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KLIATTTo students of the Cold War, and especially to the US sailors who confronted them, the Soviet Union's huge submarine force was always a specter in the night. Their undersea fleet had been negligible during WW II, and until the mid 1960s it was always noisy and somewhat ramshackle—good enough boats, perhaps, but borderline obsolescent and often limited in their capabilities. Still, they were available in enormous numbers. This reviewer used to take part in some of the confrontations at sea during that period, and even then the sham battles were not all one-sided. By the late 1960s, however, the situation had become much darker. The Soviets began ambitious research programs and their submarine technology drew ahead even as the Americans diverted their attention to Vietnam. Titanium submarine hulls, a luxury the US Navy had never attained, allowed Russian subs to operate at incredible depths and their nuclear reactors became disturbingly quiet. Soviet Alpha-class subs were a deadly threat to our deterrent forces even as their twin-hulled "boomer" missile ships took to the seas. Everything considered, the ultimate disintegration of the Soviet system was a good thing for everyone. The Free World learned a great deal about the Soviet Navy during the years that followed, and a host of disturbing facts came to light. As advanced as the equipment might have been, the training and operation of their sleek submarines were almost Czarist in nature. Ill-trained and resentful sailors, ill-treated officers held in little esteem, and corrupt shipyards often spelled disaster—the number of accidents and tragedies that the Soviet nuclear fleet suffered during the Cold War was absolutely horrific.Most frightening of all were the ill-designed and ill-maintained nuclear reactors and their fuel. Authors Gary Weir and Walter Boyne spent a lot of time interviewing ex-Soviet underseas officers, admirals, and common sailors for this book. From them, they have assembled a disturbing picture of a military structure that valued political loyalty above technical ability, and provided reluctant draftees with only makeshift training, in sharp contrast to the American navy's painstaking approach to maritime competence. This book nicely balances the technical story with the social and political forces at the heart of the Soviets' undersea forces. Enough hair-raising stories of undersea warfare are interspersed with this to satisfy the most bloodthirsty YA readers. KLIATT Codes: SA*—Exceptional book, recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2003, Penguin, New American Library, 354p. illus. notes. bibliog. index., Ages 15 to adult.
—Raymond Puffer, Ph.D.