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RISING TIDE: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE RUSSIAN SUBMARINES THAT FOUGHT THE COLD WAR
by Gray E. Weir and Walter J. Boyne, hardcover, 354 pages, with photos. 2003, Basic Books, New York, NY.

A fresh and fascinating look at the submarine operations during the Cold War, from the Russian perspective. The authors interviewed a number of former Russian/Soviet submariners, so parts of the book form an oral history. Other parts look at specific incidents from the "other side's" point of view, including the disaster(s) on K-19, the Cuban Missile Crisis, improvements in Soviet submarine design during the 1970s and 1980s, and much more. It's made clear that the Kremlin's policy toward undersea naval power was to favor fast introduction of new vessels in large numbers over issues related to crew safety or equipment reliability. But this was always how the Soviet military thought and fought, including on land during The Great Patriotic War (World War II to us "Western imperialist-lackey capitalists") -- and Moscow thought it worked for them. Reading RISING TIDE, I have to conclude that the Soviets were right. Their Alfa class, in the 1970s, could go an astonishing 45 or so knots, and had a crush depth far exceeding anything the U.S. Navy owned. They learned a great deal from the U.S. and UK via spies such as the Walker ring and others -- and put that stolen knowledge to good use, to our detriment. Despite popular myths to the contrary, the Russian Navy continues to maintain and deploy a handful of first-rate SSNs, and the range of the missiles on their boomers is so great that they can obliterate targets in America without even having to leave the pier at their bases.

ON WATCH: A MEMOIR
by Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr., hardcover, 567 pages, some photos. 1976, Admiral Zumwalt & Associates, Arlington, VA.

Admiral Elmo Zumwalt became Chief of Naval Operations, the highest active duty uniformed post in the entire U.S. Navy, in 1970. At a time of military stresses due to the Cold War and Vietnam, and of great social change and upheaval in America, for four years he helped shape a vision to make the Navy stay in tune with the country it served, while making absolutely sure it also stayed fully ready to fight. This was a difficult challenge, especially since Watergate occurred while he was CNO, based in the Pentagon, practically within a stone's throw of Nixon's White House and the famous/infamous Hotel. Some of the things that Admiral Zumwalt did were controversial during his tenure -- and some still are to this day. You might need to buy this book used, or borrow it from a library, but it's worth it. Written in the Admiral's own words, he provides a unique perspective on naval affairs at a pivotal time in U.S. history.

COMMAND OF THE SEAS: BUILDING THE 600 SHIP NAVY
by John F. Lehman, Jr., hardcover, 464 pages. 1988, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, NY.

John Lehman was Secretary of the Navy for six years during the Reagan Administration. He played a crucial role on high-level policy at the climax of Ronald Reagan's crusade against the Evil Empire, otherwise known as the Cold War against the USSR. Since it is now known by historians and the public just how important ever-growing U.S. naval power was in bringing down the Soviet Union, this memoir told in Lehman's own words is a must read. (It also makes a great companion piece to Admiral Zumwalt's memoir listed above!) John Lehman was a combat pilot in Vietnam, worked with Henry Kissinger on the National Security Council, and was heavily involved for a while in global arms control negotiations, among other things. Of particular note to submarine fans is that Secretary Lehman was the person who finally fired Admiral Hyman Rickover, the eccentric and sometimes-abusive genius who helped create America's nuclear navy, but who served in uniform until age 82 and had by then more than overstayed his welcome in the Naval and Congressional communities. Lehman's discussion of this episode in itself makes this book worth reading. You might need to buy it used or borrow it from a library, but I strongly recommend doing so. I've heard John Lehman speak in recent years at Navy League functions -- he's a very impressive individual.

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