Between August 1945 and December 1991, the United
States and Soviet Union built 936 submarines, 401 of which were
nuclear powered. Of this total, the Soviets built more than 650,
building at least 50 identifiable classes in all. In Western
intelligence reports and in published sources, speculation prevailed
regarding the true capabilities of Russia's underwater warships, much
of which has been disproved since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Since the early 90s, submarine buffs have eagerly awaited a definitive
book on the design and construction of submarines during the Cold War.
Written by American naval analyst Norman Polmar and former submariner
and technology analyst Kenneth J. Moore, Cold War Submarines: The
Design and Construction of U.S. and Soviet Submarines is the first
book to detail the parallel development of both superpowers' submarine
fleets, and the political realities, engineering breakthroughs, and
naval strategies that shaped their creation.
The story of how the superpowers built their impressive submarine
fleets began with the end of the Second World War in Europe. The
Americans, Russians, and British managed to obtain several of the new
German Type XXI U-boats intact, and were shocked to learn that the
design superseded it's Allied opponents in just about every regard.
The XXI became the baseline design for the post-War submarine fleets
of the United States and Russia, and both countries began stripping
off deck armament and fittings from old submarines, and installing
larger batteries and more powerful electric motors. The Soviets were
more receptive to the XXI than the Americans, building 236 of the
Project 613 (NATO Whiskey) class, an improved copy of the XXI.
By the early 50s naval authorities in both nations had become aware of
the potential capabilities of nuclear submarines. The Americans came
first with the Nautilus, Seawolf, and Skate-class boats, the Russians
responding with the November SSN, Echo SSGN, and Hotel SSBN. The
slab-sided XXI hull gave way to the "body of revolution" - a
revolutionary (pardon the pun) hull shape that maintained a circular
cross-section throughout the entire length of the hull. This allowed
the superpowers to build increasingly faster submarines, including the
32-knot November, 35-knot Skipjack, and the Papa, which attained an
extraordinary 44.7 knots. At the same time, the design philosophies of
both countries went in opposite directions - while the Americans built
solely nuclear-powered attack and ballistic missile submarines, the
Russians built a plethora of diesel-electric submarines, anti-ship
cruise missile carriers, and one-off experimental boats.
The Soviet Union's large number of competing design bureaus was a key
factor in the large number of submarine classes built and designed
during the Cold War. While American submarines held the edge in
quietness, sensor capabilities, crew training, and reliability, their
Russian counterparts were often superior in performance and
survivability, and many couple carry a wider range of weapons. Both
nations also designed amphibious landing, cargo transport, and
aircraft carrying submarines, none of which were actually built. In
the end, the Russian and American navies ended up with radically
different submarine fleets for a number of different reasons explained
in great detail in this book.
Cold War Submarines is a book I'd put off buying for a long
time, because the price tag intimidated me somewhat. I was worried
that the book would be a dry technical history, a fear that was
thankfully unfounded. At last, someone wrote a comprehensive parallel
history of the Cold War submarine fleets of the American and Russian
navies, and you didn't have to be a naval architect to understand it!
As evidenced by the lengthy bibliography and notes sections, Polmar
and Moore spent an enormous amount of time and effort researching this
book. Having studied formerly classified intelligence memos, Russian
language articles, and interviewed several important figures on both
sides of the Cold War, they uncovered a large amount of rare and
Cold War Submarines begins with the end of World War II, with
chapters on postwar diesel and "closed cycle" propulsion submarines.
It then proceeds to cover the entire history of Cold War submarine
design in roughly chronological order, with each chapter focusing on a
particular topics (i.e., "High Speed Submarines," "Advanced Diesel
Submarines"), with most chapters describing both American and
Russian developments in that field. Not only does this book describe
the "nuts and bolts" of the subject, it also delves into the
political, technical, and managerial issues of submarine design and
construction throughout the Cold War.
A.D Baker III, the former editor of Combat Fleets, provides
more than 70 crisp cross-section drawings, with the rest of the book
illustrated with cleanly reproduced black & white photographs. The
book's layout is typical of most military reference books, devoid of
pretension or extraneous "fat." There are also plenty of tables, with
each chapter ending with one that compares the specifications of each
submarine described in the previous chapter.
Along with information on submarines that were actually built, Cold
War Submarines delivers some surprising details on ones that never
got off the drawing board:
- The Boeing AN-1, a 498-foot nuclear-powered submarine aircraft
carrier that would have carried eight ramjet-powered fighters in
converted Regulus missile hangars.
- For the first time ever published, photos of a model of the
advanced CONcept FORMulation (CONFORM) submarine, which was axed in
1968 in favor of the less-capable Los Angeles class.
- The original design for the November class, with a single
giant nuclear torpedo that would have been fired into an enemy
- The "Project 748" submarine tank landing ship, which would have
carried 470 troops and up to 20 armored fighting vehicles.
- The "Project 673" attack submarine, a small-scale variant of the
Project 671/Victor that would have had a revolutionary sail-less
- A real-life American Flying Sub that actually made it the model
test stage before being canceled.
I've always been more interested in diesel, rather than nuclear
submarines, but the mythos and intrigue of the "Silent War" fought
between the Americans and Soviets remains a fascinating one.
Considering the difficulty of finding solid information on this period
in naval history, Cold War Submarines belongs on the shelf of
anyone seriously interested in the subject. The actual technical
material is pretty light, and the writing style is fairly accessible
for a book that threatened to be little more than an astute military
history book before I read it. Actually, the technical material might
be a little too light for a book of this type - I'm a bit of a
glutton for punishment and I was actually expecting more. Hopefully,
Polmar and Moore will one day expand this book into a trilogy, with a
2nd book on postwar diesel-electric submarines, and a 3rd on the
nuclear submarines of Britain, France, China, and those currently
under development by other nations.
In conclusion, Cold War Submarines is a goldmine for serious
submarine buffs, filled with material you can't find anywhere else.
You might want to invest in the hardcover edition, since you'll be
returning to it time and again.
Cold War Submarines is 430 pages long,
measuring 8 by 11 inches. It was published in November 2003 in
hardcover and in March 2005 in paperback. There are 20 chapters, along
with 5 appendixes, and the pages are printed on glossy stock.