Cold War Memories on Memorial Day

P3 aircraft

P3 aircraft

I served over 31 years in the United States Navy. I was a Naval Flight Officer and advanced in rank to Captain. As an antisubmarine professional, I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time with a very competent crew. We were successful on seventeen of my last eighteen operational flight missions.

By successful, I mean that we found and simulated an attack on our target. We were assigned to find a particular submarine. We started with a search area, found our assigned target, developed enough tactical information to be able to drop a torpedo and expect a kill on each flight.

We practiced with empty racks in the bomb bay. They were configured as if real weapons were loaded. Knowing the target’s course, speed, and depth, we would position our aircraft in a position to drop a torpedo that it was unlikely the target could evade. We were very good at what we did.

Decades have passed. The Cold War passed through several phases from 1947 to 1989/1991. Some historians declare the Cold War over when communism collapsed in Eastern Europe. Others extend the date a couple of years until the Soviet Union crumbled. It’s interesting to note that George Orwell coined the term ‘cold war’ in March of 1946.

It was slightly over a year later when Bernard Baruch applied this term to the geopolitical confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. In 1947, Walter Lippmann wrote a book titled, ‘Cold War.’ He attributed the term to a 1930s French term, la guerre froide.

Regardless of who and when the term first evolved, a doctrine of mutually assured destruction (MAD) developed. This doctrine was a military strategy and national security policy to deter pre-emptive nuclear strikes by either side. MAD restricts the incentive to initiate a conflict. It also prevents disarmament. It maintains a status quo.

Land-based nuclear missiles would destroy each country’s missiles’ and air-based systems. Submarines, being mobile and stealthy, were the focus of our real world and training. We trained as we would fight. We simulated various weapons loads that we might have to use if ordered in the event of war.

Our missions started with a brief of our target and what they knew about it from the last time its position was known for sure. We knew the typical on-station mission for Soviet submarines. We knew their operating area. We also knew when it was time for their replacements to begin their journey to the operating area. We didn’t concern ourselves much with the submarine(s) on station. We did concentrate on the transiting subs.

Our brief gave us an area and a specific sonobuoy pattern to lay. If, after a certain period, no contact was gained, we were allowed to develop our search pattern. I was more fortunate than most. The recommended search patterns rarely ever generated any usable intelligence. We opened the gates of our search and nearly always found our prey.

Underwater physics of sound are known. What isn’t known is the exact frequencies and noisiness of the submarine and the level of background noise in any part of the ocean. We would get a hint of the target submarine and eventually localize his position to within a few hundred yards.

During that localization period, we would develop his course, speed, and depth. After that, it was just a matter of tracking him until it was time to go home. It was during these tracking evolutions that we would descend to near the water’s surface and begin making simulated attacks. The bomb bay doors would open, the appropriate buttons would be pushed, and we would gain one last bit of intelligence – the magnetic anomaly – before we dropped a weapon.

The distance from the submarine to the aircraft that would generate a magnetic consequence on one of our instruments when we came extremely close to it. It confirmed our target was directly below us. Two seconds later, a simulated weapon was dropped from our aircraft.

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