162 of 176 people found the following review helpful
on September 24, 2005
"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. However, they end up with a sensationalist scenario to explain the intense interest the American government took in an obsolete, sunken diesel powered ballistic missile submarine.
Sewell claims to have 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 of this book 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 describes 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 somewhat shaky 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. Sewell is alone in making this claim, as previous authors, including John P. Craven in his 2001 book "Silent War" put the K-129 wreck at 40 latitude, 180 longitude, basically on the International Date Line. Declassified documents released in 2001 support the Craven location.
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. A desription of this operation is however provided in Sontag & Drew's "Blind Man's Bluff" None of the over 22,000 photos taken by the ROVS deployed by Halibut have ever been declassified, but the present 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 possibility of an attempted failed missile launch. The analysts concluded that the most probable case might be that the submarine was "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, it is alleged that 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. However, others have offered a more plausible alternative scenario in which the K-129 developed problems with the R-21 liquid fueled missile, leading to a somewhat similar accident as occurred with the Yankee class K-219 in the Atlantic in 1986.
According to Sewell, it was this "rogue" conclusion which stimulated the effort to build the Glomar Explorer and associated recovery equipment for the expressed purpose of recovery of the K-129, in order to examine and prove the supposition that it was in fact a "rogue" submarine. This proof would have been shared with 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 apparent high priority given to examine and attempt to understand waht happened to 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 reviewed, along with the argument that the Glomar Explorer was on station long enough to recover several large pieces of the submarine. However, many of the details of the actual recovery operation described by Sewell do not agree with widely published accounts of the actual operation of the Glomar Explorer and claw system equipment (e.g., Burleson; Collier & Varner), and the consistent claim by others has always been that the K-129 broke apart during the lifting operation, with only 38 feet of the bow recovered. Among the "new information" reported for the first time in this book are that the majority of the K-129 crew was jammed into forward compartments of the submarine, away from the command and control centers. Their 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, Sewell claims that 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 claimed herein is that the explosion which sank the K-129 was not in the battery compartment, as indicated in "Blind Man's Bluff", but instead was 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 undisclosed; 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 discussed. 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. However, what is unclear is how Suslov & Andropov could have possibly "survived" such a reckless and dangerous plot, and continue to wield power in the Soviet Leadership.
In assembling the rather loose chain of "evidence" to build this story, the authors claim to have searched widely to present a plausible set of events. Much of the new material is said to come from conversations with former officials and naval personnel in Russia, which unfortunately are poorly referenced and documented in the book. This is another major weakness, as it relies on shadowy sources and innuendo, rather than on solid, documented facts. I doubt the writers are anywhere near correct. Among several weak points 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. Other "facts" in the book are also in error, as has been pointed out by several other reviewers. If true, the book's arguments and conclusions would be intriguing and deeply disturbing. This particular Cold War incident has recently become another touchstone for those interested in conspiracy theories and speculation. One might hope that these discussions 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 (which is highly questionable), the important lessons learned cannot afford to be held by a mere handful of people. If on the other hand they are not correct, it might also be an opportune time to release more facts & documentation to clarify why the US undertook such a venture.
2007 Addendum. In the two years since I have written the above review, I have been involved in a documentary film project attempting to discover the truth behind K-129 and the Glomar Explorer. Without going into details that will be part of the documentary, the research for the production has convinced me that the scenario presented in "Red Star Rogue" is absolutely wrong, and many claims made in the book, including that the location of the sunken submarine was near the Hawaiian islands, are erroneous. Please see Ray Feldman's review for a more accurate depiction of reality!
127 of 139 people found the following review helpful
on October 21, 2005
Mr. Sewell has compiled an interesting set of half-truths, conjecture and outright fabrications interspersed with some Soviet operational procedures and human-interest details to advance a frightening scenario that a rogue Soviet submarine attempted to launch a nuclear missile at Pearl Harbor. Mr. Sewell has taken advantage of the recent spate of books about cold war submarine activities to publish his version of a specific event, no doubt to his financial benefit. One sentence from John Craven's book "The Silent War" i.e. "there existed a possibility, small though it might be, that the skipper of this rogue submarine was attempting to launch or had actually launched a ballistic missile with a live warhead in the direction of Hawaii." is the basis of his doomsday premise. He take this conditional conjecture, throws in a cabal of high level KGB conspirators, and hatches an almost 300 page book of fiction. The central thesis behind his assertion of a rogue launch is his claim that the sub went down at 163º W Lon, 24º N Lat. This is critical since the K-129 was armed with three SS-N-5 Serb missiles with a range of approximately 760 nautical miles. Since the sub actually sank at 180º Lon, 40º N Lat, which is more that 1500 nautical miles distant from Pearl Harbor, it would be more than 800 nautical miles short of the presumed target. At Sewell's claimed site, which is totally false, Pearl Harbor would be within range of the missiles.
As a senior staff engineer, now retired, with the Ocean System Division of Lockheed Missiles and Space Co., I was the responsible engineer for the Digital Data Link (DDL) which provided commands to, and telemetry from, the "claw", which we designated the Capture Vehicle (CV), and the control van on the Hughes Glomar Explorer (HGE). Since the DDL was a complex poorly documented one-off system and vital for the mission, I was recruited to go on the mission to ensure its operation. I was a member of the crew that sailed out of Long Beach on June 19, 1974 and maintained the link during the entire operation, and at times manned one of the consoles in the control van. As a result of my direct experience with the mission, I have some valid observations to make.
There are many inaccuracies in Sewell's description of the Hughes Glomar Explorer (HGE) and details of the raising of the Golf II class K-129 submarine. Without getting into details that are interesting but not really germane, the essential facts are: The location of the recovery site was not restricted to "ranking members of the Glomar crew and the CIA managers" as Mr. Sewell claims. Certainly the seamen (ship drivers) were well aware of the recovery position, as was the recovery team. Everyone on board was briefed on the essential details of the mission, even cooks, stewards and pipe handlers although their jobs did not require in-depth knowledge. Contrary to his assertion, there were no restricted areas on the ship except the communication van and the rig floor during dangerous pipe handling conditions. Others, and I would frequently visit the bridge where we could observe the Transit Nav Sat position being displayed on the navigation console. Besides, anyone with a boy scout's knowledge and protractor could observe the sun at local noon and determine the latitude to within a couple of degrees. The upshot of all this is:
The position of the K-129 recovery site was on the 180º meridian, at 40º N Lat. The longitude was so close to the International Date Line, that there was some discussion as to the date to use in the recovery log. Since the voyage originated east of the date line, we continued to use this date.
Even John Craven doesn't dispute this position. In page 212 (and 3 other places) of his book he writes "she would have filled with water and would have sunk like a rock-and we would find her at exactly 180/40."
Additionally, I can absolutely confirm that:
1 Only the forward 38 or 40 foot (depending how you measure) section of the bow was recovered.
2 There were only 6 to 7 bodies (depending on how you reassembled body parts) in the recovered section rather than the 60 or so that Sewell claims.
3 The ship's bell was recovered from its storage area near the bow, not from "the center section of the conning tower" as Sewell alleges. This is an important point because Sewell claims its retrieval in the conning tower proves that the center section of the sub was recovered. It's true that the mount for the bell was in the sail (conning tower). However, sources reveal that the bell is only mounted on leaving and entering port. At sea the bell is dismounted, stored and secured to prevent any ringing. The last thing a submariner wants is to have a bell sound during silent running.
4 No missiles or warheads were recovered.
5 No codebooks or encryption equipment was recovered.
6 Two crushed almost unrecognizable objects were identified as nuclear tipped torpedoes by a naval officer in mufti.
7 The interior of the recovered section appeared much like an archaeological site with everything compacted into a dense mass.
8 The K-129 had broken into two major pieces, probably on impact since the sections were so close together. The forward section was approximately 136 feet in length and designated the Target Object (TO). The CV was configured to only recover the TO in its specific attitude on the ocean floor. There was no intention to make more than one round trip, nor would it have been possible due to the strain on the heavy lift system and its frequent breakdown; and we would not have been able to open the well gates to the moon pool, with the 40 foot recovered section already in place.
9 Charring of some combustible material in the recovered section indicates that dieseling, as a result of implosion may have occurred. Note: As a result of post recovery and acoustic record analysis, it appears that the charring was not due to implosion at crush depth but rather the of the hypergolic reaction of the liquid fuel (hydrazine) and oxidizer (red fuming nitric acid).
It is true that the recovered section was radioactively contaminated with what turned out to be weapons grade plutonium. This would certainly indicate that some sort of catastrophic event took place. Not surprising given the inherently dangerous nature of liquid fueled rockets, and the Soviet submarine service's very poor safety record.
I have discussed these details with a former Lockheed colleague and shipmate on the HGE, and we agree on the facts stated above. I am not employed by any entity, governmental or private. I have no motive beyond the desire to squelch half-baked conspiracy theories by advocates who profit from their advancement.
56 of 61 people found the following review helpful
on February 11, 2007
First, I want to say that I really, really wanted to like this book. I really did. But there were so many factual problems with it, that I can't take it seriously.
First and foremost, the author mentions on several pages that the explosion aboard K-129 was monitored by a US early warning satellite. The problem with this is that according to "Guardians, Strategic Reconnaissance Satellites" by Curtis Peebles (Presidio Press, 1987. ISBN 0-89141-284-0), a comprehensive work on intelligence satellites from the beginning until 1985, there were no early warning satellites in operation in March 1968, when K-129 went down. The low orbit MIDAS follow-up program was cancelled in 1966 (due to problems with coverage and false alarms), and Project 949, its geosynchronous replacement, wasn't launched until August of 1968. So, it couldn't have been been monitored, because we didn't have the capability at the time K-129 sank.
Also, Sewell claims that the sailing was timed to prevent it from being detected by photoreconaissance satellites, but again we run into an issue: At the time, *ALL* US photorecon satellites were 'film return' types. In other words, they imaged what they saw directly on to film, and when they were done they returned that film back to Earth to be developed and interpreted. After they ejected the film, they were essentially useless. Referring back to "Guardians" again, we find that the Russians didn't have to try very hard to evade them: Launch 1968-5 was on January 18th, and had a lifetime of 17 days. That put the return back on February 5th. K-129 sailed on February 24th. The next US launch wasn't until March 13th, almost a week after K-129 sank.
Also, the author claims that K-129 was followed by a Permit class submarine, and that this sub recorded the acoustical signature for later processing on land-based Cray supercomputers. Remember, this is 1968. Seymour Cray didn't found Cray Research until 1972, and the first Cray-1 wasn't completed until 1976. Now, I have no doubt that the boat could have been followed, and its signature recorded for processing back on land, but if the author makes a mistake like this (and the aforementioned ones), how can you trust the other claims?
There are other problems as well.
I find it completely plausible that we wanted to raise the boat for examination of the missiles, especially the warheads, and to get the code materials. Now, it is true that the code machine and settings would have been old. Those not familiar with the story of how the British broke the German naval Enigma back in WWII would wonder how 5 year old code materials could be of help in breaking new codes. First, because K-129 was a strategic nuclear asset, it is likely that it had the best code machine the Russians could produce. That means that likely it was still in use at the time of the attempt to raise it. Even if it was not, it would allow us to decode the material from the time of the sinking (provided the codebooks containing the settings for the machine had been preserved - a pretty likely scenario). That would give us insight into the communications of the Soviet Navy with its ballistic missile submarines. Because military messages tend to be pretty strictly formatted, and those formats don't change greatly over the years, that would give those in the NSA working on the then current Soviet codes probable texts to use as 'cribs' to help them decode Soviet naval communications.
This book reminds me of a book I read a long time ago about the Face on Mars. All speculation, and very little actual factual information. I was sorely disappointed, because I was hoping that over the years new light would have been shed on the sinking and subsequent recovery of at least part of the K-129. Unfortunately, this book ain't it. Instead of shining a light, this book obscures the actual incident in supposition, speculation, and outright misrepresentations of the facts.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on November 20, 2006
Instead, the authors claim it to be non-fiction. The book is so full of technical and chronological errors (many quite basic) that all possible credibility is destroyed. For example, the book states that the one-megaton nuclear warheads carried on the K-129's missile have a yield equivalent to 1000 tons of TNT; in reality, one megaton = one million tons TNT equivalent. Another simple, verifiable error is that the authors claim that the crews of USS Parche & USS (Richard B.) Russell received awards for their part in the K-129 recovery efforts in late 1968/early 1969. These two subs weren't even built yet! Also, the authors repeatedly use presented hypotheses as facts later in the book - a cardinal flaw in any form of deductive reasoning. The end result is just populist conspiracy theory trash.
22 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on October 31, 2006
Unsupported, and often contradictory supposition aboubds in "Red Star Rogue", which tells the story of the Soviet K-129, a nuclear missile sub that sank in the Pacific in early 1968. Already famous for the attempt to salvage it using the "Glomar Explorer" (told in 1998's "Blind Man's Bluff", but already well-known), K-129's loss had long been thought due an accident. The authors boldly argue otherwise - that K-129's sank due to a botched attempt to launch missiles against Hawaii, a plan sanctioned at the top of the Soviet leadership to instigate a Chinese-American war. The authors also repudiate accounts that the Glomar Explorer was only partially successful in recovering K-129.
To call the author's case "circumstantial" doesn't begin to cover "Rogue"'s problems. Intriguing at first for its depiction of life aboard a crude diesel-electric sub, "Rogue" soon veers into "Philadelphia Experiment" territory when the authors prove willing to piece together any evidence regardless of how little it supports the author's case or excludes more reasonable alternatives. (Contrary to popular belief, "circumstantial evidence" isn't lower-grade evidence - it's still bound by old-fashioned rules of reasonability, which the authors bury at sea.) Most of the story relies on information which suggests what would or could have happened, but with too little if anything to establish what did happen. "Rogue" so baldly evades any reasonable explanation clashing with its claims (of a hijacking, attempted launch and complete salvage) that just finishing "Rogue" will stretch your suspension of disbelief. "Rogue" is loaded with footnotes - most of which cite to meetings with anonymous sources, or to either "Blind Man's Bluff" or a history of the Glomar Explorer" written by Burleson. Little of the quoted material corroborates either of the book's central theses of a rogue-attack or a successful salvage, or supports anything more than an appearance of research. In fact, the authors spend a lot of time actually repudiating those sources. (e.g. John Craven's claim that K-129 disintegrated like an Alka-Seltzer tablet after Glomar's retrieval robot collapsed is actually ridiculed, but the authors' conflicting example, using RMS Titanic is utterly ludicrous.)
The authors balance a host of possibilities on top of each other as supportive proof - there were extra men on K-129 placed at the last minute, but there's no record of them (a memorial later carries extra names, but the authors never follow up on them) - but if they had been there, they could have been KGB "Oznaz" commandos who could have commandeered the ship, and would have had training in using nukes; the Americans determine the truth, but kept quiet for "political" reasons.
The proof is selectively analyzed. The extra crewmen are "established" to have been aboard, even though there's no record of their being aboard, and any record, the authors say, could have been falsified by the high-ranking plotters. The authors never consider an innocuous explanation for their presence (US ships have "riders", especially following a refit such as the one detailed for K-129) or that evidence of their existence may be a simple clerical error (if the plotters were highly placed, couldn't they have simply substituted the desired crewmen?). The authors discount a voluntary role played by the actual executive staff because their high rank made them loyal - but then implicate higher ranking members of Soviet leadership; the KGB hijackers accidentally destroy the ship trying to bypass safeguards on the ship's warheads - even though (as the authors claim) such troops already had access to nuclear weapons thus obviating the need to bypass them ("Rogue" posits conspirators trained on nuclear-weapons, but not trained adequately); the authors make a good case for a missile explosion and a thin one for an explosion caused by attempted launch - ignoring any other hardware failure like the one involving a prototype SS-7 ICBM that killed over 100 people in 1961, or a missile tube failure involved in the loss of K-219 in 1986 (K-219 rates nary a mention in "Rogue").
Though they claim that the attack was meant to frame the Chinese, "Rogue" lacks any evidence needed to point to China: K-129 was an advanced member of a class of subs found only in Soviet service; crewed by uniformed Soviet sailors and armed with Soviet missiles. The authors never demonstrate that the Chinese even possessed an operational SLBM system as early as 1968 (most sources place the first successful test launch of China's first ICBM in 1978, with initial ops in '83). The case falls apart when the authors try to explain how the Soviets would have refuted suspicions that the attack was their own.
Worst of all, "Rogue" tries to have its cake and eat it too - getting undue mileage by appearing well researched even when spending more time refuting sources than finding support in them - other sources are ridiculed when they clash with the authors' sources, without any concrete explanation as to why the author chose to believe one story over another. If the sea has harbored a secret of the K-129, this book does not reveal it.
21 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on April 10, 2006
...are just some words with discrete meanings nevertheless confused in "Red Star Rogue", which tells the story of the Soviets' K-129, a diesel-powered, nuclear armed sub that sank in the Pacific in early 1968. Already famous for the American effort to salvage it using the "Glomar Explorer" (documented in 1998's "Blind Man's Bluff", but already well-known), K-129 had long been assumed lost due to catastrophic accident. "Rogue" instead boldly argues that K-129's loss resulted from a botched attempt to launch missiles against Hawaii - a plan sanctioned at the top of the Soviet leadership in the hopes of instigating a Sino/American war. Almost as dramatically, the authors also repudiate accounts that the Americans recovered only part of K-129.
To call the author's case "circumstantial" doesn't begin to cover "Rogue"'s problems. Intriguing at first for its depiction of life aboard a crude Russian sub, "Rogue" soon veers into "Philadelphia Experiment" territory when the authors demonstrate a willingness to piece together any evidence regardless of how poor the fit, how little it supports the author's case or excludes more reasonable alternatives. (Contrary to popular belief, "circumstantial evidence" isn't insufficient or even just lower-grade evidence - it's still bound by old-fashioned rules of reasonability, which the authors bury at sea.) Most of the story relies on information which suggests what would or could have happened, but with too little if anything to establish what did happen. The authors avoid any reasonable explanation undermining their claims with such painful obviousness, that just finishing this book will test your suspension of disbelief. "Rogue" is loaded with footnotes - most of which cite to meetings with anonymous sources, or to either "Blind Man's Bluff" or Burleson's history of the "Glomar Explorer", but few sources corroborate either of the book's central theses of a rogue-attack or a successful salvage. The authors assault the reader's intelligence by making claims only corroborated by the author's other unsubstantiated claims, and sometimes not even supported by them.
Like a house of cards, the authors balance a host of possibilities on top of each other as supportive proof - there were extra men on K-129 placed at the last minute, but there's no record of them (a memorial later carries extra names, but the authors never follow up on them) - but if they had been there, they could have been KGB "Oznaz" commandos who could have commandeered the ship, and would have had training in using nukes; the Americans determine the truth, but kept quiet for "political" reasons (for the authors, it's enough to say how tense the American political situation is and say that the considerations for the cover-up were indeed political without having to explain why the political situation tilted against disclosure; in our "Wag the Dog" era, it's quaint to think that our national leadership was so preoccupied in 1968, that it actually smothered any word of a homeland security issue). The authors lunge for every possible conclusion, and drop a few sensationalist hints that they never bother to follow up (links to convicted turncoat John Walker & the mysterious loss of the USS Scorpion being two examples; my guess is that Walker's role is overblown here - there's no explanation for how the former USN radioman had access to sensitive diplomatic documents).
The authors' proof is also selectively analyzed. Extra crewmen are "established" to have been on K-129, even though there's no record of their being aboard, and any record, the authors say, could have been falsified by the high-ranking plotters. The authors never consider that evidence establishing that these men ever existed may have been a simple clerical error (if the plotters were highly placed, couldn't they have simply substituted the desired crewmen?). The authors discount a voluntary role played by the actual executive staff because their high rank made them loyal - but then implicate higher ranking members of Soviet leadership; the extra crew accidentally destroy the ship trying to bypass safeguards on the ship's warheads, but it's never explained why loyal agents of such highly authorized sources lacked access to the weapons that obviated a bypass; the authors determine that a missile explosion destroyed the ship - but make the leap to an explosion caused by an attempted launch, and ignore any other hardware failure like the one that caused the Nedelin tragedy, or the one involved in the loss of Submarine K-219 in 1986 (K-219 rates nary a mention in "Rogue"). The authors posit conspirators trained on nuclear-weapons, but not trained adequately. Lastly, the Americans go out of their way to recover K-129 intact because they can use it as proof of the Soviets' plot as leverage against them - even though the sub itself (according to "Rogue") is likely cut up for scrap by those same Americans almost as soon as it's brought back to California.
Though claiming the attack was meant to frame the Chinese, the authors utterly fail to present evidence pointing to China: K-129 was an advanced member of a class of subs found only in Soviet service, crewed by uniformed Soviet sailors and armed with Soviet missiles. The authors utterly fail to provide information that Americans in 1968 would have needed to link the attack to China, or explain how the Soviets could have refuted suspicions that the attack was their own. It's as if the authors spent most of the book hyping some horrible plot - then neglecting to include the plot as well.
Finally, and most egregiously, the author's spend most of the book "debunking" the nearly-official story of K-129 & her recovery, dismissing some claims as ludicrous - but still relying on many such sources for corroboration. Why the accepted story is the wrong story, but sufficient for their purposes will remain a mystery the authors are not likely to reveal in the near future.
13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on January 6, 2008
I looked at this book as an academic. I study nuclear weapons development, delivery systems, and all that stuff. If it blows up real big, I am into it. So please do take this into consideration as I go into my review.
This book is about as plausible as the last Sasquatch sighting. But perhaps that is why so many people seem to desperately want to cling to it. The author makes several unforgivable lapses in judgement, such as reconstructing the last days of the K-129 - a Golf II class ballistic missile sub that he asserts was on its way with 11 "mysterious" personnel who somehow were trying to launch an SLBM at Pearl Harbor in 1968, in the hopes that the U.S. would automatically suspect the CHINESE and attack them, thus eliminating Russia's main continental threat. He furthermore maintains that the warhead suffered a low-order detonation of the warhead as a result of the Permissive Action Lock failsafe device triggering some of its plastic explosives as a means of somehow punishing a crew severely if it tried something sneaky.
First, the author needs to content himself with some facts: he claims to have worked as in the reactor space of one of our snooper-boats, yet he obviously doesn't recall ever having "Spooks," or CIA intelligence-gathering operatives on his boat. If he does, then why doesn't he think that the Soviets did the same thing? Or they could have been technicians working on the newly-installed navigational gear. But of course, these were just mystery men who seized the boat. I'm getting spooked already...
Then there is his reconstruction of the events of the sub just prior to its loss. HE CANNOT KNOW THIS STUFF - THE ONLY ONES WHO DID DIED ON THE BOAT. But it is a "Non-fiction novel," right? La la la la la... Now the psychopathic commies raise to fire their missile and...
This gets goofy: he describes a "cold launch" system to fire the missiles FROM A SURFACED POSITION - in essence this system uses compressed air to blow the missile free from its launch tube AS THE SUBMARINE IS SUBMERGED. The predecessor to the submarine, the Golf I class HAD to fire while surfaced, and used an elevator platform to lift the missile clear of the launch tube, of which there were three located in the sail. The Golf II was specifically created to be able to utilize the R-21 missile, which GAVE IT AN UNDERWATER LAUNCH CAPABILITY. If the author had even bothered to actually read Pavel podvig's book, "Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces," WHICH HE CITES, he would know that the K-129 would not have fired from the surface, but submerged. But well, that would conflict with the story... La la la la la....
So the permissive action lock triggered the missile's warhead to self destruct? IT DOESN'T WORK THAT WAY. It prevents the missile from firing, or the warhead from detonating, but it DOESN'T POP THE EXPLOSIVES ON THE WARHEAD. It would render it inert - and THAT IS ASSUMING THAT THE R-21 HAD A PAL SYSTEM. Not to mention that such an explosion would have opened up the missile's fuel tanks (it was a liquid-fuelled missile after all) and most likely would have blown open the missile hatches covering the other two birds in their tubes. GUESS WHAT HAPPENS THEN? You have two more missiles blowing their fuel tanks, and in the end, there wouldn't be enough of that sub left to fit in a sardine can. Boom. Big rocket fuel explosion. Bye bye boat, and Mr. Hughes doesn't build the Glomar Explorer.
I hope that I haven't ruined anyone's fun here, and if you like sea stories, this one might keep you company on a rainy night, but it is absolutely implausible. Oh, I didn't mention that he states that a secret "Jennifer" satellite "detected" the missile fuel explosion. I thought that "Jennifer" was the code name for the attempted recovery, not surveillance of the world for infrared sources... And being able to discern "between house fires and rocket fuel." Errr, right. I am familiar with the Vela satellites, and I am familiar with the early warning satellites that sit in geosynchronous orbits at great distance that look for rocket plumes, but this satellite system is unfamiliar to me... OH, THAT'S RIGHT - he cites THAT information FROM A DISCOVERY CHANNEL TV PROGRAM. Now if that isn't an accurate source, I don't know what is. When the television becomes part of the basis of a book that claims to be somewhat factual, I blanch. If that is the case, the author may wish to ask Starfleet if Scotty would be so kind as to beam him up to the Enterprise so he can look at the dilithium crystals.
He discounts the possibility that there was a missile fuel leak, or another scenario where the sub might have surfaced briefly to try and vent its missile tube - such as in the scenario portrayed in the book "Hostile Waters" where a leaking launch tube caused a missile detonation and the eventual loss of the sub and several of its crew. But that would dismiss the idea that psycho Reds were trying to get us to blow up the Chinese...
AND THE CHINESE DID NOT HAVE A BALLISTIC MISSILE SUB OF THEIR OWN UNTIL 1988. How would they have nuked us at Pearl Harbor?
Oh, and there's lots of Glomar Explorer conspiracy hooplah, but I have probably taken up enough of your time.
This book requires a willing suspense of disbelief. As I study this stuff for a living, I ain't that willing.
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on September 25, 2006
...are just some words with discrete meanings nevertheless confused in "Red Star Rogue", which tells the story of the Soviet K-129. A nuclear missile sub that sank in the Pacific in early 1968, K-129 was already famous because of the attempt to salvage it involving the "Glomar Explorer" (told in 1998's "Blind Man's Bluff", but already well-known). Though K-129's loss had long been thought an accident, the authors boldly argue otherwise - the K-129 disaster resulted from a botched attempt to hijack the sub and attack Hawaii, a plan sanctioned at the top of the Soviet leadership in the hopes of instigating a Chinese-American war. The authors also repudiate accounts of the Glomar Explorer's only partial success in recovering K-129.
To call the author's case "circumstantial" doesn't begin to describe "Rogue"'s problems. Intriguing at first for its depiction of life aboard a crude Soviet sub, "Rogue" soon veers into "Philadelphia Experiment" territory when the authors prove willing to piece together any evidence regardless of how little it supports the author's case or excludes more reasonable alternatives. (Contrary to popular belief, "circumstantial evidence" isn't inferior evidence - it's still bound by old-fashioned rules of reasonability, which the authors bury at sea.) Most of the story relies on information which suggests what would or could have happened, but with too little if anything to establish what did happen. The authors so baldly evade any reasonable explanation that clashes with their claims (of a hijacking, attempted missile launch and sucessful salvage) that just finishing "Rogue" will test your suspension of disbelief. "Rogue" is loaded with footnotes - most of which cite to meetings with anonymous sources, or to either "Blind Man's Bluff" or a history of the Glomar Explorer" written by Burleson, but few corroborate either of the book's central theses of a rogue-attack or a successful salvage. The authors assault the reader's intelligence by making claims only corroborated by the author's other unsubstantiated claims, and sometimes not even supported by them. (Those unaccepting of websites as primary sources should ditch "Rogue".)
Like a house of cards, the authors balance a host of possibilities on top of each other as supportive proof - there were extra men on K-129 placed at the last minute, but there's no record of them (a memorial later carries extra names, but the authors never follow up) - but if they had been there, they could have been KGB "Oznaz" commandos who could have commandeered the ship, and would have had training in using nukes; the Americans determine the truth, but keep quiet for "political" reasons.
The authors' proof is also selectively analyzed. Extra crewmen are "established" to have been on K-129, even though there's no record of their being aboard, and any record, the authors say, could have been falsified by the high-ranking plotters - they never consider that evidence establishing that these men ever existed may have been a simple clerical error (if the plotters were highly placed, couldn't they have simply substituted the desired crewmen?). The authors discount a voluntary role played by the actual executive staff because their high rank made them loyal - but then implicate higher ranking members of Soviet leadership; the extra crew accidentally destroy the ship trying to bypass safeguards on the ship's warheads - even though (as special KGB troops) they already had access to them obviating the need for them to be bypassed; the authors determine that a missile explosion destroyed the ship - but make the leap to an explosion caused by an attempted launch, and ignore any other hardware failure like the one that caused the Nedelin tragedy, or the one involved in the loss of K-219 in 1986 (K-219 rates nary a mention in "Rogue"). The authors posit conspirators trained on nuclear-weapons, but not trained adequately.
Though they claim that the attack was meant to frame Red China, the authors utterly fail to present evidence pointing to the Chinese: K-129 belonged to a class of subs found only in Soviet service, crewed by uniformed Soviet sailors and armed with Soviet missiles. The authors utterly fail to provide information that America and Russia would have needed to link the attack to China (most tellingly, whether China - which was undergoing the "Cultural Revolution" - even had sub-launched missile capabilities), or explain how the Soviets otherwise could have refuted suspicions that the attack was their own.
Worst of all, "Rogue" gets undue mileage freely repudiating other books (arguably better researched) without basis - other sources are ridiculed when they clash with the authors' sources, without any concrete explanation as to why the author chose to believe one story over another. If the sea has harbored a secret of the K-129, this book does not reveal it.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on September 8, 2007
Addendum of 15 Feb 2010
The newspaper Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy KRASNAYA ZVEZDA (Red Star), issue 5-7 Aug 1991 provided the following position for the K-129 wreck:40-04-05N 179-57-03E.
This is the position reported by Soviet surveillance ships who observed the Hughes Glomar Explorer while it was
recovering the 40-foot bow-section of the K-129 - an activity they failed to recognize.
This postion is about 1580 nautical miles (nm) from Pearl Harbor, more than twice the maximum range of the R-21/D4 missile carried by the K-129 reported to have been 756 nm (1400 km) by S.G. Kolesnikov in "Strategicheskoye raketno-yadernoye oruzhiye." published by Arsenal Press, 1996.
As noted below, so much for Kenneth Sewell and his RED STAR ROGUE conspiracy theory.
- - - - - - -
As discussed by William Twist and the originator of this review in earlier reviews of RED STAR ROGUE (RSR) posted on this site, RSR has serious credibility problems in several technical areas.
One of these problems is so egregious that the entire conspiracy theory edifice propounded by RSR stands or falls on this single issue. Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) letter serial 0051P32 of 21 May 1968 reports the results of a meeting held in Washington, DC on 20 May 1968 at which representatives of the Air Force Technical Applcations Center (AFTAC) briefed the results of their analysis of acoustic data that confirmed the K-129 sank at 40.1N, 179-9E, a position 1590 nm from Pearl Harbor (PH) or more than twice the maximum range of the R-21/D4 GOLF (K-129) missile Sewell conjectures was being prepared to fire at PH when it exploded and sank the K-129.
This is the position where the Hughes Glomar Explorer (HGE) recovered a 40-foot bow section of the GOLF in Aug 1974. [...]
So much for Kenneth Sewell and his wild conjecture.
The CNO letter of 21 May 1968 should be requested from the Navy History and Heritage Command in Washington, DC: [...]
Note: AFTAC determined when and where the K-129 sank. The Pacific Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) provided only 20 percent of the raw acoustic data and none of the analysis.
Added 31 July 2012
Why The GOLF II Class Soviet SSB (K-129) Was Lost, Expanded
When the K-129 was lost in the northwestern Pacific on 11 March 1968, the event produced a series of acoustic signals detected by the US Air Force Technical Applications Center (AFTAC) sea-floor sensors (hydrophones) in the central and western Pacific. The US Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) did not identify (recognize) those signals.
AFTAC analysis in early May 1968 provided the position of the K-129 event (40-06N, 179-57E). Using that position, the K-129 wreckage was subsequently located by the USS HALIBUT (SSN-587) 2.00 nautical miles (nm), bearing 180-degrees from the AFTAC position. The K-129 wreck lies 1590 nm from Pearl Harbor, more than twice the 756 nm maximum range of the three R-21/D4 missiles the submarine carried.
Later, the Navy took the K-129 acoustic data from AFTAC before that activity could further analyze the material to determine why the K-129 was lost. The Navy then compartmentalized the K-129 data which was not further analyzed until it was recovered by the author from public domain sources in 2008, 40 years after the event.
That 2008 analysis confirmed the K-129 was lost because three explosive events
contained within the pressure hull killed or incapacitated the crew allowing a simulated dual missile launch training event to become the sequential firing of two R-21/D4 missiles to fuel exhaustion within sealed - but subsequently breached - missile tubes.
Those explosive events occurred at 11:58:58Z, 11:59:43Z and 11:59:47Z. The first R-21/D4 missile ignited at 12:00:00Z (a time strongly suggestive of a planned training event, not an operational launch), developed full thrust in 1.3 seconds, and fired at full-thrust for 95.2 seconds. Five seconds after ignition, the 5000 degree F high velocity exhaust plume burned through the 0.38 inch launch tube liner (within the 0.88 inch thick QT28 nickel-steel alloy pressure hull) causing five explosive events within the K-129 pressure hull in the next 22 seconds.
Three hundred and 61 seconds after ignition of the first R-21/D4, a second R21/D4 ignited (at 12:06:01Z) within its sealed launch tube and burned at full thrust for 95.4 seconds.
As confirmed by inspection of the first compartment recovered in August 1974 by the CIA salvage ship, the Hughes Glomar Explorer, the effects of both missile exhaust plumes over a total duration of 190 seconds turned the K-129 into a burned out hulk. With the pressure-hull also breached - as confirmed by HALIBUT imagery - the K-129 sank fully flooded. There were no acoustic detections of structural collapse events, another indication of the destructive force of the missile exhaust plumes.
This acoustic-derived timeline for the events responsible for the loss of the K-129 - already derived - was confirmed in 2008 by a Russian source who stated the R-21/D4 missile burn time to maximum range (fuel exhaustion) was (quote) about 94 seconds and six minutes between launch events had been demonstrated during one of the first test launches (end quote).
As discussed above, the values derived from analysis of the acoustic data were 95.2 and 95.4 seconds for the missile firings at full thrust while the acoustically-derived launch interval was only one second longer than that identified by the Russian source, i.e., 361s versus 360s.
This was not a difficult analysis. It could have been derived in 1968 even without independent confirmation of the R-21/D4 missile launch system parameters. The temporal spacing of precisely repeating events of the same 95 second duration that started at exactly 12:00:00Z and 361 seconds later - together with HALIBUT imagery of the wreck that showed breaching of the pressure hull below the missile compartment - would have admitted to no other explanation. Such was the dark side of the Navy compartmentalization which prevented those US agencies concerned with approving the salvage effort - code-named Project Azorian - from knowing the condition of areas within the K-129 wreck from which they hoped to the recover communications equipment and documentation, i.e., those spaces had been subjected to 5000 degree F temperatures for more than three minutes.
For more information on the design, construction and execution of the K-129 recovery system and that operation in 1974, read "Project AZORIAN, The CIA and the Raising of the K-129" by Norman Polmar and Michael White and view the Michael White film, "AZORIAN: The Raising of the K-129" upon which the book is based. The author of this article supported both efforts on a pro bono basis, i.e., was NOT compensated for his contributions.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
This much is known: In 1968, a Soviet missile submarine sank somewhere in the North Pacific, and six years later the Glomar Explorer showed up in Hawaii to try to salvage it from three miles down.
The rest is speculation, more or less well informed. Kenneth Sewell, a former Navy nuclear engineer, offers a version that has a small squad of hardcore Stalinists taking over the submarine and trying to launch a megaton-yield bomb at Pearl Harbor.
In this version, the Soviets make the launch "look like" a Chinese attack, expecting that the United States will blow China off the map, saving Russian Communism from its internal flaws and greatest external foe.
Maybe. But if so, it could not possibly have happened the way Sewell thinks.
Sewell believes that a cabal, probably in the KGB (state security service), schemed to return the U.S.S.R. to strict Stalinism, eliminate Maoism and weaken the United States. Supposedly, they figured the United States would pause long enough to pursue an investigation that must have lasted days or weeks before responding with its own nuclear counterattack.
This makes no sense in common or garden variety thinking, and makes even less sense in the warped logic of the national security state.
It's certainly conceivable that the Kremlin housed hardliners who thought a little nuclear war would solve their problems. The Pentagon did.
The Air Force Chief of Staff, Curtis LeMay, for example, spent his years as head of the Strategic Air Command trying to bully and harass the Soviets into some act that would call for "massive retaliation."
Though LeMay was gone by 1968, other, less visible LeMays were still around.
Since these maniacs were in favor of a first strike to eliminate the evil of Communism, it is inconceivable that, had there been an atomic attack from any known or unknown enemy, they would not have advocated covering all bets and seizing the opportunity to remove Communism once and for all. They had already tried that in 1962, when LeMay's enthusiasm for atomic warfare required him to be wrestled to the floor by cooler heads.
The men in the Kremlin understood this, even if Sewell doesn't.
That does not mean a Soviet sub didn't try to launch on Pearl Harbor. Sewell thinks a fail-safe device that the plotters did not know about set off the conventional explosives that trigger a nuclear blast and sank the sub.
Could be, although more likely it was just another in the long history of ordinary sub accidents. Sewell's bid for status as a careful and critical analyst is called into question by his inability to leave out any speculation, even the looniest. If he had wanted to be taken seriously, he'd have done better to have left out the several pages he devotes to the "extrasensory perceptions of doom" felt at the time by the wife of one of the submariners.