Rig Ship For Ultra QuietRig Ship for Ultra Quiet

Author: Andrew Karam, Ph.D
Publisher: Temple House Pty/Sid Harta Publishers
Year: 2002
Reviewer: Neal Stevens


     "An emergency deep will get any submariner's attention."

The US fast attack submarine--one could only imagine what John Holland or Horace Hunley would have thought if they could have been transport ahead a hundred years to see what their works had wrought. Andrew Karam's book gives the non-qual and civilian world an unfiltered look at the end product of those early pioneers' vision. Rig Ship for Ultra Quiet chronicles life aboard the USS Plunger over the span of a single patrol. As with most modern era submarine accounts, this is not a war tome. That does not mean Rig Ship for Ultra Quiet is a pleasure cruise. By nature, racing about at flank speed submerged to 600 feet and trailing Soviet subs by sound alone is inherently dangerous. Every man about the vessel plays a role in the success of the operations.

Karam's story outlines the shoreside preparations, the drills, and the exercises conducted in the Cold War era in an orderly and comprehensive fashion. He is a 27-year old Petty Officer, in charge of the Plunger's chem techs. His duties include testing and adjusting the boiler water chemistry and monitoring radiation safety, duties every bit as critical to the sub's survival as navigation and weapons control. Plunger is one of the older Permit-class boats in the Pacific fleet, a complex machine that requires constant attention and maintenance.  That does not spare her from frontline service against the Soviets. Plunger is tasked with picking up a Delta IV leaving Petropavlovsk. Karam manned the time-bearing plot as part of the tracking team. Plunger closed to within less than a mile to trail, occasionally within 300 yards when the Russian boomer reduced speed and drifted. Karam and Plunger follow the Delta all the way into the Sea of Okhotsk, a hotbed of Soviet sonar buoys and ASW activity. Her success is a testimony to the discipline and training of US submarine crews.

Plunger's to-do list is expanded with the task of monitoring Soviet fleet exercises close-up. With a host of Soviet ASW planes, helos, and ships on high alert combing the area looking for American subs, searching diligently for Plunger... she obliges them by deliberating taking the bait and sneaking into their midst, working up fire-control solutions and taking photographs. It's an astonishing feat and Karam does an good job laying it out.

Life aboard a fast attack during peacetime is not all battlestations and crash dives. Karam succeeds in reporting the mundane daily rituals without boring the reader. Amid the fires, events, and casualties there is still room for practical jokes, the kind that the armed services are noted for. During a film an argument erupts over John Wayne's sexual predilections. One crewman baits another with the fact that the Duke was gay. His joke is turned on him when one of the senior enlisted men points out that Wayne played a Navy officer and disparaging an officer's reputation is a punishable offence. The original prankster is taken aback and the episode becomes a running joke that escalates in humor and deed.

The pinnacle of Plunger's operation is "bagging the Akula". The Soviet's premiere fast attack sub, characterized as capable of 688-level stealth. The Akula's job is to hunt American subs. Plunger locates the Akula and maneuvers into her baffles, recording valuable signature sounds for the rest of the US sub force.

One of the subtexts I enjoyed was the attitudes and personal observations by the author. Karam started college and then joined the Navy as an enlisted man. It's clear he was a young man with a sound mind and solid aspirations who was seeking direction. He admits to being at odds with the Navy and its many bureaucracies on many occasions; he also praises the organization for instilling  the discipline he would need to go on to complete his education and obtain his doctorate. A fairly steep climb for an enlisted man but one the Navy helped prepare him for.

The Cold War is history and the mission for the US sub force is facing evolution. Rig Ship for Ultra Quiet is informative, interesting, and a worthy account of the fast attack sub and its Cold War legacy.

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