Phil McGuinn is the Deputy Public Affairs officer for the Commander, Naval Submarine Forces in Norfolk, VA. He serves as Vice President for the Hampton Roads Chapter of the Naval Submarine League and is a Captain (select) in the U.S. Naval Reserve.
Rising Tide could have just as well been titled Rising Curtain for the authors have opened up to us a fascinating cast of heroes and dramas beneath the sea from behind the former iron curtain. Through a combination of personal stories and research, Weir and Boyne bring humanity to Ivan and help us to understand the cold wars between the American and Russian submariners and between the Russian submariner and his bureaucracy. Written in a manner that is easy for the non-submariner to understand while retaining enough factoids and jargon to keep the interest of the dolphin wearer, Rising Tide’s pages tum easily once through the brief history of the Russian Submarine Force’s beginnings.
Gary Weir, historian of science and technology at the U.S. Naval Historical Center and winner of the prize for naval history for Forged in War: The Naval-Industrial Complex and American Submarine Construction. 1940-1961. brings his wealth of submarine knowledge to the book. He has teamed with Walter J. Boyne, New York Times best selling author of the Influence of Air Power on History and former director of the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution.
An incredible book has been drawn from the oral histories of twelve Russian submarine commanders taken during the winter of 2002 and spanning the breadth of the Cold War. The authors set out to describe, using firsthand accounts, the untold story of Soviet submariners in two “brutal contests . They recount the underwater jousts with the U.S Navy and the Royal Navy. Throughout the stories of the second conflict between the Russian submariner and bureaucracy, Weir and Boyne reinforce their thesis that the man to “blame for exposing Soviet seamen to totally unwarranted and unnecessary dangers was Sergei Gorshkov, Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union. Rising Tide provides an intimate and often frightening account of the Cold War Soviet Submarine Force and, in a sense, a prolonged chat with NATO’s Cold War adversaries.
Those stories reveal a determination by the submarine commanders to meet the demands of the expanding missions of the Soviet Navy while dealing with the limitations and defects of the Soviet submarine designs and nuclear catastrophes. The book is organized roughly chronologically and moves quickly from a short history of the Russian Navy into the Soviet Submarine Force after World War II and its expansion into deep waters. It includes chapters on the birth of Soviet nuclear submarines, the submarine operations in the Cuban Missile crisis, two chapters on the technical problems faced by the Russian submariner in operations and nuclear plant designs. One chapter on intelligence gathering focuses on the Soviet trawlers and their importance in gaining information, including the monitoring of an SLBM launch from the USS JAMES MADISON and recovering U.S. Navy telemetry buoys in 1970. Chapter Nine reports the apex of Soviet submarine operations that openly challenged Western technological superiority and is followed by a final chapter on the mystery of the KURSK disaster as seen from an insiders’ view.
The expansion of the Soviet Navy beyond a coastal defense force is told by the memory of Rear Admiral Vladimir Lebedko who in 1956 deployed to deep waters in the Pacific with the S-91. He also participated in an unplanned-on his part-deployment aboard the S-178, a Whiskey class diesel submarine. The authors use the alert deployment of the S-178 as the first illustration of Gorshkov’ s use of submarines to challenge United States naval power no matter the human cost. Lebedko, who took a friend’s duty as a favor, read orders directing the commanding officer of S-178 to get underway and prepare “to attack and destroy the surface ships and vessels of ‘the adversary’.
The litany of Soviet submarine accidents and nuclear incidents discussed is both chilling and enlightening. Weir and Boyne argue convincingly that Gorshkov “decided in favor of the nuclear submarine fleet, and against the lives of the submariners who manned them. (284) Perhaps the repeated descriptions of incidents involving the first Soviet nuclear sub, the K-3, best illustrates the informed choices made by the men of the bureaucracy and the Sailors on the submarines. The authors report that the K-3 was designed by engineers in a project so classified that no naval specialists were consulted in the initial program. K-3 experienced a leak in its steam generator and cracks in its nuclear fuel elements during a cruise in 1960. According to the authors, “The incident was really a metaphor for the problems of the entire Soviet system, for over time the leak … killed more than a dozen crew members via radiation sickness, and the news of that was suppressed for years. (67)
K-3 remained in service and experienced another tragic event in September 1967 when a fire broke out in the torpedo room. Al-though 39 men died, a greater catastrophe was averted because Captain-Lieutenant Malyar prevented the men from opening the hatch and spreading the fire. The fire “died out before any of the twenty torpedoes (including two that were nuclear tipped) could explode. ( l 09)
A second chilling focus of Rising Tide centers on the lack of controls for nuclear weapons. In the chapter on the Cuban Missile Crisis, Weir and Boyne present clear evidence from the oral histories that “the final decision to launch a nuclear torpedo or nuclear missile ultimately resided in the hands of individual submarine commanders. According to Captain Shurnkov, commander of the B-130, one of his admirals issued a cryptic response to a question about the rules of engagement regarding the use of a 3.5 megaton nuclear tipped torpedo as Shurnkov was about to deploy to Cuba, saying, “Once your face has been slapped, don’t let them hit your face one more time. In hindsight, it is little wonder that the world watched anxiously as the crisis unfolded and Shumkov’s nuclear-armed submarine was forced to the surface by three grenades in international waters.
The brutal reality of the Cold War with the sacrifice of men to the greater good of Gorshkov’s goals is portrayed as the authors provide faces, names and personality to the previously nameless Soviet adversaries. One enjoys the sense of accomplishment as Captain First Rank Anatoli Shevchenko surfaces at the North Pole in August 1979 and goes on to challenge the American Navy off its own coast. Shevchenko directed two highly successful operations, “APORT and “ATRINA , in the mid-1980s. In an attempt to demonstrate that the Soviet Navy could acquire important operational intelligence about the U.S. Navy using “ingenuity and sheer determination in the face of the American technological superiority, five Victor class submarines were ordered to take up station in the Western Atlantic. Using the Gulf Stream like a duck blind, the Victors hid from American Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) patrols while tracking U.S. submarines and gaining valuable intelligence from the U.S. response to try to find the Soviet submarines. Shevchenko’s “APORT” surprised the U.S. Navy and revealed SSBN patrol areas, tactical response and the extent of the SOSUS coverage area. (202-208)
So successful was APO RT that the Soviet leadership used similar strategy in 1986 with a smaller entrapment operation called “ATRINA. Designed to determine NATO’s responses, ATRINA sent five Victor-3 submarines to pre-assigned rendezvous locations to gauge detection and response tactics. The operations repeatedly demonstrated the Soviet ability to conduct coordinated operations far from home and near American coasts while testing NATO’s ASW defenses. (209-210)
However, Weir and Boyne indicate that this was the Soviet Navy at its best as the Russian military met hard times with the fall of the Berlin Wall and subsequent breakup of the Soviet Union. They recount the saga of the K-414, a Victor-3 Class submarine, that in 1994, while en route to the North Pole, experienced an emergency surfacing because of an oxygen leak from a torpedo and four days later suffered a reactor scram under the ice. All of this as a prelude to the loss of the KURSK.
In the longest chapter of the book, The Mystery of the KURSK, the authors expertly weave information from Russian naval experts, personal accounts and news sources to present a detailed analysis of the loss and problems with the rescue attempts. Weir and Boyne begin the chapter with a brief synopsis of the successful recovery of crews from the loss ofS-178 and K-129 and lament that the KURSK did not have the same fortune. Centered on the St. Petersburg Submariners Club and the retired submariners, Weir and Boyne explore the Russian informants’ versions of KURSK’s sinking, including the collision and on-board explosion scenarios. They report the coincidence of USS MEMPHIS’s, a U.S. Los Angeles class attack submarine, arrival in Norway for repairs days after the KURSK’s sinking, but then show that the evidence and ultimate conclusions pointed to a faulty torpedo as the cause.
With informed opinion, Weir and Boyne conclude that the KURSK disaster may signal the end of the “Soviet/Russian submarine force and the beginning of the Russian Federation’s presence deep in the world’s oceans. (252) This view is a chilling and potentially accurate conclusion when viewed along with the sinking of the decommissioned K-159 in August 2003 and recent comments by Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov that the nuclear-powered cruiser PETER THE GREAT was in such poor condition that its reactor could explode at any moment. In contrast, the authors compare the KURSK and COLUMBIA tragedies in the Epilogue and bemoan the what if the capital and creative talent that made the Cold War exploits described in the book possible had been used to protect the environment. Although some might deem this worthy of consideration, the comparison seems detached from the reasoning of the book.
The book also contains sixteen pages of unreleased photographs from the informants’ collections. The most striking are the photos taken from the trawler that witnessed the ballistic missile launch and then jockeyed with American Sailors to recover parts of the missile and buoys. Other photos help put faces to the stories and provide humanity to the former adversaries. Beyond these images, however, the reader unfamiliar with the layout of submarines interiors would benefit from some basic schematic diagrams in order to better follow the description of fires spreading from one compartment to another as the crew tries to access an escape module.
Some readers may fault the lack of sources to validate the claims presented by the oral history accounts. Weir and Boyne acknowledge this shortcoming and provide footnotes that off er more background. They openly explain the limits that continued classification of U.S. patrol reports and operational information created in cross-referencing claims such as when one sub commander reportedly tracked a U.S. SSBN for five days. Nevertheless, the detailed description of a collision between “two nuclear powered submarines, each one equipped with nuclear-tipped missiles following a botched underwater pirouette without a footnote frustrated this reviewer. (112) The existing footnotes, however, were especially valuable in providing additional context. For example, they include comments from former U.S. submariners that indicates a continued contest over who could claim to have bested the other in contact acquisition and tracking contests and one from Vice Admiral Emery, former COMSUBLANT, who provided explanatory insight into submarine operations. Others may note that some of the text for the appendix on submarine characteristics finds it way into the main text when the authors are describing submarine class specifications.
Clirs Notes fans will appreciate Appendix One-The History of the Russian Navy according to Gorshkov that presents an annotated version of Gorshkov’s view of naval history and saves the actual reading of Gorshkov’s Red Star Rising at Sea.
The authors introduce caveats to the ideas presented by Gorshkov and provide a context in which he created the new Red Navy. The authors also include a greatly needed guide to U.S. and Soviet submarines that allows the non-technical reader to understand the differences between the confusing array of submarines types. In addition, Appendix Two provides details that helps the reader understand the differences between the U.S. and Soviet submarine capabilities that contributed to the under sea drama. The two appendices contribute greatly to the context of the main portions of the book by placing them within the strategic framework of the Soviet Navy’s Leadership and a comparison of the submarines taking part in the Cold War.
Rising Tide fills a gap that intelligence couldn’t during the Cold War and reveals insights into the Soviet and Russian submarine force and its leadership. Whether read for entertainment or reference, Rising Tide makes you respect the submariners and angry with the bureaucracy that cost so many lives. It belongs in any submariner’s collection.
SURVIVING SPOUSES RECEIVING VA BENEFITS CHANGE IN LAW
The Veterans Improvement Act of 2004 has made a major change in entitlement for certain survivors receiving VA benefits because their spouse’s death wns caused by or accelerated by their service connected conditions.
Under the law that became effective December 16, 2003, a surviving spouse who remarries on or after their 57’b birthday will continue to be entitled to VA benefits including DIC, CHAMPVA (if not eligible for TRICARE), and Lonn Guaranty benefits.
Surviving spouses who hnve been removed from the roles because of remarriage on or nfter their 57’b birthday hnve until December 16, 2004 to npply for reinstatement of benefits. lf they do not apply for reinstatement by that date they are ineligible to receive DIC unless their present marriage ends in death or divorce. At that time they can be restored to DIC. Should they remarry again after having been restored, and they are over the age of 57 they will continue to be entitled to DIC.
Surviving spouse who married prior to age 57 are ineligible for restoration to the DIC roles unless their current marriage ends in death or divorce.