The Time World Came Close To World War 3 (The Real Life Hunt for Red October)


In The Hunt For Red October, a 1990 film based
off a 1984 book by the same name, the entire Soviet fleet mobilizes to hunt down a renegade
submarine on its way to defect to the United States. In command of the most advanced submarine
in the world and armed with a stealth electromagnetic drive that made it invisible to sonar, Soviet
Captain Marko Ramius sets course for America with the Soviet fleet in hot pursuit. What follows is a tense standoff between the
Soviet and American fleets as the US suspects the incoming Soviet fleet may be the spearhead
of a surprise attack in what will become World War III. The Hunt for Red October may have been a spy
and political thriller based on fantasy, but unbeknownst to the West, an eerily similar
situation played out behind the Iron Curtain of the Soviet Union just nine years before
the release of the novel. On November 9th, 1975, while the Soviet Union
celebrated the 58th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, a plot was being set in motion
that nearly drove the world to the brink of World War III. That day the Soviet state-of-the-art destroyer
Storozhevoy docked in the port city of Riga, capital of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic. The ship had been open to public tours all
day, and now with the evening festivities in full swing, half of its crew had been excused
for shore leave in order to join in the celebrations. Left aboard the ship was the ship’s Zampolit,
or political officer, Captain Third Rank Valery Mikhaylovich Sablin. As the ship’s political officer, Sablin was
second only to the Captain himself, and his responsibilities were to see to the general
welfare of the crew as well as overseeing their political education. This made Sablin well liked by most of the
crew, when they had problems back home he was the man they went to go see, and because
his chain of command was completely outside that of the regular soviet navy’s, there was
little fear of repercussions if they brought private complaints to him. His position gave him regular access to the
crew, while most of the rest of the Soviet officers maintained a distance from the regular
enlisted men. This not only made Sablin popular, but gave
him a great deal of influence amongst the crew- and as the ship’s official political
officer, he was largely in charge of shaping the political ideology of each and every man
aboard the Storozhevoy. The son of a Soviet Colonel, Sablin had grown
up in the Soviet upperclass- a concept which Soviet style communism was supposed to do
away with, but Stalin’s implementation of true communism had always fallen well short
of the mark. Yet despite his privileged upbringing, Sablin
displayed a genuine care for the rest of the crew, which was mostly made up of conscripts
from poor farming villages or the lower classes living in the cities. These were exactly the people that Soviet
policies had exploited and oppressed, Stalin having completely perverted Lenin’s original
dream of a classless society built on equality. Now most of them were forced to serve military
terms in the Soviet military, were they received little pay, poor food, and terrible accommodations. Yet unlike most political officers, Sablin
spent the twice weekly mandatory political lessons the crew were forced to endure actually
listening to the men. When they brought up complaints, instead of
towing the party line and parroting propaganda, Sablin agreed with the men. This made him well liked and trusted by the
majority of the crew, to the point that they would bring deeply personal problems to him
directly, such as conflicts with other crew members or troubles back home with a girlfriend,
wife, or parents. While the Storozhevoy was a state-of-the-art
destroyer with impressive anti-air and anti-submarine capabilities, its crew performed less impressively
than its equipment. An article in the Soviet military newspaper
Krasnaya Zvesda had been critical of the Storozhevoy, naming it in an article that claimed its crew
was poorly disciplined. It also said that many ‘comrades’ were lapsing
on the ‘ethical front’, and “taking up liberal positions in the fight for purity of the heart.” It went on to name several officers, to include
Sablin, as being unable to explain why the ship’s crew suffered so many problems, and
ended with a call for the ship to do better and for its crew to “carry their party cards
next to their hearts”. What all this meant in non-propaganda terms
was that the ship suffered from serious morale problems, and while its weapons and other
systems were cutting-edge and highly sophisticated, its crew was treated poorly and thus performed
just as poorly. Meanwhile, it was Sablin’s job to try to keep
morale up while educating the men on the virtues of Soviet-style communism. On that November 9th, 1975, the many problems
of the Storozhevoy would come to light as political officer Sablin held a secret meeting
with the remaining crew. The system had failed them he said, corrupt
party officials had used their power to enrich themselves and the grand Revolution of so
many years ago had all been for naught- the Czars may have been overthrown, but dictators
had taken their place and Lenin’s dream of equality had been corrupted. But today they could act to set things right,
they could take advantage of the patriotic zeal spurred on by the Revolution day celebrations
and broadcast a message to the people directly, calling them to rise up against the corrupt
government that oppressed them. Sablin proposed that the crew mutiny and seize
the ship, sailing it out of the Bay of Riga and to Leningrad through the Neva River, where
they would moor alongside the museum ship Aurora which was a symbol of the Russian revolution. There, just outside Leningrad, Sablin would
broadcast a revolutionary message directly to the people, saying publicly what he believed
the Soviet people were too afraid to say themselves: socialism and the motherland were in danger,
threatened by corrupt party officials who sought only to enrich themselves. The plan was risky, the moment the Soviet
navy detected the Storozhevoy leaving Soviet waters it would fear that the ship was trying
to defect to the West and give chase. It might even attack the ship directly, and
if the crew were caught they would no doubt be imprisoned and likely executed. Sablin then proposed a vote amongst the senior
officers left on the ship, with eight officers in favor and seven against it. The seven who were against the mutiny were
locked in a compartment below the deck, and the Captain was lured to a separate compartment
by Sablin claiming that drunk officers needed to be disciplined, only to be locked in as
well. The remaining crew needed to be won over now,
and with a fiery speech he won the crew’s support, exciting them with talk of revolution
and a future full of new possibilities. Any who did not wish to join in the revolution
were locked away without violence, but unbeknownst to Sablin and the rest of the crew, one of
the officers who had voted in favor of the mutiny had secretly snuck away. He ran across the docks to a guard post and
warned the soldier there that the crew of the Storozhevoy was planning to mutiny and
sail the ship out of port, but the soldier on duty refused to believe the officer, believing
him to be drunk from the festivities. Though the original plan had called for the
Storozhevoy to set sail in the morning with the rest of the fleet and then break away
once in international waters, the discovery of the missing officer forced Sablin to act. Fearing that they would be imminently discovered,
Sablin ordered the ship to set sail under the cover of darkness and within minutes the
3500 ton ship had slipped out of port. As the ship reached the mouth of the Daugava
River at 3 AM, another sailor who was secretly opposed to the mutiny jumped overboard. Swimming to the far shore in icy-cold water,
the sailor managed to pull himself up onto the beach and run to a nearby road. There he tried to flag down passing cars,
but none of them stopped, assuming yet another drunken sailor who had over-celebrated the
holiday. Finally making his way to a public phone,
the sailor called the duty officer at the Bolderia Naval base in Riga and informed him
that he had something very important to say but he could not do it over an unsecure line. The sailor requested a car be sent immediately
to pick him up, but the officer on the other end of the line feared yet another drunken
sailor pulling a prank and thus refused. The sailor then had to walk back to naval
headquarters on foot, giving the Storozhevoy a two-hour head start. Even when the sailor arrived to report in
person however he was greeted with disbelief. Skeptical officers attempted to contact the
Storozhevoy via radio but received no response. Rear Admiral I.I. Verenkin, Commander of the Rigar Naval station
was also skeptical of the claims of mutiny, and no contact with Moscow was made until
another sailor aboard the Storozhevoy sent out a message on the emergency frequency,
saying “Mutiny onboard the Storozhevoy; we are heading for open sea.” This message sent the Soviet naval command
into chaos, with senior officers trying to ascertain the veracity of the message and
draw up contingency plans for recovery of the vessel. Every minute they wasted the ship inched closer
to international waters, and to certain international embarrassment for the Soviet Union. The message meanwhile had been detected by
the Swedish Armed Forces as it had been broadcast uncoded and in clear Russian, which prompted
the Swedes to alert their own forces and closely monitor the situation. Fearing that the Storozhevoy was intending
to defect to the West, two recon aircraft were immediately launched from the outskirts
of Riga, along with nine other surface ships who gave chase. Yet the Storozhevoy was sailing with its radar
turned off, which made it very difficult to locate but put it at risk of collision with
another ship in the icy fogs of the Baltic Sea. As the ship got to within a few dozen nautical
miles of Soviet territorial waters, the decision was made to turn the radar on for safety-
these waters were heavily trafficked by civilian vessels, and a collision would be disastrous. The decision to turn on the radar though immediately
alerted Soviet aircraft to the ship’s location, and with the ship only 12 miles from international
waters, several soviet bombers and fighter-bombers bore down on it. Flying low and slow, the aircraft ordered
the ship to “lie dead in the water”, and promised that the crew would not be punished
and their crimes pardoned if they reversed course and set sail back to the Soviet Union. After it was clear that the crew was not going
to change course, Soviet command gave the order to attack the ship- better to lose a
state of the art destroyer and its crew than to risk international embarrassment and the
possible transfer of sensitive technology to the West. Yet even with an order to attack the ship,
some of the planes refused to do so, their pilots refusing to attack fellow comrades. Eventually the planes carried out their orders
save for one, who’s crew turned around and returned to base, its bomb load unspent. For the planes that attacked, at first they
fired shots with their heavy cannons across the bow of the ship as a warning, and bombs
were dropped in a circle around the vessel, the pilots trying to avoid damaging the ship
or injuring its crew. Despite being armed with very modern anti-air
defenses, Sablin gave an order that the crew were not to fire on the aircraft attacking
them, as he would broach no violence against his fellow servicemen in the name of their
revolution. Soviet forces meanwhile were in full disarray,
all being carefully monitored and recorded by Swedish radio and radar operators. By now the rest of the fleet had caught up
with the Storozhevoy, and the lead ship of the pursuing forces was mistaken as the Storozhevoy
by one of the attack aircraft, which attacked it with cannon and rocket fire. This ship would end up suffering more damage
than the Storozhevoy and would have to limp back home for repairs. Onboard the Storozhevoy though the rudder
had been damaged which made steering the ship difficult. With aircraft raking the ship with rockets
and cannon fire, the conspirators began to lose heart, and gradually the ranks of the
mutineers shrank. Eventually, Sablin agreed to surrender the
ship, wishing no more violence to befall the men he had led in a bid to ignite the spark
of revolution. At 0800 hours, the ship was boarded by Soviet
marines, though control had already been restored to the formerly imprisoned Captain. For his role in leading the mutiny, Sablin
was court-martialed in June 1976 and found guilty, then summarily executed on the 3rd
of August, 1976. His second-in-command during the mutiny, Alexander
Shein, received an eight year prison sentence to be served in one of the Soviet Union’s
infamous gulags. The rest of the crew who had feared certain
imprisonment were released from military service, Soviet authorities fearing that a mass-incarceration
would spread the story of the mutiny far and wide and possibly incite other mutinies across
the military. Instead each sailor was strictly warned to
never speak of the incident again and sent home, their service in the military over. The Swiss meanwhile kept the secret of the
Storozhevoy’s mutiny for decades. Initially fearful that the incoming ships
and aircraft may have been the opening moves of a new world war, the ensuing drama was
deemed potentially damaging to Swiss/Soviet relations, and thus all radio and radar records
of the mutiny were classified secret. For decades the world would know nothing about
the attempted mutiny, and though Sablin’s revolution may have failed before it even
began, the Soviet Union would collapse just two decades later. Well that’s the story for today, folks! If you found this interesting, make sure you
check out our other video, American Soldier vs Russian Soldier! See you next time!

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