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Red November: Inside the Secret U.S.-Soviet Submarine War [Hardcover]

Craig W Reed
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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4.0 out of 5 stars The Submerged Past Aug. 12 2014
By John M. Ford TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition
W. Craig Reed presents a series of linked stories from the experiences of submariners (including himself and his father) who served in the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. Some of these accounts are told for the first time because participants have been released from their long-term commitments to keep them secret. Others are made possible because of declassified records made available by security personnel from the former Soviet Union.

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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  96 reviews
48 of 53 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Good grief! Feb. 2 2011
By Ed Martin - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
What a disappointment! Just finished the first 3 chapters and am disgusted with the number of gross technical errors about diesel submarines and their spec-op involvement. The list of errors is too long to itemize. If the rest of the book is as poorly researched it lacks any credibility whatsoever. I served in 8 submarines, diesel and nuclear in my 21 year Naval career and this book looks like it was written by someone who got their information from conversations in a bar. The author is a submariner? You must be kidding. I'm on vacation and have absolutely nothing else to read so I'm reluctantly going to finish the book just to see how bad it gets.
72 of 82 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Non-fiction or fiction? (Updated) May 23 2010
By M. Dobbs - Published on
Other reviewers have commented on numerous inaccuracies in this book, particularly relating to the Scorpion incident. I am not qualified to pass judgment on those matters, but I can talk about the Cuban missile crisis. I am the author of an hour-by-hour narrative of the missile crisis entitled One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War. A few months ago, Mr Reed's publisher invited me to write a blurb for Red November as an expert on the crisis. I declined for two reasons which I communicated to the publisher at the time:

(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.

Michael Dobbs
35 of 40 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A mixed stew of fact and fancy.... May 22 2010
By Timmer - Published on
Mr. Reed has given us a book which appears to lack an overall structure and suffers from extremely poor fact checking and too many editorial errors.

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.
33 of 40 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Sinking RED NOVEMBER May 21 2010
By Love Submarines - Published on
With great reluctance I wrote a review of this book for a national magazine, to be published shortly.

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.


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)
33 of 42 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars No cigar.... too many errors! May 15 2010
By Thomas J. Dougherty - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Of some interest, particularly the sections in which Reed's father, William Reed, is involved in setting up the Boresight/Bullseye program during the early years of the Cold War. Some of this work was featured in an appendix in Craig Reed's previous book "Crazy Ivan". Reed's own experiences as a diver aboard SSNs during the 1970-80's are also of interest, and represent first person experience stories. Other parts of the book seem to be derived from other material, such as Huchthausen's "October Fury" for a description of the activities aboard the four Foxtrot SS during the Cuban Missile Crisis. During this section of the book, he has extensive quotations of dialog that supposedly occurred in the submarine some 47+ years ago! He also seems to buy wholesale (page 279) the largely discredited theories around the loss of the Scorpion in 1968, that it was sunk by an Echo II SSGN. The acoustic records rule out this possibility, as detailed in the review by R.B. Rule.

Curiously, he seems to repeat a tale from his earlier "Crazy Ivan" book about photographing the mysterious pod on the stern upper rudder of the Soviet Victor III class SSN. In "Crazy Ivan", he describes swimming over to the Victor III after locking out of his SSN and photographing the pod close up (and almost being spotted by the Victor crew). In that tale, a disastrous collision occurs between his submarine and the Victor III as the latter is getting underway. Upon returning to his submarine, he is trapped in the forward escape trunk after the collision and almost perishes from lack of oxygen. This time around, on pages 309-317, he is about to lock out to go photograph the Victor III when the collision occurs (due to the US submarine maneuvering), and he is again trapped in the escape trunk. This time, the accident occurs before he get a chance to swim over to the Victor III. As I was unsure which version was the correct one, Mr. Reed has kindly indicated in the comments section below that the present book has the correct version.

His Chapter 13 on the Glomar Explorer/ K-129 is just plain wrong! The submarine was not intact with a 10 foot hole, it was in two pieces as can be seen in photos on Michael White's Azorian web site. The target for recovery was the forward section only. The K-129 did not hit the bottom at 200 knots, nothing falls that fast underwater; plus a 200 knot impact would have shattered what was left of the submarine. The "claw" (actually termed the Capture Vehicle, or CV) had 8 beams and davits, not 5; 3 on the starboard side and 5 on the port side. The K-129 itself was resting on its starboard side on the bottom. All of the beams and davits were engaged under the wreck at the time of the lift, not "3 of the 5". Failure of some of the beams caused the partial loss of the wreck. The HMB-1 barge was never at the mid-Pacific recovery site with the Glomar Explorer, its role was to simply act as a place to assemble the CV, and then transfer the CV into the Glomar Explorer. To accomplish this, the barge was towed to shallow waters off of Catalina Island where it submerged, the roof retracted and the CV transferred through the open bottom of the moonpool into the Glomar Explorer by the Explorer's docking leg system. The barge then returned to Redwood City, Ca. There are quite a number of contemporary sources of correct information on the entire operation.

The book is riddled with factual errors, possibly due (as noted by another reviewer) to overuse of the internet as a "source". Some examples: on page 12, the Cubera (SS-347) spots a "Soviet aircraft carrier" in the late 1940s. In fact, the Soviets had no aircraft carriers at that point, nor for some time in the future. On page 20, he describes the Soviet November class (Project 627) SSN as "secretly training for another top secret mission, sneaking close enough to New York harbor to fire a 27 meter long nuclear torpedo". It is true that the original Project 627 plans called for the submarine to have a single huge bow tube (which was also almost 5 feet in diameter!) to fire such a massive, long range T-15 thermonuclear torpedo, but the plans were changed in 1954, and the class built with eight conventional 21 inch diameter bow tubes. Hey, you can't cram a 27 meter (actually, the plan was for 23.5 meter length; but that's still about 75 feet long) torpedo with a 5 foot diameter into a standard tube!

Next page (21) we are told that the "several Zulu and Golf class boats could now hurl 3,200 ton nuclear warheads at the United States from over a thousand miles away". Well first, the warheads didn't weigh 3,200 tons-the entire submarine and missiles didn't displace 3,200 tons. Second, the earlier R-13 missile had a range of roughly 325 nm, and the later R-21 (carried by the Golf II class) had a range of 750 nm (even the internet has that right!). On page 62, we learn about John Arnold, who "had previously served aboard the USS Scorpion (SS-278), a diesel boat that almost collided with a Soviet November class nuclear submarine". Great, except Scorpion (SS-278) was sunk in early 1944 with all hands on her fourth war patrol. Reed also lists the torpedo warheads on the Foxtrot submarines during the Cuban Missile crisis as "15 megaton". In fact, the only Soviet nuclear torpedo of that era, the T-5 torpedo, had a ten kiloton yield. A 15 megaton fusion device would still be quite large (especially in 1962!), requiring considerable amounts of lithium deuteride and would not remotely even fit inside the limited diameter of a torpedo. I could go on, but you get the idea. Clearly he needed someone to do some serious fact checking for his manuscript!
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