Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage

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Overview

No Espionage Missions have been kept more secret than those involving American submarines. Now, after six years of research, journalist Sherry Sontag and reporter Christopher Drew finally reveal the exciting, epic story of adventure, ingenuity, courage and disaster beneath the sea. Blind Man's Bluff shows for the first time how the Navy sent submarines wired with self-destruct charges into the heart of Soviet seas to tap crucial underwater telephone cables. Sontag and Drew unveil new evidence that the Navy's own ...
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Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story Of American Submarine Espionage

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Overview

No Espionage Missions have been kept more secret than those involving American submarines. Now, after six years of research, journalist Sherry Sontag and reporter Christopher Drew finally reveal the exciting, epic story of adventure, ingenuity, courage and disaster beneath the sea. Blind Man's Bluff shows for the first time how the Navy sent submarines wired with self-destruct charges into the heart of Soviet seas to tap crucial underwater telephone cables. Sontag and Drew unveil new evidence that the Navy's own negligence might have been responsible for the loss of the USS Scorpion, a submarine that disappeared, all hands lost, thirty years ago. They disclose for the first time details of the bitter war between the CIA and the Navy and how it threatened to sabotage one of America's most important undersea missions. They tell the complete story of the audacious attempt to steal a Soviet submarine with the help of eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes, and how it was doomed from the start. And Sontag and Drew reveal how the Navy used the comforting notion of deep sea rescue vehicles to hide operations that were more James Bond than Jacques Cousteau.
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Editorial Reviews

Steven Komarow
Blind Man's Bluff is not a policy tome. What moves readers from page to page is the struggle and pride of those who envisioned these missions and the sailors who carried them out. The stories of their lives, and sometimes deaths, are only enriched by the scholarly underpinnings of the volume. -- USA Today
Roland Green
Two investigative reporters and a researcher have joined forces to produce an excellent history of U.S. submarine espionage operations that reads like a Tom Clancy novel. They take the story from the early days of the cold war, when we lost, by accident, the diesel submarine Cochino on a spy mission and nearly lost the Gudgeon to Soviet antisubmarine forces. They continue through the shift to nuclear submarines, the loss of the Scorpion (destroyed by defective torpedoes after completing a spy mission), the role of the Halibut in finding the Soviet missile boat later salvaged by the CIA's Glomar Explorer, and the cable-tapping operations in which the Parche won more Presidential unit citations than any other submarine in American history. They also cover open-sea efforts to shadow Soviet submarines, which occasionally led to dangerous collisions, and add to our knowledge of the horrendous safety record of the Soviet nuclear navy and the vices and virtues of Hyman G. Rickover, father of its American counterpart.
-- Booklist
Norman Polmar
Portions of this book are as exciting as early Tom Clancy novels: 'There was no way the officers and crew manning the diving planes could keep Halibut level... Outside, the divers watched as Halibut began to drift upward. The men were still linked to the submarine through their air hoses. They knew they would die if Halibut pulled them up before they could decompress. If they cut themselves loose, they would suffocate.'.... This work is highly recommended for everyone with an interest in submarines or intelligence.
--Sea Power
Wall Street Journal
Brilliant . . . Full of hair-raising stories of men in peril under the sea.
New York Times Book Review
A compelling study of magnificent men and spying machines.
Roy H. Boehm
A long overdue, well deserved tribute to those unsung heroes of the U.S. Navy's ‘silent service' with whom I was privileged to serve.
New York Times
A real-life Hunt For Red October.
Don Imus
From page one, it reads like a novel. How they uncovered all this stuff is remarkable.
Baltimore Sun
The most comprehensive look at the work of these intrepid sailors . . . A celebration of their ingenuity and valor.
Seyour M. Hersh
Reads like an adventure novel, but it's all to real.
John Lehman
The veterans of the 'Silent Service' are silent no more. —Wall Street Journal
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In an unusually successful amalgam, veteran journalists Sontag and Christopher Drew combine a gripping story with admirable research to relate previously unknown information. Throughout the Cold War, the U.S. depended heavily on submarines for intelligence gathering, whether tracking Soviet missile subs, monitoring Soviet harbors and missile tests or, in some cases, retrieving lost Soviet equipment. The U.S.S.R. responded with everything from comprehensive espionage operations to depth charge attacks on particularly intrusive snoopers. The broad outlines of this clandestine confrontation are relatively familiar, but the details have largely remained secret. Although the authors have based their book largely on interviews with submariners, intelligence operatives and politicians, they recognize the possibility of distortion and back up personal accounts with an elaborate and convincing system of verification. While necessarily incomplete, the resulting work depicts what was arguably the most successful long-term, large-scale intelligence operation in American history. From captains to seamen, the participants combined technical proficiency, insouciant courage and a cheerful scorn for regulations that often interfered with their missions. That mind-set was hardly calculated to avoid direct confrontations, and accidental collisions were not uncommon. The authors nevertheless make a solid case that the risk of a destabilizing incident was far outweighed by the gains of the campaign--especially given the depth of mutual ignorance during the Cold War.
Jeff Stein
Vividly told, impressively documented, and persuasively argued...Honors must go to the steel-nerved captains and crews whose dangerous and daring exploits are given an unparalleled and sometimes hair-raising rendition in Blind Man's Bluff
-- The New York Times
John Lehman
The veterans of the 'silent service' are silent no more (John Lehman is former Secretary of the Navy).
-- The Wall Street Journal
Bremerton (WA) Sun
Chapter after chapter describes nail-biting undersea exploits that are nothing short of heroic. . .It reads like a Tom Clancy novel, but it isn't fiction -- it's all real.
Timothy Naftali
. . .[A]n evocative an important look at the cold war. . .also satisfying to read, at times hurtling forward with the speed of a Polaris submarine. . . .The authors also provide simple stories of individual courage. . .
-- The New York Times Book Review
David Ayer
Lock the doors and draw the shades, because this book is a well written, highly readable account of man and machine working together to do the impossible for the highest of stakes.
-- The Washington Monthly
Kirkus Reviews
Enthralling real-life stories of American submarine spying that read as if torn from the pages of The Hunt for Red October, full of high-tech highjinks and human drama. With materials combed from newspaper reports, American and Soviet archives, and the testimonies of officers and servicemen that could come forward only with the end of the Cold War, Blind Man's Bluff looks at one of the hottest theaters of that era—the ocean depths, and how submarines have been used by both the navy and the CIA to gather intelligence and launch covert operations. Many of the actions described will be familiar to fans of military thrillers, but few readers will have heard these exploits described in such detail before. Included in the book are the stories of American tapping of Soviet communications cables in the Barents Sea, how the navy used a mathematical formula to find a lost warhead, and the tale of the legendary Glomar Explorer, a CIA-built excavation vessel. The authors, veteran investigative journalists (Drew is a reporter for The New York Times), have concentrated equally on the interdepartmental rivalry between the CIA and the Navy. They paint an intriguing portrait of the internal struggles—for funding, materials, manpower, and the President's attention—that dictated how the Cold War was waged. The work does lack a degree of unity. At times, it seems the writers threw in every submarine secret they could possibly scrounge up. But whenever they falter, rest assured that in just a few pages, the next incredible operation stands reliably revealed.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060977719
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/1/2000
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 44,154
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.97 (d)

Meet the Author


Sherry Sontag is a former staff writer for the National Law Journal and has written for The New York Times.

Christopher Drew is a special projects editor at the New York Times and has won numerous awards for his investigative reporting.

Annette Lawrence Drew, the book's researcher, has a Ph.D. from Princeton.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

A Deadly Beginning




"You gotta be nuts," Harris M. Austin grumbled under his breath as he watched the ugliest-looking piece of junk he had ever seen pull into the British naval base in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. This couldn't be his sub. This couldn't be the Cochino.

Almost anyone else on the busy pier would have thought that he was just a twenty-eight-year-old radioman. He knew better. He was here on direct orders from the U.S. chief of Naval Operations. He had been briefed by admirals who commanded the U.S. naval forces in Europe, his background checked and doublechecked. And today he was about to join the crew of this sub as one of the Navy's newest spies, a "spook," someone who had been trained to snatch Soviet milltary signals and electronic communications out of thin air. It was going to be his job to attempt a daring grab for some of the Soviet Union's deepest secrets.

Austin jumped down onto the pier and began pulling mooring lines along with a handful of other men. Then somebody said it, said that this was Cochino, U.S. submarine SS-345, the boat Austin had been awaiting for three days.

"Goddamn ugly piece of junk," he thought as he hoisted a sea bag stuffed with classified documents over his shoulder and lumbered down the hatch to introduce himself and his orders to Cochino's commanding officer, Commander Rafael C. Benitez.

Austin had leapt to submarines from battle cruisers in a search for excitement, the same reason he had volunteered to make this latest leap, transforming himself from a radioman into a spook. That he was in the armed forces at all had been a nearcertainty from the day he was born. He came from a long line of Scottish warriors, a line he could trace back to the fourteenth century without breaking a sweat. His father had been a cook with an American air squadron in England before shifting to whalers and ocean freighters stateside. His Welsh mother had worked for a British ammunition company. Austin himself had been only nineteen years old when he first went to sea, his auburn hair quickly earning him the nickname "Red."

Benitez, thirty-two years old, was one of those men who had been bred to decorum. His father was a judge in Puerto Rico, and Commander Benitez had just finished law school, a perk that the Navy had awarded to hold on to him. As a submarine officer during World War 11, he had survived several depth-chargings and earned a reputation for calm under fire. Now, in late July 1949, he had been back in the sub force for only three weeks, and he had his own command.

Actually, it was a command Benitez had tried to turn down, embarrassed by his sub's name. Cochino may have been named for an Atlantic trigger fish, but in Spanish, the language of his family and friends back home, he would be commanding the submarine Pig.

He had admitted as much to his mother when he

wrote home, but her reply had yet to reach him as he stood in his cramped wardroom, shoulders back to make the most of his less than imposing frame. He was alone with this hulking enlisted man, this sailor turned spy, the kind of man who would still be declaring that he was "tougher than shit" when he reached his seventies.

Red Austin handed over his orders. The captain scanned them and tensed as he read that Cochino, his sub, was about to become an experimental spy boat.

Benitez was stunned. Cochino's mission was already complex enough. She had been scheduled to embark on a training run designed to change the very nature of submarine warfare. Classic World War 11 fleet submarines could dive beneath the waves only long enough to attack surface ships and avoid counterattack before needing to surface themselves. But since the war ended, Cochino and a few other boats had been dramatically altered. They now sported new, largely untested equipment, including a snorkel pipe that was supposed to let them take in fresh air, run the diesel engines, and shoot out engine exhaust without having to surface. That would allow the boats to spend much of their time underwater, rendering them effectively invisible and making it possible for them to go after other subs as well as surface ships.

Benitez had been expecting to take his submarine out and test her new equipment, train his crew, and learn how to run her as a true underwater vehicle. But Austin's orders were adding another dimension to Benitez's mission, transforming it from one of just war games and sea trials into an operation in an unproven realm of submarine intelligence. Furthermore, all this was to take place in the frigid Barents Sea inside the Arctic Circle, near the waters around Murmansk where the Soviet Union kept its Northern Fleet.

Worse, the cables and antennas for Austin's crude eavesdropping gear had to pass directly through the sub's pressure hull. That meant drilling holes in the very steel that held the ocean back.

Benitez took one look at the plans to drill through the sub's hull, what he considered the sub's "last resort" protective shell, and became clearly upset. What happened next is a story that Austin would tell and retell.

"Drill holes in the pressure hull?" Benitez said loud enough to get the attention of his executive officer and chief of the boat who came running. Drill holes without direct orders from the Navy's Bureau of Ships, which was supposed to oversee all submarine construction and modifications?

"You got anything from BUSHIPS?" he demanded.

"No sir, this is what they gave me," Austin replied. In a hapless gesture at conciliation, he added, "They're going to be small holes."

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Table of Contents

1: A Deadly Beginning
2: Whiskey A-Go-Go
3: Turn to the Deep
4: Velvet Fist
5: Death of a Submarine
6: "The Ballad of Whitey Mack"
7: "Here She Comes..."
8: "Oshkosh B'Gosh"
9: The $500 Million Sand Castle
10: Triumph and Crisis
11: The Crown Jewels
12: Trust but Verify
Epilogue
Appendix A
Appendix B
Notes
Acknowledgments
Index
Photo Credits
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First Chapter

Chapter One

A DEADLY BEGINNING

    You gotta be nuts," Harris M. Austin grumbled under his breath as he watched the ugliest-looking piece of junk he had ever seen pull into the British naval base in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. This couldn't be his sub. This couldn't be the Cochino.

    Almost anyone else on the busy pier would have thought that he was just a twenty-eight-year-old radioman. He knew better. He was here on direct orders from the U.S. chief of Naval Operations. He had been briefed by admirals who commanded the U.S. naval forces in Europe, his background checked and double-checked. And today he was about to join the crew of this sub as one of the Navy's newest spies, a "spook," someone who had been trained to snatch Soviet military signals and electronic communications out of thin air. It was going to be his job to attempt a daring grab for some of the Soviet Union's deepest secrets.

    Austin jumped down onto the pier and began pulling mooring lines along with a handful of other men. Then somebody said that this was the Cochino, U.S. submarine SS-345, the boat Austin had been awaiting for three days.

    "Goddamn ugly piece of junk," he thought as he hoisted a sea bag stuffed with classified documents over his shoulder and lumbered down the hatch to introduce himself and his orders to Cochino's commanding officer, Commander Rafael C. Benitez.

    Austin had leapt to submarines from battle cruisers in a search for excitement, the same reason he had volunteered to make this latest leap, transforming himself from a radioman into a spook. That he was in the armed forces at all had been a near certainty from the day he was born. He came from a long line of Scottish warriors, a line he could trace back to the fourteenth century without breaking a sweat. His father had been a cook with an American air squadron in England before shifting to whalers and ocean freighters stateside. His Welsh mother had worked for a British ammunition company. Austin himself had been only nineteen years old when he first went to sea, his auburn hair quickly earning him the nickname "Red."

    Benitez, thirty-two years old, was one of those men who had been bred to decorum. His father was a judge in Puerto Rico, and Commander Benitez had just finished law school, a perk that the Navy had awarded to hold on to him. As a submarine officer during World War II, he had survived several depth-chargings and earned a reputation for calm under fire. Now, in late July 1949, he had been back in the sub force for only three weeks, and he had his own command.

    Actually, it was a command Benitez had tried to turn down, embarrassed by his sub's name. Cochino may have been named for an Atlantic trigger fish, but in Spanish, the language of his family and friends back home, he would be commanding the submarine Pig.

    He had admitted as much to his mother when he wrote home, but her reply had yet to reach him as he stood in his cramped wardroom, shoulders back to make the most of his less than imposing frame. He was alone with this hulking enlisted man, this sailor turned spy, the kind of man who would still be declaring that he was "tougher than shit" when he reached his seventies.

    Red Austin handed over his orders. The captain scanned them and tensed as he read that Cochino, his sub, was about to become an experimental spy boat.

    Benitez was stunned. Cochino's mission was already complex enough. She had been scheduled to embark on a training run designed to change the very nature of submarine warfare. Classic World War II fleet submarines could dive beneath the waves only long enough to attack surface ships and avoid counterattack before needing to surface themselves. But since the war ended, Cochino and a few other boats had been dramatically altered. They now sported new, largely untested equipment, including a snorkel pipe that was supposed to let them take in fresh air, run the diesel engines, and shoot out engine exhaust without having to surface. That would allow the boats to spend much of their time underwater, rendering them effectively invisible and making it possible for them to go after other subs as well as surface ships.

    Benitez had been expecting to take his submarine out and test her new equipment, train his crew, and learn how to run her as a true underwater vehicle. But Austin's orders were adding another dimension to Benitez's mission, transforming it from one of just war games and sea trials into an operation in an unproven realm of submarine intelligence. Furthermore, all this was to take place in the frigid Barents Sea inside the Arctic Circle, near the waters around Murmansk where the Soviet Union kept its Northern Fleet.

    Worse, the cables and antennas for Austin's crude eavesdropping gear had to pass directly through the sub's pressure hull. That meant drilling holes in the very steel that held the ocean back.

    Benitez took one look at the plans to drill through the sub's hull, what he considered the sub's "last resort" protective shell, and became clearly upset. What happened next is a story that Austin would tell and retell.

    "Drill holes in the pressure hull?" Benitez said loud enough to get the attention of his executive officer and chief of the boat who came running. Drill holes without direct orders from the Navy's Bureau of Ships, which was supposed to oversee all submarine construction and modifications?

    "You got anything from BUSHIPS?" he demanded.

    "No sir, this is what they gave me," Austin replied. In a hapless gesture at conciliation, he added, "They're going to be small holes."

    Austin waited for a reply. There was none. Instead Benitez turned and left the room. He was going to call London. He was going to take this to his command. At the very least, he was not going to stay and argue with Austin.

    There was already little room for error in these fragile and cramped diesel boats, where fuel oil permeated the air and electrical generators had a disturbing tendency to arc. There had always been countless possibilities for disaster. Sometimes mere survival took heroic effort. That was especially true during World War II, but at least then Benitez and the others had faced a known enemy in the more familiar waters of the Pacific. Now he might have to face violent storms at the outer edge of nowhere. And on top of all of that, he was being asked to make a direct, from-the-sea grab for Soviet secrets, risk his boat and seventy-eight men on a spy mission before anyone was certain the sub could survive the ocean itself.

    Benitez was back quickly, not quite contrite, but admittedly stuck. The orders had withstood his aristocratic ire. His first priority was now Austin's spy mission.

    It was with this rocky start that submariners and spies began forging a relationship that would come to define the cold war under the world's oceans and seas. And from their battles would come new missions that would ultimately make these stealthy crafts the most crucial and richly symbolic of the era.

    Already it was clear that the United States had a dangerous new adversary and that the world was very different from the one that existed when Benitez had last emerged from the sea. Then, a nation inflated with victory had been transfixed by the image of a sailor grabbing a girl for an exuberant kiss in the middle of Times Square. Now, as Benitez prepared to return to the depths, people across the United States were terrified of the means of that victory. They had sat in stunned silence in theaters, watching newsreels of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, crying at the sight of women and children horribly burned, women and children who once were only the enemy, faceless monsters who deserved nobody's tears. People who once cheered the bomb saw it as a looming horror that could, any day now, be aimed at their own homes. There were reports that the Soviet Union, the ally turned enemy, was racing to build its own atomic bomb. And there seemed no doubt that the Soviets were out to make a grab for world dominance. The Chinese Communists had just driven Chiang Kai-shek from China. A Communist takeover had occurred in Czechoslovakia. The Soviets had instituted the Berlin Blockade. And Winston Churchill had declared that an Iron Curtain had fallen over Eastern Europe. It seemed that at any moment there could be a Communist takeover within the United States. How else could the nation read the headlines pouring out of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, especially the sensational charges that a former State Department official, Alger Hiss, had spied for the Soviets?

    This was the atmosphere of mistrust that gave birth to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and plunged its agents into an immediate duel with Soviet spies. This was the era of fear that inspired the West to once again join forces, now as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). And all of this was the inspiration for the blind man's challenge, the call for submariners in windowless cylinders to dive deep into a new role that would help the nation fend off this menace.

    The Soviets had always used their subs, most of them small and antiquated, for coastal defense. But in dividing up Nazi war booty, the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union had each come into a few experimental German U-boats, highly advanced subs with snorkels and new sophisticated types of sonar. This technology promised to make submarines more lethal than ever and raised fears that the Soviets would change their coastal strategy and design subs for the high seas. What Benitez and the other commanders wanted most was time to learn, time to practice, time to transform their submarines into the "hunter-killers" needed to meet the flood of Soviet subs that might one day head for U.S. shores.

    Patterned after the Nazi technology, Cochino's snorkel promised to enable her to stay underwater for days or weeks, hiding tons of bulk that stretched as long as a football field while showing only a target about as wide as a suburban garbage can. She could even stay hidden while she ran her diesel engines to recharge her batteries, her sole source of power when she needed to run silent with her engines off. Thanks to the Germans, Cochino had batteries with greater capacity than any of the classic World War II fleet subs.

    Cochino also was outfitted with a new passive sonar system: she could listen, and therefore "see," underwater without making much sound herself. World War II submarines used "active" sonar, which sent out audible pings and relied on the echoing sound waves to create a picture of the surrounding waters by detecting targets and measuring distances. The result was a lot like shining a flashlight. Submarines could see what was out there, but they lit themselves up in the process. Passive sonar systems scan the entire spectrum of sound, never sending out telltale tones, and this silent sight promised to provide the crucial edge in any undersea dogfight.

    The U.S. Navy was also preparing for the ultimate in undersea one-upmanship. An obscure engineer, Hyman G. Rickover, was developing a plan for nuclear-powered submarines that would be able to stay underwater indefinitely without ever having to snorkel, raising the stakes in the undersea war once again. But for now, nuclear propulsion was little more than a concept, and Cochino and subs like her were the best the Navy had. In a new program, aptly named "Operation Kayo," the Navy was readying Cochino and other World War II fleet boats to deliver a knockout punch should war come.

    There was one hitch in the submarine force's plans: the nation's spies saw more immediate threats and wanted to use subs to counter them. There was still no evidence that the Soviet Navy was building snorkel subs, and the CIA and the Office of Naval Intelligence thought the submariners had plenty of time to prepare for undersea dogfights that were still far in the future. More worrisome, in the opinion of senior intelligence officers, were other bits of inherited German technology: the unpiloted V-1 "buzz bomb," a mini-airplane on autopilot with a bomb on board, and the V-2, the first rocket to pass the speed of sound. These German designs, also seized by the Allies, were the forerunners to the cruise missile and the ballistic missile, bombs with their own rocket engines to propel them. The United States was already fashioning experimental "Loon" missiles that could be fired from specially configured boats, the first crude missile subs. The Soviets also were showing signs that they were developing their own infant missiles. Reports were already coming in from defectors that the Soviets were conducting test launches from land and from old submarines stationed in the Murmansk area.

    In addition, the Air Force was sending planes armed with filters designed to capture radioactive particles near Soviet territory to gauge whether the Soviets were testing atomic weapons. That was the ultimate fear, that the buzz bombs would be given nuclear warheads, that they would lead to atomic missiles.

    Much of this was still conjecture. What little information the intelligence agencies had about the Soviet Navy was coming from Britain's Royal Navy, which had worked closely with the Soviets during World War II. Communications between Soviet ships and their bases were also being intercepted by U.S.-operated eavesdropping stations in Europe and Alaska. All of this spying on a former ally was so sensitive that messengers carried reports on the intercepted Soviet communications to top admirals in locked briefcases. Any efforts to get closer, to learn more, needed to be kept a deep secret.

    It was that need for stealth that, more than anything, convinced intelligence officials that submarines could be the next logical step in the creation of an eavesdropping network that would circle the Soviet Union. The effort was already under way. In 1948 the Navy had sent two fleet boats, the USS Sea Dog (SS-401) and the USS Blackfin (SS-322), into the Bering Sea to see whether they could intercept Soviet radio communications and count how quickly propeller blades turned on Soviet destroyers and merchant ships--a first step toward learning to identify them through passive sonar. But intelligence officials suspected that the new snorkel subs, like Cochino, could do even more. They could stay hidden off the Soviet coast and watch and monitor. Perhaps they could even find out firsthand how far along the Soviets were in developing the dangerous missile technology. With her snorkel, Cochino could sneak in as close as she dared. Only her periscope, antennas, and snorkel would ever have to broach into the open air. She was, in short, the perfect spy vehicle.

    In fact, Cochino had been destined from the start for a different fight. She had been the last submarine commissioned during the war, sent to sea two weeks after the Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb. Now she and the USS Tusk (SS-426) had been remade with those snorkels and other advances, and turned into what the Navy called "GUPPYs," an acronym that stood for Greater Underwater Propulsion Power. The acronym fit far better than anyone would have liked--as hunter-killers, these subs were rank beginners, learning to swim all over again. In fact, when scientists checked the boats a few months before this trip, they had discovered that their crews and construction personnel knew so little about the passive sonar systems that crucial hydrophones had not even been hooked up. So the boats had been sent to Londonderry to practice with the British, who had gotten much further in mastering the new sonar.

    It was in Londonderry that Austin caught up with Cochino. Also on board was a civilian sonar expert, Robert W. Philo, who was working as a consultant. The hunter-killer exercises were considered so important that the leader of Operation Kayo, Commodore Roy S. Benson, had come along and would end up on Tusk, commanded by Robert K. Worthington.

    Like Benitez, Worthington had taken command just days before they were all to leave for this trip, and like Benitez, Worthington and Benson were skeptical of their new trek into espionage. Benson believed that, at best, it was a side mission, one that wasn't nearly as important as training in the art of true underwater warfare. Red Austin thought he knew better. But then again, this spy stuff seemed to be his calling.

    "I got to have something spooky to do," Austin liked to say. "It's just the way I am."

    But if all of this was second nature to Austin, it wasn't to others. His special equipment was to be installed in a shipyard in Portsmouth, England, where even the yard workers were somewhat befuddled by the new gear.

    "Shit, this is just a piece of spaghetti," an impatient Austin fumed, holding onto a piece of coaxial cable that the workers just couldn't seem to install correctly. "Plain old coax, half-inch. And it looks to me like you ought to be able to get plans to do this thing. Why can't you just go by the plans?"

    Austin was itching to get started. A tiny cubicle was being set up for him and his spy gear on the same deck as the control room, close to the radio room. He was ready to run the coaxial cable into what he called his "black box." Actually colored good old Navy gray, the box was one of a kind, built to capture the radio signals that the Soviets would have to use to send telemetry instructions to any missiles they were trying to test. Standing but two and a half feet tall, the box was designed to record signals on slivers of wire tape, and it was probably the most sensitive and secret device on Cochino.

    The line from that box would run up through the hull and connect to new "ears" placed on the side of the sub's sail, the large steel piece that created the shark fin on the submarine's otherwise smooth hull. These special antennas really did look like ears. They were little wire C's sprouting about a foot from the sail, one on each side. With these extra wires added to Cochino's array of the usual antennas, the sub had the look of a B-movie alien creature.

    Everything was finally installed by mid-August, and Cochino set out from Portsmouth accompanied by Tusk and two standard fleet boats, the USS Toro (SS-422) and the USS Corsair (SS-435). They were operating under strict radio silence, on what the Navy called a "simulated war patrol." No one onshore was supposed to know where they were. When they left England, they were to disappear.

    Within hours of their departure, the seals around Austin's cables gave way, giving Austin an unwelcome shower inside his cubicle. He managed, with a bit of tightening and some fiddling, to get his system working again. But if the seals failed again, he would have to clamp off his cables, and his part of the mission would be over.

    By now, the crew knew that this mission was going to be different, just as most knew that their newest crew member was not what he seemed. Red Austin might have worn a radioman's sparks on his uniform but he really worked for the Naval Security Group, the fabled cryptological service that had intercepted and decoded crucial Japanese Navy communications during World War II. That much was secret, but even the crew realized that no common radioman would ever consult this closely with the captain.

    Still, submariners are submariners, and the most popular on board are always going to be the guys with the best sea stories. That was especially true on Cochino, where about one-third of the crew had been through the war. Austin brought war stories from his cruiser days, and he played a mean game of acey-deucey, a sailors' take on backgammon that had been carried to sea for more than a century. Besides, it was hard not to become fast friends when everyone was "hot-bunking"--grabbing sleep when other guys woke up, moving on to make space for the next shift, time-share submarine style. The crew was divided into three groups operating according to three different time zones. One group lived by Eastern Standard Time, another by Honolulu time, and another by Indian Ocean time. There were three sets of sonar operators, of weapons techs, of cooks, of radio operators, of men for whatever job needed to be done.

    Only the CO, his executive officer (XO), Lieutenant Commander Richard M. Wright, Austin, and his assistant lived across those time zones. Austin didn't mind his triple-duty load, not when he got a chance to eat some of the three breakfasts, three lunches, and three dinners served on board everyday. The man loved food, even Spam, and he saw no reason to quarrel with powdered eggs.

    It was after one of Austin's first or second lunches or dinners that Benitez grabbed the spook for duty in the conning tower, a cramped space a ladder's distance above the sub's control room, the place from which the commander or other officer in charge directed the sub.

    "Man the number 2 periscope, Austin," the captain directed. It was a post where he could keep Austin busy and involved. It was also, Austin was certain, a post from which Benitez knew he could keep a wary eye on him.

    Soon, the two fleet boats that had accompanied Cochino and Tusk broke off and headed toward the edge of the Arctic ice pack northeast of Greenland for exercises in those frigid waters. Cochino and Tusk continued on, heading much closer to the Soviet Union.

    They spent their first few hours chugging up through the Norwegian Sea north of the Arctic Circle. Both subs had faucetlike spigots in their torpedo rooms to take in water for temperature and salinity tests, and both were charting the sea bottom. By Saturday, August 20, 1949, the boats were in the Barents. Now they too split up, Tusk to go off and conduct sonar tests, and Cochino to head toward a spot about 12 miles off the northern tip of Norway to begin Austin's mission. From here on out, Benitez would order the course changes requested by Austin, zigging the sub this way and zagging that way as the spook tried to hone in on Soviet signals.

    Austin tried not to let on, but he was worried. If he was to capture any signals, those special ear-shaped antennas would have to be raised above the waves. That meant that the sub would have to "plane up"--travel shallower than even snorkel depth--and expose part of her sail. This time of year, this far north, the sky was bright even at night, and the crew would have to be careful to avoid detection by the surface ships and fishing trawlers that dotted these waters. The long day also increased the danger of being spotted if Cochino had to surface.

    "Too much daylight," Austin fretted. "This bodes evil. No place to hide." Benitez was logging similar concerns. "The night as such has disappeared," he wrote. "The best we can hope for is about two hours of semidarkness. There can be no surface running here during wartime."

    Austin swept for electronic signals as Cochino passed by the northeastern edge of Norway. Now the sub was about 125-150 miles away from Murmansk, too far away to see land, but close enough, he hoped, to intercept Soviet missile telemetry. This was about as close as Benitez wanted to go.

    On a map, Murmansk sits on what looks like the base of the thumb of a land mass shaped like an inverted glove, its fingers defined by Norway, Sweden, and Finland. The thumb is the Soviet Kola Peninsula, home to the operating bases of Vayenga (later called Severomorsk) and Polyarnyy. These were among the Soviets' most important northern ports because they could be used year-round--kept warm enough to be free of ice by a branch of the Gulf Stream. Polyarnyy was a submarine base, as well as home to the subterranean headquarters for the commander-in-chief of the Northern Fleet. Secreted beneath brick-and-stone administrative buildings were the Soviet code rooms and communications centers.

    Austin was looking for telemetry signals coming from these bases or from ships nearby. Because missile telemetries were usually broadcast in the highest ranges, intelligence officials had set Austin's black box to capture the higher frequency bands of a launch in progress. If something were happening, he should be able to hear it. Or so he hoped. This spy mission was as much a guessing game as anything else. There was no way to know whether the Soviets had planned any launches at all. All Austin could do was spin the dials in his cubicle and listen for any activity. He also had taken to wandering into the radio room and tuning into Russian voice communications. Austin didn't speak Russian, and neither did the radiomen. But Austin could pick out the Cyrillic alphabet in Morse code, one of those tricks he had learned to fill the tedium during his days on surface ships. Now, as he sat clacking out Russian on Cochino's manual typewriter, he imagined he could actually understand what he was typing. In his mind, one Soviet ship was making a daily report, telling its command how much rice was on board, that the fruit had all been eaten. Another was reporting the day's sick list.

    Three days passed, and Austin had still collected only a few Soviet voice transmissions. Benitez decided to make one more nighttime pass to give Austin a chance to find more. Austin would have been willing to sit for weeks. He was itching to nab the grail, to record some Soviet missile telemetry.

    It was on this last evening that something began to come through. It didn't sound like a launch, but Austin had also been told to look out for equipment tests. Maybe that's what was going on. Maybe the Russians were tuning up their gear, getting ready for a show. He asked Benitez to order a turn, to try to position Cochino for a clearer signal. Even after that, Austin was still not sure what he was hearing, or even whether it was coming from land or from sea. This wasn't voice, that much he knew.

    For a moment the frequencies seemed about right for a weapons test. But there wasn't nearly enough coming through--in fact, not anywhere near the wash of sound that would have signaled the telemetry from a missile test. Intelligence officials back home might have imagined that the Soviets were engaged in endless launchings, readying to take their missiles to sea. But if that were the case, the Soviets had taken a break just as Cochino came near. Austin's spy mission was a failure, at least so far. He was scheduled to get another try later, but for now, Cochino was going back to her initial mission. She was going to play hide-and-seek with Tusk so the two subs could learn like any young predators how to become hunters and killers.

    By now, even Benitez was disappointed as he turned Cochino from the area. For all of the trouble Austin's orders had caused, the commander would have liked to have been able to go back and say, "Ah, we got something," to log in his patrol report that "we intercepted this or we intercepted that." Still, as he began ordering course, west and north, he was glad to be getting on to what he considered his primary mission. In fact, he was feeling quite light-hearted. It was Wednesday, August 24, a day before Cochino's fourth birthday, and Benitez had called for an early celebration.

    The cooks were at work, preparing a large birthday cake and a steak dinner that even Austin had to agree was better than Spam. There were songs, jokes, and prerecorded birthday wishes set down that morning by some of the men eating in the mess. Later, Benitez would log, "It was a happy ship, and in the wardroom we expressed the wish that the next birthday would find us all together on board Cochino."

    Early the next morning, Cochino spotted Tusk off her starboard beam. By 10:30 A.M. that Thursday, Cochino began moving ahead at snorkel depth. It was her turn to hide. Tusk had already moved away to perform the submarine version of counting to ten.

    It was a gloomy day, misty and gray with rough seas. The radio room had earlier picked up a forecast of polar storms, and the winds had been blowing for hours. The waves rocked Cochino, and the planesmen struggled to maintain steady depth, as the crewmen braced themselves, grabbing chart tables and overhead pipes. Others lunged to catch sliding coffee cups and tools. The forward engine room got on the squawk box and told Benitez that water was pouring into the sub through the snorkel, which should have been automatically capped watertight by a valve designed to slam shut as soon as its sensors got wet.

    Benitez sent Wright, his XO, back to investigate as the engines cut off for lack of air. Just about two minutes later, there was a muffled thud and the sub shuddered. Austin slammed hard against the viewer on the number 2 periscope. He was certain they had bumped a "deadhead," a log, and just as certain that he'd have two black eyes to prove it.

    But what was actually happening was far worse. An electrician saw sparks coming from one of the two compartments that each held two of the massive batteries that powered Cochino when she was underwater. The compartments were located toward the middle of the submarine. The batteries in one of the spaces, the "after-battery" compartment, were on fire and smoke was filling the room.

    "Clear the compartment," the electrician shouted, staying behind to try to find a way to put out the fire. Men began moving forward to the control room, bringing the news to Benitez.

    "Fire in the after-battery!" someone gasped. Benitez answered with an order. "Surface!" Then he turned to one of the new devices they were testing, an underwater phone, and sent a message to Tusk. "Casualty. Surfacing."

    The men blew ballast, and Cochino broke the surface within moments, rocking fiercely in the stormy seas, sixteen-foot waves crashing against her hull. The captain headed back to the conning tower. Then he opened the hatch and climbed out onto the weather bridge, a large protrusion off the sub's notched steel sail. From here he was well above the main deck, trying to scan for Tusk, his binoculars all but useless.

    Calling down the ladder to the control room, Benitez sent one of the sub's youngest officers, Ensign John P. Shelton, back to report on the fire. Other men ran to try to help fight the flames, but there was a terrible delay. The emergency breathing apparatus that should have protected the lead man from the smoke and gases wouldn't work. By the time he could send for another, the watertight door leading to the room was jammed, perhaps held by the pressures building from within or melted shut by the heat of the fire.

    Inside, one battery seemed to be charging another, emitting highly combustible hydrogen gas as a by-product. Unless someone could break into the fiery compartment, unless someone could push a wrench against heavy switches to break the connections between the burning batteries, the hydrogen would build to critical levels and there would be another explosion. With a large enough blast, Cochino could be lost.

    Benitez left the bridge and headed to the control room. There he checked the hydrogen detectors. They still read zero. For a moment he was thankful, but just for a moment. Then he realized the detectors simply weren't working. He knew there was only one option. Somebody was going to have to force their way into the battery compartment from the other side, from the forward engine room. Somebody had to try again to get in to disconnect the batteries. Just then, Wright phoned forward--he was going to try to do just that. He outlined his plan tersely and without an unnecessary rendition of the risks. Both he and Benitez knew that the battery space could explode at any moment, that any attempt to enter might prove fatal. They also knew that Wright had to try.

    Worried, Benitez climbed back to the bridge to look for the only help nearby, the men on Tusk. He was there when he felt the second explosion, a blast that ripped off a flapper that had isolated smoke from the burning compartment from the rest of the ventilation system. Smoke and toxic gases were now pouring through to the forward part of the sub. Someone called up to the bridge. The men below were in serious trouble.

    Benitez ordered an evacuation, calling topside anyone who wasn't manning a critical position or fighting the fire. The men began moving forward, any instinct to panic overwhelmed by the almost unbelievable magnitude of the casualty. One after another, some gasping for air, they made their way to the bow, the very front of the sub, and climbed up the ladder leading to a topside hatch. Under captain's orders, they headed to the handrail at the lee side of the sail and lashed themselves to it.

    It was bitter cold, and waves were still slamming down on the rolling boat. Some of the men had come straight out of the sack, wearing only socks, T-shirts, and skivvies. A couple were wrapped in blankets. Only a few wore foul-weather jackets. Among them, they had only a few life jackets, and no food, no water, no medical supplies. They were, for the most part, defenseless against the cold and pounding seas.

    By now, there were forty-seven men lashed on deck. Another twelve had crowded onto the bridge alongside Benitez, though the space was designed to hold seven men. There were still eighteen men back aft, trying to regain propulsion and fight the fire. The captain looked down at his crew, then out at the horizon. Where was Tusk? The blaze had now been raging for half an hour.

    Someone managed to restart Cochino's engines. Benitez began to have hopes that he could drive the boat to shore when a wave came up and swallowed her stern. A cry emerged before the water receded.

    "Man overboard! Man overboard!" It was Joseph Morgan, one of the mess cooks.

    "Gotta go pick him up," Benitez mumbled, now entirely focused on moving his sub closer to Morgan, who was barely visible in the turbulent seas. Just then someone spotted Tusk off the starboard quarter.

    Austin had, by now, made his way onto the bridge beside Benitez. All of Cochino's signalmen had been gassed, and Austin was the only person left standing who knew enough code to transmit a message. He hadn't used semaphores since boot camp, but now he grabbed hold of two flags and raised his hands high.

    Fighting the wind, he spelled out, "M-a-n o-v-e-r-b-o-a-r-d. D-e-a-d a-h-e-a-d. X F-i-r-e i-n t-h-e a-f-t-e-r-b-a-t-t-e-r-y." It was 11:21 A.M.

    Then there was a roar from within the sub that shuddered through her steel deck plating. Tusk was trying to move in closer, but Benitez kept his eyes on the drowning cook, aware that the man couldn't last much longer, not in waters this cold. Without prompting, Chief Hubert H. Rauch jumped in after Morgan and fought the choking seas to get to his side. By the time Rauch pulled Morgan alongside, the chief was too weakened by the 40-degree water to help lift Morgan onto the deck. Another of the ship's cooks unlashed his restraints and ran to help, leaning over the side of the ship to take Morgan from Rauch's arms. Others reached for Rauch while Morgan was carried to the bridge and laid down on a small shelf that was designed as a chart table. He was shivering uncontrollably, even as the men covered him with the few blankets they had. Two men stripped off their sodden clothes and sandwiched the freezing Morgan, trying desperately to warm him.

    It was clear to Benitez that his men weren't safe out in the open, not with the seas breaking violently over the deck ready to tear his freezing crew from their lashings. He ordered his men to crowd onto the narrow bridge. They stacked themselves, creating a human pyramid. He told others to move down into the forward torpedo room at the bow, just about the only area still somewhat habitable.

    As all of this was going on, Benitez learned that the same explosion that had sent smoke and gases pouring through the sub had also left serious casualties. Wright had managed to force open the door to the battery compartment, but when he did, built-up hydrogen gas exploded in a massive flash throwing him backward. He had been badly burned over his hands, chest, legs--the entire front of his body, save for his face, which was protected by his breathing mask. Now he was in severe shock. Four other men had also been seriously injured. The wounded had been dragged to the after-torpedo room, the compartment farthest astern. They were separated from their mates by the fire. They needed medical help desperately, but the medic, Hubert T. "Doc" Eason, was up front with the rest of the crew. There was no way to get through the fire and gas from inside the sub. Doc could climb outside and go over the fire, but the hatch to the after-torpedo room was more than 50 yards away--50 yards of slippery wet steel on a sub bouncing through crashing waves that were so powerful they were pushing Tusk around like a twig as she tried to move in to help.

    One young officer offered to race a line from the sail to the back hatch, a lifeline that Doc Eason could then hang onto. When the line was set, Eason crawled, fought the violent surf, and made his way back and down the hatch that led to the wounded. Austin picked up his flags and began to signal. "C-o-m-e a-l-o-n-g-s-i-d-e, w-e m-a-y h-a-v-e t-o a-b-a-n-d-o-n s-h-i-p." As soon as Benitez received Doc Eason's first reports, Austin picked up the flags again. "R-e-q-u-i-r-e m-e-d-i-c-a-l a-s-s-i-s-t-a-n-c-e. X F-i-v-e m-e-n i-n-j-u-r-e-d. X O-n-e b-a-d-l-y b-u-r-n-e-d."

    The bridge had received Eason's diagnosis. Wright was critically burned and not expected to live. Doc's reports were so dire that Benitez soon took the sound-powered phone away from the enlisted man who had been relaying messages. The news was too bad to be broadcast to the enlisted. Morale was too crucial. An officer took over.

    An hour and a half had passed since the fire started, and the men huddled in the forward torpedo room began to pass out from the gases. It was clear that everyone there was going to have to come back out on the perilous deck. As many as possible would crowd onto the bridge.

    One after another, men were hauled up through the conning tower, as the captain watched, thinking that some of them looked more dead than alive. One man was dragged out unconscious and not breathing. His mates began blowing air into his lungs, pumping his chest.

    Back aft, Wright was in agony. Eason pumped him full of morphine, then tried to treat the other men's burns with petroleum from his first-aid kit.

    Meanwhile, Captain Worthington was trying to find a way to send Tusk's medic over to Cochino, perhaps on a rubber raft. His men began pumping diesel fuel overboard, more than sixteen thousand gallons, working to create a deliberate oil slick in an effort to calm the waves. Tusk shot a line over to Cochino. Men on both subs would try to hold onto the rope to create a lifeline through the water that could pull the raft forward. The first time out, Tusk's men lost hold, but on the next try, a new line held. Watching the waves, Worthington realized that it was still too dangerous to send a man over. Instead, Tusk sent the raft, unmanned, filled with medical supplies, including drugs and whiskey.

    Benitez also knew the dangers, knew that anyone trying to cross the rough seas on that raft could easily be lost. But by 2:00 P.M., as he counted the continuing explosions under his feet, he had come to realize that he had no choice. He needed to tell the officers on Tusk just how dire his situation was, that Cochino's men might have to abandon ship. He needed to send more information than Austin could by fighting the wind to flag messages one letter at a time. Above all, he needed to see whether it was possible to use the raft to transfer his crew to the safety of Tusk.

    The captain asked Shelton whether he would be willing to try to make the dangerous transit across. He was, and another man wanted to go with him. It was Robert Philo, the young civilian sonar expert who had come along for the exercises that would now never happen.

    "Philo, is this something that you want to do?" Benitez said, slowly, deliberately.

    "Yes."

    Benitez repeated the question, word for word, just as deliberately, with perhaps a bit more emphasis on the word want.

    Again Philo answered, "Yes."

    Benitez took a breath. "Fine, you and Shelton go."

    Even as he said it, he thought that he'd have a hell of a time explaining how a civilian got onto that raft if something went wrong. But there were men burned, men gassed, men freezing. The captain had no time to fight, no time to try to yell above the wind to find out whether Philo was trying to be a hero or trying to abandon ship, no time to warn that as bad as things were on Cochino, that trip on the raft could very well be worse. All he could do was ask Philo whether he was sure, then ask once again.

    As soon as Cochino's crew lowered the raft with Philo and Shelton into the water, it overturned. Now the two men were clutching straps that looped across the raft's bottom as they were dragged through the pounding waves by men aboard Tusk.

    Benitez watched helplessly as Shelton began to drift away while trying to swim back toward the raft. Then Benitez couldn't watch any further. He had to turn his attention back to his sub. Tusk's men were in a far better position to attempt a rescue. Besides, Cochino had no steering. Her maneuvering stations were cut off by toxic gas. It was all Benitez could do to try to keep his other men safe. There were now fifty-seven men crammed with him into Cochino's sail and bridge. Below decks and aft were eighteen more men, five of them burned, including Wright. The gassed men topside were still in bad shape.

    The crew's quarters and their foul weather gear were cut off by gas. Everyone was freezing, especially Morgan, who was still shivering from his earlier immersion. Benitez took off his jacket and gave it to one man, then he took off his shoes and gave them to another.

    Now Benitez stood in shirtsleeves and stocking feet, wanting more than anything to get some of his men off the boat, over to Tusk. If he could manage to keep a skeleton crew on board, he was certain he could get Cochino home, even if she had to be towed in and beached. He was still determined not to abandon ship, not when Wright couldn't be moved. Benitez was not going to leave the sub without his exec.

    But Tusk was again out of sight. Benitez hadn't seen the end of Shelton and Philo's attempt to reach her and didn't know that Philo had been thrown by the waves hard against Tusk, leaving him limp, face down in the water. By the time a Tusk crewman jumped in and grabbed hold of him, Philo was bleeding and no longer breathing. Tusk officers began working on him right on deck, performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and administering Adrenalin. Shelton was pulled aboard three minutes later, conscious but suffering from exposure. He was taken below where, shivering violently, he managed to give Benson and Worthington their first detailed report about the catastrophe unfolding on the other sub--about the arcing batteries, the explosions, the toxic cloud that had consumed most of Cochino's interior.

    Outside on Tusk's deck were fifteen crewmen, some administering to Philo, who had no evident pulse, others trying to keep the rescue party from being swept overboard. Suddenly, a huge wave hit Tusk, then another so powerful it bent four pipe stanchions that had been securing a lifeline for the men outside. All at once, twelve men were washed overboard, Philo among them.

    Worthington and his crew scanned the seas. Philo and another man were out of sight altogether. One man was spotted face down in the water. Worthington began again fighting the currents, trying to reach his men.

    But the horror was becoming worse. Unlike Cochino's crew, Tusk's men had time to put on foul-weather gear, and now that gear was conspiring to drown them. The gear was another Navy experiment, one-piece suits, prototypes designed to protect the crew from the Arctic cold. They were built with "Mae Wests," inflatable life preservers sewn directly into the jackets and boots that clamped tightly onto the suits with metal ankle grooves that required a special tool to unlock them.

    The suits had seemed fine on deck. But some of the attached life jackets began to burst when they hit the frigid water. That left only one part of the suits highly buoyant--the boots, which were sealed so tight that they retained air pockets.

    One of the men in the water, Chief John G. Guttermuth, was desperately trying to swim toward a lifeline, towing an unconscious mate. The two men were only twenty yards away, close enough to be saved. But something was wrong. Guttermuth's feet were coming up toward the surface, forcing his head down. Worthington watched, horrified as the chief fought his boots for his life, watched as Guttermuth let go of the other man, who sank instantly. "Guttermuth's boots then brought his feet to the surface," Worthington would write in Tusk's log. "He attempted to right himself by swimming but was unable to do so and drowned with his feet still above the surface of the water."

    There was no time to mourn. There were other men in the water. The rescue continued. More men jumped overboard to help. Other men already in the water tried to grab hold of mates in worse shape then they were. Lieutenant Junior Grade L. Philip Pennington was in the water an hour and twenty-five minutes before he was pulled onto the sub. Raymond T. Reardon was spotted in a life raft, but was tossed out by the waves. Another man jumped in and grabbed him.

    By now, it was two hours since the men had gone overboard. Worthington was faced with a nearly unbearable reality. Seven men were still in the water, and they were almost certainly dead. Tusk crewmen later told others on Cochino that several had died like Guttermuth, boots up.

    Nobody on Cochino knew that the disaster had logged its first death. But death was on everyone's mind. Austin was thinking about his wife and two kids, about sinking below the waves before he could see them again. He was comforted by the thought that he had always heard that the frigid water would knock a man out before the very end.

    Benitez continued to assess and reassess their situation. He had made three attempts to vent his boat, but gas continued leaching through. He tried to send some men aft over the deck, past the damaged battery compartment to the very end of the boat where Eason still was ministering to Wright, the one corner of the sub that was still gas-free, but the first two men to try were nearly washed overboard.

    Two attempts were made to crack the conning tower hatch. But each time gas came rushing out, inviting disaster. The picture of the men gassed early that afternoon was still vivid in Benitez's mind. He couldn't risk exposing all the men crammed into the sail to the same fate.

    There wasn't much to do now but wait, and pray a little. Six hours had passed since the first explosion. The fires still raged when Tusk once again broke through the fog. It would be hours more before Benitez would learn that the sub was carrying seven fewer men than before. All that was on his mind now was getting Cochino home.

    Cochino's steering was a loss. Still, Benitez had hopes of driving his sub to calmer seas, where he could safely get the wounded over to Tusk, which could then race ahead and get the men to Hammerfest, Norway, and to a hospital.

    Benitez tried to follow Tusk for nearly an hour, but Cochino kept turning in circles. Then one of the wounded, below at the very rear of the sub, managed to restore steering by holding his pain-wracked body against a pipe wrench he had crammed into a rudder control valve. He steered by blindly following Benitez's piped-in instructions. Finally, Cochino could follow Tusk. It was about 7:10 P.M., nearly nine hours since the first explosion.

    Over the sub's internal phones, Benitez kept assuring the wounded that they were nearing Norway. Only three hours away, he had said at one point that afternoon. Then four hours later, he repeated his promise--only three more hours. Even then, he knew it would be at least twice that long before they would near land.

    "We had to slow down so that the men forward would not suffer from the seas still breaking over the bridge," Benitez said, trying to sound as reassuring as he could. "I know that you will understand."

    The men back aft knew he was lying. But they answered, "Of course we understand. Thank you."

    Benitez choked up, amazed that this group of burned and wounded could still find concern for the men freezing out on deck, could use that concern to ease their own suffering. He wanted to get them home, all of them.

    It looked as though most of the wounded would make it. Save for Wright, they were showing signs of improvement. The seas were even beginning to abate a bit. Benitez kept talking to his men, encouraging them, asking them to just hang on. The CO was calling upon every moment he had spent in the war, when he had crouched silently among another crew as their sub was depth-charged. If he was showing his aristocracy now, it was the aristocracy of sheer valor, and he was impressing even the hulking, red-headed Celt who stood at his side.

    Benitez still believed he could win his battle against sub and sea when another explosion hit shortly after midnight on Friday, August 26. The boat shook violently, and the fire spread into the second engine room, moving closer to the torpedo room where Wright and the others were. There was no longer any choice. Those men had to come topside. One by one, fifteen men climbed out the back hatch and made their way forward. Still, Wright and one of the other injured men could not be moved, and Doc Eason wasn't going to leave them. He told Benitez they could hold out.

    Meanwhile, the captain knew he had to try to transfer the rest of the crew over to Tusk. In the nighttime haze, Austin did not want to take a chance that Tusk's men would no longer see the signal flags. So he picked up a battle lantern and using its toggle switch spelled out in Morse code, "A-n-o-t-h-e-r e-x-p-l-o-s-i-o-n. C-l-o-s-e m-e."

    That done, Benitez turned his attention back to getting those last three men topside. The sound-powered phones had finally gone out. There was no way to communicate. A volunteer offered to run back to the hatch. The seas were still washing over the deck, but there was a better chance now that the man could make it. Benitez gave the okay--he wanted those men topside. Still, from everything he'd been told about Wright's condition, he had little hope the exec would make it out of the sub.

    Benitez made a silent declaration, "Okay, if he doesn't come out, I'm going to go down into the after-torpedo room and go down with him." The sense of clarity was almost overwhelming. A deep calm washed over him. It was the same feeling he'd had during the war when he was on the submarine Dace as it was being pummeled by Japanese destroyers, when he had believed there could be no escape. He had been lucky that time.

    Now he thought, "Well, I'm gonna die. This is it."

    He fretted for a moment that he'd be swept off the deck on his way aft--or worse, be swept off and rescued, leaving Wright to die alone. But he shook away the thought. His calm gave way to a sense of peace, a peace that seemed to pass all understanding, reaching beyond feeling to prayer.

    Meanwhile, Tusk prepared to move closer. First, her crew fired off the warshot torpedoes loaded in her bow tubes, ensuring that there would be no explosions if the two subs crashed or if Tusk was too close when there was another violent explosion on Cochino. Then Tusk maneuvered alongside. Back on Cochino, members of the crew prepared to go back aft and carry Wright out, but as they looked back, they saw him follow another man climbing out of the after-torpedo room. He had somehow managed to claw his way off the bunk, stagger to the ladder below the hatch, and force himself to lift one foot high enough to reach the first rung. The pain was excruciating. He had to stop, and as he stood there he was aware of Doc Eason behind him, aware of the water sloshing across the compartment floor. The sub was flooding now.

    Later, Wright would swear that he had no idea how he began climbing again, would swear that it felt almost as if an invisible hand--maybe it was Eason's--had grabbed him by the seat of his pants and pushed him up the ladder and onto the deck. As Benitez watched, he noticed Wright's hands in front of him, heavily bandaged. Other crewmen were watching too as Wright started moving forward. There were no cheers, no shouts. Some of the men ran to help, but there was almost no place to grab onto Wright without causing him more agony. In silence they watched him take one labored step after another.

    Men on both subs were already working to secure a narrow plank between them. Nobody was left below now. Everyone was on deck. Most were near the plank, a twenty-foot-long swaying teeter-totter that reached from the side of one sub to the side of the other, with barely an inch to spare on either end. Some men grabbed lines, holding the plank in place. But as the ships rolled in the violent surf, the plank would drop from its perch, and have to be hoisted back in place. If that plank dropped while a man was making his way over, it was clear that he'd be smashed between steel hulls that were crashing together where the subs were widest, just beneath the water line. It was one of the least-inviting escape routes ever designed at sea.

    Wright was the first man to walk toward the plank, the men parting before him in stunned silence. One measured, agonized step at a time, he reached the makeshift bridge and then kept going, across the plank, across to Tusk.

    That was it. That was all the rest of the crew needed. If Wright could make it in his condition, they could too. One by one, they skittered across, the wounded first. They timed it, waiting as one boat was picked up by the waves, then the other, waiting for that short moment when the boats were level. Nobody cued them. They didn't need masterminding from the bridge now. Each man picked his own moment to rush across.

    No more than two or three men would get over before the plank would drop and again need to be pulled in place. Miraculously, no one had fallen. When about one-third of the crew had made it to the Tusk, the waves pulled the subs apart so far that several of the lines between them parted. Tusk made her way back, but it was clear the remaining lines would not last long. It seemed that the rest of the men made their way across the narrow plank in a matter of seconds--all except Benitez, who still stood on Cochino's deck.

    Benson called across to Benitez. "Are you abandoning ship?"

    "Hell no," Benitez yelled back, "I'm not abandoning ship." He wanted Tusk to stand by and take him in tow. He believed he could still save his boat. It was about 1:45 A.M. on Friday. Cochino was listing to starboard. The rear torpedo-room hatch was underwater. And the sub began to take an up angle, leaning back toward the sea.

    As the angle became more pronounced, Benitez watched tensely, waiting to see whether the sub would stabilize again. A few more degrees and she would be lost.

    "Now!" men shouted to him from Tusk's deck. "Now!" they called out again. They saw it before he did, saw that he had no choice.

    Benitez stood there, as Cochino's stern slipped down, as the sea encroached further and further onto the deck. "Well, this is it," he said to himself. Then he called over to Benson, called out the worst words any captain had to speak: "Abandoning ship."

    He made it across the plank bare seconds before the wood shattered.

    Worthington was already calling out the orders that would take Tusk clear of the sinking sub as Benitez began urging his men below. Then he went to the bridge to watch Cochino's final dive.

    His sub was listing about 15 degrees to starboard. Water was now past her sail. She stood, almost straight up in the air, as if taking one last look at the sky before leaning back and slipping gently below the waves.

    Cochino sank in 950 feet of water about 100 nautical miles off the coast of Norway. It was fifteen hours since the fire began. Benitez watched until she was gone. He didn't say a word, not then, not for nearly an hour after. It was only when he began to speak that Benson and Worthington told him that Philo and six Tusk crewmen were dead, their bodies lost.

    Six hours later, Tusk pulled into Hammerfest. Some of the men were taken to the hospital. The others were given a choice. They could fly home to New London, Connecticut, or they could ride back, the rescued and the rescuers, both crews crowded aboard Tusk. Every man who could travel went home on Tusk.

    Cochino's loss made headlines in the United States--and in the Soviet Union. The Soviet Navy newspaper Red Fleet published an article accusing the United States of undertaking "suspicious training" near Soviet waters and of sending Cochino near Murmansk to spy.

    For its part, the U.S. Navy had gone public with the disaster, acknowledging, in effect, that its men and its fragile boats were not yet any match for the treacherous northern seas. Austin's spy gambit had failed, but the Navy had no intention of disclosing that, or even that a spook had been on board at all. When asked to comment on Soviet claims that Cochino had been near Murmansk, officers gave the same answer that the Navy would offer to other such questions for decades to come: "No comment."

    Despite the tragedy, and the initial reluctance of some commanders and admirals, there was no question that the Navy would continue to send subs to monitor the development of the Soviet atomic threat. Just nine days after Cochino was lost, an Air Force reconnaissance plane picked up evidence that the Soviets had detonated a nuclear device. The other side had the bomb. The anticipated threat that had inspired the submarine spy mission in the first place was now real.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 50 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 50 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2011

    Highly recommended

    Provides a very good history of the evolving submarine war and espionage after WWII. History buffs will like it. Gives an insight on what goes on that the public is not aware of. Puts on display those unsung heroes of this country.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2010

    Must read from someone that served on the USS Parche and continues to serve in the Silent Service...

    All I have to say about this book is thank you Sherry and Chris, for being our voice on the things we cannot say because we are bound by secrecy but wanted to say all along. A MUST READ!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 14, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I spy a submarine story unlike no other....

    Unlike the movies which center on submarine tales from either the US, Soviet or German perspective the book really delves into the history and politics of the events that have occurred over the years underwater and above. It is interesting how the spy missions were more and more ramped up during the cold war and the book details this in many respects. A page turner I would not call this book but a very good read if you're into the stories of submarine events between the US and the Soviets from an American perspective. In addition the author does an excellent job in describing the evolution of the subs and the men commanding them as well as those who shaped the policies that ensured the submarine's place in history.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 9, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage

    I finished reading Blind Man's Bluff this week. A departure from my traditional fiction based novels, this book details submarine based spying and counter-spying during the Cold War. Throughout the book I had to keep reminding myself that this wasn't an outlandish functional accounting of American and Soviet naval activity, but in fact entirely fact based. So many of the missions detailed seemed larger than life and too far fetched to be reality. But, just the same they were real.

    This is where the book shines. Each chapter is the result of a mountain of research conducted by the three authors. Declassified Navy reports, political documents, new coverage, and person to person interviews were all used to flush out the facts needed to properly document the history of submarine warfare throughout the Cold War.

    It was shocking to read what the Navy allowed to be reported in the book. It only makes me wonder what else happened out there that no one will ever read about. Chapters cover the entire history of submarine spying staring in 1949 as an early CIA operative joins the crew of the Cochino as it heads for Soviet waters carrying a new antenna design to pull intelligence secrets out of the air.

    Other chapters cover the race for dominance of the worlds oceans as the arms race pits Russia and the United States in a competition to build quieter, faster, and more heavily armed submersible weapon platforms. None of this happens without the loss of life and the authors do an admirable job of educating the reader about the human element every step of the way. Undersea collisions, battery problems, fires, missing ships- you name it, its in there.

    Simply put, you have to read this in order to believe it. Amazing stuff. If America had been aware of the recklessness of many of the Cold War undersea missions, tensions of the time would have been even more intense.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 12, 2008

    A must read if your interested in submarines.

    I am really enjoying this book. I look foreward to going to bed every night just so I can lay down and turn a few more pages. I don't want it to end. It has been so interesting that I just ordered 4 more submarine books about subs of the cold war area from B&N. Very good book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2008

    Well Written, Well researched

    The history buff who says this book is not well written sounds like 'sour grapes' to this writer and literary consultant. The writing is very well done, the pacing is exact, the research is superb and the stories obtained are uniquely placed upon the pages of the book. Not well written - Bah!!!!!!!! Go find a book that ISN'T well written and we'll listen to you, maybe.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2008

    Better Than Fiction

    I am appalled that someone would find fault with the technical writing of this book - I am in awe of the research that had to have taken place in order to write this book. I have worked for the U.S. Government and am aware of the twists and turns that go into the flawed bureaucratic decision-making processes which unfortunately guide our policy administrators. All told, the book is about human beings sending other human beings into harm's way, with the information they had at the time. The amount of money spent on government programs run amok amongst agency conflict and competition was jolting. The book was stunning - I couldn't put it down. (And as a woman, I am pleased that several of the writers of this detailed and technical book about what was essentially a 'man's world' are women!)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2005

    Cold War Danger Lurking Beneath the Seas

    Starting with the nascent Cold War in the late 1940s and closing with recently declassified post-Cold War releases, the book traces American submarine espionage episodes with energy and humor. American submarines were literally on the front lines of the Cold War, where more than a few were lost at sea. The authors follow the first disastrous exploits of American diesel submariners in 1949 as they eavesdrop just off the Soviet coasts for signs of Soviet nuclear testing. Though this first publicly-known incident ended in miserable and tragic failure, American submarine espionage would become a huge endeavor by the Cold War's end. Starting where the Germans left off with snorkeling diesel subs, the American navy began rapidly rebuilding its submarine fleet using nuclear power under the highly controversial Admiral Rickover. Nuclear power largely relieved submarine crews of having to surface in hostile Soviet waters, which allowed them to avoid detection and 'push the envelope' ever further. The authors present most important personalities (such as John Craven, John Bradley, Bobby Inman, Waldo Lyon, and many of the top sub commanders) and their contributions during this critical time. Among the most exciting episodes are the first ever multi-week trailing by Cdr Whitey Mack of the Yankee-class Soviet sub, tapping of undersea Soviet military phone cables, extended depth charging of the USS Gudgeon, and the CIA's misguided epic attempt of lifting an entire sunken Soviet attack sub to the surface from miles beneath the ocean. This book also explains how quickly disaster can strike at sea either between rival subs 'playing chicken' under the sea or how fishing trawlers can be instantly sucked under by subs roaming the deep. An excellent read that will opens our eyes to all we DIDN'T see during the Cold War.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2014

    Excellent

    Dont know why i even picked up this book... much less pay good money for it. Im not a military history fan. Damn glad I did. Fascinating and worth keeping for a second and third read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2013

    My dad found out he qualified for a Meritous Unit Commendation a

    My dad found out he qualified for a Meritous Unit Commendation after reading this book and its back pages. He applied to the Department of Defense, and they sent him the medal.  He says he still has no idea what it's for, but talking about it made him raise his chin a little, and gave his eye a gleeful gleam.  For that gleam alone, I am thankful to the writers for this book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 31, 2013

    A great page turner

    This book relates the long-hidden, and presumably true, history of US submarine espionage before and during the Cold War. How the authors gathered what in large part would seem to be highly classified inside stories remains a mystery, but the suspense, action, and humor that they have put together makes Hunt for Red October seem almost tame. A fascinating and entertaining eye opener.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2013

    A Good Read

    My husband is a retired submariner and a fan of this book. It gives a good look at these sailors' bravery--some might say foolhardiness-- and the sacrifices they and their families made for their country. Well worth the time it takes to read it.

    If your spouse is a submariner, you might want to wait until retirement to open it. Or brace yourself.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 20, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A really good and surprising look at what our navy can do. I rea

    A really good and surprising look at what our navy can do. I really enjoyed this book, even if it came off a little like propaganda at times.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 3, 2005

    Exellent book

    The stories featured in this book seem like something right off the pages of Tom Clancy...but the surprising fact is that they are all true. The book details the secret missions of US Navy submarines against the Russians during the Cold War. It is a great read and will have you rivited until the very end.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2005

    Decent

    This is a pretty good book. It gets a little uninteresting at times, but it has exciting moments too.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 10, 2004

    Interesting topic - Badly Written

    I'm not one for pontificating about standards but I purchased this book as I was interested in its subject matter; as a teenager, the Cold War seemed very personal. The idea of ballistic missiles off the English Coast and destroying my local town was something I was acutley aware of. What we have here is a great piece of historical detective work ruining by some shoddy and sloppy English. This was obviously written by a New York Journalist that doesn't translate outside of the US - I've had to e-mail friends in Michigan to ask then about some of the terms and expressions used in this book! Thanks to the Internet again! Someone in the US ought to read books like this and edit them for the mass English International market and cut out the bad grammer and Americanisms. Then we would have had a book that would have made a significant contribution to the history of the Cold War.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2003

    Just a great book!

    Recently I have joined the Navy and volunteered for submarine duty. After having a discussion with a sergeant in my local police force, a former chief of the U. S. Navy who served on a submarine, he advised me to read Blind Man¿s Bluff. This was the first book about the Navy that I have read so I have nothing to compare it to, but I have to say it was very entertaining and I enjoyed it very much. If you¿re having second thoughts about buying this book ¿ just buy it, you won¿t regret it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2003

    Truly Awesome Book!!

    This book is an awesome book! Blind Man's Bluff takes you inside some of the most secret submarine missions of the Cold War, from the diesel days of Cochino to the nuclear submarines. It includes a great list of submarine awards from 1958 - 1998! If you like espionage stories or just a great nonfiction novel, you will love this book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 18, 2001

    90% Accurate, But Only 60% of the Story

    A good account of part of the story. My dad got me a copy after he had read it and said he 'finally understands why I don't talk about the Navy'! My boat is mentioned in the book by name several times, and I was there for much of it.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2001

    Finally someone says what we have not been able to say!!

    If you want to know the truth this is it. Wow and they missed alot. Submariners have long been quiet about what we did now some one can speak. If you truley want to know what the submarine community did for the United States during the Cold War this book is a must!!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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