Forty years ago, in May 1968, the submarine USS Scorpion sank in mysterious circumstances with a loss of ninety-nine lives. The tragedy occurred during the height of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, and it followed by only weeks the sinking of a Soviet sub near Hawaii. Now in All Hands Down, drawing on hundreds of hours of interviews, many with exclusive sources in the naval and intelligence communities, as well as recently declassified United States and Soviet intelligence files, Kenneth Sewell and Jerome Preisler explain what really happened to Scorpion. In January 1968, a U.S. intelligence ship, USS Pueblo, was seized by North Korea. Among other items, the North Koreans confiscated a valuable cryptographic unit that was capable of deciphering the Navy's top-secret codes. Unknown to the Navy, a traitor named John Walker had begun supplying the Navy's codes to the KGB. Once the KGB acquired the crypto unit from the North Koreans, the Russians were able to read highly classified naval communications. In March, a Soviet sub, K-129, mysteriously sank near Hawaii, hundreds of miles from its normal station in the Pacific. Soviet naval leaders mistakenly believed that a U.S. submarine was to blame for the loss, and they planned revenge. A trap was set: several Soviet vessels were gathered in the Atlantic, acting suspiciously. It would be only a matter of time before a U.S. sub was sent to investigate. That sub was Scorpion. Using the top-secret codes and the deciphering machine, the Soviets could intercept and decode communication between the Navy and Scorpion, the final element in carrying out the planned attack. All Hands Down shows how the Soviet plan was executed and explains why the truth of the attack has been officially denied for forty years. Sewell and Preisler debunk various official explanations for the tragedy and bring to life the personal stories of some of the men who were lost when Scorpion went to the bottom. This true story, finally told after exhaustive research, is more exciting than any novel.
Controversy has steadily shadowed the 1968 sinking of the U.S. nuclear submarine Scorpion. The navy's official version of accidental sinking on a routine mission was challenged by allegations that the Scorpion was in fact torpedoed while shadowing a Soviet task force. Further rumors indict the spy John Walker for providing confidential codes to the Soviets, enabling them to track the submarine. Yet another account purports that the Soviets destroyed the Scorpion in retaliation for the sinking of one of their own subs. The two navies eventually called a truce rather than risk further disrupting relations. Sewell, a submarine veteran, and Preisler, a writer of techno-thrillers, add little new evidence in their version of the story; their new data is unfailingly familiar and they never succeed in making a persuasive case for the conspiracy and cover-up they claim occurred. Instead, Sewell and Preisler devote more time to anecdotes about the Scorpion's crew and their families and little vignettes of the routines on board a nuclear sub. What is undeniably useful is the book's demonstration of the high numbers of accidents between ships and aircrafts that were accepted as routine during much of the Cold War. All Hands Down highlights a truth no less relevant today: international incidents are in good part constructions mutually agreed upon after the event. (Apr.)
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
Simon & Schuster
April 14, 2008
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from All Hands Down by Kenneth Sewell
"While our civilian population worried about Armageddon, submarine crews at sea did all they could to stave it off, living on the edge constantly. On the strategic level of this epic struggle, no one did more than our submarine force, the submarines and their crews, to win the Cold War."
-- Rear Admiral Robert R. Fountain USN (Ret.)
located in the atlantic ocean off the african coast, the Canary Islands are a familiar sight to seamen plying the ancient maritime trade lanes between Europe, Asia, and North America, routes that are likewise known for their historical importance to naval strategists. In early April 1968, the curiosity of U.S. intelligence experts was aroused when their reconnaissance flights and Keyhole photographic satellites spotted a group of three Russian surface vessels and a NATO-designation Echo II nuclear-powered guided missile submarine conducting mysterious actions in the open sea, about four hundred miles southwest of the volcanic island chain. A month later, the flotilla continued to linger in the area, baffling analysts with its movements.
At the time, Russian exercises were mostly restricted to sheltered inlets, bays, and rivers closer to their homeports and guarded to the best possible extent from the scrutiny of America and its NATO allies. But now the Soviets were floating weather balloons, or what appeared to be weather balloons, in full view of American observers.
The nuclear sub only made things more interesting. With its complement of eight Shaddock antiship missiles, an Echo II -- designed for the sole purpose of attacking American aircraft carrier battle groups -- would be a valued target of surveillance to the Anti-Submarine Warfare Force, Atlantic Fleet (ASWFORLANT), whose air and naval units were already monitoring Russian submarine activities in the wide swath of ocean between the Canaries and the Azores. Code-named Bravo 20, this operation had been underway for a while, often with the participation of SUBLANT's nuclear fleet boats.
Rear Admiral Philip A. Beshany, deputy chief of submarine warfare operations, would later say that the focus of new concern was the possibility of the Soviets developing a way to support their warships and submarines without requiring access to foreign bases for supplies. Most authorities on Soviet marine operations, however, came to dismiss his explanation. Refueling and resupply at sea had been taking place since before World War II. In wartime, a lumbering support ship wouldn't last more than a couple of days before it was discovered and sunk. On its face, it made little or no sense that the ships traveled 1,500 miles out of the Mediterranean to perform experiments that could have been done in friendlier waters. And what of those balloons?
Intelligence experts in Washington were convinced there had to be some other reason for the conspicuous presence of the ships -- and some means of determining what it was. The Special Naval Collection Program (SNCP) oversaw and directed a range of submarine espionage operations under the code name Holystone, and checking out the oddball Soviet flotilla fell under its purview.
In those days, America always kept five to seven submarines in the region of the Mediterranean. Their six-month tours usually overlapped, with one sub transiting the Great Circle Route between the Mediterranean and the continental United States every four weeks. It would be easy enough to divert to the Canaries a submarine on its way home. And the Soviets were aware of this.
The Soviets also held some other critical pieces of information, namely the means and patterns of U.S. aerial reconnaissance in the region. Their radar could detect U.S. spy planes long before they came into visual range. They knew the exact orbital schedule of the KH-8 photo intelligence birds. And, as was often the case in those days of tag-you're-it Cold War intrigue, their American intelligence counterparts knew they knew.
While Soviet vessels normally conducted their experiments at night when observation was most difficult, the maneuvers near the Canaries were peculiar exceptions. The flotilla would launch its balloons in broad daylight and wait until the last minute to bring its movements to a halt, breaking off right before U.S. naval aircraft or satellites approached -- almost as if wanting to be noticed. This behavior added to the questions surrounding the flotilla's presence. Were the ships playing a game? Taunting their observers with false attempts to avoid detection? If so, why? What other activities might the Russians be concealing with their shadow dance?
A former Scorpion sailor who'd been aboard the boat for several Cold War Holystone missions into Soviet territorial waters would compare the tantalizing ship movements to a matador's waving of his red cape in the bull ring: