Book Review: Scorpion Down

In 1987 I was an intern at IBM Federal Systems Division in Manassas, VA. I was working on testing the software for the AN/BQQ-5D bow-mounted spherical array sonar system for the SSN 688 Class (Los Angeles) fast attack nuclear submarines.

This was shortly after Tom Clancy had written The Hunt for Red October, one of my favorite books of all time. In fact, my "interview" for the internship was almost entirely a discussion about the book and how realistic a picture Clancy had painted of the Los Angeles’s sonar system. 

I learned a lot while working at IBM. 99% of what I learned was cool facts and history about submarine warfare from the ex-Navy submariners who were working with me during our testing of the system. The other 1% I learned was the only thing that had anything to do with my future career: I learned I didn’t want to work for IBM.

In any case, the experience solidified my interest in submarines and now I read just about anything I can about them.

Last night I finished Ed Offley’s Scorpion Down: Sunk by the Soviets, Buried by the Pentagon: The Untold Story of the USS Scorpion.  Here’s my take:

Not a great book. It does provide a useful history about the Scorpion tragedy, but does not do a good job of making the authors’ case that the Soviets sank her with a torpedo. Too many of the points Ed uses to try to prove his theory are simply not backed with solid evidence.

For example, a key element of his theory is derived from his assertion that the US found the Scorpion’s wreckage in early June 1968 with the help of the Soviets. He implies that the only way the Soviets would know where the Scorpion was is if they had something to do with sinking her. However, his only "proof" that the Soviets told the US her location was an interview in the 1980s, with a US Navy Admiral who had retired in 1963, 5 years before the incident. I can think of dozens of scenarios where an old Navy admiral could have "heard" the Soviets helped the US locate the Scorpion. For example, knowing how Navy guys love to shoot-the-shit I can imagine poker game in 1969 where this Admiral and his buddies were speculating on the demise of the Scorpion and someone said "I bet we knew where she was because the Ruskies told us!".  This Admiral later recalled the "speculation" as fact.

This is one example of several I noticed in the book that left me skeptical that there is really any proof the Soviets sank the Scorpion.

I will say, however, that Mr. Offley does make a strong case for the US knowing the Scorpion was lost before they official say she was and that they found her wreckage before they officially said they did.

So the real title of this book should be "Scorpion Down: We don’t know why she sunk, but we do know the Pentagon lied about when they knew".

Someday, hopefully, the Navy records of the incident will become declassified and we’ll know for sure. But for now, I’m not convinced.

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

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