Mutiny: The True Events That Inspired "The Hunt for Red October"


In 1984, Tom Clancy released his blockbuster novel, The Hunt for Red October, an edge-of-your seat thriller that skyrocketed him into international notoriety. The inspiration for that novel came from an obscure report by a US naval officer of a mutiny aboard a Soviet warship in the Baltic Sea. The Hunt for Red October actually happened, and Boris Gindin lived through every minute of it. After decades of silence and fear, Gindin has finally come forward to tell the entire story ...

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In 1984, Tom Clancy released his blockbuster novel, The Hunt for Red October, an edge-of-your seat thriller that skyrocketed him into international notoriety. The inspiration for that novel came from an obscure report by a US naval officer of a mutiny aboard a Soviet warship in the Baltic Sea. The Hunt for Red October actually happened, and Boris Gindin lived through every minute of it. After decades of silence and fear, Gindin has finally come forward to tell the entire story of the mutiny aboard the FFG Storozhevoy, the real-life Red October.

It was the fall of 1975, and the tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States were climbing. It seemed the two nations were headed for thermonuclear war, and it was that fear that caused most of the crewman of the FFG Storozhevoy to mutiny. Their goal was to send a message to the Soviet people that the Communist government was corrupt and major changes were needed. That message never reached a single person. Within hours the orders came from on high to destroy the Storozhevoy and its crew members. And this would have happened if it weren't for Gindin and few others whose heroism saved many lives.

Now, with the help of USA Today bestselling author David Hagberg, Gindin relives every minute of that harrowing event. From the danger aboard the ship to the threats of death from the KGB to the fear that forced him to flee the Soviet Union for the United States, Mutiny reveals the real-life story behind The Hunt for Red October and offers an eye-opening look at the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Truth is not only stranger than fiction, but, in the case of Mutiny, a great deal more interesting. A fascinating, first-hand account that unveils a remarkable historical event with the narrative power of a first-rate thriller."

—Ralph Peters, bestselling author of Wars of Blood and Faith

"Communist Russia was the most incomprehensible, vindictive, evil society on earth, yet the dream of escape to a better life was still there, a shimmering, golden phantasm in a bleak, gray world. Hagberg and Gindin have painted a rich, vivid portrait of men who traded everything, including their lives, for a chance to seize that dream."

—Stephen Coonts, bestselling author of The Traitor

Publishers Weekly

Prolific thriller writer Hagberg (Dance with the Dragon) and former Soviet naval officer Gindin recount the 1975 mutiny aboard the FFG Storozhevoy, a Russian antisubmarine warfare ship, which inspired Tom Clancy's international bestseller. Gindin was a senior lieutenant and chief engineer on the Storozhevoywhen it was seized by Capt. Third Rank Valery Sablin. An idealist who "actually believes the Party line," Sablin intended to sail the ship into the Baltic Sea and broadcast an appeal to the Russian people to overthrow the corrupt Kremlin leadership. He secured the crew's support by promising them "an early out from the navy," and arrested the captain and the ship's officers, including Gindin, who refused to cooperate. Upon hearing the news, Kremlin leader Leonid Brezhnev ordered his navy to "find that ship and sink it." Under attack, the mutiny fizzled and the ship and crew were spared, but the personal repercussions were severe. Another nonfiction account of the Storozhevoymutiny, The Last Sentry, was published in 2005, but the eyewitness testimony of coauthor Gindin justifies a retelling. Unfortunately, tutorials on subjects as diverse as historical mutinies and Soviet executions slow the narrative, and the documentation is bare bones. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

In fall 1975, on the Baltic Sea, Cold War tensions culminated in a mutiny aboard the FFGStorozhevoy. The Soviet antisubmarine warship's political officer (zampolit) believed that Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev's government had strayed from the Marxist-Leninist party line and that he could commandeer this ship, sail into Leningrad's (today's St. Petersburg) harbor, and broadcast a speech that would move the population to action. But when the route to Leningrad came suspiciously close to the Swedish coast, indicating a possible intent to defect, Brezhnev himself ordered the rogue ship to be sunk with all hands on board. Gindin, the FFG Storozhevoy's chief engineer and senior lieutenant, joins with National Book Award winner Hagberg (The Kremlin Conspiracy), to tell the story of these real-life events, which in part inspired Tom Clancy's novel, The Hunt for Red October. The narrative is fast-paced, even gripping in portions. Though the background history in various chapters is rudimentary and incomplete, the story withstands its brief recounting, and the embellishments are worth reading. Highly recommended for all public libraries.
—Harry Willems

Kirkus Reviews
Nonfiction thriller about the Soviet naval mutiny that inspired The Hunt for Red October. Veteran novelist Hagberg (Allah's Scorpion, 2007, etc.) teams with Gindin, one of the officers aboard the ship, who is now a U.S. citizen. FFG Storozhevoy was an antisubmarine frigate, a long, narrow, fast ship designed to hunt and destroy U.S. nuclear subs. In November 1975, the ship was in harbor at Riga, Latvia, being made ready for two weeks of repairs after a six-month cruise. Senior Lieutenant Gindin, at 24 a proud member of the Soviet navy, was in charge of the engine room. Hagberg conveys the barriers Gindin had to overcome as a Jew in the Soviet system while laying groundwork for the plot by Captain Valery Sablin, the ship's third in command. The abundant details about running the ship and daily life in the Soviet navy are sure to please military buffs and techno-thriller fans alike. But at the narrative's center stands the enigmatic Sablin, a true believer in the ideals of Marxism/Leninism who was appalled by the corruption of the Brezhnev-era Soviet Union. Believing that a majority of his fellow Russians shared his vision of a free Rodina (motherland), he planned to sail the ship near Leningrad and broadcast a tape pleading for the bureaucrats' overthrow. At first, his scheme succeeded. He tricked Captain Anatoly Potulniy, the ship's commander, into a locked room and armed enough crewmen to imprison those officers who did not support him. Then Sablin's luck began to run out. His tape, rather than being broadcast, was sent out on an encrypted military channel. One officer escaped to spread the alarm. Whatever chance the mutiny had of succeeding was gone as soon as the Kremlin learned of it.Hagberg manages to build and maintain the suspense even though readers know that the plot's failure is preordained. A little-known slice of Cold War history, as experienced by an insider and vividly retold by an old pro.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780765313508
  • Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
  • Publication date: 5/13/2008
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 381
  • Product dimensions: 6.44 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.35 (d)

Meet the Author

DAVID HAGBERG has spent over thirty years researching and studying US-Soviet relations during the Cold War. During the height of the Cold War, he worked as an Air Force cryptographer. He has published more than twenty novels of suspense, including the bestselling The Kremlin Conspiracy, for which he won the American Book Award, and a string of bestselling thrillers featuring former CIA director Kirk McGarvey, the latest being Dance with the Dragon. He lives in Sarasota, Florida.

BORIS GINDIN was the Chief Engineer and Senior Lieutenant aboard the Soviet anti-submarine warship the FFG Storozhevoy. He is now an American citizen and lives in Stamford, Connecticut.

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Read an Excerpt


The morning of the mutiny the northern winter frost rides heavily on the stiff ocean breezes in the harbor. Not many people are up and about along Eksporta Iela Krastmala Street, which runs along Riga’s waterfront on the Daugava River. Yesterday throngs of people lined up to see the ships of the great Soviet navy on parade to honor the fifty-eighth anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, but on this chilly pre-dawn all of Riga, it seems, is sleeping.

Moored in the middle of the river are fourteen Soviet warships: submarines, destroyers, cruisers, tenders, and frigates, all in parade formation, all respectful of the law and order, peace and prosperity, that serving the Motherland—the Rodina—guarantees. It’s a brave new world over which lies a morning haze of wood and coal smoke from the chimneys of homes of people lucky enough to find fuel to waste in late fall merely for heat.

Aboard the frigate Storozhevoy, moored practically on top of an Alpha-class submarine, reveille has sounded. It is time for the two hundred men and officers to rise from their slumbers, dress in trousers and telnyaschka, the long-sleeved blue-and-white-striped undershirts that sailors wear no matter the time of year, and muster on deck for exercises. But yesterday was a holiday, and the mood this morning is almost universally one of indifference toward routine, yet there is a strange undercurrent of anticipation that has permeated the ship, though only two men know the reason.

The Storozhevoy is a low-slung, sleek warship that even tied up at his* moorings looks like a greyhound at the starting block, ready at a moment’s notice to charge forward, to do battle. At over four hundred feet on deck, he is a third longer than a football field, but with a narrow beam of only forty-six feet, flaring bows, a low-slung afterdeck, and midship masts bristling with radar and Electronic Surveillance Measures (ESM) detectors rising seventy-five feet above the water, the ship looks lean and mean. And dangerous.

Down two decks and aft through three sets of watertight doors, open now, and just forward of the engineering spaces, before the midshipmen’s mess, Ordinary Seaman Pavel Fomenko is sound asleep in his bunk while all around him in the cramped, smelly compartment, called a cubrick, his sixteen crewmates are bustling to get dressed and report on deck.

It is 0700, still pitch-black outside. Standing above Seaman Fomenko’s rack is his boss, chief of engineering, Senior Lieutenant Boris Gindin.

At twenty-four, Gindin is a well-trained officer aboard ship, but he’s young and relatively untested. The new men among the seventeen in his gas turbine section do not know him yet. He has a set of ground rules he learned at the academy and on his other postings, but he hasn’t explained himself. He hasn’t proven himself. He will stand up for them and defend them if the need should arise. But he wants to know that they will behave themselves, that they won’t get drunk, that their uniforms will be neat at all times, and, most important, that they will obey orders.

Riga is still asleep. But the crews aboard the other warships moored in the river are coming awake. From here the city’s most famous structure can be seen. It’s the wooden tower of St. Peter’s Church in Vecriga, the old city. Dating back to the fifteenth century, it used to be the tallest wooden building in the world. Even now, rising seventy-two meters above street level, it gives a view all the way out to the Baltic Sea to the northwest. Tourists climb to the top to see the sights, and lovers make the pilgrimage for luck. For the Soviet sailors the tower represents nothing more than another authority figure. It’s always something or someone, towers or officers, looking down on them, ordering them about, sometimes fostering a resentment in a man that can run deep.

Like today.

His crew needs to obey Gindin, but they do not have to know that he comes from nothing more than a middle-class family from Leningrad. Certainly not rich by any standards, certainly not well connected, certainly not favored by the Politburo or the Communist Party.

They don’t have to know he’s a Jew.

Every morning Gindin is up before his men, so that he can make sure they are ready for their mandatory exercises. In the academy, where he learned gas turbine engineering, he was on the weight-lifting team. He is five-feet-nine and stocky, with the round but pleasant face of a Great Russian, obsidian black hair, and blue eyes. It’s obvious that he’s in better physical shape than most of his men, especially Seaman Fomenko, in part because of the luck of the genetic draw but also because Gindin continues to work out and because officers aboard Soviet warships eat much better than enlisted sailors.

Gindin kicks the man’s bunk. “It’s time to get up.”

Fomenko opens one eye and gives his officer a baleful look. He cannot get up with the others. “My father is an alcoholic and I have a hangover, so you see I cannot get up.”

“I don’t appreciate your joke,” Gindin tells the man. “Get out of bed now.”

Several of the seaman’s crewmates have remained behind to watch from the open door. It is the officer against the new troublemaker.

“I have told you that my father is an alcoholic and I have a hangover. Now go away and let me alone.” Fomenko turns over in bed. He means to disobey a direct order.

Gindin glances at the men watching the unfolding drama. He is not a hard man. He does not have a bad temper, as some of the other officers do. He does not treat his men harshly. But he does expect his orders to be obeyed. This is important to him, and to the ship, and especially to the Soviet navy, to which he owes his entire future.

Gindin throws back the thin blanket, grabs Fomenko by the collar of his shirt, hauls him roughly out of bed, and slams him against the wall. “Do you feel better now?”

“No,” the seaman says. He is provoking Gindin to take the situation to the limit or leave him alone, in which case the men will have won a small battle against an officer.

Gindin smashes the seaman against the steel bulkhead again, this time with much greater force. “How do you feel now?” Gindin asks.

“Better but not good enough.”

Gindin lifts the man’s feet completely off the floor and smashes him against the wall again, his head bouncing off the steel. “How about now?”

“I feel much better, sir,” Fomenko says. He is ready to go on deck for morning exercises.

The seventeen men from the motor turbine division make their way topsides, where they join their comrades. Thirty minutes of exercise every morning, seven days per week, at anchor or at sea, rain or snow or shine. Curiously, despite the bland, monotonous food in the crew’s mess and despite the fact that no matter the weather the men dress only in trousers and cotton shirts, no one gets a cold or the flu. These boys are healthy, most of them from the farms or small towns across the Soviet Union, with iron constitutions.

Every morning after exercises the enlisted men are served kasha, which is a gruel made of hulled buckwheat, and a couple thin pieces of bread with a little butter, while the officers are served a special kasha made of processed oatmeal, cheese, kielbasa sausages, and as much good bread and butter as they can eat.

After making sure that his men show up for their exercises Gindin walks forward to the officers’ dining hall on an upper deck. It’s about twenty-five feet long and half that width, with three long tables and two big windows. It is a bright, airy room, something Gindin appreciates, since his duty station is belowdecks in the machinery spaces. The table to the left is for the skipper, Captain Second Rank Anatoly Potulniy; his starpom, executive officer, Captain Lieutenant Nikolay Novozilov; and the zampolit, political officer, Captain Third Rank Valery Sablin; plus any visiting VIPs.

This is the end of a six-month cruise, which has taken them as far around the world as Cuba, to show the flag, to show support for a friendly nation. Tomorrow the Storozhevoy, which in English translates very unsexily into “large patrol craft,” is scheduled to sail to the Yantar Shipyard in Kaliningrad, where he will undergo two weeks of repairs, and then back to base at Baltiysk, fifty kilometers away.

Gindin’s family lives in Pushkin, about twenty-five kilometers south of Leningrad, and it’ll be good to get home on leave, because he’s just lost his father, Iosif, with whom he was very close. His dad’s death was a real blow, which he is having a hard time dealing with. He wants to be morose, but he can’t let himself slide into self-pity and still do his duties. But two weeks will not be soon enough for him to be with his mother, Yevgeniya, and sister, Ella, who need him.

Boris’s roommate, Senior Lieutenant Vladimir Firsov, is at the breakfast table when Gindin walks in and takes his place. The captain’s not here this morning, but Zampolit Sablin is, and it looks as if he has a fire in his belly.

“Good morning, Boris,” Sablin calls with a lot of bonhomie. “It’ll be a fine day, don’t you think?” He’s got dark hair, a good build, and the kind of face that is always smiling.

Gindin remembers an incident when the ship sailed down to East Germany for a celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of the end of World War II. A parade had just passed by, and everybody on the pier was happy. Gindin and Sablin and some of the other officers went down on the dock, and Sablin scooped up one of the children and held the kid high in the air with a big smile. Everyone was laughing and singing. Sablin was married and had a child of his own, and he liked all children. But Gindin wasn’t married, had no children, and didn’t understand. Except that Sablin has the same happy, excited look on his face this morning as he had in Germany that day.

“What’s with our good zampolit?” Firsov asks. He’s five-nine, with blond hair, a mustache, and a wicked kick on the soccer field. He’s a bright guy. He and Gindin have hit it off.

“He’s always like that,” Gindin says. “He thinks he’s here to save us.”

“From what?” Firsov asks. “Our crazy crew?”

Gindin looks sharply at him, thinking that he was the only one who’d noticed that something strange was going on. Things felt different somehow. It promised to be a bright, crisp weekend, and there was nothing to spoil it. Yet coming up a companionway from belowdecks he ran into some sailors who were in a huddle, having a serious conversation about something. When they spotted an officer coming their way, they broke off.

It was a holiday, when people normally smile and laugh and have happy faces. But this morning Gindin has not seen any smiling sailors; he’s heard no jokes, no laughter.

Only sullenness.

Except from Zampolit Sablin.

The mess steward comes with Gindin’s food. All the officers contribute an extra twenty-five rubles a month for good food, but Gindin has a special relationship with the cook because he controls the ship’s water. It’s the same on all Soviet warships. Some systems in the military seem to work better than others, and this is one of them.

Another involves a pure alcohol, called spirt, which Gindin uses to clean his equipment. It’s 96 proof and when distributed to a friend or to anyone you would like to curry favor with is part of another system that works well.

“After duty we’ll have some spirt,” Gindin suggests to his roommate. “Maybe we’ll figure out what bug Sablin has up his ass.”

Firsov is quick to laugh, and their zampolit, out of earshot, nods his approval. Sablin likes to see his men happy, especially his officers. He has a seemingly genuine interest not only in the crew’s comfort and morale but, curiously, in the ship’s systems as well. All the ship’s systems, mechanical and electrical.

But this morning his mood seems somehow contrived. Maybe false. As if he were afraid of something.

Of what? Gindin wonders.

Copyright © 2008 by David Hagberg and Boris Gindin. All rights reserved.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments     9
Authors' Note     11
Preface   David Hagberg     13
Preface   Boris Gindin     15
The Mutinies     21
Riga     23
The Academy
Cold War Considerations
En Route to Havana
The Finest Navy on the Planet
Defending the Rodina
At the Ready
The Storozhevoy
The Baltic     79
Evening of the Mutiny
Soviet Dogma
To the Midshipmen's Dining Room
The Shipboard Schedule
Sablin's Plea
The Great Soviet Failure     115
The Captain and the Engineer
The Zampolit
Moving Ashore
Building the Storozhevoy
Senior Lieutenant
The Big Lie
The Mutiny of FFG Storozhevoy     167
Potulniy's Arrest
The Officers Divided
The Gathering Storm
The Alarm
The Sword and Shield     225
Escape     239
Nine Ounces     261
The Hunt for FFG Storozhevoy     273
Chain of Command
The Bridge
Chain of Command
Il-38 May-052
The Bridge
Chain of Command
Baltic Fleet Headquarters, Kaliningrad
Tu-16 Badger Flight-01
The Bridge
Big Ears
The Bridge
Chain of Command
The Bridge
Yak-28 Squadron
Yak-28 Squadron
Chain of Command
Su-24 Squadron, Tukums Air Force Base
The Bridge
Su-24 Squadron
The Bridge
Su-24 Squadron
The Bridge
The Bridge
Engine Room
Su-24 Squadron
The Bridge
Su-24 Squadron
The Bridge
Fear Has Big Eyes     363
Afterword     369
Bibliography     379
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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    a tense thriller

    In November 1975, Soviet anti-nuclear submarine frigate FFG Storozhevoy is docked in Riga, Latvia for normal maintenance and repair after six months at sea. Third in command Captain Valery Sablin is appalled by the wide corruption of leading Brezhnev officials and much of the bureaucracy overrun by party hacks including Soviet navy brass. He sees fat cats taking shortcuts with the lives of sailors to pocket money and obtains the best items for themselves and their family. Outraged as only a true believer can be, the Marxist/Leninist fundamentalist decides to take control of the vessel and sail to Leningrad where he would broadcast to the people to overthrown the corrupted. All went well with his plan until the Kremlin learned what he was doing and interceded.------------- This is the real events of the Soviet naval mutiny that led to the novel and movie The Hunt for Red October as related to novelist David Hagberg by then twenty-four years old Senior Lieutenant Gindin, who was part of the crew. The back ground of naval life in the totalitarian superpower is fascinating and well written while setting the stage for the exciting look at the events that happened in late 1975. Although nonfiction and told mostly by the viewpoint of Mr. Gindin though much supported by documentation, Mutiny is a tense thriller that grips readers from start to finish even with knowing the outcome.---------------- Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 16, 2008

    Very interesting, important story, but poor writing

    "Mutiny" is certainly an interesting and important story to be told. I certainly have no reason to doubt or question the facts as presented. However, the eyewitness to the events, B. Ginden, could've used a bit more help in terms of editing and composition. The writing itself is often crude and even boorish in places, and is delivered in a rather unorganized fashion in terms of timeline. The author provides a number of flashbacks into his personal life, upbringing and training (which are certainly vital components of the story). He also intersperses descriptions of Soviet Naval procedures, political policies, naval history going back to Peter the Great, contemporary military strategies and day-to-day shipboard operations that, while also critical to the tale being told, tend to distract the reader from the main story too often to offer a coherent plot. These matters would've been better placed at the beginning of the novel to provide context and background; "sprinkling" these descriptions throughout the main storyline proved more of an annoyance than helpful to understanding the situation. If one is patient enough, this book is worth the time to read it.

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    Posted October 31, 2008

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    Posted October 28, 2008

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