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  • Red Star Rogue: the Untold Story of a Soviet Submarine’s Nuclear Strike Attempt on the U.S.
  • Robert G. Smith
Red Star Rogue: the Untold Story of a Soviet Submarine’s Nuclear Strike Attempt on the U.S.. By Kenneth Sewell and Clint Richmond . New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005. ISBN 0-743-26112-7. Photograph. Maps. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. 320. $25.00.

In 1968, K-129, a submarine of the Soviet Pacific Fleet, sank in deep water off Hawaii. The vessel was eventually retrieved at considerable cost by the U.S. government. Around these facts the authors of Red Star Rogue have fashioned a book that claims that K-129's mission was to launch a nuclear guided missile attack on the United States. But there is more. Sewell and Richmond go on to entertain the hypothesis that the submarine was masquerading as a Chinese vessel, with the intent of starting a war between the U.S. and China.

The authors have put together what at first glance seems a fairly tight legal brief in support of their thesis. Its starting point is the alleged desire on the part of the "hard-line" faction in the Soviet leadership gathered around Mikhail Suslov to eliminate the growing ideological and military threat from Mao's China. Suslov's solution to this problem presumably was to start a war between the United States and China by launching a nuclear missile against an American target from a Soviet submarine, the K-129, decked out as a Chinese craft. The authors speculate that Suslov and his co-conspirators may have gotten the idea for this ploy from evidence of American fears of a Chinese sneak attack contained in secret U.S. documents sold to them by U.S. Navy Warrant Officer John Walker.

Much of the new material in the book is said to come from conversations with former Soviet officials and naval personnel. It is claimed that U.S. sources familiar with the incident also agreed to speak to the authors. However, all of these interviews appear to have been either off the record or without attribution. A review of memoirs by key figures from this period, moreover, fails to corroborate in any way the scenario that the authors have fashioned from these conversations.

The evidence presented can at best be charitably described as circumstantial. The authors contend that material in the missiles on board the K-129 conformed to a [End Page 622] type used in the Chinese nuclear program, neglecting to mention that this material was actually Soviet in origin, having been provided to help the Chinese upgrade their nuclear arsenal. A second line of argument concerns the fact that the K-129 apparently did not adhere to a number of standard operating procedures and had a number of non-navy personnel on board when it set sail. This attempt to portray the submarine as a rogue vessel under KGB control fails to take into account the fact that the K-129 was equipped with a number of new systems and was conducting sea trials at the time she went down. The mysterious strangers aboard the vessel could well have been technicians observing its shakedown cruise.

Finally, Sewell and Richmond would have us believe that their case is clinched by the fact that the U.S. government still refuses to declassify the documents surrounding the sinking of the K-129 and its recovery. In other words, they seem to be saying, if their thesis can't be disproved, it must be true. Once this speculative, albeit interesting, piece of fiction has been digested, however, we are still left with only one indisputable historical fact, that the K-129 sank.



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Print ISSN
pp. 622-623
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2010
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