Readers of Cold War Command will come away thinking that CAPT Dan Conley has made a career of “speaking truth to power” -a personal trait that many of us would like to think we have. I can attest, however, that Dan really does possess it. As the duty Brit submariner at DEVRON 12, then CDR Conley more than once pointed out to the Chief Staff Officer—a certain CAPT Jim Patton—the error of his ways. His input was always valuable, and I soon took to asking “…what do you think about this Dan?” Before I embarrassed myself by voicing my opinion first.
His credibility now established, I can only recommend that any even casual student of the Cold War and of the training, engineering, submarine construction and other facets of that period read his book. He takes no prisoners when he speaks of the shortcomings in these areas, including naming names, where appropriate.On the other hand, he heaps praise on people and organizations that clearly merited it.
There are and have been so many tell-all books about submarines in the Cold War, from Tom Clancy on down, that those that were in the thick of it have understandably developed a BS filter than screens out much of the incredulous or downright lies.If anyone were to suspect that Dan was any less of a submariner than his book attests, consider for a moment that as the Commanding Officer of one of his two SSN commands, he detected, closed and trailed four different Soviet submarines during one two-week period without being counter detected.There is little doubt in my mind that the Soviet Navy kept a dossier on Dan’s comings and goings.
Some of the material in Cold War Command that are worthy of study and reflection include his views on his Navy’s failure to keep current tactical training focused on current tactical issues.For example, the hallowed UK PERISHER training focusing almost exclusively on the individualistic, technique-associated skills involved in conducting a WWII-type periscope approach for a short-range, straight-running torpedo attack when the real(and largely unaddressed) problem at that time was the procedural and team skill of conducting a long range sonar approach to a point where the solution was good enough for a smart weapon to consummate.He is also vociferous in condemning the UK’s bureaucratic heavyweight torpedo community for failing to correct (or even notice) serious problems with their Tiger fish weapon, shortcomings which were perpetuated into its replacement project, the Spearfish torpedo.
US submariners will see many parallels in the UK submarining world that Dan Conley lived through, and also many differences.It gives more food for thought, but doesn’t definitively answer the decades-old question of the Brit split of Deck Officers and Engineers as opposed to the US Jack-of-all-trades approach. His accounts of submarine operations in the Barents are honest and insightful, and his description of shipyard conditions are spot-on.
The book could easily have been titled the Rise and Fall of the British Submarine Force, since Dan personally experienced the whole affair. He is literally the Winds of WarPug Henry, since he was present at and participated in nearly all the major events of his service during the Cold War. This book is not only fascinating for the experienced NATO submariner, but should be required reading for all submarine officer training pipelines.