Both Captain Patton and Captain Lowenthal are retired submarine commanding officers with extensive pre-and post-retirement experience with the Naval War College.
ACold War at Sea conference was recently held in Rhode Island. Between 7 May and 10 May 2004, proceedings and events were conducted at the Naval War College in Newport, at the ex-Soviet JULIETT-class guided missile submarine (SSG) K-77 docked in Providence RI, and the Watson Institute for International Studies of Brown University. Translators were abundant at all functions, including social events. Real time translations were simulcast in both English and Russian for the formal presentations at the War College and Brown University. These extraordinary events were the result of extensive efforts by USS SARATOGA Museum Foundation-owners of both K-77 and USS SARATOGA (CVA-60). Both ships are to be major parts of a proposed permanent Cold War display at Quonset Point, Rhode Island. The K-77 acquisition sparked the idea of the conference.
The authors were fortunate enough to have been invited to participate. Some of our observations, and those of other US submariners present, are provided as information for readers of the Submarine Review.
It should not come as a surprise that the affair was heavily oriented towards the interplay between the US and Soviet Submarine Forces. The Russian delegation consisted predominantly of active duty and retired submarine officers, and included several who had commanded or served aboard the K-77, including an active duty Rear Admiral. The senior member of the Russian delegation was VADM Yuriy Sysuev, a submariner and the present Chief of the Kuznetsov Naval Academy in St. Petersburg. Three retired 4-star US Admirals participated: Admiral Carl Trost, Admiral Bill Studeman, and Admiral Stansfield Turner. Several prominent Naval Historians, who are researching and writing about the Cold War presented some of their papers.
Other interesting civilian participants included Sergei Khrushchev, the son of the Soviet ex-premier, and Francis Gary Powers, Jr., the son of the U2 pilot shot down in May of 1960 while Nikita Khrushchev was Premier. A notable event occurred at a reception at the home of Sergei Khrushchev in Cranston RI, when he and Francis Gary Powers, Jr. embraced and called one another friend.
The presentations at the Naval War College on Friday and Saturday revolved around the history of Soviet interest in naval matters, including the great deal of support given to an emergent fleet by Joseph Stalin after World War II. An anecdotal story about his admiration of the appearance of Italian designed warships led to what the Soviet mari~ers referred to as the Gucci Cruisers. The Cuban Missile crisis, the increasing Soviet capabilities under Admiral Gorshkov, and the impact of the Maritime Strategy under President Reagan were all discussed from the Russian perspective. Of particular interest was the Russian view that Khrushchev’s fiscal defense philosophy was not unlike that of Eisenhower’s s as expressed by Norman Friedman in The Fifty-Year War. That is, not to just throw money at the US/USSR military competition, but participate in that contest just enough to stay in the game, while the real battle was fought in terms of agricultural products, standard of living and consumer goods. It was only with the ascendancy of Leonard Brezhnev that a money is no object tack was taken as regards the construction of a world class Soviet blue water navy.
Several fascinating insights came from the Russian discussions of the Cuban Missile Crisis from their perspective. One of the Russian delegation, Captain First Rank (Ret) Ryurik Ketov, was the Commanding Officer of one of the four FOXTROT diesel submarines attempting to reach Cuba (for permanent basing!) During the blockade. His boat was the only one not forced to surface by USN Forces, and he was promoted upon return to the USSR and later commanded a VICTOR SSN.
His testimony was that each FOXTROT had a nuclear-tipped torpedo on board. He stated that the Commanding Officer was authorized to use them if his ship was attacked and all communications had been lost with Moscow when US ASW Forces were prosecuting them. He stated that the Soviet submarines’ only link with what was going on was from US civilian radio (and TV audio) broadcasts and what they were able to intercept from US military communications. During the conference, it was stated several times by several historians, that US Forces were not aware that the FOXTROT submarines had nuclear torpedoes on board.
Russian testimony also indicated that sound quieting of their submarines was the top military priority throughout the 70’s and 80’s, and was pursued with a fervor equivalent to that of our Manhattan Project in World War II, or the Project Apollo moon landing. Also, since they perceived (almost Army-like in thinking) that the turning of their Northern Flank essentially cancelled all other Soviet advantages in a Central European conflict, the Maritime Strategy really did cause them a significant degree of strategic discomfort. Their basic strategy called for placing the bulk of their naval assets into a defensive role for which there were concentric far, medium and first echelons of keep-out radii. US submariners, of course, saw this entrenchment of their naval assets as the creation of a target-rich environment.
Sunday’s Victory Day (we call May 81h VE day and it is a major Russian holiday celebrating the WWU defeat of Germany) memorial services at the K-77 JULIET SSG was impressive, as was the tour of the K-77-a 3500 ton behemoth of a diesel-electric submarine (US diesel submarines were about 1700 tons). At the end of that affair, each of the US and Russian delegations tried unsuccessfully to outdo the other in the quantity and quality of gifts and mementos ex-changed.
Monday was somewhat a continuation of Friday and Saturday’s presentations, but with a smaller group and a good deal of Brown’s academia in the audience. It had a somewhat different agenda: how the scientists viewed the Cold War, how the operators (submariners) viewed it, how the film industry played off it and the state of US-Russian relations today.
Of interest was a description of the development and testing of he cruise missile employed on the JULIET, how the post-launch wing deployment was absolutely revolutionary for its time, and how, during testing, it managed to inadvertently attack a civilian trawler, a fishing village and a Japanese cruise ship. In one presentation Mr. A. Homer Skinner, who had been associated with the CIA, alleged that the way we found out about the Soviet submarines anechoic coatings was when one of ours bumped one of theirs and some of the coating stuck to our submarine. At that point Captain First Class (Ret) Ryurik Ketov, previously mentioned as a Cuban Missile crisis FOXTROT CO, spoke up to say that it was his VICTOR that had been bumped by a third party while he was trailing USS GEORGE WASHINGTON.
It was a fascinating three-four day event during which two groups of Cold Warriors expressed their mutual admiration and respect for one another-not as enemies, but rather as adversaries-united as all seamen have always been in a battle against a common enemy-the Ocean.