This is a story about a secret mission to find a lost Soviet submarine in the great depths of the Pacific Ocean, a mission never acknowledged by the U.S. Department of Defense. Deeply beneath the searching navy of the Soviet Union, the nuclear submarine hunt was so secret that even the men on the vessel never knew the object of their search. The brave exploits of these sailors and their remarkable commanding officer, enduring near-tragedies at sea and nearly-impossible challenges deep under the Pacific, are described by the author who also provides his own personal experiences under the tightest secrecy ever required for a submarine mission. The failures, the near catastrophes, and the challenges are described in personal detail, and the final outcome bringing critical Cold War information to the president of the United States is a saga like none in the annals of submarine exploits.
For nearly three decades, the U.S. Navy has maintained a tight security net around one of the most successful military operations of the Cold War: the treacherous undersea hunt in the late 1960s for a Soviet "Echo" class submarine, carrying nuclear missiles, that had sunk in the Pacific. Recently, the Pentagon cleared Dunham, who helped hunt for the sub, to tell the story, albeit in greatly curtailed form. So much secrecy still surrounds "Operation Hammerclaw," in fact, that Dunham reveals neither the true name of the American sub (here called the Viperfish) dispatched to find the Soviet craft, nor why the mission was so vital. But no matter: Dunham, a physician and medical thriller author (Final Diagnosis, 1993, etc.), spins a tense, nuanced tale that induces squirms of discomfort as he writes of the dangers of life on board a sub, not the least of which is what happens when a sub dives beyond its "crush depth." Interwoven among such terrifying events as a water leak and a man being washed overboard in the darkness are some of the more surreal aspects of sub duty. There is a memorable episode of mass seasickness, for instance, during which the ill celebrate their discomfort by lighting up cigars. Would-be Captain Nemos and other fans of undersea adventure will enjoy this vigorous memoir. Photos.