Published: Air & Space Power Journal - Winter 2006
The Last Sentry: The True Story That Inspired The Hunt for Red October by Gregory D. Young and Nate Braden. Naval Institute Press (http://www.usni.org/press/press.html), USNI Operations Center, 2062 Generals Highway, Annapolis, Maryland 21401-6780, 2005, 288 pages, $28.95 (hardcover).
For those who don’t recall, Tom Clancy’s novel The Hunt for Red October told the story of a vessel of the Soviet navy, under the old communist regime, that tried to defect to the West. The Last Sentry provides readers the true story behind Clancy’s premise by recording events that occurred aboard the Storozhevoy, a Krivak Frigate that tried to change the old Brezhnev-era Soviet Union, as it sailed from Riga in Latvia, then a Soviet satellite state in the Baltic. Some individuals in the Soviet KGB, Communist Party, and the West believed that the ship and its crew attempted to defect to Sweden, but the truth, as always, is a bit more complex.
In 1975 the ship’s political officer, Valery Sablin, the third-ranking officer in the Soviet naval hierarchy at the time, had become so disillusioned with the party and Premier Leonid Brezhnev in particular that he decided to launch a revolution from within by sailing the Storozhevoy into the Baltic and broadcasting a manifesto to persuade the Soviet populace to overthrow or change the regime. As authors Gregory Young and Nate Braden describe quite clearly, he was influenced by the revolutionary behavior of Russian naval officers who mutinied in 1905 after the disasters of the Russo-Japanese War. The most remarkable part of the story is that a political officer—not one of the other ship officers—decided to mutiny. During the takeover, a select group of enlisted and warrant officers locked up the captain and tried to sail out of Riga harbor, into the Baltic, and then on to Leningrad. Most Western readers will be disappointed to learn that Sablin had to no intention of going to Sweden but that he wished to instigate radical change in the Soviet Union by overthrowing Brezhnev. The KGB executed him for his role in the mutiny.
Young, a Naval Postgraduate School student, managed to unearth the facts of these events with the help of recently released Soviet-period KGB documents. Up to that time, most of the details of the mutiny had remained unknown, and reports of the incident in the open press were wrong. So-called experts could only guess at what had happened. Even the Swedish intelligence service, which possessed excellent intercept facilities, could not pierce the fog surrounding the events.
Unfortunately, The Last Sentry does not provide sufficient information about Soviet life during the Brezhnev years, which would allow readers to understand the circumstances in which Sablin reached his difficult and heroic decision. Nevertheless, historians and analysts should find this Cold War text useful to their reevaluations as more facts about that era emerge. And, of course, it is a must-read for aficionados of Tom Clancy.
Capt Gilles Van Nederveen, USAF, Retired
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
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