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Journal of Cold War Studies 8.2 (2006) 134-135

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Gary E. Weir and Walter J. Boyne. Rising Tide: The Untold Story of the Russian Submarines That Fought the Cold War. New York: Basic Books, 2003. 367 pp. $26.00.

U.S. and Soviet submarines had important roles during the forty-five years of the Cold War. Rising Tide, written by a U.S. Navy Department historian, Gary E. Weir, and a well-known aviation writer, Walter J. Boyne, claims that "the bulk of what emerges from this book either appears here in public for the very first time or corrects mistakes or partial accounts appearing in other, earlier works that could not benefit from the access Rising Tide had to the men who actually carried out these deeds." (p. xiii) Unfortunately, the work under review does not fulfill that claim.

The most useful and significant aspect of this book is the interviews with several former Soviet submarine commanders, conducted in Moscow by Weir. These are the men who commanded Soviet undersea craft in their encounters with U.S. submarines, who stood ready to launch ballistic missiles against American cities, and who confronted U.S. warships during the Cuban missile crisis—apparently with nuclear-armed torpedoes on board.

The interviews, however, raise the question of whether the authors of such a book owe it to readers to qualify or correct erroneous statements, either in the text or in footnotes. For example, the authors cite Vladimir Borisov, of the nuclear submarine K-181, telling how he sighted the U.S. cruiser Cleveland on a 1966 patrol and how his submarine bypassed the Azores, "avoiding U.S. territorial waters" (p. 117). The cruiser Cleveland was retired in 1947 (and the last of its sister ships in 1956), and the Azores are thousands of miles from the nearest U.S. territorial waters.

Beyond the interviews, the book contains little that is new. Indeed, the authors rely almost entirely on secondary sources, mostly books and articles written by Americans. This is particularly disappointing in view of the vast number of official records and official and unofficial publications that have become available in both Russia and the United States since the demise of the Soviet Union fifteen years ago, and in view of the ready availability of Cold War participants beyond the handful of Soviet submarine commanders who were interviewed.

Even more frustrating are the factual errors that permeate the book. Some are of major significance. For example, the authors contend that in June 1962 Raúl Castro—Fidel's brother who was then (and still is) the Cuban defense minister and senior vice president—suggested that the Soviet Union move missiles into Cuba to deter further U.S. invasion attempts (p. 81). This is incorrect. The origins of that proposal—the cause of the Cuban missile crisis—have been well documented by Soviet participants, including Nikita Khrushchev himself in Khrushchev Remembers: The Last Testament, trans. by Strobe Talbott (Boston: Little, Brown, 1974) and his son Sergei in Nikita Khrushchev and the Creation of a Superpower, trans. by Shirley Benson (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000). Key documents in the Russian Presidential Archive pertaining to the decision were quoted and discussed nearly a decade ago by Aleksandr Fursenko, a well-connected Russian historian who was given [End Page 134] privileged access to that archive, in his "One Hell of a Gamble": Khrushchev, Castro, and Kennedy, 1958-1964 (New York: Norton, 1997).

Technical errors are found on almost every page of Rising Tide. The reader is told that:

  • the giant Soviet T-15 nuclear torpedo weighed 400 tons (p. 35); the actual weight was 40 tons;
  • the U.S. nuclear submarine Nautilus had four backup diesel engines (p. 62); it in fact had only one;
  • the USS Nautilus got under way on nuclear power on 17 January 1954 and was launched four days later (p. 63); it actually got under way for the first time on 17 January 1955;
  • the Soviet Union built six Hotel-class ballistic...