Posted: 3/1/2001 11:09:41 AM EST
Thursday, March 1, 2001
Sub Crew Tells of Cold War Mission
By PAULINE JELINEK, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON--They kept silent for 23 years. But on Thursday, members
of a U.S. submarine crew finally told about a top-secret mission some
believe may have hastened the end of the Cold War.
In the 1978 mission dubbed "Operation Evening Star," the
nuclear-powered fast-attack submarine USS Batfish detected a Soviet
submarine armed with 16 nuclear missiles and bound for America's East
The Batfish tailed the Soviet submarine for 50 days without being
detected, collecting valuable information on how the Soviets operated,
said Batfish commander, Retired Rear Adm. Thomas W. Evans.
"It was tedious at times," Evans said of the mission that left South
Carolina on March 2, 1978, and lasted 77 days.
Though it wasn't the first mission to follow the Soviets, nor the
last, it was one of the more successful, and information on it has been
declassified by the Navy.
"We knew exactly where that submarine went on an hour-to-hour basis,"
Evans told a press conference at the Smithsonian's National Museum of
American History. He said the mission tracked the Soviet's route and
mapped the area the Soviets were patrolling.
The press conference was held by Smithsonian magazine, which
publishes in its March issue the first story of the Batfish mission, by
author Thomas B. Allen.
In the article called "Run Silent, Run Deep," Allen says the mission
was intended to supplement air and other methods of tracking at a time
when the Carter administration's detente with the Soviets was wearing thin
amid concern about Soviet missile submarines cruising off both U.S.
The Batfish was 300 feet long, 32 feet wide and could dive to a depth
of more than 800 feet.
Evans attributed the success of the mission to the experienced crew,
to the Batfish design that made it "extremely quiet" and to a then-new,
extra-sonar system that was dragged behind the American sub, making its
sonar detection superior to the less-advanced and more noisy Soviet sub.
The U.S. Navy named the Soviet submarine a Yankee class.
The U.S. technology meant the Batfish could get close enough to the
hear the Yankee, but not close enough to be heard by it, Evans said. He
usually hung back 7,000 to 10,000 yards.
Fifteen days into the mission, on March 17, 1978, the Batfish
detected the Yankee at the north end of the Norwegian Sea some 200 miles
above the Arctic Circle, Allen said.
Evans said that during the 50 days, the Batfish temporarily lost
track of the Yankee only twice. Once was during a bad storm that kicked up
wind and waves, creating too much background noise on the sensitive sonar.
Another time, Allen says, the distracting noise came from a fishing
fleet that passed over head with its rumbling diesel engines and whining
hydraulic winches that are used to work the nets.
By then, Batfish sonar technician Daniel Lawrence had figured out the
Yankee's "acoustic signature," and could relocate it without too much
trouble after the distractions passed.
"Each submarine has its own acoustic characteristics," Evans said,
like "when you hear Frank Sinatra over the radio you don't have to be told
it's Frank Sinatra, but you know who it is."
Likewise, technicians got to know the sounds of the
Evans said the Soviets never knew they were followed until they
learned it through espionage -the infamous Walker spy case.
Retired Navy Warrant Officer John A. Walker Jr. pleaded guilty in
1985 along with his son, Navy Seaman Michael L. Walker, 22. He admitted
passing secrets to the Soviets while he was a shipboard communications
officer and, after his retirement, by recruiting his son, brother and a
friend to provide fresh information.
U.S. intelligence officials later came to believe that when the
Soviets learned about missions like Operation Evening Star, they realized
their submarines were vulnerable and embarked on a budget-draining attempt
to catch up that eventually contributed to the end of the Cold War, Evans
The Navy last year declassified some information about the Batfish
-and a similar 1972 mission -so the information could be used in an
exhibit at the National Museum of American History honoring the centennial
of the U.S. submarine force.
And what was his top-secret order, had the Batfish determined Yankee
was about to fire a nuclear missile?
"Only the captain had those orders sealed in his safe," said Evans,
the captain. "And they remain classified today."
Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times
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