Van E. Harl
THE RUSSIANS KILLED HER
In the US Navy if you are the ship’s captain and you allow your vessel to run aground or plow into another ship, it is the kiss of death to your naval career. But this rule actually only applies to surface warfare ships, meaning the ones that float on the top of the water. When it comes to submarines it would appear the no physical contact between a US sub and the other guy’s sub is not strictly enforced. In fact it has been an un-official practice ever since we have had a submarine branch of our Navy, if you can sneak up on your opponent and dent his sub first, you could get promoted. Sort of like the modern equivalent of the old Native American practice of counting coupe on his enemy in battle.
Touching, (even physically beating) and humiliating your enemy on the battlefield without actually killing them. No bloodshed, therefore no foul and no honor for your enemy. US nuclear submarines have been playing high stakes “chicken” with the Russian Navy subs ever since the first nuclear powered sub was launched in the 1950s. We have the advantage of superior technology. The Russians had more subs but ours were always better – we thought. A US sub commander would stalk a Russian sub to torment the Russian crew, just because they could.
I lived in Scotland in the 1960s with my father the Navy Master Chief. He was stationed on a nuclear sub, repair ship. The rest of the US military may have been engaged in a “cold war” with the Russians but the sub fleet always went to sea as if they were in a hot war with the Soviet Union. Our nuclear subs were so good they would drive right up under a Soviet sub and be only feet away from the top of the US sub, scrapping the bottom of the Russian sub. Every once in a while a Russian sub would start to submerge without knowing a US sub was directly below it. So the two subs would collide. For the US sub captain it was a badge of honor to show up at a US Navy base requesting millions of dollars in emergency repairs to his sub, because he had smacked into a Russian sub while hiding inside a Soviet Navy ship yard.
Since this was all top secret and the American public was not allowed to know about the potential world war, provoking actions of both countries submarine forces, no one knew just how close we kept getting, to going to war with the Russians, on a daily basis. Submarines are known as the silent service. You cannot hear the subs patrolling underwater and you cannot hear the screams of the sailors dying as their subs fill with water on their way to crush depth. But in fact even in the early 1960s the US could hear both sides’ subs, cries of pain, as they died in the middle of the ocean.
On Memorial Day in 1968 the Soviet Navy killed one of our subs deliberately. They fired a torpedo into the USS Scorpion SSN-589 and killed the entire crew and they got away with it. Weeks earlier a US sub was seen by Soviet agents limping back to port in need of extensive repairs. The Soviet sub K-129 had gone missing at the same time. The Russians had had enough of the Americans winning at the game of under-sea chicken, so the Soviets upped the stakes and just killed one of our subs. We most likely caused their sub to sink, but as a by product of an accidental collision, not a deliberate act of war. What we did not know at the time was a US Navy Warrant officer had been selling top secret code information to the Russians for years prior to the sinking of the Scorpion. On the day the Russians torpedoed the Scorpion they were reading all the message traffic between the Scorpion and Navy senior leadership. The Scorpion could not get away from its aggressors because the Russians knew every move the US sub was about the make.
“Scorpion Down” by Ed Offley tells the story of the death of that sub, a story the US and Russian Navies still will not tell. It is a page turner and after you read what horrific damage a US traitor can do to our Nation’s security you may become a fan of water-boarding.
©Copyright May 26, 2009 by Van E. Harl