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Review of Red Star Rogue - Posted this to Amazon.com

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Postby Tom Dougherty » Sat Sep 24, 2005 12:57 pm

Red Star Rogue, written by Kenneth Sewell and Clint Richmond, examines one of the most intriguing incidents of the Cold War. This was the loss of the Soviet Golf II class ballistic missile submarine (SSB) K-129, and the subsequent examination and recovery of the wreck by the United States. Previous books that have examined this incident include Clyde Burleson’s 1977 "The Jennifer Project", and the CIA sanctioned story of the recovery in the 1978 "A Matter of Risk" by Roy Varner and Wayne Collier. Additional information can be gleaned from chapters in the books "Blind Man’s Bluff" (Sontag & Drews), Dr. Roger Dunham’s "Spy Sub", and John P. Craven’s "The Silent War". In this new book, Sewell and Richmond take advantage of the opportunity to conduct research within the former Soviet Union, and to interview those involved or affected on both sides of the story. They assemble a plausible scenario to explain the intense interest the American government took in an obsolete, sunken diesel powered ballistic missile submarine.

Sewell uncovered previously unknown facts about the rapid resupply and hasty departure of the K-129 from its base on the Kamchatka Pennisula, and “extra” last minute crew additions. The basic thesis is that the submarine was part of a secret plot by an inner “cabal” within the highest levels of Soviet Government (centered around Mikhail Suslov and Yuri Andropov), hidden from Premier Leonid Brezhnev. The plot was to have K-129 emulate a Chinese Golf I submarine (an earlier transfer from the USSR before the split with China) and launch a one megaton nuclear missile toward Pearl Harbor. The purpose was to precipitate a nuclear exchange between the US and China, removing the China threat to the USSR and simultaneously permitting Soviet troops to move south into China, establishing a Soviet hegemony in Asia. The resulting geopolitical shift would have left the USSR in a much stronger position (and possibly promote leadership change to the hard liner Suslov circle).

The book follows the submarine’s frantic last minute crew changes and probable steps along the way on the voyage towards Hawaii. The submarine apparently failed to broadcast scheduled mandatory radio checks, and ended up quite far from its assigned patrol area. The authors build a case by piecing together seemingly disparate evidence that the K-129 was just 350 miles from Pearl Harbor and on the surface when it attempted missile launch. This profile would have simulated a Golf I submarine with the shorter range R-13 (NATO SS-N-4 Sark) missile with the earlier D-2 launch system, which required surface firing. In fact, the Golf II K-129 carried the longer range R-21 (NATO SS-N-5 Serb) and the D-4 system that permitted submerged missile firing. There would be no reason to be that close and on the surface if this were a sanctioned attack by the Soviet government. The authors speculate that a nuclear fail-safe system led to an aborted launch and missile explosion, resulting in the sinking of the K-129 in 16,400 feet of water. Unlike the CIA account, which had the submarine some 1800 miles northwest of Hawaii (well out of missile range for either system), the current book places the submarine dangerously close to Hawaii.

The subsequent detailed covert examination of the K-129 wreck by the Special Operations submarine USS Halibut is described. Earlier accounts (Burleson, Varner & Collier) did not include the highly successful work of Halibut as the details of its capabilities were classified until 1994. None of the over 22,000 photos taken by the ROVS deployed by Halibut have ever been declassified, but the authors did speak with some who have seen the photos. The thorough examination and possible recovery of small pieces of K-129 revealed almost all of the technical details of this older diesel powered SSB class. The submarine was not in a single piece as claimed by the CIA (A point made earlier by Burleson in his book), and the photos showed damage consistent, upon detailed technical analysis, with the probability of an attempted failed missile launch. The analysts concluded that the submarine was most probably “rogue”, as the USSR was not on high alert nor were they other signs of other preparations for war on the date the K-129 had sunk. Additionally, when the Soviet Navy searched for the lost K-129 when it was overdue in reporting, the search was concentrated in the submarine’s patrol area, well away from the actual wreck site.

This “rogue” conclusion stimulated the effort to build the Glomar Explorer and associated recovery equipment for the expressed purpose of recovery of the K-129 to examine and prove the supposition that it was in fact a “rogue” submarine. This proof would have demonstrated this conclusively to the Soviet leadership. The construction and deployment of the Glomar Explorer, costing over $500 million (1970 dollars), in a remarkably short period of time during a time of rising inflation and the costs of the Vietnam War, underlines the high priority given to examine and attempt to understand the motives of the K-129. The remarkable technical details of the recovery of K-129 wreckage from over 16,000 feet of water (much deeper than the Titanic wreck) are provided, along with the argument that the Glomar Explorer was on station long enough to recover several large pieces of the submarine. Among the finds revealed for the first time in this book are that the majority of the crew was jammed into forward compartments of the submarine, away from the command and control centers. The speculation is that an Osnaz Special Operations unit, boarded at the last moment before sailing, seized control of the submarine as it neared its patrol area, confined the crew, diverted it to the firing position and attempted the missile launch. In fact, a recent memorial ceremony for the lost crew members lists 99 men lost, well above the normal 83 man crew number for this submarine class. Another fact is that the explosion was not in the battery compartment, as indicated in "Blind Man’s Bluff", but instead in a missile tube in the sail of the Golf II. The submarine wreckage, which was highly radioactive, was carefully dissected once on board the Glomar Explorer. Whether the missile launch guidance data was also recovered from the wreck is unknown; this would have been critical to proving the intent of K-129 to launch on Hawaii. Reasons for the disinformation and coverup to the American public about the K-129 and the Glomar Explorer operation are also examined. Among these would have been the shear panic around how close we came to having Pearl Harbor and Honolulu destroyed in a large nuclear blast in March of 1968. There were repercussions within the Soviet Union as well, as apparently some of the recovered information from Halibut and the Glomar Explorer were shared with senior Soviet leaders and naval personnel. This was to underline the deep seriousness of this episode and the need for effective controls on nuclear weapons by the Soviets in the future.

In assembling the chain of evidence to build this story, the authors have had to search widely to attempt to present a plausible set of events. Much of the new material comes from conversations with former officials and naval personnel in Russia. I doubt the writers have everything correct, and suspect that even they are not perfectly confident of every last detail and point. A relative weak point in the argument is why the proposed Osnaz operatives on board would not have been provided with the proper failsafe launch codes if the conspiracy included some members at the highest levels of the Communist leadership. The failure to launch the missile correctly is postulated to have led to the subsequent rapid sinking of the submarine. Nonetheless, the book's arguments and conclusions are intriguing and deeply disturbing. One might hope that this book will stimulate the US government to be forthcoming in the near future as to what really occurred to K-129 some 37 years ago in the Pacific, and what we learned from the investigation of the wreckage. This is a book that needs to be widely read and debated. If the authors are anywhere near the truth, the important lessons learned cannot afford to be held by a mere handful of people.


I would like to address an earlier reviewer’s comments on Amazon.com about “Conspiracy Theories”. There is certainly an existing body of facts about the K-129, the Halibut operations and the Glomar Explorer. This new book brings fresh evidence and insight into a case that has been clouded over the years by purposeful disinformation. Red Star Rogue attempts to clear some new ground, and argues that the K-129 case was of tremendous significance to the course of world history. I did have the opportunity to hear Mr. Sewell speak at a recent book signing in New London, CT., and he impressed me as very thoughtful, had done his research carefully, and made his points very logically. Further, Mr. Sewell is a qualified submariner and nuclear engineer who spent five years on the Special Operations submarine USS Parche, successor to the Halibut, and the subject of several chapters in Blind Man’s Bluff. He speaks from the viewpoint of someone who participated directly in covert Cold War operations. He mentioned the assistance of Dr. John Craven in pointing him toward source materials during research for the book. I would also quote page 200 of Dr. Craven’s 2001 book "The Silent War". Speaking about the K-129, Dr. Craven, who was the architect of the Halibut operations, says, “I believe that the public now has a right and its own need to know the true story before it is lost forever”. The implication is clear that there is far more to the episode than has been publicly disclosed. Red Star Rogue may provide answers to some of these haunting questions.




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Postby Wayne Frey » Sun Sep 25, 2005 10:28 am

I just finished this book this morning.
In my opinion, and it is only an opinion, everything Tom says in his review is highly reflected in the book, and my opinion follows Tom's. This is a stunning book.
It seems to be a long reader,but nessecary to present all the facts and tie them together.
Near the end of the book, it mentions that just a few years ago, we presented the Russians with the bell from K129. If you look at this class of boat,it is clear this is located in the sail. If the K129 fell into pieces, as the documentary showed dramatically, and the last 2/3 of the boat fell to the bottom as a result of the claw giving way, then HOW DID WE HAVE THIS PART?
It is suggested the claw giving way is another layer of disinformation about the events around this boat.The ship's bell is only a few feet from silo number one in the sail. This would possibly indicate we recovered the most valuable section of the boat.
After finishing "Hostile Waters" (another well reading book that would make a movie!!) and this one, I think history that just lived through is a little different than I thought.
Thanks Tom, for bringing this book to my attention.
A must read!!
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Postby Gerwalk » Mon Sep 26, 2005 1:46 pm

Wayne,
AFAIK there is a movie based on the events related in "Hostile Waters", don't remember the name but it's a rather old one (post-Red October IIRC)

I'm waiting for this new book to come to my office (I'm missing a lot the fast shipping I enjoyed in the USA!)
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Postby Wayne Frey » Mon Sep 26, 2005 5:13 pm

After reading Hostile Waters, I would love to compare a movie to the book. I seem to recall it was an HBO movie or something,yes?
How do I get one??
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Postby Gerwalk » Tue Sep 27, 2005 1:42 pm

Wayne Frey wrote:After reading Hostile Waters, I would love to compare a movie to the book. I seem to recall it was an HBO movie or something,yes?
How do I get one??

The movie is called...surprise!:
"Hostile Waters"

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119320/

I think is a HBO production.
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Postby Gerwalk » Wed Oct 26, 2005 10:34 am

I'm finishing reading the Red Star Rogue Book. It's very interesting but I'm not sure to be convinced by the arguments the author presents. I think that maybe it was just an accident like the one from the Hostile Waters book, they lost radio contact (like during the K-19 first accident) and they were looking for land (closest land was the Hawaii islands) Maybe the guy with heavy weather outfit maybe was trying to fix the problem... (BTW: is that cold at that latitude in the Pacific during that time of the year?)

One of the weakest points is the paranormal perception of the incident by the wife of the first officer. :D
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Postby JWLaRue » Wed Oct 26, 2005 2:03 pm

I'm not quite half-way through the book.....

I'm finding this book to be a very interesting and enjoyable read. The author has a very engaging style of writing.

But I do have to echo the comments made by Gerwalk......I am having difficulty following what are essentially 'leaps of faith' type conclusions that the author continues to make each step along the way. There are some very, very orthogonal assumptions being made that are not backed up even with the usual "unnamed resource".

One item that perhaps others who have read this book can help me with...... There is a map showing the supposed oil slick from the K-129 and indicates both the location of the sinking and the location where the university research ship found the slick. The section of text that is describing it speaks to the ocean currents moving in a southwesterly direction from the location of the sinking. However, the diagram shows the oil slick as having moved in a northwesterly direction.....?

Am I missing something?

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Postby Gerwalk » Thu Oct 27, 2005 9:54 am

JWLaRue wrote:I'm not quite half-way through the book.....

I'm finding this book to be a very interesting and enjoyable read. The author has a very engaging style of writing.

But I do have to echo the comments made by Gerwalk......I am having difficulty following what are essentially 'leaps of faith' type conclusions that the author continues to make each step along the way. There are some very, very orthogonal assumptions being made that are not backed up even with the usual "unnamed resource".

One item that perhaps others who have read this book can help me with...... There is a map showing the supposed oil slick from the K-129 and indicates both the location of the sinking and the location where the university research ship found the slick. The section of text that is describing it speaks to the ocean currents moving in a southwesterly direction from the location of the sinking. However, the diagram shows the oil slick as having moved in a northwesterly direction.....?

Am I missing something?

-Jeff

That's a good question. The map and text are contradicting. The oil spill was also mentioned by Craven in his rather confusing book but he insists in the 180°/40° position.

I'm enjoying the book but sometimes I find that the authors repeat the same things over and over again unnecesary.
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Postby KevinMc » Tue Dec 27, 2005 3:05 pm

Perhaps a "done topic", but I'm going to throw in my .02 none-the-less. I opened this book yesterday morning and have hardly been able to put it down. I've just finished it and must say that I enjoyed it thoroughly. Although I can add nothing to Tom's fantastic review, I'd like to echo the reccommendations that this is a really good read.
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Postby FX Models » Wed Dec 28, 2005 1:59 pm

The Book Hostile Waters details the demise of the K219 sub... not K129.. That is a different story.. That aside, the story of K219 is fascinating as detailed in Hostile Waters but what is more interesting are the actual pictures from the event. Here they are.

These are P3 overflight recon photos taken during the incident while Capt Britanov of K219 bravely fought to rescue his crew over saving the ship in defiance of Soviet edict. He also chose to manually shut down the twin reactors on board and had only minutes to spare before a huge steam explosion would have killed him and all his crew, and ... make the East Coast of the USA a graveyard for a very long half-life. We came VERY close to that ... VERY close.
Now, in one shot in particular you can see the brownish smoke in silhouette against the Sun.. That is a Nitric Acid cloud which is deadly and the result of missile fuel mixing with seawater which caused the explosion in missile silo six onboard. Go figure using missile fuel in a sub that on contact with seawater is explosive and releases a deadly gas...

Image
Photo showing full up planes on surfaced K219 with missing external AND internal missile tube doors

Image
Another shot showing a better view of the damage. Silo six is the nearest to camera with 5 also having been breached.

Image
Long Shot showing Nitric Acid cloud [brown] streaming away from the submarine. The Nitric Acid also ate away all the control wire harnesses between command and control and the reactor room allowing the reactors to go into runaway mode. That is why they had to be manually shut down. Interestingly a number of the crew at that time did not agree with the Capt that they should shut it down. They were content that America should be irradiated from the resulting runaway steam explosion and they wanted to abandon ship

In any case I think that the incident was a classic Cold War episode. The movie K-19 is NOT about this incident and is about a wholly different episode actually but it is often confused with this incident. Because of the similarity with the K-129 designation, the K-219 incident and K-129 are sometimes confused with each other as well.

Ok now that I am wholly confused... I better stop writing...

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Postby Wayne Frey » Wed Dec 28, 2005 8:51 pm

There is a movie about the K-219 event off the eastern coast of the USA.It is an HBO movie.
There is the well known K-19 movie, showing the Julliett sub at Rhode Island.
Personally, after reading Hostile Waters, and Red Star Rouge, either of them would makea move keeping you on the edge of the seat.
Yes, K-219 was scary.
As a footnote, one of my contacts overseas, who served 30 years in the North Sea Fleet, MihaelTuzhikov passed away two weeks ago. He served on the Komsomolts. Another tragic loss of the Soviet Navy.
A new book on it is due out about now on amazon. I will get it.
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Postby Tom Dougherty » Thu Dec 29, 2005 1:59 pm

I liked Marc's summary of the various (& confusing!!) events. The submarine hull numbers are easily mixed up. To recap:

K-19 (Hotel class SSBN, July 1961) Loss of coolant accident in VM-A reactor killed 14. Sub saved. Collided with USS Gato in 1969, and had fire in 1972 which killed 28. Towed home. Served until 1990.

K-129 (Golf class SSB) lost in the Pacific near Hawaii with all hands. Rogue launch attempt?? Covertly iinspected by USS Halibut using ROVs. Attempted recovery by Glomar Explorer, supposedly recovered 38 feet of the bow (and ship's bell, which as far as I know is never mounted near the bow on a submarine!).

K-219 (Yankee class SSBN, 1986) Missile fuel leak (Chelomei bureau design using liquid propellants of nitrogen tetroxide & hydrazine) led to explosion and fire. Most of crew rescued, submarine sank north of Bermuda.

Other Soviet sub accidents (not exhaustive list):

K-64 (first Alfa sub, 1972) major reactor accident when primary lead-bismuth cooling "froze". Sub cut in half, forward area used for training purposes. Rear scrapped and reactor compartment buried.

K-123 (lead operational Alfa class, 1982) reactor leak of 2 tons of lead-bismuth coolant. Reactor compartment removed & replaced, took 8 years.

K-278 (Komsomolets, Mike class, 1989) Deep diving (1000 meter test depth, almost 3300 feet) titanium hulled SSN. Fire spread, 42 killed, sub sank in the Norweigan Sea.

K-3 (November class SSN, 1967) onboard fire killed 39, made in into port.

K-8 (November class SSN, 1970). Fire erupted, reactors shut down. Diesel failed, no electricity to restart reactor. Sub sank after strong gales in area with 52 deaths.




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Postby Gerwalk » Mon Jan 02, 2006 8:36 am

There is something eerie about russian SSBN and the numbers 1 and 9...
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Postby Tom Dougherty » Mon Jan 02, 2006 11:17 am

Gerwalk wrote:There is something eerie about russian SSBN and the numbers 1 and 9...


Now you are suffering from what the cyberpunk writer William Gibson terms "apophenia"; an illusion of meaningfulness, or put another way, faulty pattern recognition.

And, geez, you're an engineer!




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Postby Wayne Frey » Tue Jul 24, 2007 3:01 pm

This review is being submittted byu someone who I have a high repsect for,
Jim Bryant, CAPT. USN (Retired) commander of the USS Guardfish SSN 612 Nov 87 to Nov 90. He was having a little trouble loggin in. I happiley offered to submit this, in complete form, as I think it was submitted to Proceedings.
Also note who wrote it.

"This is the book review that was in the Naval Proceedings Magazine.

Red Star Rogue: The Untold Story of a Soviet Submarine’s Nuclear Strike Attempt on the U.S. Kenneth Sewell with Clint Richmond. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005. 226 pp. Illus. Notes. Index. $25.00.
Reviewed by Rear Admiral T.A. Brooks, U.S. Navy (Retired)

Red Star Rogue is yet another “conspiracy theory” in the same vein as the “who really shot JFK” or “what did FDR really know before Pearl Harbor” books that continue to circulate. It appears that Americans love conspiracy theories and good ones sell books, even if far-fetched and straining credulity.
The book’s focus is the March 1968 loss of K-129, a Soviet Golf-II class diesel-powered ballistic-missile submarine (SSB), in the mid-Pacific. This story has been well publicized by the many books written about the partial recovery of her wreckage by the Hughes Glomar Explorer. In the author’s words: “What occurred aboard K-129 in its final days will not likely ever be known.” In the safety of this likelihood, they construct a “reasonable hypothesis.” An interesting hypothesis it is, but reasonable it is not.
The authors contend that K-129 was a rogue whose task was to launch a nuclear missile strike on Pearl Harbor. They would do this from a position within 350 nautical miles of Hawaii and while surfaced, so as to look to American intelligence like a Chinese Golf-I SSB. This would cause us to launch a nuclear retaliatory strike on China, with the ensuing nuclear exchanges greatly weakening the USSR’s primary adversaries while they sat back and watched.
As a result, the Soviet Union could reduce defense spending and shore-up their faltering economy. The author’s project that the plot would have been hatched by communist party ideologue Mikhail Suslov, in league with KGB chief Yuri Andropov, and would be carried out by a specially trained KGB team, which would be dispatched to take over and operate the submarine. Neither Premier Leonid Brezhnev, nor any other politburo member, would know anything about it.
As the scenario unfolds, a KGB team of 11 men allegedly arrives aboard the submarine at the last minute, disguised as replacement crewmembers who could not get back from leave on time to make the unscheduled deployment. The 11 hijack the submarine, confining a large number of non-cooperating officers and crewmembers in the forward compartments. They take the boat well beyond its assigned patrol area, surface, and attempt to launch an SS-N-5 Serb missile. A fail-safe device installed on the missile to prevent unauthorized firing causes the missile to blow up, sinking the submarine.
According to the authors, U.S. undersea surveillance systems tracked the submarine most of the way, and a secret satellite detected the explosion in real-time. All of this “according to the authors” has been hidden from the public by a great conspiracy of the senior leadership in the White House and the intelligence community, including a number of admirals. This remarkable conspiracy has managed to keep this secret for almost 40 years in Washington, D.C. where the half-life of a juicy secret is measured in days, not decades!
To paraphrase late-President Ronald Reagan when asked for his opinion of Tom Clancy’s Hunt for Red October, “it’s a good yarn.” Like most conspiracy theory books, Red Star Rogue makes assertions that have little or no basis, but they cannot be disproved because no one knows what really happened. There were no witnesses and no survivors, and most of the submarine’s wreckage is still on the bottom (although the authors would have you believe that Glomar Explorer retrieved the entire boat), and it is nearly impossible to disprove any theory, no matter how bizarre. Some key elements of the author’s scenario, however, are particularly weak: Key to their theory is that the U.S. would believe that a Chinese SSB conducted the launch, however, none had ever made an operational patrol.
The Chinese boat was used as a test-bed for their SLBM program. Both the KGB and U.S. intelligence would have known this. How then would the KGB have hoped to cause the U.S. to believe that a Chinese SSB conducted the attack? If, indeed, there were 11 extra crewmembers aboard, there is no evidence that they were a covert KGB team sent to take over and operate the boat. The Soviet Navy stated that K-129 had an intelligence mission, which is strange for an SSB. It is far more likely that any supernumerary team placed on board would have been assigned to conduct this intelligence mission. Many other explanations are available as well. The author was a submariner. He well knows that submarines often put to sea with “technicians” of various kinds on board.
While several authors have stated that SOSUS detected the explosion and sinking noises, it is unlikely that it would have been able to maintain any sort of continuous tracking of a quiet diesel-powered submarine as the authors contend.
Other books about this incident, as well as U.S. and Soviet statements, point to the location of the sinking as the vicinity of 40º N, 180º W, and the date as around 1 March. The author’s scenario has the boat some 1,000 miles away and the explosion taking place on 7 March. U.S. and Soviet “disinformation” regarding the timing and location of the loss are presented as yet another part of the “great conspiracy.” The loss of Soviet Yankee SSBN K-219 off the U.S. east coast in 1986 is known to have been caused by leaking missile fuel mixing with salt water. This was a problem endemic to Soviet liquid-fueled missiles. In the opinion of this reviewer, a similar thing may have happened to K-129. She may very well have been surfaced when her missile exploded, as the authors contend, but it is much more likely that the crew was fighting to eject a “hot” missile than attempting to conduct a nuclear strike on Pearl Harbor.
The reviewer could pick out additional weaknesses in the author’s arguments and numerous errors of fact, but that would be superfluous. Despite the fact that the author’s arguments are a literary house of cards built on unsupportable premises, it is a cleverly constructed house of cards, cleverly presented. To lovers of conspiracy theories, it will be an enjoyable book. It is a “good yarn.” Although basically nonsense, the book was an amusing read. They did a lot of research, labored mightily, and gave birth to a mouse!

Rear Admiral Brooks spent a 33-year career as a Naval Intelligence officer. He retired in 1991 as Director of Naval Intelligence "
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