Yael's Reviews > Red Star Rogue: The Untold Story of a Soviet Submarine's Nuclear Strike Attempt on the U.S.

Red Star Rogue by Kenneth Sewell
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Feb 25, 2010

it was amazing
Read in June, 2007

Mr. Sewell has wedded a number of conjectures to Soviet operational procedures and human-interest details to advance a frightening scenario that in 1968, a rogue Soviet submarine attempted to launch a nuclear missile at Pearl Harbor. The central thesis behind his assertion of a rogue launch is his claim that the sub went down at 163º W Longitude, 24º N Latitude. This is critical since the K-129 was armed with three SS-N-5 Serb missiles with a range of approximately 760 nautical miles. Pearl Harbor is 327 nautical miles from the claimed sinking site, well within the range of the Serb missile. If the sub sank at the official claimed site of 180º Longitude, 40º N Latitude, it would be more than 800 nautical miles short of the presumed target.

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, a close confidant of the late Josef Stalin, 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 Chinese 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 cabal).

The book describes the submarine's frantic last minute crew changes and probable steps along the way on the voyage towards Hawaii, and the recovery of parts of the wrecked submarine some six years later by the Glomar Explorer. The submarine apparently failed to broadcast scheduled mandatory radio checks, and ended up quite far from its assigned patrol area. 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.

There is much acrimonious debate concerning the veracity of Sewell's claims and the reasonableness of his conjectures concerning the K-129. The book makes one hell of a good read, though, every bit as good as a Tom Clancy suspense novel, and touches on aspects of the Cold War that most aren't aware of now, hence is a useful historical resource, if only for the direction it gives the interested reader. Frankly, it scared the socks off me -- I was born at the end of World War II and grew up during the Cold War, and it reminded me all over again just how close the world came to eating the nuclear Big One any number of times. It's worth the time and effort to read it, though whether the reader wants to acquire it for his or her personal library will be a personal matter.
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