggest they seek out any submariner of the old school who will delight in telling tales of derring-do about life below the waves.
The Perisher has a single aim. To qualify officers to command the most complex sea going vessel known to man, the submarine. As the nation’s most senior submariner, Admiral of the Fleet, the Lord Boyce reminds us in his foreword to the book, the submarine commander has to contend with an expansive underwater element, the operational independence, a way of life that necessitates living cheek-by-jowl and the continuance of responsibility for both vessel and lives under pressure and stress, not for hours or days, but for weeks.
Punctuated by touches of humour, the book will also appeal to a wider audience interested in how one branch of the navy qualifies its officers to master the responsibility, intricacies, and challenges of a highly complex warship for long periods at a time with very little material support.
The reader will judge for himself whether the ever evolving Perisher is the best way to train officers for this extraordinary task but I was very struck by the last sentence in David Parry’s excellent book which relates a sentiment, probably apocryphal, of a post Cold War Russian Admiral who felt moved to say that the best submarine would have American technology, Russian weapons, and a British Commanding Officer.
This book neatly presents compelling evidence to support this final judgement.