ALL HANDS DOWN by Kenneth Sewell

ALL HANDS DOWN

The True Story of the Soviet Attack on the USS Scorpion
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Convincing argument that the 1968 sinking of the nuclear submarine USS Scorpion, long considered an accident, was the result of a Soviet attack.

Although not the first to level this accusation, Navy veteran and nuclear engineer Sewell and Tom Clancy stand-in Preisler (Tom Clancy’s Power Plays #1, 2004, etc.) make a compelling case, buttressed by research in Soviet archives and interviews with retired officers. Espionage plays a central role in the Scorpion disaster, thanks to traitorous John Walker. The authors recount the oft-told but still mind-boggling story of this junior officer at submarine communications headquarters who sold secrets to the USSR. (He would not be suspected for nearly two decades, until an angry ex-wife informed on him.) Soon after Walker enabled the Soviets to decipher coded American submarine communications, a Soviet missile sub on a still-unknown mission near Hawaii sank with all hands in February 1968. Two weeks later, a spy reported that a damaged U.S. submarine had arrived in Japan. Soviet files reveal and interviews confirm that high Soviet officials believed it had deliberately sunk their vessel, perhaps by ramming. In revenge, they torpedoed the Scorpion on May 27, killing 99 men. Blaming the Soviets would have exacerbated the Cold War, so the Navy’s official inquiry quickly dismissed that idea and the Navy spent its time investigating theories involving complex mechanical failures. The authors deliver an engrossing overview of American and Soviet submarine operations, including an unnerving number of encounters that could have ended in shooting. They provide capsule biographies of the Scorpion’s captain and many of its crew, their families and their friends. Serious readers may skim the fictional recreation of the sinking, but few will be able to resist the juicy details offered about this half-forgotten disaster and its aftermath, including the boasting of old Soviet admirals that they would have won World War III because they knew every move the U.S. Navy made.

A satisfying historical whodunit, redolent with Cold War paranoia and tragedy.

Pub Date: April 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-7432-9798-1
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2008