84 of 85 people found the following review helpful
on February 15, 2001
Confronted with fading memories, secrecy oaths, security clearances and old loyalties, the authors have done an outstanding job writing a fascinating account that rivals the best cold war fiction. This is a true story of American submarine espionage during the cold war and as the authors note "In silence and stealth, but most importantly in secrecy, attack subs carried out as many as two thousand spy missions as they kept track of Soviet submarines".
In chronological order, the book covers US submarine surveillance during the cold war beginning with the loss of the diesel submarine USS Cochino and ends with the post cold war secrecy problems still facing the families of lost submarine sailors on both sides. Narratives are given for several incidents such as the submarine USS Gudgeon being caught in Soviet waters and forced to the surface by the Soviets. A most intriguing chapter covers the 1968 loss of the US nuclear submarine Scorpion as it returned from a mission to the Mediterranean Sea. Using acoustic data, a submarine simulator and advanced mathematics, it took nearly five months for scientists to locate the Scorpion. Although the evidence points to an on board torpedo explosion, to this day the cause of the sub's lost is still in dispute.
Blind man's bluff involved tracking Soviet subs, surveillance of missile launches and communications monitoring. Soviet subs were trailed by US submarines to determine the submarine's characteristics, patrol areas plus Soviet Naval operational philosophy and tactics. The book contains a fascinating account of the USS Lapon tracking a Soviet missile sub for 47 days. However, tracking was dangerous. There were several underwater collisions, with the text describing the one where the USS Tautog collided with the Soviet submarine Black Lila. The book states "Tautog flipped on her right side, rolling nearly 30 degrees as she was forced backward and down. Men went grabbing for a handhold on rails and tables. Coffee mugs, pencils, rulers, charts and erasers went flying through the control room." While both submarines were heavily damaged, neither sub sank, although each submarine's commander thought the other had sunk. In a post cold war interview, the Black Lila's commander stated "I thought for a second, `I have sunk a brother submariner'....It was hard to have realized it."
The book narrates the US attempt to raise a sunken Soviet submarine. After locating the sub, Naval Intelligence proposed to remove missiles and code materials using robots. The CIA disagreed, intervened, and took over. Ignoring international law, the CIA contracted with Howard Hughes to build a special ship to recover the entire submarine under the pretex of searching for manganese. The project failed with only a 38-foot piece recovered. The Naval Intelligence's approach was validated years later when Navy robots were successfully used to explore the Titanic.
The book's high point is the narrative of wire taps on Soviet cables in the Sea of Okhotsk and the Soviet White Sea. Under great danger, taps were place on Soviet military cables by divers working outside a specially equipped surveillance submarine. At considerable risk, taps were periodically serviced to recover data tapes. Servicing a tap, the Seawolf once got mired for nearly two days on the bottom of the Okhotsk Sea. To avoid detection, the secret surveillance submarine Parche traveled 15,000 miles one way on a indirect route to place a tap on a White Sea cable and gain intelligence on Soviet Arctic operations. The Soviet's use of the Arctic ice was a critical strategic move and the authors note that "the Soviets shift to the Arctic was a brilliant move....where it would be hugely difficult for US forces to root out Soviet missile subs and destroy them."
Throughout, the text describes the personalities involved discussing the differences arising between individuals, groups and agencies. The handling and briefing of the President, Congress and/or Congressional oversight committees is most interesting. A key player through much of the book is John Cavens of Naval Intelligence. Cavens and his scientists developed the techniques that successfully located the nuclear bomb dropped into the Mediterranean following an Air Force B-52 mid-air collision, located the sunken Soviet sub and pinpointed the location of the lost USS Scorpion.
In summary, the text notes "While satellites replaced many of the spy planes and made intelligence-gathering safer....submarines continued to confront the Soviets directly" and concludes "There is no question that some skippers went too far in their quest for the big score. But then the Navy and the intelligence agencies weighed the gains against the possibility of a violent response, they relied on one simple fact: the Soviets were sending out their spies as well."
The text ends stating that "Now, with the end of the cold war and a new phase in submarine espionage beginning, it's time to look back, time to assess what has so long been hidden." Whatever may be the readers views regarding the cold war, the book tells how so many US Navy submarine sailors when "in harms way" so that Americans could sleep safely at night.
The book finishes with appendices and notes which alone are worth book's price. Appendix A describes nineteen confirmed or probable submarine collisions during the cold
war while Appendix B gives the Soviet side of this story.
Following the appendices, notes give the sources for each chapter. The principal player's remarks are often revealing. For example, Admiral Watkins, former Chief of Naval Operations, stated that he allowed the U.S.Naval Institute - a private, nonprofit organizations that works closely with the Navy - to publish Tom Clancy's novel The Hunt for Red October as part of the Navy's psychological warfare against the Soviets. Admiral Watkins said "about two-thirds of the technical information in Clancy's novel is on target and the rest is wrong, and that it typically overstates the US abilities...." The Admiral continues that the book "did us a service....The Soviets kind of believed it, and we won the battle...."
74 of 76 people found the following review helpful
This book is a series of long vignettes about submarine spying and operations during the Cold War.
That these collections of stories are able to be told are a testament to the author's research and abilities to remove submariner's from their oaths of silence. The fact that they are writing about still classified events means Blind Man's Bluff lacks a central story line or continuous chronology. The authors could only relate those events that participants chose to disclose and describe. Thus, the book is very episodic as oppossed to being a neat history of the subject.
That being said, the stories are fascinating and moving. Thank a submariner the next time you run into one. These men risked (and still risk) a cold and silent demise in pursuit of their missions -- missions that contributed greatly to ensuring that the Soviets would not be tempted to go nuclear during the cold war due to our constant ability to keep ahead of their technology, strategy and tactics and general war fighting ability.
The stories are thrill rides of missions in Soviet waters, collissions between U.S. and Soviet subs, the loss of both Russian and American boats (with all hands), and close to shore cable tapping by our navy that is as breathtaking as anything Tom Clancy could dream up.
The authors do sometimes go overboard in their "breathless" writing as some of the other viewers write, but I found this only a minor annoyance. The stories of the men and machines themselves are the focus and the authors write them well.
(The only thing that nagged me through the book was the realization that so many of our naval personnel were willing to talk about events that they swore never to reveal. The authors do not spend much time on this issue. My hope is that the Navy has given the quiet ok to these veterans as a way of acknowledging their historic service. The alternative is that a large number of sworn men broke their commitment and may be making it more difficult for current submariners to perform their necessary missions.)
This is fast paced, exciting and will stir your pride in our country's armed forces.
105 of 112 people found the following review helpful
on May 1, 2000
Imagine if you will that you are onboard a US Navy submarine that has just snuck into Soviet territorial waters to spy on what the other side's navy is doing. From the sonar members of the crew can listen to the screw noise and learn turn counts that identify different Soviet Naval ships and submarines that are plying the seas around you. Your submarine-in this case the USS-Tautog (SSN-639) is here to gather intelligence on Soviet cruise missile submarines that could pose a threat to US carriers. Your captain, in this case Commander Buele G. Balderston drove his sub deeper into Petropavlovsk whereupon they collided with a Soviet Echo-II class attack boat. This was 1970, the half way point in the Cold War, one of three accidents that year, and all of them chronicled in Sherry Sontag, Christopher Drew and Annette Lawrence-Drew's `Blind Man's Bluff-The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage'.
While the title may sound like some cheesy hack banged the book out and filled it with questionable information, `Blind Man's Bluff' takes the moderate approach, the authors admitting that sometimes the information is sketchy at times, and speculate on what probably happened, corroborating information from those directly involved aids in fleshing out the true stories told within the book. It details the disastrous first attempt to spy on the Soviets in 1949 when disaster struck the ill-fated USS-Cochino when one of it's batteries exploded, leaving the submarine to flounder in sixteen foot swells before eventually sinking off the coast of Norway. It's crew was rescued by her sister ship, the USS-Tusk, but not before six crewmen were killed-drowned in the stormy seas.
The book also talks at some length about Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, the man who singlehandedly created a nuclear navy for the United States. It details Rickover as being a power hungry, arrogant and petty man who made or broke careers as he saw fit, and someone who demanded to know about any projects `his' boats were involved with. Evidence, whether it be technical or personal, is often presented in anecdotal form, often amusing and always enlightening. It praises the Navy as often as it chastises it and allows the reader to develop their own opinions on whether an action was right or wrong.
However, with regards to the 1968 sinking of the USS-Scorpion, it attacks the establishment-the Navy and her departments for a cover-up that has gone on for thirty-two years. When the Scorpion went down, she was in such a sorry state of repair, that one crewmen had been removed over fears expressed in letters written to his superiors. However, it wasn't the fact that Scorpion seemed to be falling apart that caused her to sink, rather a defective torpedo battery leaking within a torpedo and cooked off the 350 lb HBX warhead contained within the weapon that caused her to go down. Memos written from the Naval Undersea Warfare Engineering Center told of the defective batteries, but were ignored. At first the Navy announced she may have been sunk by the Soviets, then recounted that in order to deny the torpedo theory-stating steadfastly that there was no way a weapon could `cook off' while inside a submarine.
As well the authors attack, and rightfully so, the CIA for their $500 million boondoggle of the American public for the Glomar Explorer fiasco-code named Project: Jennifer, the Glomar Explorer was the CIA's massive ship that was used to hoist an antiquated Soviet Golf-class diesel electric missile submarine out of sixteen-thousand feet of water 1,700 miles north-west of Hawaii. The submarine had sunk, probably due to the same problem that sank the Cochino-an exploding battery. Suffice it to say that Glomar Explorer utterly failed to raise the sub more than 3000 feet, at which point the grapples failed and the Golf fell almost a mile where it shattered to bits on the ocean floor. This didn't stop the CIA from trying again a year later in 1975, and succeeded in raising only 20% of the sub-minus the three nuclear missiles it carried, minus any code books and minus any usable technology. It was this singular event that led to the CIA being scrutinized and stripped of much of its vaunted power.
From submarine delivered wire tapping pods being delivered into Soviet waters to listen in on undersea telephone cables to Snorkel Patty and her collection of hundreds of dolphin pins, `Blind Man's Bluff' delivers humor, excitement, and an easily readable glimpse into the shadowy and very often murky depths of Navy Intelligence, its operations and its people. The book is personable and detailed, fulfilling its criteria of being both informative and entertaining making it a fine addition to anyone's library who is interested in submarines, the US Navy or espionage in general.
53 of 57 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 1999
Blind Man's Bluff Provides Fascinating Stories Marred by the Newspaper Reporter's Standard Telling
This book brings together stories of submarine special operations and related history in a readable and understandable form. Authors Sherry Sontag and Christopher and Annette Drew present the material from the layman's (and newspaper reporter's) perspective. This, coupled with inaccuracies which inevitably creep into accounts of technical stories written by non-participants blunted the enjoyment to some small extent.
Minor Flaws and Distractions: First, the authors provide extensive discussions of theories, such as the explanation of why the Scorpion was lost, that are not supported by those closest to the real facts. Debate still rages. New information and theories are still coming to light. Second, they make a big deal out of nicknames sailors give to their boats, their shipmates, etc. as if these, too, were universally accepted and agreed to by all. This is not the case and provides an annoying distraction in the narratives. It reflects the limited interviews the authors were able to make and not the whole picture. It's as if sailors name everything with cute and amusing nicknames. Not true. We were not particularly formal on the boats I served on, but at the same time, didn't spend our time naming everything in sight. Third, the use of hyperbole, making almost routine information seem like banner headlines in a tabloid, was very distracting. All interagency conflicts in Washington are not "Bitter", all spy operations are not "Brilliant" and no spying done in the real world was anything like James Bond fiction. It's as if the authors were afraid nobody would read the book if it offered only a straight telling. I believe the stories are fascinating and make compelling reading on their merits alone without the extraneous window dressing.
On the Plus Side: It is obvious that the authors really did make a vast effort to gather the facts and get the stories straight. This makes the book well worth reading. As a cold war submarine sailor, I was very intrigued by the accounts in Blind Man's Bluff. I had never heard the stories of some of the operations and incidents they present and was fascinated by them.
51 of 58 people found the following review helpful
on August 3, 2000
My oldest brother, who is an avid reader, reviewer, and ex-Navy subber, sent me a copy of this searing book, with a brief note--"for REAL espionage, read more non-fiction!" So, I acquiesced to his well placed gauntlet.
"Blind Man's Bluff" was riveting. Stories of secret missions by brave Naval men in diving tombs held me spellbound. One of my favorites was about "Operation Jennifer"--Billionaire Howard Hughes' involvement with Bradley, the CIA, and the digging beneath the waves for the Halibut. Another was the frightful fight for the sunken Scorpio, all hands lost. To this day Russian and American families ask themselves, was the secret submarine war worth the risks? Worth the costs?
Authors Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew's years of research has paid off. The indexing is superb for quick looks at certain areas or famous people. The note section is an added plus for chapter information. Included black and white photos put faces to this myriad of heroes and villains.
Thank you to my brother, heartfelt salutes to the men and women who protect us. This is an intriguing account of submarine cat and mouse.
I appreciate your interest & comments--CDS
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on July 29, 2000
If, as Carl Builder wrote in "The Masks of War" (Rand/John Hopkins University Press, 1989), the Navy is happiest when left alone, then submariners must be the happiest sailors in the Navy.
"Blind Man's Bluff" was brought to my attention by a three-star Army general, stationed at the time in the Pacific. Pointing to the book on his desk, he muttered about sacrificing our security for the sake of profit. I picked up my copy at the very next bookstore. I wasn't disappointed.
Sherry Sontag and her colleagues did a lot of spade work to uncover the stories about Cold War submarine espionage that they did. Not all submariners and former submariners were forthcoming, but enough were to provide ample detail for the many exciting and dramatic stories in the book. I particularly enjoyed accounts of Adm. Hyman G. Rickover's nuclear kingdom within the secret recesses of the Navy. It's fascinating that a man could hold such power and longevity simultaneously.
When Sontag and company take the reader deep underwater, as they often do, the suspense is palpable and the pressure of the deep becomes real. Tapping into underwater communications cables in enemy waters while Soviet warships circle above is no mean feat.
Those former members of "the silent service" who did grant interviews for the book may have had an occasional axe to grind, but overall I found "Blind Man's Bluff" more history than compromise of national security. It may be as close as we come to transparency when it comes to the world's second oldest profession coupled with the most modern technology. Enjoy.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on December 14, 2001
"Blind Man's Bluff," is a fast and easy read about the submarine espionage tactics used during the Cold War. Most of the stories are on American subs but in the latest edition, an Appendix contains a few brief Soviet items that the authors recently uncovered.
Among the subjects covered are: submarine disasters, underwater collisions, undersea wire tapping on Soviet cables, the attempt by the Glomar Explorer to lift a sunken Soviet sub off the sea bottom, and many, many introductions to key Naval Intelligence officers and sub captains. Essentially, it's every story the government tried to keep classified during the Cold War. The authors came across the information by searching declassified documents and interviewing former Navy employees.
Anyone interested in covert military operations, the Cold War, naval operations or Tom Clancy fans will immensely enjoy this book. But even for the casual, meandering reader who doesn't concentrate his reading time on a single topic, Blind Man's Bluff will still be quite enjoyable.
It's so reader-friendly that most people will fly right through this book. And that's partly why I give it only four stars. In parts, it gets a little too sensationalized and too-Clancy for my liking. As an avid history reader, I concentrate on facts and information in texts and at times, BMB bogs down in dialogue and excessive melodrama. Instead of being informative it often becomes very narrative which isn't all bad depending on your reading tastes.
Sontag and the other authors did a great service in writing this book to the courageous men of this country who defended our borders by serving in the 'Silent Service.' Many of the vets have never been able to tell their story to relatives because of an oath of secrecy. Finally, their stories are told. Thank you veterans as well as current military personal for keeping American freedom safe!
- If you're lucky, you may be able to catch an hour-long segment of "History Undercover" on the History Channel devoted to this book. They replay it every couple of months so check your TV listings or the web site.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
I believe a little background is necessary before I begin the review. I approached this book knowing virtually nothing about the function of submarines in American espionage activities. I vaguely knew that American subs patrolled the Russian coast. I also knew that the one person who had served on a sub with whom I had a friendship answered all my submarine questions with "I can't talk about that." So, I was hoping that the book would provide me with a greater understanding of the spying role of submarines.
The book succeeded beyond my expectations. The authors did an excellent job describing the missions and their importance to the American intelligence efforts. But, the technical descriptions were not the features of the book that impressed me the most. Instead, I was greatly impressed by the dedication, ingenuity, and bravery of the men who were depicted in the book. Whether named or not, these men are all depicted as showing an incredibly strong sense of duty. The authors do a great job of showing that this sense was necessary in order to cope with the various emotional and physical strains that submarine service inflicted. Readers of the book will come away with the same feeling of admiration for these men that the authors clearly feel.
Blind Man's Bluff isn't perfect. Several of the incidents are told in a "breathless" style that is more suited for a work of fiction than a piece of non-fiction. And the book does suffer from a slight lack of details, which is undoubtedly a result of the still classified nature of these missions. But these are minor quibbles. The book is a must read for anyone who is interested in American military efforts, and a should-be-read by anyone who wants to know just how some of their defense dollars were spent.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 1999
While my background is aviation, I have spent time on subs and personally know one of the characters mentioned in this fascinating book. He has verified the authenticity of some of the info presented. I found the book difficult to put down and had only one regret: that it wasn't longer and didn't go into even greater technical detail. On the flip side, however, I thought the book was relatively poorly written. I believe it is a symptom of when several people try to write a book -- disjointed at times. Moreover, it seems the authors attempted to make the subjects "macho," which is slightly out of character, I think. I've known many men who were submariners and this just doesn't fit; vocabulary sprinkled with profanity doesn't describe any of the guys I know. Attempting to portray them in this light does not do them justice. Maybe the authors felt this was necessary to sell the book, or maybe, they drew the wrong conclusion. For me, this was a distraction.
Regardless, the book is a fine piece, overall. I highly recommend it, especially so that people can read what has been going on for years and years.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on March 11, 1999
See my review from Nov. 6, 1998. I've since re-read Blind Man's Bluff. And much has happened in the five months the book has been available. I just read all the reviews and see the approval rating averages 4-stars. The comments span the spectrum from the informative to the ridiculous. Some commented about the self destruct charges on board submarines. It was always my understanding and relief that no American submarine commander would ever give up the ship. However, if, due to some major casualty, the crew must abandon ship, it surely makes sense to be certain the ship is properly and totally scuttled, especially if a foreign power may be in a position to recover the ship. Does this help? In my opinion a couple reviewers even visited areas not covered in the book and rightfully so. Much of the research for this book was done circa 1990 for a series of articles published in the Chicago Tribune under the leadership of Christopher Drew. I was interviewed then by Robert Becker of Newport News regarding a collection of music I had written about the Submarine Service. Our dicussions were limited to the music, my personal history and record, the leadership and competence of Captain Whitey Mack of LAPON (SSN-661), and the general professionalism and dedication of submarine sailors. Specific submarine operational questions were responded to with the proverbial "no comment." Sherry Sontag called me a few years ago, and the interview went pretty much the same. However, I can state with a reasonable amount of certainty that Sontag and Drew exercised a great deal of restraint in not printing what they could not validate at some level. They know much more than what is published. My conclusions are based upon the questions I was asked. The authors have my profound respect for their journalistic professionalism in this arena. There are some discrepancies in BMB due to disinformation proffered by some of our shipmates who delight in the dispensation of BS in quantity. This is not the authors' fault. Others unwittingly repeated what they heard on submarine missions and any similarities between Crews Mess scuttlebutt and the facts were usually coincidental. Submariners as a group are accomplished pranksters. A favorite line was: "We're surrounded; we've got them right where we want them." My personal life has been affected by Blind Man's Bluff. My family has a newfound respect for my years of submarining. My children understand why I was away so much, and they have given me their understanding for putting my country before my family in those days. Thank God I am blessed with an understanding wife who held it together while I served an aggregate of four years underwater in a span of eleven years. Many former shipmates and team members have been in touch since Blind Man's Bluff. The book has been a catharsis for the players. Blind Man's Bluff has provided an overt pride for sacrifices and contributions to national security, a pride which formerly was minimized by obscurity. For new readers, this is as good as it gets regarding the U.S. Submarine Service, the Silent Service. For the old salts, be proud of your contributions and participation in events that were critical to our great country during a very intense period in our history. For the critics, try to imagine yourself in the shoes of Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew trying to do justice to an important historical evolution. Yes, much of the information was open source based upon traitors such as Ronald Pelton, Johnny Walker Red, and others. The story was intriguing. They followed their leads. If some of our comrades leaked classified data, it is not the authors' fault. Look at the disclosures by Dr. John Craven in the book and on 60 Minutes and Nova. Blind Man's Bluff is not an expose, it is a tribute!!!!!