Edward Topol, published by Quartet Books Limited, London, 1983.
Everyone knows about the Soviet submarine U137, they just know it by a different name, “WHISKEY ON THE ROCKS”, the submarine that went aground off Karlskrona, Sweden. That is what SUBMARINE U-137 is all about — why the submarine was there — why it went aground — why this information must get to the western world — and why the CIA got involved. The plan for helping the informer get asylum in the West in exchange tor this secret information is the story line.
SUBMARINE U-137 should not be read as a submarine novel. There is little of it devoted to submarining. It seemingly should be read to try to understand how Soviets think and, just possibly, what they might be up to. It is an easy book to read.
The author, Edward Topol, grew up in Russia, was educated, worked as a writer and was a faculty member of the ALL UNION STATE INSTITUTE OF CINEMATOGRAPHY. Several or his scripts received awards. Muoh of his writing was published and some was censored. Tben he emigrated to the United States in 1978, at the age of 40. This is germane because we are reading what an emigre thinks or his own people and how his own people think. Here is a writer who can flavor his novel with a first-hand knowledge or the Soviet mindset. It is a cultural approach to their culture complex — political nationalism and world hegemony.
Most or us read about the Soviets without giving due consideration to the background of the writer or the writer’s sources. However, we should temper our views consistent with the level in which their society is observed — the hierarchy under consideration with which we are dealing. Most very senior level u.s. officials that deal with their counterparts in the Soviet hierarchy will describe them as non-imaginative, pragmatic, unyielding. The lower levels or the hierarchy are described as meticulous, disciplined, inflexible, much like their nucleartrained Code 08 u.s. counterparts who find there is little room for, or reward given, for improvisation. At the intermediate levels, there is some room for individuals to maneuver in order to handle various situations as they arise.
They, like us, bave their “losers” and their “winners”; but their “average” as indicated by the author have a far better chance of being rewarded for just plain competence than our “average” probably bave. This can be seen in the characterization or, and the perks given to the Generals, Colonels, Majors, political officers, and civilians described in “U-137. The Soviet reward system complements its centralized system of government and party. The “winners” rise quickly to play roles in the higher level staffs. This allows them to direct the work of those in subordinate levels. However, attaining the very highest positions requires patience — until there is room at the top. Incidentally, formal education is not necessarily a pre-requisite for reward and high position. Street smarts, ideology, and party loyalty count for as much, or more — witness the political officer in U-137.
Another important manifestation of the “winner/loser/reward” system can be seen in the Soviet’s employment of assets. Why do we see them using one machine or one man more often than others? Because the machine is better than others of its class? Possibly. Because the man, a leader, is better than his contemporaries? Probably. Is this much different than our system? llot much. So, why bring this up? Because it is necessary to explain “winner/loser/reward” and its interplay with mind-sets, described by the author as inflexible, unyielding, pragmatic etc.. The use of an analogy may be the best way to explain this system.
The Politburo builds and approves a 5-year plan. To get a deviation in this plan after its approval is almost impossible, but a change in a sub-element of the plan is permitted. As an example, suppose the 5-year plan calls for building 10,000 tanks per year. Some of these new, modern tanks are exported to a client state. A war or firefight takes place between the client state and its neighbor. and the Soviet tanks are devastated. Is the production of the tanks discontinued? Never. That would be a major deviation. However, at a lower level of government a decision to modify the tank armor, firepower, propulsion etc., is made and the production continues at the approved level contained in the 5-year plan. In the eyes of the Party hierarchy, changing the 5-year plan would mark the leaders as losers. Modification of the sub-element (even though it is now essentially a new tank design) is quite understandable and reward for meeting the 5-year plan is possible.
The Sovietologist D.F.B. Jameson writes in “Strategic Review”, about U-137; ” its most valuable aspect is the insight it opens into the Soviet military mind. A collective attitude so thoroughgoingly predatory is, I am afraid, beyond the limits of comprehension for most American officials, politicians, professors and journalists. We can accept the validity of the portrayal of the caricature Nazis of contemporary film and literature, but the patient determination of the Soviet leadership cadre to press every inch of advantage with every available means seems to be beyond understanding.”
“Patient determinatlon to press every inch of advantage with every available means” — is little understood, but nevertheless a historical Soviet practice. The Soviet leadership came into power through conspiracy and propaganda, and ever since they have used the ploy of deception and manipulation to solve their problems. The leaders even resort to handling their shortcomings by saying they don’t exist. This may limit their effectiveness, but it certainly explains the need for centralization and why they need dividing walls between the intra-societal organizations of intelligence, military, science, journalism, the arts, etc., in order to maintain Party control.
This is the environment in which Soviet military officers are brought up and it is inbred into their thinking. It is an environment where the cumbersome make-up and inertia of the bureaucracy is likely to impede needed innovation. Actually, very little is known about individual Soviet officers except for those rare occasions where one has written an article made accessible to the West, or when a resume of a Soviet officer is made available for some obscure reason. We need to know more about their military commanders and study their characteristics, stability and quirks — like Rommel and Patton studied each other prior to WW II. The “incidents at sea” involving Soviet and u.s. ships — witness the Crazy Ivan tactics — would seem to say that, and given that Soviet officers are not stupid, they certainly seem determined and gutsy in these encounters.
In U-137, the submarine skipper was very proud of himself for refusing to allow the Swedish officials to enter the forward part of his boat, even though be was under arrest. He was also proud that be lied about running aground due to navigational errors. For this, his reward was to retain his command, while the Soviet Navy merely changed the hull number of his submarine.
The Soviets are determined; they are gutsy; they are deceptive; they are manipulative; and, they do not hesitate to lie. In the context of this book, these are not the attributes we desire in our military officers. But, they certainly fit the mold of the officers described by Topol in SUBMARINE U-137. Perhaps this is why we have emigres and defectors; it was the reason given by the characters in this novel.
Rear Admiral J. R. Hill,
Annapolis, MD: u.s. Naval Institute, 1985
Admiral Hill, RN, specialized in neither submarining nor anti-submarining, but is experienced in both and hence feels “a need to choke back a desire to deploy overmuch technical knowlegde.” His book therefore aims a the average reader. Well -written and profusely illustrated, it has much to offer as an introductory to a complex subject.
Admiral Hill believes that, “If you plan any major NATO campaign without use of the sea, you are planning to lose.” He sees four major maritime concerns for the Western Alliance preservation of the submarine launched nuclear deterrent, posing some threat to the Soviet submarine missile force, control of the flanks and vital sea areas, and protection of sea replenishment and supplies. Anti-submarine warfare is vital to each. If NATO plans to use the sea it needs a sophisticated ASW capability. Preservation of the SLBH force is required primarily on departure to the patrol area to prevent Soviet surface ship or submarine surveillance and attempts to trail. The mirror image role of threatening the Soviet SLBH force aims, first, to demonstrate that an attack against a U.S. missile submarine would bring much more damaging retribution against their own; second, to ensure the preoccupation or a large portion of the Soviet ASW in protecting their missile force. In tbe early stages of a war, the admiral believes that by mutual consent, both sides may avoid attacks on the other’s missile launching submarines, so as to preserve the stability of deterrence. For a number of reasons, political, geographical, and operational, however, such an agreement seems both unlikely and unenforceable.
The third mission, control of the immensely important flanks and vital sea areas of NATO, is not only immensely important but extremely complicated. The battle for the Norwegian sea, for example, could be one of the major engagements of World War III. Do we visualize amphibious landings to land reinforcements in Norway prior to hostilities? Multiple offensive and defensive missions may call for widely dispersed, freely maneuvering surface and subsurface units, calling for anti-submarine neutralization of areas within 300 miles of carrier battle groups. With land based air, 8Urface and subsurface units of both sides involved, command, control and communications are critical factors — “it is absolutely necessary to confuse the enemy more than one confuses oneself.”
The fourth mission, control of shipping, will be primarily a UK task in the Eastern Atlantic (where Britain provides 70S of NATO’s ready forces), otherwise its a u.s. responsibility. Estimated requirements are 200-300 shiploads of dry cargo monthly and 50 nominal 20,000 ton oilers, plus an immediate requirement at or before hostilities of a million men and 10 million tons of equipment. This, of course, is added to 1,000 cargoes monthly for normal European economic needs. Staggering as anti-submarine protection may be for our impoverished and often poorly supported defensive forces, one element of the task is not well developed by the admiral. The broad strategic and geopolitical problem in the broad reaches of the Atlantic greatly favors the West and handicaps the Soviet Union. The enormous geographic problem of Soviet access to the sea, lack of support bases, repair and refit facilities, and shore based anti-submarine detection capabiljty are formidable. Yet the potential destruction possible by only one or two nuclear submarines anywhere in the vicinity of our task forces sharply raises the ante for both sides.
Written primarily from a British viewpoint, ANTI-SUBMARINE WARFARE is of broad, general interest for the professional or armchair student.
Captain Paul R. Schratz