It has been said that the USS Parche is “the most decorated vessel in American history,” a fact that is well-known in Russia.
According to reports, the USS Parche is “the vessel with the most decorations in American history.” Being the most decorated ship in American history is a big deal, especially when you think about all the ships that have served, from wooden schooners to stealthy littoral combat ships, in all the wars, from the War of 1812 to the War on Terror.
The Parche was initially a nuclear-powered rapid attack submarine of the Sturgeon class when it was first commissioned in 1974. Yet after serving in the quick attack role, the Parche was selected for a different duty: covert reconnaissance. Of course, the Soviet Union would be the target, especially its underwater communication cables.
The USS Parche was significantly altered to fit its new purpose. The adjustments enabled better mobility. Additional alterations created room for new apparatus like landing skids, cameras, communications gear, thrusters, and sonar arrays. They removed most of the Parche’s torpedo tubes to make way for the new equipment, leaving the sub with only four torpedoes and incredibly under-armed.
Working on the USS Parche was particularly risky. According to protocol, the ship was to destroy itself, killing the 112-man crew with the 150 pounds of HBX explosives on board rather than submit to Soviet capture. Thankfully, the Soviets were never able to exert pressure on the Parche.
Unknown is the scope of the PCH’s mission profile. The Parche attempted to intercept Soviet submarine cables in the Sea of Okhotsk. The cable was crucial because it connected the Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky base of the Soviet Pacific Fleet on the Kamchatka Peninsula to the fleet’s headquarters in Vladivostok.
The US Navy successfully intercepted the Okhotsk cable. Another spy submarine, the USS Halibut, installed a sizable wiretap recording device on the cable in 1971. Also, the Parche took over the wiretapping duties once the Halibut was decommissioned. The Parche also wiretapped people in the Barents Sea and up towards the North Pole in addition to its activities in the Sea of Okhotsk.
The Parche was tasked with wiretapping and retrieving Soviet missile components from the ocean floor after test launches.
The USS Parche served for thirty years before being decommissioned in 2004. The submarine’s flag, however, was saved and is now on display at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Washington and dismantled the submarine in 2006. Overall, “Parche would garner an incredible number of awards, including 10 Presidential Unit Citations, nine Naval Unit Citations, and thirteen Expeditionary Awards,” according to Larson. The Parche was, in fact, “the most adorned warship in American history.”
The USS Jimmy Carter would fill the Parche vacancy in the espionage department. The Jimmy Carter, America’s “top spy submarine,” is the third and last Seawolf-class submarine to undergo modifications. The Jimmy Carter has been so significantly modified to meet the espionage duty that the Parche left unfilled that the Jimmy Carter is sometimes regarded as its subclass of the submarine.