Silent Steel: The Mysterious Death of the Nuclear Attack Sub USS Scorpion

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Praise for Silent Steel

"The magnitude of the tragedy of the USS Scorpion is matched only by the depth of the mystery surrounding her loss. Stephen Johnson has done a remarkable job of shining new light on this dark moment in U.S. submarine history."
—Sherry Sontag, coauthor of Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage

"What happened to the USS Scorpion? The question has vexed submariners for almost four decades. Now, with meticulous research and ...

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Overview

Praise for Silent Steel

"The magnitude of the tragedy of the USS Scorpion is matched only by the depth of the mystery surrounding her loss. Stephen Johnson has done a remarkable job of shining new light on this dark moment in U.S. submarine history."
—Sherry Sontag, coauthor of Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage

"What happened to the USS Scorpion? The question has vexed submariners for almost four decades. Now, with meticulous research and incredible attention to detail, Stephen Johnson examines and dissects one of the most tragic and mysterious submarine accidents in U.S. Navy history."
—Douglas Waller, author of Big Red: Inside the Secret World of a Trident Nuclear Submarine

"Stephen Johnson has crafted a forensic masterpiece that leads the reader back through time to unravel the gnawing enigma of the tragic 1968 loss of the nuclear attack submarine USS Scorpion. Sifting through a maze of conflicting theories, he meticulously lays out a tale of undersea detectives searching for conclusive evidence to one of the most baffling mysteries of the cruel sea."
—Rear Admiral Thomas Evans, author, analyst specializing in submarine history and operations, and former officer on the Scorpion

"The manuscript arrived with yesterday's afternoon mail. I finished reading it by nightfall. It's that good! Thoroughly researched, impeccably documented, with an appealing and literate style, Silent Steel should become essential reading for submarine enthusiasts and for anyone else who enjoys an engaging and informative yarn."
—A. J. Hill, author of Under Pressure: The Final Voyage of Submarine S-Five

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Silent Steel ably succeeds as a thriller, a tragedy, a mystery and a snapshot of history." (The Virginian-Pilot)

"Johnson exhaustively explores everything known about the vessel's final year-and-a-half of operation. An engrossing documentation of haunting, grisly what-ifs." (Kirkus Reviews)

Johnson painstakingly details the last 18 months of the Cold War–era fast-attack nuclear submarine U.S.S. Scorpion, which disappeared with all hands on May 22, 1968, in the mid-Atlantic. Commissioned in 1960, the Scorpion tested nuclear sub warfare tactics in exercises around the world until its final voyage following four months of duty with the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean. When the ship didn't emerge at its homeport of Norfolk, Va., on its scheduled arrival date of May 27, 1968, the navy launched its largest search in U.S. naval history and reported the ship and its 99 crewmen officially dead on June 5. Four months later, the navy located pieces of the ship's hull in more than 10,000 feet of water. Further investigations came to no definitive conclusion about what caused the demise of the Scorpion. Was it a Soviet attack? Did one of the Scorpion's torpedoes accidentally detonate? Did its hull crack due to poor maintenance? Did its main storage battery explode? Mining navy documents and first-person testimony, Johnson's deeply researched effort explores these and other possible explanations, but concludes that the ship's end will remain an enigma. (Jan.) (Publishers Weekly, October 31, 2005)

Publishers Weekly
Johnson painstakingly details the last 18 months of the Cold War-era fast-attack nuclear submarine U.S.S. Scorpion, which disappeared with all hands on May 22, 1968, in the mid-Atlantic. Commissioned in 1960, the Scorpion tested nuclear sub warfare tactics in exercises around the world until its final voyage following four months of duty with the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean. When the ship didn't emerge at its homeport of Norfolk, Va., on its scheduled arrival date of May 27, 1968, the navy launched its largest search in U.S. naval history and reported the ship and its 99 crewmen officially dead on June 5. Four months later, the navy located pieces of the ship's hull in more than 10,000 feet of water. Further investigations came to no definitive conclusion about what caused the demise of the Scorpion. Was it a Soviet attack? Did one of the Scorpion's torpedoes accidentally detonate? Did its hull crack due to poor maintenance? Did its main storage battery explode? Mining navy documents and first-person testimony, Johnson's deeply researched effort explores these and other possible explanations, but concludes that the ship's end will remain an enigma. (Jan.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Dissecting one of the U.S. Navy's most tragic and perplexing losses and the nearly four decades of investigation that have followed. Journalist Johnson, who first wrote about the Scorpion for the Houston Chronicle, deals with this unsolved mystery by exhaustively exploring everything known about the vessel's final year-and-a-half of operation, culminating in its fatal dive in May 1968, about 450 miles southwest of the Azores Islands. The resultant aggregation of events specific to the Scorpion and its crew, coupled with known parallels in the annals of nuclear submarine technology, is a collection of hair-raising possibilities. So shrouded and silent was the Scorpion's disappearance-at the height of Cold War tensions, when the U.S. jockeyed with the U.S.S.R. for superiority at sea-that families and friends of the crew were awaiting its return dockside in Norfolk, Va., some five days, it turned out, after the vessel had been lost. The author spares no detail in linking some of the snafus occurring during various exercises aboard the Scorpion to distinctly fatal possibilities. Prime among them: weapons glitches, including a "hot run" malfunction in which a torpedo's engine started while it was still lodged in its firing tube and the inadvertent release of a dummy homing torpedo that, had it been live, could have returned to kill the sub (still favored by some speculators as the likely cause of Scorpion's loss). Other potential disasters, such as the flooding of a main storage battery with poisonous chlorine gas, can't be totally ruled out. Engrossing documentation of haunting, grisly what-ifs.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471267379
  • Publisher: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 1/6/2006
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.44 (w) x 9.63 (h) x 1.06 (d)

Meet the Author

Veteran journalist STEPHEN JOHNSON first wrote about the Scorpion in a series of articles for the Houston Chronicle from 1993 to 1995 and assisted documentary makers and authors researching the disaster, including the authors of the bestselling Blind Man's Bluff. Johnson has discussed the Scorpion on Nova's Submarines, Secrets, and Spies and on The History Channel.
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Table of Contents

Preface.

1. Returning to Duty.

2. Weapon System Accuracy Trials.

3. Into the Breach.

4. Preparations.

5. Rota.

6. The Mediterranean.

7. The Final Month.

8. Waiting in the Rain.

9. The Initial Search.

10. Death Rattle.

11. Controversy.

12. The Inquiry.

13. Trial Horse for a New Overhaul Concept.

14. Ishmael.

15. Scorpion Phase II Operations.

16. The Last Investigation.

Epilogue.

Officers and Crew of the USS Scorpion.

Bibliography.

Index.

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2006

    Remembering a ¿Silent Warrior¿ and her heroic crew¿.¿Sailors Rest Your Oars¿

    Not one to normally review books, I felt compelled to review Silent Steel today, the 38th anniversary of the USS Scorpion¿s demise. It was 38 years ago, families and friends had watched her depart from Norfolk¿s pier 22 on February 15th, and I later, in March, watched from the pier at Rota, Spain as the USS Scorpion left on her way to her deployment in the Mediterranean. After the Scorpion had retrieved her last mooring line, and had backed away from the pier, I remember listening to the muted voices of the Maneuvering Watch coming from inside the tall slender fairwater, but little did I know that 3 months later I would hear of the loss of the ninety-nine men, the Navy¿s finest, along with the loss of their boat. It was beneath a cover of darkness, at Rota that this ¿Silent Warrior¿ began making her way, gliding effortlessly toward the opening in breakwater, ultimately leaving the safety of the harbor. With the vivid memory of Scorpion and her crew members along side of the Rota pier, where I was stationed onboard a Fleet Ballistic Missile submarine moored next to the submarine tender USS Canopus, it was hard to believe what had happened to this impressive submarine, and her heroic crew. Stephen Johnson¿s book is a lasting tribute to the ninety-nine Scorpion crewmen and their families, and truly ¿places a human face¿ on the Scorpion tragedy. With the countless interviews with the crew¿s family members, ex-crew members, and friends, he has put together a historic account of events leading up to, and surrounding the Scorpion tragedy. Various crewmember photos haunt various pages intimately connecting the reader with the crew, their escapades in the Mediterranean, and their relentless need of equipment maintenance onboard their doomed submarine. The book¿s Bibliography is impressive by shear volume alone. Although the book does not provide the exact cause, the author provides many scenarios, any of which, singularly, or chained, could have spelled disaster for the submarine. I strongly recommend Silent Steel to everyone! It is almost guaranteed that the reader will have trouble putting this book down! Al Clemens - May 22, 2006

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 11, 2010

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