Sunday, November 13, 2011

Black Sea Follies

By Phil Gardocki

Late in 1981, our ship, the USS King, had the opportunity to sail in the Black Sea. This was a rare instance, but also a direct tweak of the Soviet nose. Part of that tweaking involved flying the “Battle Flag.” I don’t know the dimensions, but it was HUGE. Think of flag images that a marching band would create during the Super Bowl, and you will be in the ballpark. We also created an absurd looking antenna to give the Soviets something new to look at. My suggestion of sealing a boom box with a continuous tape playing sonar- type noises overboard for the Soviets to find was ignored.

Late one night, I was awakened by Conroy, one of our fire control missile men, with an unusual request, “Combat wants to speak to you.” Combat was short for the Combat Information Center , the nerve center of the ship.

“Huh,” came my sleep deprived answer.

Reading from a note, he asked, “They want to know if you know what a Sverdlov is?”

I was in luck, I knew that one. “It’s a Soviet six inch gun cruiser.” I replied.

He looked at me and said simply, “They really want to know if you know which Sverdlov it is.”

Muttering “Give me a break!” I got out of my hammock, and headed for the headset that was our link to Combat. The fog in my brain was clearing, and then came the realization that someone in Combat, was aware of my hobbies.

“Combat, this is Director 5.”

“Hi Phil!” this is Cooper. Ah!  That answered one question. FTM1 Cooper was my official boss, but had zero experience with AN/SPG 55 Radar systems, and left the practical running the rear radars to a triumvirate of Silcott, Cerjanic, and me.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“We have picked up a Sverdlov that is on an intercept course with us at dawn, and we want to know if you can identify which one it is?”

Grabbing my copy of All the Worlds Navies, I headed for the well-thumbed section near the end of the book. Stalling for time, I asked incredulously, “Don’t they have a copy of Jane’s Fighting Ships up there?”
“They do, but it is locked up, and no one here has the key.”

I have never felt more uncomfortable with the Navy than that moment. Nothing life threatening was going on, but the fact that only way we were going to identify a possible hostile relied upon someone’s whose hobby was the study of naval warfare, and the coincidence that someone who knew of that hobby happened to be in the right place at the right time.

Having had time to scan the Sverdlov class, I asked, “Ok, what radars are we detecting?”

Sverdlov class, 16,000 tons, 12 6" guns,  12 4" guns, 10 21" torpedoes.
I would have counted it as a coup to have identified the exact ship, but it was not to be; it was one of the unmodified twelve models that comprised the bulk of the class. And I did not have my copy of SPI's "Sixth Fleet" to see which ones were assigned to the Black Sea. Whoever it was, it turned away shortly before dawn and we never did see it.

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