Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Queenfish: A Cold War Tale

While the Cold War wasn't exactly the best of years to live in, one thing I do miss about it were the high-tech military exploits. To be sure, they were merely shadowboxing, but it was giant vs. giant, not giant vs. pygmies, and oh! it was a thrilling sight.

On the other hand, now that we're out of the Cold War era, some of the stories we might not have ever heard of are starting to come out. One such story is that of the Queenfish, a nuclear submarine sent to explore the Arctic as a theater of operations for possible war.

In great secrecy, moving as quietly as possible below treacherous ice, the Queenfish, under the command of Captain Alfred S. McLaren, mapped thousands of miles of previously uncharted seabed in search of safe submarine routes. It often had to maneuver between shallow bottoms and ice keels extending down from the surface more than 100 feet, threatening the sub and the crew of 117 men with ruin.

The main mission was to map the seabed and collect oceanographic data in anticipation of the Arctic’s becoming a major theater of military operations. The sub did so by finding and following depth contours, for instance, by locating the areas of the Arctic Basin where the seabed was 600 feet below the surface. A result was a navigation chart that bore the kind of squiggly lines found on topographic maps.

After Dr. McLaren’s mission, the Arctic became a theater of military operations in which the Soviets tried to hide their missile-carrying subs under the fringes of the ice pack while American attack subs tried relentlessly to track them. The goal was to destroy the Soviet subs if the cold war turned hot, doing so quickly enough to keep them from launching their missiles and nuclear warheads at the United States.

From the New York Times.

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