Red November: Inside the Secret U.S.-Soviet Submarine War Hardcover – Apr 26 2010
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“This history of the cold war beneath the sea reads very much like a thriller.... For serious submarine buffs, a feast.” (Booklist)
“Red November is palpably gripping and packs the excitement of a real-life thriller. I felt like I was literally on-board a submarine in the middle of a hair-raising mission and on the brink of World War III.” (David Morrell, bestselling author of The Shimmer)
“If Tom Clancy had turned The Hunt for Red October into a nonfiction thriller, W. Craig Reed’s Red November might be the result…. Not to be missed!” (James Rollins, bestselling author of The Doomsday Key)
“This is an astonishing and important book…. Red November is a book that anyone with an interest in espionage or clandestine naval operations should read.” (George Friedman, author of America’s Secret War and The Next 100 Years)
“Red November delivers the real life feel and fears of submariners who risked their lives to keep the peace. Smart, detailed, and highly entertaining, this is a story everyone should read.” (Steve Berry, author of The Paris Vendetta)
“Red November is a terrific, real-life thriller, filled with larger than life warriors, technological wizardry, undersea games of chicken, and a civilian world perched unknowing on the brink of push-button nuclear destruction.” (Barry Eisler, author of Fault Line)
From the Back Cover
The world came close to annihilation during the Cold War—a sobering fact known to few besides the warriors engaged in the forty-six-year conflict. In this riveting new history, former U.S. Navy diver and fast-attack submariner W. Craig Reed provides a thrilling narrative of the tense underwater dramas and covert espionage operations that brought the United States and the former U.S.S.R. to the brink of nuclear war on several occasions.
Riveting and eye-opening, Red November offers an intimate look at the lives of those who participated in our country’s longest, most expensive underwater war during one of the most dangerous eras in world history. Reed provides never-before-revealed details about some of the most dramatic episodes of the secret conflict—from the harrowing underwater cat-and-mouse chase in October 1962 that almost kicked off World War III to the desperate hours when the USS Seawolf sat grounded by engine failure at the bottom of the sea during an espionage mission in Soviet waters.--This text refers to the Paperback edition. See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
The book’s stories include:
- How American technicians invented new technology to locate Soviet subs after their adversaries switched to “burst” radio transmissions.
- How close some sub commanders came to launching torpedoes at enemy ships during the Cuban missile crisis—and starting a war between the superpowers.
- The role that a military family’s pet bear played in advancing submarine detection technology.
- How a U.S. sub installed and maintained a tap on an underwater Soviet military communications cable.
- The Soviet espionage that allowed decryption of U.S. communication codes.
The book achieves a balance between technical detail and good storytelling. Readers are taught enough about sonar, radar, and other technologies to understand the relative advantages of U.S. and Soviet systems at different stages of the Cold War. Reconstructed dialogue produces a sense of in-the-moment urgency in encounters between ships and subs from opposing navies. The author is careful to distinguish fact from speculation when investigating the final hours of several subs that did not return from their missions.
Reed’s book is informative, entertaining, and intriguing. Anyone who enjoys a good military or espionage thriller should find it rewarding.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
(1) Large sections of the book appear to contain invented dialogue, e.g. conversations between Soviet submarine crews at the height of the missile crisis, unsupported by any documentary evidence.
(2) The claim that Mr Reed's father, William Reed, personally briefed President Kennedy in the White House at the height of the missile crisis on anti-submarine intelligence operations strikes me as highly implausible. I have been through White House records very thoroughly for October 1962, and can find nothing to support this claim. If true, at a minimum, William Reed's name should have shown up in the White House gate records kept by the Secret Service which are publicly accessible at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston. I invited Mr Reed to provide supporting evidence that his father had visited the White House during the missile crisis but he was unable to produce anything beyond family conversations.
Since writing this review, I have had an exchange of emails with Mr Reed. This has prompted me to take a more detailed look at the sections of his book that deal with the Cuban missile crisis. There are numerous easily demonstrable errors of fact in these chapters. To cite just one example, wrong positions are provided for all four Soviet submarines that were tracked by U.S. intelligence in the vicinity of Cuba. In some cases, Mr Reed provides locations for the submarines that are more than 500 nautical miles from their actual locations. Please see the comments section for further details.
I stand by my original conclusion: there is as much fiction in this book as non-fiction, making it worthless as a reliable historical source.
Three of his chapters reveal heretofore unpublished details of Naval Security Group (NSG) activities during the 1960s from his father's personal reminisces. The author combined the information from these family experiences with what appears to be historical research on NSG activities during the 1960s-1970s, providing the reader with a good, if a bit overhyped, view into these "Black" arts that will probably remain officially classified for another 50 years. From this "meat", the stew is despoiled by two chapters regurgitating the conspiracy theory nonsense of Offley, Sewell and others concerning the K-129, Project Azorian/Jennifer, and the loss of USS Scorpion. A large percentage of his discussion on K-129 and Scorpion is dated, incorrect, erroneous, or conspiracy-theory speculation.
Most of the book consists of submarine SpeOps (special operations) sea-stories told to the author by some "200" sailors interviewed for this book. Unfortunately, the author appears to have had insufficient personal experience or general knowledge of the technical and naval activities of the Cold War to separate truth from fiction in these stories, which the author offers up as "fact" in the wide-eyed innocence of a 14-year old virgin.
For example, on page 11 - in a story concerning the penetration of Sevastopol's harbor by a US submarine, the author reports that the entry across the "Dardanelles" had a Soviet iron gate, as if the Dardanelles was the at the mouth of Sevastopol's harbor. Later on page 12, he tells of this same US submarine going deep within the Sevastopol's harbor and avoiding Soviet ASW efforts by dodging between ancient buildings 300 feet below the surface of the harbor. Both these inanities come from a Machinist Mate 3rd Class source who was aboard the submarine at the time, but who certainly had no access to the periscope on that mission. This unreliable hearsay is "supported" by the author in the notes for this chapter, referencing a Ballard expedition into the Black Sea which reported a mud-and-dabble hut found off shore the Crimean at a 300-foot depth. The author would have us believe that a 7,000 year old mud hut from the area supports this bar-talk from a man who had no access to any actual sighting, and who was uneducated as to the location of the Dardanelles.
On page 1, the author talks about the Soviet fleet in May of 1952 as "...including ballistic missile submarines..." -- WRONG -- over three years later, on 16 Sep 1955, the Soviet ZULU SSB "B-67", launched the first ballistic missile ever fired from a submarine. Ballistic missile submarines did not join the Soviet navy as operational units in any numbers (ZULUs, GOLFs, and HOTELs) until over half a decade later.
Another story, on page 16, - referring to the "fall of 1953" - the author states that ---"Six SOSUS stations were now deployed..." WRONG - the first station activated was NAVFAC Ramey, Puerto Rico, commissioned Oct 1954 and the first six NAVFACs were not operational until sometime in 1955 as can be verified within 60-seconds of internet research.
Practically every sea-story contains many such errors of fact -- errors that the author swallowed whole, in open credulity, without editing for error, exaggeration, or the effects of the fourth whiskey or the eighth beer. To call this book "non-fiction" is mislabeling.
More than anything else, Red November is a collection of submarine sea-stories with all of their gee-whiz and zap-bang moments --told by participants who exaggerate their own knowledge and/or the veracity of memories from 40 years ago. Red November may be entertaining but it is not informative in its present state -- full of factual error and patent nonsense.
The opening section, about Mr. Reed's father and his work for the Naval Security Groups--the Navy's communication intercept system during the Cold War--was very interesting. But when Mr. Reed got to the subject of submarines--U.S. and Soviet--the text was inundated with errors of fact, distorations, and illogical statemnts. Indeed, there were several pages, while discussing the loss of the Soviet missile submarine K-129 and its attempted salvage by the CIA lift ship Glomar Explorer, in which EVERY PARAGRAPH CONTAINED AN ERROR OF FACT.
This book contributes nothing to our knowledge of submarine operations during the Cold War except for the section on National Security Group activities. And, in the latter portion of the book, when Mr. Reed relates those activities to submarine losses, he again builds error upon error.
ADDED COMMENT * ADDED COMMENT * ADDED COMMENT
Several comments have been made about the naval officers who had a letter (Comment & Discussion) in the August issue of the Naval Institute Proceedings about my very negative review of the book Red November, which appeared in the June 2010 issue of the Proceedings. Those comments have neglected to include the FIRST paragraph of the commentary signed by those officers:
"Mr. Polmar rightly points out many specific errors of detail. Indeed, from our knowledge, the book is full of errors of fact. From that perspective we are reluctant to appear to lend credence to it as a historical work."
The most senior officer to sign that commentary, a former Director of Naval Intelligence, a few days earlier had sent me an e-mail that stated: "I can only say that your rather negative review was too charitable. It is one of the sloppiest books I have ever read. Full of mistaken facts [examples delete here], uncorrobrated sea stories, and out-and-out BS."
Further the unidentified "SubVet" who has been adding comments to one-star reviews on Amazon has called me a "know-it-all... who never served." I wore a uniform for almost four years in service of my country. Second, I would match my knowledge of submarines against Mr. Reed's any day or night. To be specific: (1) I have been to sea or on board submarines of the U.S., Soviet, British, Dutch, Swedish, Israeli, and German Navies; (2) I have been an advisor or consultant on submarine issues to three U.S. Senators, the Speaker of the House, two CNOs, and three Secretaries of the Navy; (3) I have participated in or directed several classified studies of submarine issues; (4) my analysis of the SSN-21 program for the Under SecDef (Fred Ikle) was a key contribution to the later decision to cancel the Seawolf submarine program; and (5) I have had more than 100 hours of one-on-one discussons with Soviet submarine designers, builders, and COs--among them the directors of the Rubin and Malachite submarine design bureaus, the chief designer of the Typhoon SSBN, the deputy chief designer of the Alfa SSN, and Admiral Chernavin, CinC of the Soviet Navy and a veteran submariner.
Can the (unidentifed) SubVet tell us his experience in submarine issues, programs, operations---and writing?
Norman Polmar (and I do love submarines)
the book by his son.....replied with a single word when asked about the exploits
of William Reed........HOGWASH! Typical sugar-coating and diplomacy, by a former
high ranking officer.
William Reed, nor Karamursel, were ever involved with the discovery
of the 'sub burst signal;' and he certainly had nothing to do with the analysis of the signal.
The two individuals who accomplished those deeds, were both awarded the Navy Commendation Medal.
Those individuals who were engaged in the original search, and those who became instrumental in
getting the project(s) off the ground ('58-'65); were known as the Clarinet Bullseye task unit, and were awarded
the Navy Unit Commendation, for their participation. Boresight, which Reed mentions repeatedly; came to an end, when the GRD6 sites received the sub systems associated with Boresight (60-61), and attention turned to the sub systems for the FRD10 (Bullseye).
Reed also claims to have been instrumental, in 1961-1962, of traveling the world to oversee the construction of the Navy FRD10 (CDAA) system, and associated sub-systems. The Navy let the contract for the construction of multiple FRD10's, in late 1959; at least a year before Reed claims he 'found the burst signal,' and two-years before
his claim that McNamara approved a 'crash program,' to place CDAA's worldwide. The first operational Navy FRD10 (Hanza, Okinawa), went online in late 1962. The first Bullseye sub system was installed in late '62, and became operational in early '63.
Reed at least got one thing correct. This was a highly compartmentalized project, from day one, and Reed's statement that he went aboard a Turkish submarine ('62), to test sensitive equipment; is absurd. In 1962, the Navy was moving 'sensitive equipment' and tasks out of Karamursel, to Bremerhaven, Germany; as the Turkish Government was demanding 'total access' to the Navy operating spaces. The Navy was in the process of withdrawing both coverage, equipment and personnel, from Karamursel.
There are some additional 'fictional exploits' told by William Reed in his original Internet manuscript (circa 2001), that have been woven into Reed Jr's book.
I won't comment on the exploits of Reed Jr; as I'm not a submariner. I'll leave the task of determining whether his exploits are fact or fiction to those who have served on, and are more familiar with submarines and submarine duty.
But I can echo the statement of the NSGA historian, when it comes to the 'claimed exploits' of William Reed. HOGWASH!
The recently released book by Ted Widmer/Caroline Kennedy (Listening In), contains the transcripts of recorded meetings in the Oval
Office during the Cuban Missile Crisis. There is no mention of a William Reed, attending any of the meetings, nor a transcript showing
that he ever briefed JFK. Maybe the CD's (included with the book) will reveal additional information, but I seriously doubt it.
More evidence that this book is based more on fiction, than fact!
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