Red October Remembered at Cold War Sub Seminar
the Submarine History Seminar at the U.S. Navy Memorial on 31 October were treated to a discussion on a top-secret 1972 U.S. operation and the 1990 movie that brought the Cold War “Silent Service” to the big screen. The Naval Submarine League and the Naval Historical Foundation sponsored the event, titled “The Hunt for Red October—Fact and Fiction.”
Historian and discussion moderator David Rosenberg pointed out that one of Admiral Arleigh Burke’s directions to the first U.S. nuclear submarine captains in 1959 was to “follow the Russian submarines so that we know what we have got—if they know that we’re following them, it doesn’t matter.” Sonar made clandestine underwater “trailing” possible, and as Rosenberg noted, during the Cold War “we [the U.S. Submarine Force] could hear them, and they could not hear us.” Sub captains nevertheless needed years of experience to successfully trail another boat.
One such skipper was panelist Captain David C. Minton III, former commanding officer of the USS Guardfish (SSN-612). In the spring of 1972, after the breakdown of Vietnam War peace talks and the U.S. mining of Haiphong Harbor, Minton and his crew were off Vladivostok when they detected a Soviet Echo II–class missile submarine setting out to sea. The captain recounted the Guardfish’s subsequent weeks-long, tension-filled trail through hazardous waters to the South China Sea, near Yankee Station. “We took our bearings every 30 seconds for 28 days,” Minton said.
Many years later, Admiral Alfred Simenovich Berzin was reading an article by Minton about the episode and immediately recognized the trailed boat as his own, K-184. The two submariners exchanged many emails, using Google Translate, and in 2012 met face to face in St. Petersburg.
Rear Admiral David Oliver Jr., another panelist and submarine veteran, was a lieutenant commander on the staff of Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Elmo Zumwalt in the spring of 1972. Oliver recounted that the Submarine Force was undergoing a cultural crisis at the time, transitioning from diesel to nuclear boats. Meanwhile, “in parts of the Navy, the Submarine Force was hated,” which was reflective of the relationship between the CNO and his confrontational director of Naval Reactors, Vice Admiral Hyman G. Rickover.
At this point, the discussion turned to The Hunt for Red October, the 1990 thriller based on Tom Clancy’s 1984 debut novel, published by the Naval Institute Press. In the late 1980s, then-Commander Tom Fargo was commanding officer of the USS Salt Lake City (SSN-716) when the Navy invited the movie’s cast on board before filming to better acclimate them to submarine-service life. Admiral Fargo emphasized how the film was the public’s “first real window into submarine operations, especially covert submarine operations,” and that “we pulled out all of the stops” to ensure an accurate portrayal. The submarine community was hoping to reap the same kind of publicity windfall from Red October that naval aviation had gotten from the 1986 blockbuster Top Gun.
During a brief cruise, Fargo took Scott Glenn—who would play Captain Bart Mancuso, skipper of the fictitious sub USS Dallas—under his wing. The admiral said the actor “listened and he watched and picked up all the nuances of interaction between captain and crew.” Fargo then had Glenn serve as temporary captain of the submarine so he could “get a feel for the responsibilities.”
How did submariners react to the movie? They thought it was “a pretty good representation of what we do,” Fargo said. “It wasn’t hokey.” Moreover, it lifted morale, he added.
The book The Hunt for Red October likely would never have made it to the screen if not for Mace Neufeld, the final panelist. After learning from a March 1985 Time magazine article that the book was a favorite of President Ronald Reagan, the Hollywood film producer quickly read it and called the Naval Institute Press, which accepted his offer to option the rights. But studio after studio rejected the project. Neufeld eventually gave a copy of the book to the head of Paramount Pictures to read on a flight to London. Soon after, the producer received a call from Heathrow Airport that the studio was on board.
But getting cooperation from the Navy would be key. Initial hesitation about bringing “the Silent Service” into the glare of the Hollywood spotlight was overcome, and the producer was treated to a voyage from Norfolk, Virginia, to Groton, Connecticut, in the USS Hyman G. Rickover (SSN-709). When Neufeld came aboard, crew members’ nametags bore the names of characters from The Hunt for Red October.
Tall Ship Providence Finds New Home
The Providence, a full-scale replica of the 110-foot, 12-gun sloop-of-war that served as the Continental Navy’s first warship, has found a new lease on life. A recently formed Alexandria, Virginia–based nonprofit, the Tall Ship Providence Foundation, has announced it is acquiring the vessel and seeking to rehabilitate her for educational maritime heritage programs at Old Town Alexandria’s waterfront after she arrives in the early summer of 2019.
The Providence suffered major damages at Rhode Island’s Newport Shipyard during a blizzard in January 2015. Heavy winds blew the ship off her cradle support, knocked her on her side, and smashed a hole in her hull. Extensive repair efforts got under way in summer 2016. The owner already had invested heavily in much-needed restoration of the ship before the winter storm, and he had been seeking a potential buyer.
The Tall Ship Providence Foundation stepped up. The nonprofit plans to hold public tours, chartered cruises, and historical seminars, as well as other educational programs. To accomplish these goals, the organization is focusing its efforts on fundraising and seeking capital contribution support. The group’s first event was held at Old Town in September.
Initial fundraising efforts are targeted toward a 16-month restoration of the ship to ensure historical accuracy and bring her into sailing condition. Master shipwright Leon Poindexter, who is leading the project, has more than 40 years’ traditional shipbuilding experience that includes restoring the USS Constitution’s gun deck and working on the ships used in the hit 2003 Russell Crowe movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. The Providence herself has a cinematic connection as well, having been used in the filming of Pirates of the Caribbean.
The original Providence was built in the late 1700s by the prominent New England Brown family (of Brown University fame). Her first mission in the American Revolution was to clear the Chesapeake Bay of British ships. John Paul Jones had the Providence as his first command. The ship also deployed the Marines on their first amphibious assault on foreign soil. She was scuttled in 1779 to prevent her from falling into British hands after the failed Penobscot Expedition. Bringing the story full circle, the same Brown family commissioned the Providence’s exact replica to be built for the 1976 Bicentennial.
To support the Providence’s restoration, or for more information, visit www.TallShipProvidence.org, or follow the efforts at Twitter: @TSProvidence.