Ed. Note: The following article appeared in the Morning Edition of /ZVESTIYA on May 13, 1992 It is an interview with Rear Admiral Anatoliy Shtyrov by Nilwkly Burbyga. This reprint appeared in the FBJS of 19 May 1992. The second article is a follow-up to the interview and appeared in IZVESTIYA on May 15, 1992.
“[Text] This episode, which has never been ultimately figured out, occurred In 1976; It dates back to the era or harsh confrontation between two superpowers-the United States and the USSR. A Soviet strategic: bomber on air combat patrol had an accident and crashed Into the water. There were nuclear weapons on board the bomber. What happened to them afterward?
We approached a person who was privy to this episode, and asked him to discuss this.
At the time, Rear Admiral AnatoUy Shtyrov held the position or chief or one or the key directorates or the statr or the Padfic Fleet.
Shtyrov said: “The fleet was not informed about our strategic bomber crashing in the Sea of Okhotsk. Since Moscow did not set this task, we did not engage in a search in the estimated area of the loss of the plane. I came upon the aircraft by chance. As a former submariner in charge of the work of analysts in my department, I noted a quite routine report to the effect that the American submarine GRAYBACK had arrived at the Yokosuka naval base, along with the Com-mander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, who attended a ceremony to decorate the crew of the submarine with orders and medals. A total of 67 people had been decorated, which amounted to 90 percent of the crew members. If we take into account the fact that the Yanks are moderate with combat decorations, that they do not give them out lightheartedly, and that anniversary award showers are not a tradition there, this immediately begged the following question: How outstanding would the accomplishment have been?
As a former submariner, I was well aware that in 1967 a U.S. submarine, perhaps the same GRAYBACK, had stolen two inertly loaded state-of-the-art sea mines from an area to the south of Russkiy Island in the Bay of Peter the Great. The mines were placed during a period when the fleet was inspected by the Main Inspectorate of the Ministry of Defense. Two months later, these mines ended up in New York.
Many years later, it became known that the U.S. Navy successfully used its submarines in the extensive operation Ivy Bells, which involved the attachment of eavesdropping devices to underwater communications cables in the Sea of Okhotsk and other seas and their retrieval.
It was also known that the GRAYBACK was not a regular attack or general-purpose submarine, but rather a special-purpose one. It was converted from a submarine carrying cruise missiles into a special submarine for reconnaissance missions and raids. This is why I called in an officer with a chronological readout analyzing the cyclical use of the GRAYBACK subma-rine. It turned out that the submarine had dropped out of our field of vision for 25 days. Where did it go? According to our data, this submarine had not left tracks in Vietnam; nor had it appeared along the coast of China and North Korea. Only repeated processing of intercepted radio traffic from the Northern Sector of the Japanese Air Defense System SAGE helped us guess what was going on. The Japanese Air Defense detected the sudden disappearance of an air target to the east of the coast of southern Sakhalin. Processing yielded the time, bearing, and distance to the air target which had disappeared. Simple calculations on the map indicated that the plane came down in Prostor Bay, 20 miles away from a deserted shore. The depths in the area are uniform, up to 40 meters, and the floor consists of dense, silty sand.
Based on all this, it was concluded that information about Ivan’s strategic bomber which had crashed was graciously communicated by the Japanese to the U.S. Navy command in Japan. The Yanks, being men of action, certainly went for the idea of examining the plane resting on the floor and borrowing what was of interest to them.[Burbyga] How do you know that there were nuclear weapons on board the plane? [Shtyrov] I got in touch with the staff of strategic aviation on a secure line. We had approximately the following conversa-tion: “Was the lost plane yours?” “Unfortunately, yes.” “Do
you confirm the time and the place?” -ves.” “Did you have ‘red heads’ on board?”-this is how nuclear weapons were referred to in the slang of staff officers. “We did.” “How many?” “Two”.[Burbyga] What happened later, when you learned about the episode involving the snatching of our nuclear bombs? [Shtyrov] After processing all the data, preparing a map, a chronology of events, and a written substantiation, and drafting an encrypted message to the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, I asked the Commander of the Pacific Fleet to receive me for a confidential report Admiral V. Maslov received me. I remember the content of my report to this day. I reported: “Approximately one month ago, U.S. special services carried out a covert operation to examine our strategic bomber which came down in Prostor Bay, using the special submarine GRAYBACK. There were two nuclear bombs on board the plane. Here is a substantiation and a draft report to Moscow.”
The Fleet Commander looked at the map and the chronolo-gy for a long time. Then he asked: “So, you want me to report this to Moscow?” I answered: “Yes.”
He moved the papers away in silence. I could clearly read this in eyes: “So, I am supposed to report this and be called on the carpet? The plane is not mine all right, but the sea is! ….”
I silently gathered up the documents and left.” “
[Ed. Note: The following appeared in /ZVESTIYA on May 15, 1992 and is reprinted here form the FBIS of May 20, 1992]
Further on Okhotsk Sea Nuclear Reooverv[Article by Sergey Agafonov, Nikolay Burbyga, and Andrey Illesh, IZVESTIYA: “International Scandal Around the Nuclear Bombs from the Bottom of the Sea of Okhotsk”] [Text] IZVESTIYA (No.UO) published an article under tbe headline “How Our People Gave Two Nuclear Bombs to tbe Americans as a ‘Present,’ and How the Japanese Facilitated This.tt The article dealt with events that took place in 1976. Rear Admiral Anatoliy Shtyrov was at that time one of the top officers in the stall’ of the Pacific Fleet. He Informed our IZVESTIYA correspondent about a sensational fact: the crash or a Soviet strategic bomber on air combat patrol carrying nuclear weapons…
According to this expert, the American submarine ORAY. BACK managed to be the first to arrive at the location in the Sea of Okhotsk where the Soviet strategic bomber had crashed. It was able to recover from the sea bottom the Soviet nuclear weapons-two atomic bombs. That was facilitated by the fact that the Japanese quietly cooperated with the Americans in this operation, and Moscow did not task the High Command of the Pacific fleet with a search for its own strategic bomber(!). At that time Anatoliy Shtyrov used the help of the Pacific Fleet special services to conduct his own investigation; then he wrote up an appropriate report and sent it to his commanders. Admiral V. Maslov, Commander-in-Chief. listened to Shtyrov and took no action. The tragedy thus remained secret to the public until the day our article was published.
Japan was the first to react to the IZVESTIYA item. The Japan Defense Agency denied the IZVESTIYA assertion that “in 1976 the Armed Forces of this country helped the United States in the recovery of two nuclear bombs; the bombs were found on board the Soviet bomber that crashed into the Pacific east of South Sakhalin. The deputy director general of the Agency, Akira Hiyoshi, and Air Force Chief of Staff Akio Suzuki emphasized the fact that this was the first time they had heard about the incident.”
The next message came from Washington. We quote: “I have nothing to tell you with respect to this issue,” was the answer from U.S. Department of Defense representative G. Hartung to the ITAR-TASS correspondent’s inquiry about the reaction of the American military agency to the IZVESTIYA article. “I have checked into your inquiry and I have nothing to say about it, .. the Pentagon spokesman added. In our opinion, this is circumstantial proof that the newspaper item was correct, because our article went into considerable detail about the crew award ceremony on board the GRAYBACK submarine soon after the crash of the Soviet bomber in the Sea of Okhotsk, and about what operations this submarine could have conducted at that time and where.
The KYODO TSUSHIN agency conducted its own mini-investigation in Japan after the publication of the IZVESTIYA article, the results of which are now the center of attention of the Japanese press.
Local commentators note the fact that IZVESTIYA is not the kind of publication to try and dig up a sensation just for the fun of it; they have asked some prominent Japanese military officials to add to the published story.
The official responses run as follows:
— Hirokazu Samejima held the post of commander of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee in the Japanese Self-Defense Forces in He said that he did not remem-ber an incident with a Soviet nuclear bomber taking place 16 years ago. Samejima also doubts that an American submarine would have dared such a risky operation as a removal of nuclear bombs from a crashed plane in the immediate vicinity of the Soviet border.
— Eiichiro Sekikawa, one of the leading civil experts on aviation affairs, emphasized the fact that the Japanese Self-Defense Forces have a major radar complex in operation in the north of Hokkaido, in the Nemuro area. This radar complex can cover huge expanses, and the JZVESTIYA article sounds convincing from this point of view alone. “I doubt”, said Sekikawa, “that an American submarine could ‘remove’ nuclear weapons from a Soviet bomber, but as for the incident itself, the chances are quite high that it could have taken place in the former USSR.”
The quoted Japanese responses may lead us to at least two conclusions: First, there are differences in bow the incident was viewed by military and civilian representatives; secondly, most doubts revolve around the nuclear bomb removal operations and not around the incident itself. If we assume that the incident did occur under such circumstances as described by IZVESTIYA, then we have one version of it which can explain both the bad memory of the Japanese military and the doubters about the underwater looting of nuclear arms.
Well, let us assume that the Americans managed to remove the cargo from the crashed plane. What would their actions be after that? Naturally, they had to stop at some port to unload this cargo. We could suppose that the submarine headed for a continental Navy base in the United States, but it is doubtful that the Americans would carry this catch across the ocean, as
this would take a dangerously long time. Most probably they looked for a closer port, and here Japan was the only candidate. Let us now return to the Japanese military; had they acknow-ledged the incident, it would be easy to check which American submarines visited which Japanese ports at any given time. A submarine from the Okhotsk patrol would have been the one we were looking for. But it is common knowledge that Japan is operating “on three nonnuclear principles”-it will not have, produce, or allow nuclear arms on its territory. With this in mind, no official will ever remember an old episode or will doubt its details, so that he does not put himself and his superiors on the spot.
This version contains too many ifs, of course, to be accepted as the fundamental one. But it cannot be totally discarded either. Judging by appearance, however, the first official responses from Japanese are not the last.
As you can see, making public the story of a crashed Soviet bomber that was carrying nuclear bombs is an event of consider-able importance for the whole world. IZVESTIYA hopes to obtain some information from official military sources which will allow it to shed additional light on this incident. As soon as we receive such data we will publish it. We hope that it will then become clear what happened to the two Soviet nuclear bombs.”