author John Pina Craven and his lively stories of deep-sea research,
rescue, and skullduggery which would become The
14, 2001 -- Most citizens of the United States and Soviet Union
(along with the rest of humanity) are blissfully unaware of the military
significance of the world’s vast undersea depths, both during the Cold
War and down through today. And
yet all along, keen and even obsessive military and intelligence
interest in the “briny deep” progressed alongside the increasing
evolution of the submarine threat, beginning in WWI and continuing
through the end of WWII.
By the end
of WWII, a combination of sonar, air patrols, and the inherent
vulnerability of the battery-powered and noisy submarines themselves
neutralized the submarine menace. Still,
the stealth advantages outweighed the existing submarine limitations,
thus insuring ongoing military submarine roles. But submarine evolution
languished for several years following WWII, with incremental
improvements to WWII designs.
USS Nautilus -- First Nuke Powered Sub
1954, however, the submarine made a dramatic return into the
consciousness of naval planners worldwide.
That year, the submarine USS Nautilus – conceived and built by
the “Father of the Nuclear Navy,” Admiral Hyman G. Rickover - became
the world’s first nuclear-powered vessel.
maiden year-and-a-half voyage in 1955, Nautilus circumnavigated the
globe without refueling and submerged.
In 1958 Nautilus reached the very top of the world, the North
Pole, carrying over 100 officers and crew safely and securely beneath
ice and sea. With nuclear
power, Nautilus and follow-on nuclear submarines no longer needed to
expose themselves on the surface to recharge batteries. Improving design advances encouraged super-silent operations
which along with Cold War-driven evolution quickly fulfilled the
ultimate submarine promise of a true stealthy weapons platform hiding
beneath the waves. The Navy
quickly built a fleet of nuclear-powered, torpedo-armed attack subs with
worldwide range, making them a viable threat in distant disputed waters.
A New Idea: Nuke Submarine
Nautilus wouldn’t just revolutionize conventional naval warfare.
The combination of stealthy undersea operation and an unlimited
power source gave naval planners another “idea.” This new idea would
shape and direct the direction of all strategic nuclear decision-making
during the increasing Cold War turbulence of the late 1950’s and down
through today. The idea was
to station an invulnerable force of nuclear-tipped missiles aboard
deep-diving, undetectable, nuclear-powered submarines.
These subs would insure that no attacker could destroy all of
America’s nuclear forces in a “first strike.”
The missiles aboard the submarines would be launched in a
“second strike” which would obliterate the attacker.
Logically and demonstrably, this system of high-stakes deterrence
reigned throughout the Cold War and still rules today.
submarine missile program, the Regulus, was a moderate success as first
attempts go, but not ideal. The Regulus missile, surface-launched from an unwieldy
structure, had a limited range and forced the sub to surface and expose
itself. Enter author John
Pina Craven and his lively stories of deep-sea research, rescue, and
skullduggery which would become
Polaris -- The Silent War
Silent War begins with Craven’s role as Chief Scientist of the
Polaris missile program, the successor program to the deficient Regulus. The initial Polaris was a solid-fueled missile which
could carry a city-busting one-megaton warhead 1500 miles to target.
Each SSBN (submarine, strategic ballistic nuclear) would carry 16
Polaris missiles on multi-month patrols, thus insuring that a
significant part of America’s retaliatory nuclear force would always
threaten the Soviet Union, the Cold War’s primary nuclear adversary.
While these chapters offer some fresh insights into that critical
program, readers shouldn’t expect a thorough history of Polaris in
Most Readable Chapters: Fascinating Ops
his success with Polaris, Craven – a former helmsman of the battleship
New Mexico during the latter stages of WWII - held highly-classified and
varied posts in deep-sea research and intelligence programs.
The Silent War is at it’s most readable during these chapters,
where Craven hints at, and (when not constrained by security protocols)
reveals some fascinating operations and equipment.
These include using deep submersibles vessels to recover debris
from Soviet missile tests in the Pacific, “saturation” diving
techniques, photographing sunken Soviet subs (and possibly retrieving
their weapons), and recovering an H-bomb lost in a bomber crash off of
Spain. Craven also relates
the forlorn task of discovering the reasons behind the sudden loss with
all hands of the Thresher and Scorpion during the 1960’s.
New Truths Revealed
Craven’s most revealing portion of The
Silent War is his supposition that the sunken Soviet submarine,
possibly rummaged and definitely photographed by USS Halibut (a story
more extensively told in the book, Spy Sub), and visited by the Glomar
Explorer, was in fact a rogue ship destroyed in the act of trying to
circumvent launch-prevention safeguards on its nuclear missiles.
Though not involved in the operations Glomar Explorer – which
attempted to recover the Russian sub if not one of its missiles - Craven
reveals a new truth about the aftermath high-stakes diplomatic “secret
behind the secret” of Glomar’s (and Halibut’s) high-stakes
“The Silent War” Craven offers on-the-scene perspectives of the
planning and intelligence gaming that surrounds undersea research,
military operations, and intelligence-gathering.
He speaks with experience and feeling about the constant dangers
of the sea both on the surface and in the pitchblack deep.
He introduces and credits many of his peers present throughout
his varied postings, and strongly advances the (real-world proven)
argument that “strength-through-deterrence”,
and not a constant “war-fighting” posture, was the only desirable
and sane way to avoid nuclear war.
Above all, Craven offers intriguing insights into the give and
take of American and Soviet deception and diversionary tactics as they
play high-seas and deep-underwater chess on a vast, dappled oceanic
constrained by security concerns, Craven isn’t generous with minutest
details of his and his team members’ exploits, but nonetheless he is
able to tweak or credit other sources in the undersea espionage genré
and expresses well-reasoned skepticism of the overall media coverage of
some of these events. He is
a convincing voice in these matters.
Silent War is
entertaining reading across the spectrum -- for naval and intelligence
buffs -- and even for the amateur oceanographer seeking other interests
in the deep ocean. It is a
window –- sometimes translucent -- into the hidden and secret games that
go on each and every day, far offshore.
But as Pina demonstrates, these contests are never far from the
minds of those who must secure land borders and national security
against those very real threats lurking far out to sea.