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Guardfish Trails K-184 Part 1

Rear Admiral Alfred S. Berzin

Not long ago I was presented a book "United States Submarines" in which I found an article by Capt David Minton, USN (Ret) named "The Saga of the 1972 Guardfish Patrol". It struck me immediately that the sub David Minton trailed was K-184 being under my command at the time. Let me tell you about that even fr om my side referring to Minton's comments.



Holding the position of SSGN K-184 commanding officer in the Pacific, I used to participate in reconnaissance actions against super carrier USS America, aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga, and nuclear-powered submarine USS Guardfish. That experience came in useful in my further service. When studying in naval college, post-graduate officer course, and the Naval Academy, an officer must gain thorough and deep knowledge of how to conduct reconnaissance, master and be able to use reconnaissance assets practically, analyze obtained information about enemy and draw appropriate conclusions needed for making a decision whether to use torpedoes or missiles or evade (break) fr om enemy's antisubmarine force. This training process must go on throughout service in the Navy, i.e. be continuous. In the peace time, every submarine commanding officer should have an opportunity to practice trailing of potential enemy's surface ships and submarines. In our Navy, every CO must be perfectly aware of the following characteristics of an enemy submarine:

- noisiness;
- sonar capabilities;
- radar parameters;
- typical tactics;
- acoustic countermeasures;
- maximum and low-noise speed;
- maximum allowed depth;
- torpedo and missile arms capabilities.


Project 675 nuclear-powered submarine at naval parade in the Amur Bay. Vladivostok, 80's. "Pacific Fleet 10th Submarine Division: People, Events, Subs". Published in St. Petersburg, 2005. Special issue of the Typhoon Almanac.

On May 9, 1972 nuclear-powered submarine I commanded, K-184 was on patrol for a month in the Pavlovsky Bay. That morning the whole division lined up on parade ground. Division Commander RADM Igor Verenikin greeted and congratulated each crew on the Victory Day, and then servicemen marched past the division command's review stand. After that I went to duty officer and read the intelligence summary:
"Site: Indochina Peninsula. Combat actions against patriotic forces of Indochina were conducted by: aircraft carriers USS Coral Sea, USS Kitty Hawk, USS Saratoga fr om the Gulf of Tonkin (130 nm northward Da Nang); aircraft carrier USS Constellation with 38-ship escort from the site 170 nm southeastward Saigon. One-day air mission: 353 sorties including 256 strike sorties".
Afternoons that day Pacific Fleet was turned into high alert state, and our sub into combat alert. The crew hit deadline, everyone was told to take battle stations but not to start main propulsion plant. Division Commander RADM Igor Verenikin called me to his office and ordered to start both reactors. Then said briefly: "You'll support Viet brothers in South China Sea". Later on, I learned from him that we'll be accompanied by K-45 (Capt 1 rank Yury Ganzha, CO) and K-57 (Capt 1 rank Yury Shipovnikov, CO).


Project 659 lead submarine K-45, commissioned in 1961, armed with 6 cruise missiles

May 10, 1972. By the morning both reactors were brought on line with turbo generators. Operation order was telegrammed and handed over to me along with charted route by Capt 1 rank Mikhail Abramov, division executive officer. I got final instructions from division commander, and then the submarine sheered off quayside and got underway.

David Minton writes:

"In the summer of 1972, the USS Guardfish (SSN 612) was in the Sea of Japan when world events pushed her and her crew into participating in a key event. With the collapse of the Paris peace talks, the war in Vietnam took a more forceful turn on the 9th of May and our troops began to mine Haiphong and other important North Vietnamese ports in order to cut the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) off from sea resupply. A message came to the Guardfish warning of operations at sea on the part of the Soviets in response. The world situation was white hot. No one knew how the Soviet Union would react to the mining. The Guardfish took a position near the Soviet Pacific Fleets largest base at periscope depth. Later that night on the 10th of May, a submarine was sighted visually, intersecting our course at a high speed and heading straight for the Guardfish, which was expecting her. Closer contact allowed us to visually identify the maneuvering black mass as a Soviet Echo II class SSGN. This SSGN, which displaced 5000 tons, was equipped with a nuclear reactor and carried eight surface to surface Shaddock cruise missiles which could destroy targets at a range of 200 miles. The Guardfish followed behind her. Soon the Echo II submerged and took a course to the south-east at high speed. Was this sortie the answer to the mining of Haiphong harbor?"


Cold War adventures, May 1972. From the viewpoint of potential enemy.

May 11, 1972. Depth 100 meters, speed 12.5 knots. We made a 90-degree turn every hour to clear baffle area from possible trailing by an American sub. Our routine activities resumed their natural course. According to intel summary, there were 6 strike carriers and 2 helicopter carriers in Vietnam. At comm session we registered weak signal of AN/АPS-20 radar mounted onboard American ASW aircraft Neptune. We made breakaway maneuver and dived down to 200 meters. Missile officer Capt 3 rank Vladimir Tsymbalenko came to central station in half an hour and reported that cable duct of 6th launch tube was leaking, so the tube was unpressurized. That launch tube had a nuclear missile inside. If being flooded, the missile would be disabled, and that could lead to potential accident. Thus, since the beginning of our mission we were puzzled with that problem. Having listened to reports of missile officer Capt 3 rank Vladimir Tsymbalenko and engineering officer Capt 2 rank Marat Baiburin, I decided to open drain valve of 7th compartment to let water from cable duct of 6th launch tube flow into the bilge. Then we dipped water intake, it was 10 liters per minute. Water was periodically pumped out from the bilge. Besides, I decided to surface and try to stop a hole (or crack) in leaking cable duct. At 3.20 pm we surfaced, raised 5th and 6th launch tubes, and a group of specialists began examining cable duct. Silhouettes of two Japanese fishing ships appeared on the horizon 10 minutes later. We sheered off and at 3.35 pm we detected weak signal of Neptune's AN/АPS-20 radar again. I gave a crash-dive command and told to take a sideway course. Missile officer Capt 3 rank Vladimir Tsymbalenko and engineering officer Capt 2 rank Marat Baiburin reported after examination that everything was working normally, i.e. there were no apparent defects. Thirty minutes later, water began to leak through drain valve of 7th compartment again. I decided to surface in order to deal with leaks. Engineering officer Capt 2 rank Marat Baiburin suggested winding of epoxy-treated bandage round flange joints.



At 8 pm we surfaced to implement his proposal and reported to base about leak in 6th missile tube. Then we received intel summary:
"Aircraft carriers USS Coral Sea, USS Kitty Hawk, USS Constellation are 190 nm northward Da Nang. Strike carrier USS Midway is eastward Saigon escorted by 47 ships. One-day air mission: 369 sorties including 279 strike sorties. In one day ships of 7th Fleet and bomber aircraft twice shelled and bombed Haiphong and Cam Pha ports, Cat Ba Island, and Do-Shon Peninsula. As a result, Soviet motorship Grisha Akopian staying in Cam Pha port was set on fire. Assault landing ship USS Okinawa and escort group are 180 nm northward Da Nang".

David Minton writes further:

"In the course of the next two days, the Soviet SSGN often slowed and was at periscope depth for a long time, evidently receiving additional instructions from HQ. During the trail of the Echo II, Guardfish slowed her speed, significantly increasing the frequency response of her sonar. To the surprise of the crew, they could hear at least two, maybe three additional Soviet boats in the area. To follow three submarines is more complex than just following one, while following four is impossible. The tracking party on Guardfish has concentrated all of its efforts on maintaining contact with the Echo II, which we have already visually identified".


USS Guardfish (SSN-612)

May 12, 1972. Water came out of cable duct of 6-th launch tube through drain valve of 7-th compartment again. With this in view, I decided not to dive deeper than 80 meters. At 6 am we passed abeam the Ulin-Do Island. At 12 am we got to periscope depth to determine location. We were on bearing of 120-250 at 7 nm away from 50 Japanese seiners. Sonar officer Capt 3 rank Vasily Voronin reported that depth finder was out of service. Navigator determined position by sun and Loran A and C. At 4.34 pm we fixed depth finder and safely passed abeam a bank with depths from 9 to 30 meters.

David Minton writes:

"Since the Echo II was proceeding to the south-east toward the exit of the Sea of Japan, as the captain, I had to make two important decisions. First, if it was worth breaking radio silence to report sighting three or maybe even four Soviet submarines. The first task during submarine surveillance operations is to report unusual Soviet vessel deployments as soon as possible after recognition. Those types of reports are known as "critics", and although one had not been sent before, I decided that this was one of those times when Guardfish should break radio silence and inform the CinC about the situation. Second, should Guardfish break off from its surveillance mission and trail the Soviet boat. The orders were silent on this issue. But it occurred to me that the CinC would want to know wh ere the Soviets were going. Since I didnt have enough time to wait for orders, I remembered the motto of our CinC: "The faint of heart don't become heroes" and we pressed on".


Commanding officer of USS Guardfish David Minton, 1972

May 13, 1972. Cloudage 10, visibility 2-5 miles, sea state 3-4. We approached the Korea Strait, 15 miles left to Okinoshima Island. Having found our position by radar's single-sweep mode, we continued at depth of 50 meters and speed of 12 knots. We systematically localized by depth finder. When entering the East China Sea, the water became warmer, + 22 degrees Celsius.

May 14, 1972. We were heading in the East China Sea, close to the site wh ere the Kuroshio Current speeds up to 2.5 knots. Executive officer Capt 3 rank Leonid Shaipov reported on defects found during watch inspection and told his suggestions to eliminate those problems.

David Minton writes:

"Trailing is a complicated task. In order to remain undetected, the boat must determine the position, speed and course of the contact by means of passive sonar. Estimation of range by passive sonar demanded from Guardfish constant maneuvering in order to get changing bearings to the contact. Too close and they can detect you, too far and contact can be lost. These maneuvers usually took place in the baffles, the dead zone behind the stern. Just about hourly the Echo II turned around to listen to this zone. From time to time it was a passive turn 90 degrees so that their sonar could hear everything that was behind her, and sometimes it was pretty aggressive, turning 180 degrees and reversing course, heading directly at Guardfish. This was a very dangerous maneuver and risked collision. When the distance between us shrank, the Echo II had a real chance of detecting Guardfish. Each time the Echo II performed a baffles clear, Guardfish had to guess which way she was turning so that Guardfish could follow her from the opposite side. Additionally, Guardfish quickly slowed while trying to maintain silence so that the Echo II had enough time and distance to come about on her previous course".



May 15, 1972. We entered the Philippine Sea. Then came a message assigning Zone One to us at approaches to the Gulf of Tonkin. The zone's profile resembled a coffin lid. Our companions from K-45 were told to occupy the shoaly Zone Two. We were told to be prepared for use of conventional weapons on command and for self-defense. That night we received a piece of political information: "Officer Kuzmin said he was condemning the America's aggression against Vietnam". Pretty "important" information for a submarine.

David Minton writes:

"Situation reports are often demanded in Washington so that they can determine the Soviet threat level and intentions. President Nixon and his National Security Advisor received these reports every day. Since radio broadcasts from Guardfish sent at high frequency and power could be intercepted and Guardfish's position fixed by the Soviets, we used an alternative way to get the message out. An ASW P-3 made a few secret flyovers to Guardfish's assumed position and received a short message transmitted in UHF at periscope depth or with the help of a SLOT buoy so that Guardfish could remain at proper depth to maintain trail. During this pursuit, any submarine in the Pacific Ocean would immediately re-position to support the carriers operating along the Vietnamese coast and also participate in the search for other Soviet submarines. This created a problem, both for Guardfish and for command. Guardfish was clearly following the Echo II wh erever she went and so command had to move other submarines out of the way so as to guarantee that any other, quieter submarine didn't jeopardize the safety of Guardfish or any other submarines".

May 16, 1972. We kept heading for the assigned area, after passing Okinawa we ascended only two times to periscope depth for radio contact. I called missile officer Capt 3 rank Vladimir Tsymbalenko to central station; he was the most experienced and educated watch officer, and knew his job as no one else did. He reported that 6-th missile tube was okay, and the water leakage from cable duct was not increasing.

To be continued


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