SILENT STEEL by Stephen Johnson


The Mysterious Death of the Nuclear Attack Sub USS Scorpion
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Dissecting one of the U.S. Navy’s most tragic and perplexing losses and the nearly four decades of investigation that have followed.

Journalist Johnson, who first wrote about the Scorpion for the Houston Chronicle, deals with this unsolved mystery by exhaustively exploring everything known about the vessel’s final year-and-a-half of operation, culminating in its fatal dive in May 1968, about 450 miles southwest of the Azores Islands. The resultant aggregation of events specific to the Scorpion and its crew, coupled with known parallels in the annals of nuclear submarine technology, is a collection of hair-raising possibilities. So shrouded and silent was the Scorpion’s disappearance—at the height of Cold War tensions, when the U.S. jockeyed with the U.S.S.R. for superiority at sea—that families and friends of the crew were awaiting its return dockside in Norfolk, Va., some five days, it turned out, after the vessel had been lost. The author spares no detail in linking some of the snafus occurring during various exercises aboard the Scorpion to distinctly fatal possibilities. Prime among them: weapons glitches, including a “hot run” malfunction in which a torpedo’s engine started while it was still lodged in its firing tube and the inadvertent release of a dummy homing torpedo that, had it been live, could have returned to kill the sub (still favored by some speculators as the likely cause of Scorpion’s loss). Other potential disasters, such as the flooding of a main storage battery with poisonous chlorine gas, can’t be totally ruled out.

Engrossing documentation of haunting, grisly what-ifs.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2006
ISBN: 0-471-26737-6
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Wiley
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2005