Lee Vyborny and Dan Davis’ AMERICA’S SECRET SUBMARINE
Book review by Dennis D. McDonald
AMERICA’S SECRET SUBMARINE tells the story of the NR-1, a tiny deep diving Cold War nuclear submarine that was kept under wraps for many years. The NR-1, the brainchild of Hyman Rickover, could crawl across the ocean floor at incredible depths and, because it was nuclear powered, could remain submerged indefinitely (or at least or at least till the crew’s food supply ran out).
As much as I love submarines I have never heard of the NR-1. I do remember we had the ability during the Cold War to "plug into" the undersea cables used by the Soviet Union for transmitting top-secret naval mission data. While the book doesn't go into any detail about such missions specifically, enough is described by the authors of the NR-1’s capabilities to explain how we probably did that.
Author Vyborny was one of the first crew members of the tiny sub -- six crew members to run a nuclear sub! -- and was with the program even before the sub’s keel was laid. He describes working with Hyman Rickover who, stated bluntly, was a royal pain in the ass about getting his way when it came to the nuclear Navy.
Even though we're talking about technology from the 1960s and 1970s here (for example, the computer that was used to run the sub and the nuclear reactor could probably be replaced by a modern smartphone) the ventures described here are perfect examples of how truth can be stranger than fiction. Examples include:
- Searching for a lost F-14 and Phoenix missile on the ocean floor.
- Sneaking the NR-1 into the Mediterranean to escape Russian snooping.
- What happens when the nuclear reactor shuts down automatically in the midst of gale winds.
- Cutting away cables tightly wound around the ship’s propellers.
- Fighting a fire by flooding the ship with CO2.
- Standing watch at night in a gale when surfaced when your head is only 7 feet above the ocean’s surface.
- Sneaking the wives on board so they can see where their husbands work.
What emerges from reading this book is, warfare or not, what we ask our service people to do day in and day out can be downright dangerous and scary. We always need to keep that in mind when making decisions that impact them and their families.
Review copyright (c) 2016 by Dennis D. McDonald