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It is hard to overstate the singularity and importance of this book. Blind Man's Bluff, as the subtitle says, truly is The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage. Before the research of writers Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew (with Annette Lawrence Drew) culminated in the publishing of this book, the stories of hundreds of submariners, true heroes one and all, had been shrouded in the secrecy borne of the Cold War. Many men aged and died without ever telling their wives and children what they did during their tours of duty; many family members never knew exactly how and why their loved ones never came home; many survivors have only now learned, thanks to this book, the exact nature of the missions they took part in, having never been privy to that information during their service. According to the authors, many of these men and their families have thanked them in quite emotional terms for finally telling their stories. The submariners of the United States Navy helped win the Cold War, and they deserve the heroic recognition they dutifully earned in service to their country.
This book basically takes the reader through the secret history of submarine intelligence missions over the course of the Cold War years and beyond. Many of these tales prove once again that truth is oftentimes stranger than fiction. Triumph and tragedy abound. The book also serves as a primer of sorts for the history of the Cold War; the interplay between different American administrations, naval chiefs and admirals, larger-than-life sub captains, and brilliant civilian naval administrators immerses you in the full scope of military planning, action, reaction, and sometimes overreaction. The biggest mistakes that were made all seem to fall in the lap of admirals and high-ranking naval officers and administrators, and these mistakes put many lives in danger and caused a number of unnecessary deaths. The dangerous obstinacy of government bureaucracy is a problem we continue to deal with today.
Submarines fulfilled innumerable intelligence-gathering missions during the decades after World War II. Subs infiltrated Russian waters to glean data about Soviet hardware, missile technology, and military behavior patterns; they secretly tailed all manner of Soviet subs across the oceans in order to identify each type of craft by the slightest of sounds and to learn the practices and tendencies of Soviet sub commanders (helping to ensure that the Soviets would be hard pressed to ever launch a massive nuclear first- or second-strike via the sea); they searched for valuable military hardware (both American and Soviet) along the ocean floor; and they brought home some of the most critical intelligence findings imaginable.
Among the more remarkable stories detailed here are the Navy's successful attempts to locate a lost Soviet nuclear sub (which the CIA later attempted - embarrassingly unsuccessfully - to salvage from the bottom of the ocean), the mysterious loss of the US sub Scorpion (along with new information that would seem to finally explain the cause of the tragedy), and the collision of an American sub with one of its Soviet counterparts (just one of a surprising number of such collisions). Perhaps the most fascinating account to be found in Blind Man's Bluff is America's secret tapping of Soviet military cables underneath the sea off Okhotsk and in the Barents Strait. Submarines made a number of undetected trips to the discovered cables, hiding in relatively shallow waters literally just beneath the Soviet navy's very nose for days at a time, to collect and replace recorded tapes that gave Naval Intelligence an unprecedented look at Soviet plans and capabilities as well as crucial insight into the Soviet military psyche itself.
You will meet some incredible heroes and brilliant intellectuals in this book: men such as John Craven, Commander Whitey Mack, Admiral Bobby Inman, and Tommy Cox, a would-be country singer who immortalized the deeds of his fellow submariners (and memorialized those who didn't make it back home) in song. Then there are John A. Walker, Jr. and Ronald W. Pelton, two of the worst traitors in American history. Walker spent eighteen years building a spy ring that turned over an immense number of secrets to the Soviets for less than one million dollars, while Pelton informed the Soviets of the Okhotsk cable tap for a mere $35,000. These men put the lives of hundreds of brave submariners at risk, greatly compromising their nation's security in the process, and will stand forever among the most infamous of American traitors.
If you want to know what peril under the sea can really mean, read the amazing accounts chronicled in Blind Man's Bluff. America's submariners played a crucial role in our nation's defense for decades, but only now are their stories being told. It is a secret history more thrilling than that borne of the imaginations of the best military science fiction writers.
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on 19 February 2006
Well researched, a really good historical work and yet so readable it is better than most techno-thrillers. Even if you have little knowledge of, or interest in, submarines this book is a fascinating one. 'Blind Man's Bluff' opens the door on one of the few areas of the Cold War where contact between the superpowers (and the UK) was regular and sometimes physical (radar intrusion and reconnaisance flights being the other). 'The Hunt For Red October' is a great read but this book recounts operations just as incredible and dangerous, the difference being that here they actually happened. A great read.
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on 3 January 2003
Whilst owning a large library of books covering the Cold War period, I cannot recall another volume that covers the espionage role of submarines in such interesting, fascinating detail.
This book uncovers new tales and fleshes out details of other previously encountered stories. The research behind the stories is impressive, as is the level of access the authors seem to have obtained.
This book conveys an objective view of both countries activities during the period and doesn't suffer from the propaganda trap many other works suffer. However, it focuses more on the American escapades, probably due to Soviet secrecy hangovers.
The only slight disappointment is that this book covers a relatively small number of tales. However, this is balanced by the superb detail of each piece.
I can certainly recommend this book.
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on 17 June 2000
This book offered to illuminate a very dark and secret area of the military. This it did, but the emphasis was on US action, with only passing mention to the other Navies around the globe. It provides interesting insight into what the sleek, black bringers of death do when they disappear from sight. I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to find out what the US Navy got up to during the Cold War that was never publicised in Britain. If you have any knowledge of these missions, however, you may be disappointed.
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on 11 February 2004
I'm ambivalent about this book. On one hand, it tells much about US submarine SpecOps at the height of the Cold War; on the other hand, it tells much about US submarine SpecOps at the height of the Cold War.
Confused? Don't be: My ego loves that the story of what we did, how difficult it was, and how well we did it, is being told, but on the other hand, secrets and long-held confidences granted to members of the submarine fleet by my country have been opened up to public scrutiny. I'm certain this book was read avidly in the fleet headquarters of the former Sov-block nations. Thus, my ambivalence.
Why, then, do I rate this as five stars?
Having been a member of SUBDEVGRU ONE, and crewman of the USS Richard B. Russell (SSN-687), there is much in this book on which I cannot comment, and there lies the strength of this book: It tells stories that would never otherwise have seen the light of day, outside of the standard "Usta-Fish" brags quietly told between those of us who actually lived the events told in Blind Man's Bluff. Sure, some stories are free to tell, like the crazy times at the 'Horse and Cow', or the antics of 'Animal' Andrews, but many others would have been lost to time. Stories of not just the boats of DEVGRU ONE, but also those of boats tasked ad-hoc, both diesel and nuclear, with intelligence gathering are related, as are confrontations and challenges with the fleet of our one-time foe. Of great interest to me were the chapters dealing with the boats that had engaged in 'research' early in the Cold War, and the unique and harrowing tasks they carried out. While I served beside and under crewmen from some of these other boats, much of what they experienced could not be told (for obvious reasons); Blind Man's Bluff cast some of my former shipmates in a new light, and I understand better some of the more cryptic comments they made during our marathon bull sessions. Many, many, more stories are out there, deserving to be told, but will never see the light of day. Let the content Blind Man's Bluff stand in proxy for all the risky gambits, amusing sea stories, and daring exploits that took place in the shadows of the Cold War; it tells of the courage, inventiveness, and dedication of the sailors who went into the deep at a time when victory in the Cold War was still far from certain. Fittingly, what you read in this book is only the tip of the iceberg, and the rest will remain forever submerged.
While I will not, cannot, comment on the absolute accuracy of events and timelines of the stories in this book, I will happily admit to having been a shipmate of men like 'Animal' Andrews, to have gotten stupid with my fellows at the Horse and Cow, and to having sailed on some of the most amazing missions any sailor could hope to sail.
Read this book: you won't be sorry.
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on 3 September 1999
I was there in the 70s, and enjoyed reading this book. The Admiral was indeed ruthless, and he was also pretty eccentric. But the fleet of nuclear reactors his organization built and operated still has the best nuclear safety record on the planet. This is because he required us all to understand what we were dealing with and take Murphy's Law to heart: "If a piece of equipment CAN be operated in a particular way, then someone WILL operate it that way and experience the consequences." He was a dedicated and thorough empiricist: he always demanded to know what evidence you were basing your statements on, and heaven help the guy who tried to bluff him. This insistence on backing up every statement with demonstrable facts--especially in the mandatory EOOW/EWS seminars--is the hallmark of a Navy Nuclear Power education, and it has been the cornerstone of many successful careers. One of my nuc-school classmates went to Harvard Law School after his naval service, graduated at the top of his class, and went on to a high-powered career as a Wall Street lawyer. His nuc training made him prepare every legal brief as relentlessly and thoroughly as if his own life was at stake. Many more of us went on to be top-notch commercial software developers for the same reason: Rickover's program taught us to check every possibility, verify every claim, and NEVER take anything for granted, so that we insist on writing robust, efficient, user-proof code.
I served with Pete Graef, but not on Parche. Pete is the greatest leader of men I have ever known. He was every bit as diligent and capable as the Admiral. But he also had a sense of humor as infectious, irreverent and inspiring as those of the physicist Richard Feynman and the actor Alan Alda (who played MASH's Hawkeye Pierce). I miss Pete a lot, and wish him well wherever he is now.
--DBF pin--
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on 29 May 2013
Better than any Tom Clancy techno thriller...and I've read 'em all. Like it says on the cover it tells the story of the cold war submarine missions. Some fascinating insights. I'm a little biased since I have a real interest in the cold war...if you're the same then I would highly recommend.
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on 21 May 2013
I was recommended this book by someone who actually sailed in a nuclear submarine, so it came with high expectations. It didn't disappoint, and I couldn't put it down. The adventures and misadventures that befell the pioneering nuclear submariners make pretty gripping reading.
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on 8 August 2001
An apparently thorough and comprehensive survey of the US Navy's clandestine activities during the Cold War, spying on Russia. Some very well told stories, and the book is focused on these stories and the US sailors and boats involved, rather than looking at the wider diplomatic arena. Interesting to see the extent to which many of these potentially very dangerous activities were begun with at best limited official (i.e. White House) knowledge and authorisation. And once the fruits of the research were available, including tapping underwater cables, the US definitely were no longewr averse to "reading other gentlemens mail", as an earlier Secretary of State put it. Well worth a read (and an easy read) for anyone interested in submarines and their less overt activities. The book is very much focused on the US Navy's activities against Russia - it would have been nice to know more about what the Russians may or may not have achieved against NATO (although the implication is that their boats were ay too noisy to accompliush anything), and the RN contribution to surveillance in the Barents Sea and elsewhere.
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on 11 January 2002
Whilst not as thourough and detailed as it might be, this is non the less an excellent first review of the cold war espionage ops conducted by the american submarine forces. much of the information needed to give this subject the treatment it trully deserves is still classified and likely to remain so for the forseeable future. The book is well writted and eminantly readable and any of its chapters could be expanded into a book in its owm right. An good value read
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