Book Reviews

The dust jacket of Hostile Waters states that the book "reads like a page-turning thriller, a Tom Clancy novel of underwater intrigue, but this story really happened."

Well, parts of it did; but parts clearly did not, and appear to have been made up out of the whole cloth. The account of what happened on board the K-219 and how Captain Igor Britanov and his crew valiantly fought to save their ship almost surely is true—and it is a spellbinding story. Unfortunately, however, the authors juxtapose this fascinating account of fighting for survival on board a doomed submarine with a wholly fictitious narrative of what was supposedly happening on board the USS Augusta (SSN-710), which they allege had been trailing the Yankee throughout the entire sequence of events. Worse yet, the book implies that the Augusta may have collided with the Yankee and somehow caused or exacerbated the missile detonation which crippled the ship—at least some members of the K-219 crew appear to believe this. To put icing on the cake, the authors go on to describe the Augusta doing such mind-boggling things as cutting the cable from the Soviet merchant ship that was attempting to tow K-219 (while cleverly remaining submerged) and then making a shallow-depth high-speed run on a lifeboat full of survivors in an apparent attempt to sink it. All great grist for a Class-B movie, but most of this is pure fiction !

To make matters worse, a Class-B movie was in fact made and shown on HBO. And although the book merely implies that a U.S. submarine collided with the Yankee, the movie quite explicitly depicts the collision and then further embroiders the story by showing the Yankee opening the remainder of her missile tubes and the U.S. sub preparing to torpedo the Yankee. In an interview quoted in the "TV Week" section of The Washington Post , Captain Huchthausen took pains to point out that the collision and torpedoing events depicted in the movie were fiction. Sadly, he provides no such caveat with regard to the bizarre activities attributed to the Augusta in his book.

So egregious is this fabrication that the U.S. Navy, which makes it a practice not to comment on submarine operations, felt compelled to make a public statement that no U.S. submarine was in trail of Yankee K-219 at the time of the accident, and there was no collision. In its denial, the Navy characterized the charge as outrageous.

There are people who enjoy reading about great conspiracies and great cover-ups, and surely they will make much of the alleged American skullduggery. Sadly, the tale of heroism on board K-219 in the factual portion of the book will be forever tainted by this sensationalist fiction.

The shame of it all is that the K-219 story stands—on its own merit—as one of the great tales of man against the sea. The 15-year-old Yankee had been a star-crossed ship. Less than a year before her final patrol, one of the SS-N-6 missiles she carried exploded during a practice launch and tube nine was permanently sealed. All who served on board Yankee-class SSBNs had heard apocryphal tales of the danger represented by these liquid-fueled missiles, and all knew that if sea water got into the tubes and mixed with oxidizer, nitric acid would be formed which ultimately would eat into piping or missile fuel tanks, causing fire and explosion. The K-219's crew was more sensitive to this than most.

This also is a story of human frailty, as a missile officer notes—but fails to report—a salt water leak in tube six. The chain reaction events that ensue quickly get out of control. What follows is the explosion of the missile before it could be jettisoned and the flooding of the damaged tube with sea water. Plunging almost to design depth, and recovering only by blowing all ballast tanks and driving to the surface under all the power his plant could produce, Captain Britanov fights to prevent fires from causing other missiles to explode and spread radioactive debris throughout the area. But salt water and oxidizer mix, and nitric acid is formed, with the fumes poisoning men and eating seals on watertight doors. This and the effects of fire and flooding gradually doom the boat. Soon the captain finds that his reactor controls have been destroyed and meltdown is imminent. One after another, brave Soviet Navy officers and men attempt to enter the intense heat of the reactor compartments, to operate manually the quench valves and shut down the reactors. Ultimately, Seaman Sergei Preminin accomplishes the task, and gives his life in the process.

Preminin was a hero, but to the crew of the K-219 Captain Britanov is the real hero. Of the 32 officers, 38 "Michman" (Warrant Officers), and 50 enlisted aboard, he lost only four during the incident, with two more dying later. He averted nuclear disaster, saved his crew, transferred his codebooks with his crew to the rescuing Soviet merchant ship, and stayed with his ship to the end. When she went down, he was on the bridge and narrowly missed being taken down with her. For his heroism he was nearly court-martialed and jailed, but the end of the regime came first.

The ship herself deserves some mention as well. Poorly maintained by a greatly underfunded and ill-equipped maintenance system, and armed with dangerous missiles and obsolete sensors and electronics, the Yankee-class SSBN was, nonetheless, a tribute to Soviet submarine design. The extraordinary reserve buoyancy in her double hull design and the survivability built into her made her near impossible to sink, despite the damage she sustained. And they still build them this way!

If one could skip over the portions describing alleged U.S. submarine operations which never took place—and the innuendo of efforts to sabotage the Reykjavik Summit—and if one could stick to the meat of the K-219 story, this indeed would be a page-turner. Once into the section where Britanov and crew are fighting to save their boat from one disaster after another, one cannot put the book down. The authors had a great true story of heroism here. It is sad that they chose to embellish it. They should have left well enough alone.

Rear Admiral Brooks retired as Director of Naval Intelligence in 1991. At the time of the sinking of Yankee K-219, he was assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency where he was the Deputy Director for Joint Staff support and provided day-to-day intelligence support to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

 

Sweepers

P.T. Deutermann. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997, 322 pp. $23.95 ($21.55).

Reviewed by Captain J. Michael Rodgers, U.S. Navy (Retired)

The author is a retired U.S. Navy captain who has published three earlier novels concerning the ships, times, and personalities of a navy which is now history—recent history to be sure, but an era of not-so Cold War in which the threat, the enemy, and the mission were clearly defined for most of those who served. With the decline and fall of the "Evil Empire" and no massive foe worthy of our steel, the problem for any author of military adventures is one of developing an enemy tough enough to test his players properly. Captain Deutermann has met the challenge by turning his focus inward to personnel wearing the same uniform in the Pentagon, aided and abetted by sinister figures from the CIA, FBI, and other agencies with internecine axes to grind. "We have met the enemy and ..."

Flash-back to 1969—south of Saigon to the Rung Sat Special Zone: swamp, rivers, streams, mangrove, and the evil that men did to each other over thousands of heart-stopping nights of combat—to a sudden action involving a Swift boat prowling the Long Tao River. Paths were crossed then and recrossed a quarter of a century later, as a course of venomous events is charted neatly by Deutermann.

Two seemingly routine deaths are accompanied by the faintest odor of mystery—enough, however, to cause various official and unofficial (but powerful) parties to sniff around the circumstances. The scent leads quickly to a newly selected and frocked rear admiral, serving in the Surface Warfare Directorate. Rear Admiral William Sherman appears to have advanced through the ranks with a combination of hard work, successful tours afloat and ashore, political savvy, and the strong support of a senior mentor—the usual way. However, as layers of his past are peeled away by dualistic forces well beyond his control, a much more complex individual is revealed. The deaths appear to wound him terribly, but he gains materially from his emotional losses. Clouding all is the miasma of 1995, in which the Navy finds itself hunkered down against the hurricanes of several scandals. The last thing that a cowed senior officer community needs now is a possible murderer among the flagocracy. Death from natural causes or homicide? If the latter, did Admiral Sherman do it? Regardless, and before the case is resolved, will a defrocked Captain Sherman walk the plank?

Two engaging protagonists are assigned to investigate and report only to the Judge Advocate General (JAG) of the Navy. As this military mystery tale develops, the motives of the senior Navy lawyer become a murky mix of self-interest and institutional interest. Commander Karen Lawrence is a JAG officer. As she attempts to shake off her own demons, she becomes increasingly immersed in those of Rear Admiral Sherman. The other is a Naval Investigative Service agent with prior experience in "other services" who bears the improbable Dickensian appellation of Wolfgang Guderian "Train" von Rensel. True to his middle name, he is built like one of Guderian's Panzer tanks. He moves his muscular bulk easily within the Washington milieu, and brings in his mighty Doberman, Gotterdammerung, to defend Karen against dangers that pile up as the intricate plot progresses.

Characterization is excellent throughout the novel. Our perceptions of key personnel develop and change as forces act on them, with one awful exception. Haunting all the players is the constant shadowy malevolence of Marcus Galantz. Horribly maimed, physically as well as emotionally, he is the embodiment of evil—a malignant Iago stalking Sherman, Karen, and Train. He appears to be a renegade SEAL, but few people in this all-ahead-flank tale of suspense prove to be what they seem on initial meeting. The blurring of the distinctions between the good, bad, and indifferent is one of several factors which make Sweepers much more than the author's insightful indictment of high-level Navy power politics.

Joseph Conrad was one of the greatest writers of the sea. In Heart of Darkness he employed the Congo River as a metaphor for the indifferent forces that carry us toward our personal destinies. The Long Tao and the Potomac Rivers serve equally well in this suspenseful voyage deep into the hearts of an exciting group of memorably drawn personalities.

Captain Rodgers served for 31 years in intelligence, as chief engineer of a destroyer and an aircraft carrier, and as commanding officer of four warships, two destroyer squadrons, and the Fleet Training Group at Guantanamo Bay.

 

Five-Star Leadership: The Art and Strategy of Creating Leaders at Every Level

Patrick L. Townsend and Joan E. Gebhardt. New York: John Wiley Sons, Inc., 1997. 254 pp. App. Illus. Ind. $24.95 ($22.45).

Reviewed by Admiral Leon A. (Bud) Edney, U.S. Navy (Retired)

The team of Pat Townsend and Joan Gebhardt have provided a highly readable guide for anyone interested in the essential linkage between leadership and success. The authors use the lasting value of Pat Townsend's exposure to 20 years of U.S. Marine Corps leadership techniques and practice to make the case that today's ongoing revolution in the market place could benefit through the application of these fundamental, time-tested leadership principles. While the book's title might imply a top-down view, its focus is mainly at the grass-roots and middle-management levels where—without leadership—change often looks confusing and threatening. In fact, one of the most illuminating observations and truisms is that while the leadership of the career senior noncommissioned and limited duty officers (industry's middle management) is a source of unique and enduring strength to the military, middle management is looked on as a pass-through point—a place not to get stuck while climbing the corporate ladder. As a consequence, the military invests significant resources in leadership training for mid-level leaders, while leadership techniques seldom are the focus of corporate middle management training.

In fairness to industry, the authors failed to point out adequately that for the military this is more of a necessity than clairvoyant insight. The high military turnover rate finds the entire 5,000-person crew (average age: 20 years) of an aircraft carrier transferring every two or three years. The authors remind us that this high turnover rate is controlled from Washington with distant considerations driving personnel assignment decisions. Seniors seldom are replaced by up-and-coming subordinates from the same unit. Only strict adherence to rules, regulations, high standards of training, and strong leadership keep the military combat ready—which happens to be their bottom line.

Throughout the book, the authors emphasize the role of character, trust and confidence, and integrity in the leadership equation. Some people may be born with more natural leadership abilities than others, but good leadership skills also can be developed: the successful organization will devote a lot of time and resources to grow effective leadership at every level. Townsend and Gebhardt explore the similarities between Demming's 14 Points of Total Quality Management and the traditional military leadership principles as applied by the Marine Corps and Coast Guard. The authors conclude that while many similarities abound, the differences also are profound and applicable to the corporate world. Leadership goes past objectivity and the bottom line to corporate caring and personal concern, which require renewal and awareness. Leadership is all about skills coupled with character, at all levels; management is just about measurable skills.

The authors also make a good point, that the core values and principles highlighted in the book could easily be applicable in many civilian endeavors. The book provides much more than a starting point; it provides a full menu for leadership success. There are excellent discussions of the importance of followership in the military equation. When followers are so well ingrained with the importance of their contribution, and possess qualities of self-discipline, competence, and integrity so they act properly in the absence of orders, then leadership and mission accomplishment have been enhanced. The 14 leadership traits and 11 leadership principles taught by the U.S. Marine Corps and highlighted in the book would serve any young company well as guidelines.

Properly, Townsend and Gebhardt spend considerable time on the issue of character development as the single most difficult and important issue in the leadership equation. Asking the questions: "Is a company doing the right things? Is it doing things right?" Leadership must consciously and consistently choose moral and ethical standards of behavior. They wisely point out that deciding what a company will—and will not—stand for is important; and it is even more important that everyone in the company knows the differences. Leaders today must not only assess their own beliefs and goals, they also must define themselves to customers and employers alike, while seeking their understanding and support. Mentoring plays an important part in this equation, as does effective counseling and evaluating and measuring progress. Complete honesty here is as important as it is anywhere in the leadership equation and yet it is often the hardest standard to uphold. All of us cannot be water-walkers in the top 1 %.

Five-Star Leadership makes an excellent contribution to the understanding of basic leadership principles and ingredients for success in the business world, using the time-proven techniques of the U.S. military. It is easy to read and digest. However, like successful leadership, it takes commitment, clear communications, and character to implement. There is no free lunch offered in this book.

Admiral Edney holds the Distinguished Leadership Chair, U.S. Naval Academy.

 

The Battle For Hunger Hill

Col. Daniel P. Bolger, USA. Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1997. 384 pp. Diagrams. Maps. Photos. $24.95 (22.45).

Reviewed by Lieutenant Commander Scott A. Hastings, U.S. Navy

The book's subtitle: "The First Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment at the Joint Readiness Training Center"—could easily mislead the unwary reader, who might think this book is about joint operations. It most decidedly is not. Firmly rooted in the tactical level, it tells the story of one light infantry battalion from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) successfully negotiating two rotations at the Army's so-called Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at Fort Polk, Louisiana. Thumbnail math for officerof-the-deck isn't necessary to ascertain that this equation adds up to the story of only one component—land forces—completing one service's—the Army's—training exercise. While it is true that Marine Corps units also occasionally train at the JRTC, and all units training there can call in air and naval gunfire support, the book has a decided Army orientation. As such, it is an example of the worst kind of "jointness"—the kind in which a service conducts business the way it always has, and adds a small amount of window dressing to be able to call it "joint." All of the services do this too frequently, and there is nothing in The Battle for Hunger Hill that argues against this statement. So, any readers who think the story of training at the JRTC (emphasis on "J") will enlighten them on joint operations must think again. This book will not do that.

This being said, it is clear the author never intended to write a book on joint operations. Thus, the blame for the misleading subtitle lies with the Army and the Joint Staff that sanctions the JRTC, and not with the author. But, for the reader searching for a detailed, informative, readable, and somewhat enjoyable (even for the sailor) account of how an Army air-assault battalion goes about its business in a low-intensity conflict escalating to a conventional battle, this book provides a relatively painless education. Some quick background for the potential reader: a trip to the JRTC is akin to Refresher Training for a Navy ship, complete with observer-controllers watching and criticizing every move the trainee makes, an expert opposing force guaranteed to make life miserable, casualties that must be dealt with both physically and administratively, and a believable scenario that replicates real-life warfare for the trainee who willingly suspends disbelief, all interspersed with live-fire exercises and a modern form of laser-gun tag. The 1st of the 327th is from one of the Army's most storied divisions and the battalion's motto—"Above the rest"—attests to where it ranks in this elite division's pecking order. The author has meticulously documented the book, with anywhere from 20-40 footnotes per chapter, and the book is worth looking at just for its collection of epigraphs that begin each chapter—many superb quotations on warfare through the ages from such luminaries as Mao Zedong, the Duke of Wellington, George Patton, and Ulysses S. Grant, as well as the likes of Russell Weigley and Jimi Hendrix.

The author uses his battalion's story as a vehicle for wide-ranging and insightful commentary on just about any remotely related military issue, usually with thought-provoking results. Army tactics, doctrine, and equipment, how the Army (and presumably the United States) has fought in the past and will fight in the future, various leadership styles, and common sense solutions to difficult challenges all spark interesting narrative, anecdotes, and philosophy from Colonel Dan Bolger, a former West Point instructor and speech writer for the Chief of Staff of the Army who has a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and solid operational credentials. He has pushed, however, the "I Believe" button with regard to the training at JRTC. Built around an opposing force and conflict that most closely resembles South Vietnam of the 1960s and 1970s, one wonders if we are preparing to fight the last war rather than the next—although the author defends it as a training venue on the grounds that it most accurately depicts the battlefield of the future. In his final chapter, he describes events from the Haiti incursion, attributing their success to the rigorous training at Fort Polk.

This is a good primer that describes how one type of Army unit fights, with many good insights into Army culture interspersed throughout. There is one annoying stylistic nuance, however. The protagonist of the story is none other than Colonel Dan Bolger himself, battalion commander of the 1st of the 327th. Throughout the book, Bolger refers to himself and his actions in the third person. This may have been intended to provide an atmosphere of objectivity and detachment, but too often it undercuts the author's opinions and recollections, because they are cloaked in a mantle of third-person objectivity, which in fact does not exist. A first-person account would perhaps have been more engaging and believable. When asked why he referred to himself so often in the third person, Bob Dole responded with a straight face, "Bob Dole would never do that!" Dan Bolger can't make the same assertion, whether straight faced or tongue-in-cheek, but nevertheless, he has provided a valuable, albeit narrowly focused account of Army operations, which some readers will find informative.

A Surface Warfare Officer, Lieutenant Commander Hastings is presently assigned to the faculty of the Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

 

 
 

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