Sunday, November 15, 2009

Blind Man’s Bluff by Sontag and Drew

During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union played a continuous game of cat and mouse under the seas. Submarines prowled the depths, each seeking to be the spy rather than the spied-upon. In Blind Man’s Bluff, Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew compile first-hand accounts of secret U.S. sub missions that could qualify as thriller fiction but actually happened.

For example, in the early 1970s the surveillance sub Halibut was operating in the Sea of Okhotsk. It was on a mission to tap a Soviet undersea cable, when...

A storm above began boiling beneath the surface. The divers were trapped outside, unable to climb back into the DSRV chambers as Halibut strained against her anchors one moment and slammed into the seafloor the next....Then there was a loud crunch. Both steel anchors snapped at once, broke so easily they could have been rubber bands.

Outside, the divers watched as Halibut began to drift upward. The men were still linked to the submarine through their air hoses. They knew that they would die if Halibut pulled them up before they could decompress. If they cut themselves loose, they would suffocate. Inside, the officer of the deck was well aware of the danger when he shouted a desperate order: “Flood it!” 

He said it a second time. Valves were rolled wide open, and Halibut began to take in tons of water, filling her ballast tanks in a matter of seconds. Belly first, she crashed into the sand. The divers scrambled into the DSRV chamber. 

The horrendous ride was over. But there was no guarantee the submarine would ever be able to break free of the muddy sand.

The book has many such stories of harrowing underwater action. The authors also cover intellectual stories, such as the problem-solving that located Scorpion, a sub that had sunk somewhere along a 3,500 mile swath of ocean.

In sum, Blind Man’s Bluff is interesting and gripping history. I bought it for a long flight and read it straight through.

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