Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cold War Undersea: Book Review of "Blind Man's Bluff," and "Project Azorian."

Many chapters of the Cold War were unseen and unknown to the general public. Among the most secret operations were those conducted undersea by the U.S. Navy’s submarine force. In Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage, Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew tell tales derived from interviewing submariners that include technological marvels and unparalleled courage.
            Before reading this book, most have a perception of the submarine force consisting of two main missions, attack subs to find and destroy the enemy at sea, and ballistic missile boats, or “boomers,” that serve as part of America’s Strategic Nuclear Triad.  Others may be aware that submarines have been employed to deliver UDTs and are used to transport SEALs and their Seal Delivery Vehicles (SDVs). Blind Man’s Bluff describes missions that were equally secretive, but that focused on intelligence collection, such as USS Halibut deploying saturation divers to tap into Soviet underwater telephone cables, or the secret mission to raise the downed Soviet submarine, K-129. Through each story the reader becomes acutely aware of the dangers, the skill, and the sacrifice and those in the “Silent Service.” Blind Man’s Bluff is an important read for any fan of naval or military history.

Norman Polmar and Michael White discuss the raising of K-129 in greater detail in a book and companion documentary that focuses on the subject entitled Project Azorian: The CIA and the Raising of the K-129.
            The whole project includes three major steps. First, find K-129 and determine if its condition was such that it could be salvaged in order to obtain intelligence in the form of details about Soviet submarine design, construction of nuclear weapons, and codebooks or other cryptological material. USS Halibut, an intelligence asset employed underwater cameras to pinpoint K-129s location three miles below the ocean surface. The photos revealed that the sub was salvageable. Next, a ship needed to be constructed that could raise the submarine. The bulk of Project Azorian describes in interesting detail the planning and construction of the Hughes Glomar Explorer, complete with lifting cables, a capture vehicle, and a “moon pool” to house the submarine once retrieved. Howard Hughes allowed one of his corporations to act as a front for the U.S. government to at least reduce Soviet suspicion of the ship’s actual mission. Publically, Glomar Explorer was trying to mine the ocean floor for manganese. Finally, the submarine and its contents were analyzed to derive as much intelligence value as possible.
            By highlighting this whole effort, Project Azorian serves as an important book on Cold War history. It is recommended for intelligence analysts and sailors alike as well as any fan of engineering marvels.

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