Tom Clancy had longed to write a thriller ever since he was a young man majoring in English at Loyola College in the late ’60s. Although Clancy was a devout patriot, severe myopia prevented him from serving in the Vietnam War, and the need to support his family forced him put his literary ambitions aside and take up a career selling insurance. But in 1976, Clancy read an unconfirmed report in The Washington Post about a mutiny aboard the Soviet frigate Storozhevoy, and his impulse to write returned. “That mutiny rattled around in my head for years,” Clancy recalled.
In 1982, Clancy found more details about the Storozhevoy incident in a master’s thesis he discovered in the U.S. Naval Academy library. That thesis, “Mutiny on the Storozhevoy: A Case Study of Dissent in the Soviet Navy,” was written by Lt. Greg Young, who was studying for his master’s degree in national security affairs. After reading it
, Clancy wrote to Young asking for permission to use some material from it…
and for Young’s help in locating unclassified source material on antisubmarine warfare.
Lt. Young’s thesis illuminated a fascinating incident that occurred
toward the end of the decades-long period of tensions between the US
and the Soviet Union. In November 1975, the Soviet anti-submarine
frigate Storozhevoy tried to escape to Sweden as the first stage in an
attempt to instigate a military coup against the Communist Party
leadership, which had long been bankrupting the nation with Cold War
military spending while ignoring the most basic needs of citizens. The
ship’s deputy commanding officer and political officer, Captain Valery
Sablin, led the attempted mutiny. Sablin didn’t have to kill anyone to
accomplish this feat ¬– he actually talked eight of the ship’s officers
into helping him with his plan. Then, on the night of the mutiny,
Sablin showed the crew the classic film The Battleship Potemkin, which
dramatizes a real mutiny that occurred in the tsarist navy in 1905.
Afterward, when Sablin announced his plans to the ship’s enlisted men,
almost all of them sided with him.
Alexander Shein, one of the Storozhevoy sailors who supported
Sablin’s plan, later recalled, “I asked Sablin how he planned to deal
with this dissatisfaction throughout the country. He said that he
wanted to take the ship out of Soviet territory and into international
waters and send a telegram to Navy Headquarters making specific
demands. Then, when he had accomplished this, he’d go on radio and
television with an appeal to create a new party and social order.”
Though Captain Sablin was able to get the Storozhevoy across the
Soviet border and 21 miles toward Swedish territorial waters, the ship
was intercepted by Soviet aircraft and forced to return to base. Sablin
was tried by the Supreme Court’s military wing, found guilty and
sentenced to death by firing squad.
The Storozhevoy rebellion provided Tom Clancy with the inspiration to write his first novel, The Hunt for Red October,
although he admits to taking a great deal of dramatic license. “My book
has a historical foundation,” Clancy acknowledged, “but it is a work of
Years later, Storozhevoy crew member Alexander Shein still admired
his brave captain. “Every society needs noble spirits,” he said.
“Without them, no society can move forward. Captain Valery Sablin was
that kind of noble spirit.”
Patricia Blake, “One of Their Subs Is Missing,” Time, 3/4/85
“Upheaval in the East; How the Mutiny on Red October Sub Really Happened,” New York Times, 3/1/90
“Real-Life Red October,” Time, 3/12/90
D. Young & Nate Braden, The Last Sentry: The True Story that
Inspired The Hunt for Red October, U.S. Naval Institute Press, 2005
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