Daily Event for November 14

Nov. 14, 1969 an incident between two submarines almost ended in disaster. The USS Gato SSN-615 collided with an unidentified Soviet submarine in the Barents Sea near the entrance to the White Sea. The Gato was on a clandestine mission to gather intelligence, probably near the Soviet sub base at Severodvinsk. The exact mission the Gato was on is still classified but it was part of a series of missions carried out by US submarines known as Holystone.

These missions were ultra secret and lasted about 90 days each, they were also known by other names such as Pinnacle and Bullard. Missions like these are still being carried out under a new name. The crews were under orders not to talk about these missions and may still be to this day.

These missions gave the US valuable intelligence about Soviet submarine development and operations, weapon
systems and fleet movements. The special sound equipment allowed US intelligence to record the sounds of individual Soviet subs so they could be tracked from the moment they left until they returned to base. They could tell by the sound exactly which sub (by name) was on the move and where she was going.

Another operation carried out during these missions was the tapping of the Soviet communication cable on the ocean floor giving the US real time access to the communications of the Soviet navy. They also made photo reconnaissance missions near the Soviet bases and sometimes even inside the base itself. For our submariners the mission was very dangerous as one can imagine, but made even more dangerous when the hatches were sealed from outside to keep them from vibrating which, in case of an accident, would prevent the crew from escaping.

The details of the Gato incident are very sparse but, it seems that the Soviet sub must have made a glancing blow on the Gato because damage was described as very slight. A crewman reported the sub hit the Gato in the armored area around  the reactor. The boat's weapons officer went on immediate alert and prepared orders to launch a SUBROC (nuclear-tipped anti-submarine rocket) and three nuclear armed torpedoes, an order which was thankfully never given.

The Soviet reaction is not known by me, neither do I know if any diplomatic posturing took place following the event. I have read an account that stated the commanding officer was ordered to falsify the boat's log to indicate she had ended her mission two days earlier due to engine failure, an order he supposedly refused to follow.

© 2006 Michael W. Pocock

USS Gato SSN-615

2005 Daily Event