Monday, August 29, 2011

The Battle of Cape Flattery 1982-The World on the brink of War

-Timeline-Summer 1982- Vicinity of Cape Flattery, Washington, U.S. coast... Soviet AGI-believed to be the hydrographic vessel Gavril Sarychev...upon arrival , begins suspicious activity, crew seen dropping many listening devices in the water-anticipating arrival of new U.S.secret weapon, 
the first Trident Ballistic Nuclear submarine, USS Ohio-due to begin sea trials via straights of Juan de Fuca- impending...

The Cape Flattery Incident part one


That was the headline in the Port Angles news paper during the late summer of 1982.
One of the largest "battles" of the cold war involving the bulk of the west coast Minesweeper fleet, was underway right off the coast of Washington state!
It started when the USS Ohio began
sea trials to test the equipment and systems, via the Strait of Juan De Fuca, and Cape Flattery. There was a fly in the ointment, though... A well known Soviet AGI, CCB 468, the hydro-graphic vessel Gavril Sarychev. It is well known that the Soviet navy would routinely deploy transponders in order to aquire an acoustic signatures of our subs.
 It was pretty important for the Ohio to have a "clean getaway,  the problem was that the AGI was operating in international waters.        
This was happening at the height of the Cold War, something young people today will really not be able to understand at all. The world was sitting on the brink of an all out nuclear holocaust...

this was akin to today's global warming , only much much worse because it wasn't a theory, with half the nation in total belief-completely hoodwinked by a political weapon, and half not convinced at, back then the fact remained that the Soviet Union had many thousands of missiles aimed at American cities, and we had many many more than that aimed at them.
Then came the Trident ballistic missile boat USS Ohio.

 A wild card.
The largest submarine in the world, carrying 24 Trident I and Trident II ballistic missiles, capable of MIRV, which means each missile can hit several different targets at the same time, like a giant nuclear shotgun. A weapon designed to truly strike fear in the hearts of our enemies.
 As detailed in the his book, Wooden ships and iron men by David Bruhn,

the USS Pluck joined the MSO fleet on station late in the summer. Engine trouble had kept us stuck in San Fransisco for a time, and we eventually arrived to provide relief for others which had been on station since mid summer. Cdr Bruhn's excellent book has a much more detailed story about the overall incident, but this is my own memory from my own point of view.

 That first night, the Captain ordered the anchor dropped very near the Soviet vessel already at anchorage and was rumored to have told the OOD "if you can hit their hull with a penny, wake me up". This photo was taken by Petty Officer Jeff Jakubic. Note, the Soviet vessel appears to have turned right in front of us, in a very aggressive manner. Thanks to the the expert abilities of our officers and crew, we were able to avoid a ghastly collision at sea. copyright Jeff Jakubic (C1982 )

Thus began "THE GAME" as we eventually called it. At any hour, there would be a General Quarters, (this is not a drill) and we would weigh anchor because "Ivan" was weighing anchor, and we would take off and try to keep up. This was no fun for the engineering department, because the captain was giving orders sure to blow head gaskets, and blow gaskets we did.

This modern Russian TV show shows the Ohio in 1982 (I used this because I could not find American footage of her during that era, although it seems as if they have no shortage of it).

Ohio and her Blue Crew departed on the first Trident Submarine Strategic Deterrent Patrol in October 1982.

Until then, the summer was spent chasing , if you want to call it that, this AGI, and trying to keep them off balance to give the Ohio a clean chance at unfettered access to the open sea without letting the soviets get a good acoustic signature. We witnessed so many strange things that there are too many to list, and besides this blog post would start to look like a tall tale.
Copyright Jeff Jakubic (C1982)

There was the morning that a small prop plane showed up and poured red paint down on the Soviet ship. Word was that they were very unhappy about that, but we had no control over it. Then we awoke in the morning and their entire ship had been freshly painted overnight down to her waterline. She was a rusty, multicolored mess at sunset splattered with red paint, and had a fresh paint job in the morning when the sun came up!
Copyright Jeff Jakubic (C1982)
Some said that we should do a line transfer with them , playboy magazines for their vodka. They looked gaunt and pale, and we wondered if any of them might defect.  If you are under 30, that means to escape.... You would have to look it up or rent "Moscow on the Hudson" starring Robin Williams. Doc Burke (HM1) suggested that we sabotage them by sending them a box of my cherry turnovers, which would "explode " all over them. He used to call them " frags" for this reason. That idea came as a result of a humanitarian mission to send turnovers to another minesweeper crew. After weeks at sea, the USS Excel MSO 439 suffered a freezer malfunction and our C.O. requested that we bake an extra 100 fruit turnovers so we could send them over on the Zodiac because their crew had run out of ice cream, and had run out of ingredients for cake. Copyright Jeff Jakubic (C1982)

Still seething from the paint attack, the Soviet AGI suffered another humiliation, when the Royal Canadian air force Voodoo interceptor jets buzzed their ship close enough that it looked as if the mysterious gadgets high on the mast would be shaved right off. So Captain Ivanovich (his real name according to the Port Angeles news paper) radioed to what he called his "bigger brothers" and the soviets brought in their subs.

This was all related to us through the 'grape vine'. In those days, the signalmen were flashing Morse code between ships, with the signal lights nearly 24/7. This included the Soviets as well. There was a rumor that often the Russian would begin the day by asking our C.O. what kind of game he would like to play today. Copyright Jeff Jakubic (C1982)
Copyright Jeff Jakubic (C1982)
We were involved in "mine sweeping drills" using a "magtail" which outputs over ONE ZILLION kilowatts into the water... , it was such a shame that our mine sweeping training may have damaged some soviet electronic listening devices...

Right around that time, a soviet sub got tangled up in the nets of an American fishing boat, and dragged it backwards. News of this spread like wildfire through the fishing community and all the bars in Port Angeles,Washington. The US Command finally upped the ante and sent in the USS Marvin Shields FF 1066. We were pumped up as well as freaked out because we wondered when and which crazy event would lead to an international incident or worse. We were playing chicken with a steel hulled ship powered by gas turbine engines and twice our size. At most times, they tried to make sure that there were at least two minesweepers on the Soviet ship at all times, but there were many times when one sweep was busy doing "mine hunting" or "Mine sweeping" training, which might have accidentally "damaged" some Soviet acoustic transponders. There was plenty of pulling in front another and stopping. Add dropping the anchor to that and you are playing "crazy Ivan" for real! Ocean going minesweepers have variable pitch propellers, and as a result are highly maneuverable, but this AGI was even more maneuverable. She supposedly had a bow thruster, which is a sideways fan shaped prop to give super maneuverability, especially when docking, or playing chicken with a minesweeper or two. After the Marvin Shields came on scene, the playing field was a bit leveled because she could smoke the AGI on a bad day, and I do mean in many more ways than one. But in sheer speed, a fast frigate is just that- FAST. The Gavril Sarychev could not outrun the Marvin Shields. Not ever. I have many fond memories of smoking cigarettes, and hunkering down between the helm console and the pilot house bulkhead in the middle of the night watching this thing go down, shooting the shit with my buddies. Sometimes I would sneak up to the 0-4 and watch through the big eyes, ( a gigantic set of binoculars) but only when I wouldn't be noticed- and after checking with radio to make sure it was safe.  I wanted to have children some day...) I was supposed to sleep during the day, but I didn't really get a lot of sleep that summer. I was the night baker, as we had three cooks at the time. Jerry Weeks and Tom Delosantos were doing the five and two watch captain in port and 12 on and 12 off at sea, and I baked and did the "midrats" (the meal served before the 0000 watch came on every night. 0000 is midnight. When my dough was rising down in the gally, I was up in the wheel house watching the cold war unfold. I had a front row seat to the closest we ever came as a Navy to engaging the Soviet Union's Navy. This was ironic, since the USS Pluck had been re-designated as a Naval Reserve Fleet ship after service in Vietnam during Operation Market Time. Reserve fleet ships in the days before 911 didn't usually see much action, but here she was along side of all the other Pacific fleet minesweepers and the frigate Marvin Shields taking on the biggest bully in the sea lanes. Gavril Sarychev can be found in many US Navy yearbooks and the incident surounding the downing of Korean flight 007, a Korean Air Lines civilian airliner that was shot down by Soviet interceptors on 1 September 1983 over the sea of Japan. Gavril Sarychev allegedly interfered with an international effort to recover the black box from that airliner. 
Next: The cape Flattery incident part two- Liberty in Port Angeles and Esquimalt,engine room fire, Generators go offline, the captain requests I play Reveille on the fiddle... tune in.

--------------------------- Me, after a long day.

History repeating itself