Contact Us   |    Join   |    Donate


Mr. Friedman’s commentary, using such provocative tenns as iron grip, reveals a failure to understand the context of Cold War Submarines. Indeed, at times it is difficult to understand if he takes issue with the authors’ views or with the authors’ reporting of Soviet views.

His comments can best be addressed on the basis of four points: 1. Admiral Rickover: His influence on submarine design, especially after loss of THRESHER (SSN 593) in 1963 was not subtle. We suggest a reading of Rickover’s public and uncensored testimony before key congressional committees; interviews with members of the U.S. submarine community who worked with (and against) him; and discussions with his supervisors-Secretaries of the Navy, Chiefs of Naval Operations, Commanders of the Bureau of Ships and Naval Sea Systems Commands, to understand his influence on submarine design. We did so in researching this book.

The conclusion, which has been stated in several articles by submarine designers in the Naval Institute Proceedings, is that our discussion of Rickover’s role in U.S. submarine design is right 011. Yes, Rickover lost several battles; at times he was convinced by logic to change his views, as in the issue of single-versus-twin screw issue for SSNs. But he won the vast majority of his battles, and his victories did have benefits, among them the unmatched safety record of the U.S. Navy’s nuclear propulsion program.

2. Soviet design competition. The competition among the Soviet submarine design bureaus was (and is) relentless. Mr. Friedman is incorrect when he makes simplistic assig11me11ts of submarine types to the bureaus, such as SSBN and SSK submarines to Rubin. With a more careful reading of the book, he would have learned that the Rubin design bureau was not relegated only to SSBNs and SSKs, but the bureau also designed the attack submarine KOMSOMOLETS (Project 685) and several SSGNs, among them the Oscar (Project 949). He would have learned that Malachite, beyond designing the later attack submarines, also produced SSBN and SSGN designs (Projects 639, 679, 687, among others). Mr. Friedman would find it very instructive in this regard to visit the design model archives of the submarine bureaus in St. Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod.

Many of the other types of submarines designed and proposed by the Rubin, Malachite, and Lazurit bureaus are discussed and illustrated in Cold War Submarines. There certainly was and still is design competition among the remaining bureaus.

3. Soviet torpedoes. With respect to torpedoes, Mr. Friedman is critical of the Soviet practices, and not of our book. He admonishes the USSR for having developed and employed so many types of torpedoes while the U.S. Navy has successively concentrated on the Mk 37 and then the Mk 48 (with serial improvements). He would do well to look into the problems with those torpedoes; for example, there were difficulties in firing a two-torpedo salvo with the Mk 48, and that torpedo’s performance was faulty under ice. There were many other problems that cannot be discussed in this forum.

During the long career of the Mk 48 there have been several efforts to develop other torpedoes, especially an anti-surface ship weapon and the current half-/engtlz Mk 48 as U.S. naval leaders realized the value of multiple weapons. The Soviet torpedo inventory-coupled with a greater number of launch tubes than found in U.S. submarines-gave them flexibility and redundancy, which, in their view, were valuable attributes. Also, Soviet forces were trained and armed for nuclear war at sea-something abhorred by the U.S. Navy. Accordingly, nuclear torpedoes, including the remarkable, 200-knot V A-111 Shkval, added to the number of types and capabilities of torpedoes carried in Soviet submarines.

At one point the U.S. Navy must have felt the same way, deploying SSNs with combinations of Mk 48s, Mk 45 ASTOR torpedoes, Harpoon missiles, SUBROCs, anti-ship and land-attack versions of the Tomahawk, and even mines, thus creating the same loadout problems that Mr. Friedman dislikes.

Finally, Mr. Friedman’s attempt to relate the number of torpedo types to the loss of the KURSK is beyond any logic. Submarines of most nations have had major torpedo problems. After circular-running torpedoes sank two U.S. submarines in World War II should the U.S. Navy have immediately discarded the Mk 14 torpedo?

4. Sources. Mr. Friedman criticizes Cold War Submarines for not using the large number of Russian magazine articles on submarine programs that have been published during the past decade. A careful reading of our book’s 48 pages of notes and bibliography will identify many of those books and articles.

But many of the articles that Mr. Friedman praises appear to have the same sources, and even the same errors-some officially sanctioned. Rather, our primary sources were the Soviet submarine designers and scientists, whom we interviewed at considerable length, and their principal assistants. The men and women whom we interviewed-many never before having had discussions with Americans-were able to cite (and in some cases provide copies of) their personal papers and official reports to help our research, making Cold War Submarines a unique treatment of U.S. and Soviet submarine design and construction.

Beyond the design bureaus, we also held discussions with officials at several related research institutes and at a major shipyard.

Rather than Mr. Friedman’s convoluted views on Cold War Submarines, we prefer the following appraisal by Vice Admiral George Sterner, a submariner and former Commander, Naval Sea Systems Command, who concluded his review in the Naval Institute Proceedings with:

Cold War Submarines has a special appeal to those dedicated operators who manned the submarines in the Cold War. The evolution of Soviet submarine tactics and the political context that motivated their leadership are fascinating. The evolution of the Soviet submarine documented in the authors’ easy style with pictures and detailed elevation views of each submarine design will interest professionals and novices alike. Most fascinating, however, are the accounts of the people who actually led the race for undersea supremacy.

Naval Submarine League

© 2022 Naval Submarine League