Skip to comments.True tale of Cold War terror - Account of 1969 sinking of Soviet sub has lessons for today
Posted on 12/18/2005 6:56:53 PM PST by Tailgunner Joe
One unforeseen blessing of the collapse of the Soviet Union has been the easing of security restrictions in former Iron Curtain nations. Since the Fall of the Berlin Wall, Western journalists have been able to access to classified documents that would have gotten them shot a few years before.
That's a scary thought - but not nearly as chilling as some of the secrets they've uncovered.
In "Red Star Rogue," author Kenneth Sewell takes us inside the once top-secret Soviet nuclear navy to reveal the explosive facts about one of best-kept secrets of the Cold War, the sinking of Soviet sub K -129. The incident could have ended the world as we know it. And very nearly did.
Sewell is no dilettante. A nuclear engineer and U.S. Navy veteran, Sewell served five years aboard America's most decorated fast attack submarine, the USS Parche. During his time in the Navy, he heard rumors of a disaster at sea during the late '60s that had been hushed up by both sides. But as Sewell probed deeper to ferret out the details, he uncovered a story more shocking than he ever imagined.
Some of the facts are straightforward. In March 1968, the K-129, a Soviet nuclear submarine, exploded and sank with all hands in the Pacific Ocean roughly 300 miles from Pearl Harbor.
From the beginning, the tragedy was shrouded in mystery. Despite the fact that K-129 was carrying atomic missiles, neither the U.S. nor Soviet navies reported an explosion. The Russians simply announced that the sub was missing and launched a massive sea and air search to locate it.
Finding it could have been easy. The K-129 had been photographed from space by American spy satellites, and we knew exactly where it sank. Unfortunately, informing the Soviets of K-129's location would have compromised the capabilities of our satellite surveillance systems, a breach of national security. So we left the Russians to their own.
What happened next was even more surprising. The Russians began looking for K-129 in the wrong place. They were combing the seabed nearly 400 miles from where the sub actually sank.
No military unit on the planet is as closely monitored as a nuclear submarine. Why didn't the Russians know the location of their own sub?
In rechecking its radio-intercept files, U.S. Navy intelligence determined that K-129 hadn't filed a position report for at least four days, a incredible breach of Soviet security procedures. If the Russians were searching for K-129 in the area where it was supposed to be, why had the sub moved so much closer to Pearl Harbor?
From the satellite photos, it was clear that K-129 had surfaced shortly before the blast. There were only two reasons why it would have done so. If it had been in desperate trouble, K -129 might have surfaced. But, if so, the sub would have radioed for help immediately. It didn't.
The second reason was far more chilling. The sub would have had to surface in order to launch its nuclear missiles at Pearl Harbor. And from all appearances, that's exactly what K-129 was trying to do when it blew up. But if the Russians were planning a nuclear war, why would they attack Pearl Harbor? From a strategic standpoint, it made no sense.
The truth of the incident was 3,000 feet below the surface at the bottom of the Pacific. At the time, the US Navy had no means of recovering a wreck from that depth. Only one man might be able to do it: An eccentric billionaire named Howard Hughes who owned a gigantic deep water research vessel called the Glomar Explorer.
"Red Star Rogue" reads like the latest Tom Clancy thriller, with twists and turns that are positively breathtaking. The truth is like that sometimes. But Sewell spent nearly a decade researching the story of K-129, and his scholarship is impeccable.
This tale is as fascinating as it is frightening, and it has a timely message. Are terrorists capable of launching a nuclear attack on an American city? You bet. In 1968, it nearly happened.
I believe it was speculated that the sub's captain had decided to wage W.W. 3 on his own...(?)
Any way Why didn't the Russians know the location of their own sub?
Usually they did. They just looked for P-3s circling overhead...
Wasn't there a special on the History Channel or the Discovery Channel about this some years ago? I recall watching something that sounds real familiar to this. Wasn't the Glomar Explorer created for this? IIRC, the govt' actually brought up some of the wreckage and it seemed that it all just kind of disappeared or faded into the woodwork. It seems to me that the ending of the whole affair was very vague.
From what I saw in an ad, it appears the sub wanted to bomb Pearl Harbor, but give the credit to the Chinese.
That way the US and China would fight a war (destroying China, which was one goal of Russia) and probably leaving China divded between the the USA and the USSR along east-west lines.
But I doubt the sub capt. could have acted on his own;
a much larger Soviet plot may have been involved.
Three bits of evidence here make me question this WW3 stuff.
1) No radio contact for 4 days
2) No radio contact upon surfacing.
3) The sub exploded.
The facts could be explained by a massive electrical surge as the result of a nuke containment failure...which isn't too absurd a guess given Soviet-era quality control. Not that the doomsday scenario isn't possible--just that it seems a more unlikely reason for those facts. Anyone know if the explosion was radioactive beyond simply reactor leaks after a sub sinking?
If this is the one I am thinking of, the US eventually either turned some bodies over to the Russians, or turned over photos of a burial at sea of the bodies that came up with the wreckage.
Soviets might have thought something daring was worth a try.
Not buying that scenario at all.
Glomar Explorer was built (by Howard Hughes for the CIA) to recover a lost Russian sub and did recover at least part of it with bodies inside ...........I saw film of a burial at sea(Discovery Channel I think) .........not sure if this is the same sub but it sounds like it...........original cover story for Glomar Explorer was "mining of the ocean floor" ........I remember an article to that effect in the Weekly Reader in high school
Except that it appears to have been a diesel - electric boat (Golf), which would fairly definitively rule out a reactor failure.
" Usually they did. They just looked for P-3s circling overhead..."
I was an aviation machinists mate in an ASW squadron based at NAS Alameda from 69-70. The Russians were off the coast all the time and we were on them like white on rice. The general public didn't have a clue about what was going on just a few miles from them.
But from a psychological standpoint it would have been a devastating, iconoclasmic blow to the "greatest generation" who held the reigns of American government and industry.
Exactly the sort of attacks that AQ plans and executes.
curiosity having gotten the better of me,I found thishttp://w3.the-kgb.com/dante/military/mission.html ..............or just goooooooogle "Glomar Explorer"
Film/photos of the burial at sea of a half dozen bodies that were recovered.
That was a paraphrase of a statement by a Soviet Admiral.
American spy satellites in March 1968? The technology was in its infancy at that point ... not likely.
What were the ASW platforms of 69 70 era P-2s?
Thanks for your Service
The Russians apparently blamed it on a collision with an American sub. The Americans denied that the US sub was within a couple of thousand miles at the time, and the US sub went back into service after some minor emergency repairs in Japan 9 days after the Soviet boat sank.
There was also another special that I'm sure was on the History Channel about the nuclear race and Japan and Germany's collusion to nuke the US in LA or San Francisco just before Hiroshima. Apparently, it was the info that the government uncovered that was what really prompted the decision to use the bombs. IIRC, Japan had already set a date for the bombing and it was just 3-6 weeks after the dates that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed. I wonder how many other times we've been close to this.
fairly common knowlege that Germany & Japan were working on nuke bombs but I don't recall ever hearing that they got close to having one that worked
Yep P2's and a bunch of crazy guys flying them. We used to go out with these guys every now and then and they were totally nuts. The helicopter crews were worse if that's possible.
"1968 - In May, the USS SCORPION submarine sank southwest of the Azores. In this same year, a Soviet Golf class SSB sank north of Hawaii. SOSUS played a key role in locating the sites of both disasters."
The CIA operation to raise the Soviet Golf class sub, was code-named JENNIFER.
Germany had begun research but never was able to achieve a chain reaction as their only atomic laboratory in Berlin was bombed and destroyed in 1943.
They ceased development in 1944.
In the book : The German Atom Bomb : it was found after the war that the german atomic program never got further than a university project, uranium cubes hung on strings in a bavarian cave. Hitler didn't like the U235 fission bomb idea because it had been developed in part by JEWS; plus Heisenberg steered nuc-development toward power generation, not bombs. All he could think of, as a bomb, was to fly the entire 1/2 a million pound reactor w/control rods in a plane and drop it over london, pulling all the control rods at once. Nazi Germany never developed an airplane capable of lifting 500,000 # of course... But as to a rogue sub commander trying to start WWIII it just might have been possible. Do you remember that in the Cuban Missile Crisis the local russian commanders had total control of their own nucs? Thus if Kennedy HAD ordered air strikes on the cuban nuc bases, say in retaliation for the shooting down of the US spy plane, IT could have happened right then and there as the USSR missiles already in cuba had a 1000 mile range. Thus one could argue the case for a rogue sub commander in the 1960's and someone else on the sub, knowing what this all meant, could have sabotaged the sub to prevent WWIII. What was the name of that russian spy that fed the british and US intelligence guys the actual facts on the USSR's nuclear forces and capabilities? With that info Kennedy called Khruschev's bluff. Might not there have been a similar russian patriot on the K-129 sub? Maybe one could make a might-have-been sub movie out of that...a noble man who saw thru the communist LIES and sacrificed himself for ALL of us...an un-sung hero of the cold war...plot then : deep submersible hunting thru the 2/3rds of K-129 still down there, trying to find(as undersea detectives)who, where and how it was sabotaged...
"Except that it appears to have been a diesel - electric boat (Golf), which would fairly definitively rule out a reactor failure."
Yeah, that could present some obstacles to that possibility. 8) No mention of Golf-class in the article, though 'nuclear sub' was rampant. Nuclear MISSILE sub would have been more accurate.
Others on this thread have floated the idea of a US/Soviet sub crash. One would assume that one sub tracking/being tracked by another would maintain radio silence. It fits the facts pretty well, too. That would be another decent scenario, one I'd still think more likely than the "mad Russian cap'n" scenario,
With the Golf SSB, and the Glomar relevation, the Soviets thought the US had something to do with the sinking, since
we were able to find it, and they weren't.
The US sub and/or crew that actually found the Golf got a commendation. The commander and exec were about the only
two to know why they got the commendation. And the camera guys.
More grist for the mill...the link to the amazon.com website for the book:
Heck, even has Chapter 1 on the website...
what is the possibility of a torpedo malfunction?
a malfunction of the warheard, or a fuel handling
I remember that there science books that used the Glomar Explorer as an example of mining the sea floor. I had one of those books in school!!!
What this special, which I saw twice, stated was that Germany had the fissionable materials that Japan lacked. Japan had gotten as far as they could with the technology and a German sub was on it's way to Japan with that material when Germany surrendered. They radioed the sub but the sub commander thought it was a trick and kept on going. I don't remember how the event was finally resolved but the material did not fall into Japanese hands. I'll have to look on the History Channel's website. I think that all the episodes they run can be purchased on video or DVD.
The government got Hughes to build the Glomar Explorer under the guise of undersea mining (fact). They grabbed the entire sub and started the lift. According to what I've seen on the tube they got the sub 1/3 +/- up and the forward section of the grab assembly broke. The aft 1/3 was salvaged, seamen were buried at sea, and ...! The Glomar Explorer is fact (Hughes Tool could do anything), the rest...???
The K129 was a case where their paranoia was correct and their safeguards worked.
This is verified fact.
True. The K129's approximate location was plotted by SOUS microphones which recorded the explosion. The exact location of K129 was found by the crew of the Navy's NR1 submarine.
But as John Craven said in his book...
The secret within the secret. Is the one that should be told. And that remains intact.
So I dont think ?? it was going to send a nuke to Pearl.
John P. Craven
The main sub hunter was at that time (and still is) the P-3 But there were P-2s & P-5Ms still flying.
In 1961, Sports Illustrated published a photo taken by a SAMOS satellite. It clearly showed a golf ball sitting on a golf green. SAMOS was public knowledge, but I have no idea how the magazine got hold of a photo from such a sensitive program.
If it is in a book, it must be true.
Sports Illustrated? Maybe ... but spy satellites were not tracking Russian submarines in March 1968. There were undoubtedly spy satellites aloft, however, they were few and far between ... and most of those were Russian.