There’s one amazing story that both the United States and Russia is sharing but their version has been seriously rebutted over the last ten years by researchers especially in the amazing book Blind Man’s Bluff. There’s a lot to this story but I’m going to cover the highlights to make this non-time consuming to read.
During the Cold War (1947 – 1991) tensions were very high mostly between us and Russia. We were extremely concerned about the spread of Communism and we started building a large fleet of submarines including a lot of submarines that had nuclear missiles on board (my submarine had 16). They were built as a deterrent to war not something we wanted to use proactively to attack any country and it certainly has worked for decades. Both China and Russia through propaganda tried to convince their citizens we were evil with a desire to wipe out the rest of the world with our nuclear ambitions. They used this fear mongering to support growing their military to unprecedented levels. It was Russia’s military build-up that helped wreck their economy and cause their Iron Curtain to fall.
In 1968 a Russian submarine carrying nuclear missiles left port to go on patrol. The captain was concerned about this trip because he didn’t know the skills of some of his crew as the mission was put together last minute and there were several people on board he didn’t know.
Their submarine was supposed to contact Navy headquarters at specified times to update them on their location. When they didn’t report in, their headquarters went on alert and anxiously awaited the next check-in time to see if everything was okay. When the time rolled around they once again didn’t hear from the captain. They started considering options which the two most likely were the submarine went down or it went rogue (like the Hunt for Red October), which is even worse because the United States would be able to get ahold of their technology.
A this point much of the Soviet Navy was sent on a mission to find the submarine and destroy it. So now all of a sudden the submarine had the Soviet fleet trying to chase it down. A Soviet sub found the rogue sub and fired two torpedoes at it but missed then they lost contact. They reported back to their headquarters that it appeared the submarine was heading towards Pearl Harbor to defect. By this time our fleet figured out that Russia had lost control of one of their submarines. Our CIA was brought in to help handle the situation (once again just like what happened in the Hunt for Red October), should the defection be legitimate.
The submarine was over 100 miles off the shore of Oahu when an explosion took place that sank the submarine with the entire crew of around 75 sailors dead. So what happened? First of all it did go rogue but not because of the captain. A handful of special agents from the KGB acted like they were members of the crew and boarded the submarine. They were sent by higher-ups in the KGB. We never found out for sure who gave the order but they did determine the head of the KGB knew nothing about it. Their intent was to take over the submarine and go on a mission that would’ve caused a nuclear war.
The mission was to take the submarine to a location where the United States wouldn’t expect them to be so they chose Hawaii a place where if anything bad happened the U.S. would think China was behind it. Their plan was to launch a nuclear missile at Los Angeles then they were going to destroy the submarine. So the KGB agents were planning on committing suicide but the rest of the crew didn’t know what was happening.
If the missile hit L.A. we wouldn’t think Russia had anything to do with it and instead would go after China which is exactly what Russia wanted. Although both of these countries were communist nations they absolutely hated each other.
The KGB’s mission failed as the missile exploded while exiting the hatch…it appeared one of the crew members by then knowing what they were trying to do, sabotaged it. What a brave sailor because he knew what would happen when the missile exploded inside the hull that was right next to him. But he understood how important it was to stop the missile from going off even if it meant the entire crew would die.
The Pacific Ocean was littered with Navy vessels from both the U.S. and Russia as they both wanted to find the submarine that went down...the United States wanted to salvage it if possible while the Soviets wanted to completely destroy it. We found it using sonar and Russia had no idea that we did. We had to make sure there wasn’t a lot of activity around the spot where we found the sub so we acted like we found the Soviet submarine over one hundred miles away from where it actually was which brought in all kinds of Soviet boats and ships to the fake sight which allowed
us to investigate the submarine.
Keep in mind this was 1968 so there weren’t a lot of good options for salvaging something that deep so the U.S. pursued the help of an engineer and inventor by the name of…wait for it…Howard Hughes. His design worked and we were able to look at parts of the submarine and we did find the hatch that exploded (it was the only one opened), so it confirmed the story. We did lose big chunks of the submarine right as we were pulling it out of the ocean because a crane broke.
When the United States finished gathering information they let Russia know where the submarine was for two primary reasons. One is that it would hurt us politically around the world if we took their vessel so Russia appreciated what we did. But one of the main reasons is that Navies across the world have certain ethical codes and one is that all crash sites are considered sacred ground because of the fallen sailors. There were a lot of dead sailors in and around the crash site and the way it works is the men aren’t collected they stay where they lay and burial rites are conducted…just because a country is communist doesn’t mean they aren’t religious.
There were a lot of reasons why the United States and Russia didn’t want this story out. Russia lost a rogue nuclear submarine which doesn’t reflect well on the leadership in their country. The Russian Emperor lost control of his KGB which didn’t look good. The United States didn’t want us to know (especially California), that a Soviet submarine snuck by and almost nuked us. U.S. citizens would lose faith in our military.
There were more reasons than this but you get the picture. Fabricating a story was a better option for them at the time but I’ve got to say after reading their account of what happened that it was a lame attempt of misinformation.
Both Russia and the United States are keeping the top secret records about this incident sealed so the Truth of Information Act isn’t being applied but as usual information always finds a way to get out. By the way, Russia found a picture of the crew on the dock before they went to sea so they were able to figure out who the KGB agents were and who their connections were in the party.
Yet another example of the hundreds of thousands of amazing stories out there that most of us never hear about.