Since late last year, a number of Russian news articles have linked Operation Grom, a series of submarine operations in fall 2019, to Operation Atrina, a perceived success story in which five Victor III nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) reportedly reached the U.S. East Coast undetected and operated there from March to May 1987. The U.S. Navy released a statement on 7 April 1987 saying the submarines were operating near Bermuda and that it had dispatched forces to monitor them. When reporters asked then–President Ronald Reagan during a Pentagon press conference whether he was concerned about the Soviet submarine activity, he joked, “You’re asking a civilian? I’m always concerned about them.”1
Three decades later, the objectives of Operation Atrina still are not entirely clear. Nevertheless, the operation has attained something of a mythological status as the storied apex of the Soviet Navy and relevant to Russia’s present submarine operations.
1. UPI, “Soviet Nuclear Submarine Pack Simulates Strike at U.S. East Coast Naval Bases,” The Ottawa Citizen, 9 April 1987, A6.
2. UPI, “Soviet Nuclear Submarine Pack.”
3. John Lehman, Ocean’s Ventured: Winning the Cold War at Sea (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018), 221–22. Lehman called the plane a Tu-20, but the Soviet Union manufacturer, Tupolev, stopped using that designation in the 1950s. The maritime patrol version of the Tu-95 is known as the Tu-142.
4. Fleet Admiral Vladimir Chernavin, “Bumazhnye korabliki v more zhizni [Little Paper Boats on the Sea of Life],” Pravda, 9 February 1994, 4.
5. Vladimir Lodkin, “How Soviet Submarines Beat the Americans: Operations ‘Aport’ and ‘Atrina’ Proved the High Potential of the Russian Navy,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 27 July 2018, http://nvo.ng.ru/wars/2018-07-27/12_1006_submarine.html.
6. Lodkin, “How Soviet Submarines Beat the Americans.” On Soviet/Russian nonacoustic detection means, see David Hambling, “How the Soviet Union Snooped Waters for Enemy Subs—Without Sonar,” Popular Mechanics, 23 October 2017, www.popularmechanics.com/military/navy-ships/a28724/submarine-sonar-soks/.
7. Lodkin, “How Soviet Submarines Beat the Americans.” The Russian claim is highly suspect. See Richard Halloran, “A Silent Battle Surfaces,” The New York Times, 7 December 1986, https://nyti.ms/29Bv9oW.
8. Chernavin, “Bumazhnye korabliki v more zhizni,” 4.
9. Edward C. Whitman, “SOSUS: The ‘Secret Weapon’ of Undersea Surveillance,” U.S. Navy Public Affairs, www.public.navy.mil/subfor/underseawarfaremagazine/Issues/Archives/issue_25/sosus.htm.
10. Chernavin, “Bumazhnye korabliki v more zhizni,” 4.
11. Chernavin, “Bumazhnye korabliki v more zhizni,” 4.
12. Chernavin, “Bumazhnye korabliki v more zhizni,” 4.
13. Chernavin, “Bumazhnye korabliki v more zhizni,” 4.
14. V. N. Chernavin, “Operation Atrina: History Lessons,” trans. East View, Military Thought 15, no. 2 (2006): 174–76.
15. Chernavin, “Operation Atrina: History Lessons,” 174–76.
16. Theodosius, “Ritsa 2000,” 16 January 2008, http://nvs.rpf.ru/nvs/forum/archive/92/92962.htm.
17. Don Kirk, “Fleet of Soviet N-subs Prowls off East Coast; Navy Monitors Unusual Deployment,” USA Today, 8 April 1987, 06A.
18. When Gary Weir, author of Rising Tide: The Untold Story of the Russian Submarines That Fought the Cold War, had his translator ask Shevchenko if the Soviets had tried to use the Gulf Stream as a cloak from SOSUS arrays on the eastern seaboard of the United States, the admiral became upset and deflected. C-SPAN, 3 August 2005, www.c-span.org/video/?188814-1/rising-tide-russian-submarines-fought-cold-war.
19. Tormod Strand, “Hemmelig ubåt-operasjon: Målet er å vise at Russland kan nå USA,” 29 October 2019, www.nrk.no/norge/hemmelig-ubat-operasjon_-_malet-er-a-vise-at-russland-kan-na-usa_-1.14761298.
20. Viktor Sokirko, “Operation Atrina-2: Russian Submarines Put All NATO fleets ‘On Their Ears,’” Svobodnaya Pressa, 31 October 2019, https://svpressa.ru/war21/article/247832/.
21. Izvestia website, 3 November 2019. Available in translation via ProQuest: https://search.proquest.com/docview/2312073689?accountid=322.
22. Izvestia website.
23. Sam LaGrone, “U.S. Fleet Created to Counter Russian Subs Now Fully Operational,” USNI News, 31 December 2019.
24. Joel Gehrke, “U.S. Has ‘Sufficient Visibility’ into Russian Submarines But Can’t Find Them ‘100% of the Time,’” The Washington Examiner, 25 February 2020, www.washingtonexaminer.com/policy/defense-national-security/us-has-sufficient-visibility-into-russian-submarines-but-cant-find-them-100-of-the-time.
25. Megan Eckstein, “As Russian Submarines Lurk, 2nd Fleet Conducting Tougher Training of East Coast Ships,” USNI News, 4 February 2020.
26. “Five Soviet Submarines Reported Off Bermuda,” 8 April 1987, Special to The New York Times, A17.
1. N. Polmar and K. J. Moore, Cold War Submarines: The Design and Construction of U.S. and Soviet Submarines (Washington, DC: Brassey’s, 2004).
2. See N. Polmar, “The Typhoon Solution,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 121, no. 8 (August 1995): 88.
3. Igor Spassky and Viktor Semyonov, eds., Submarines of the Tsarist Navy (Annapolis, MD: Naval institute Press, 1998).