In November 1975 the Soviet Krivak class anti submarine frigate Storozhevoy was involved in a mutiny. This mutiny and the Soviet navy’s response would go on to inspire Tom Clancy’s best selling novel The Hunt for Red October.
The mutiny was instigated and led by the ships political commissar Captain of the Third Rank Valery Sablin. Sablin wished to make a political protest against what he believed to be widespread corruption within the Brezhnev government.
His plan involved commandeering the ship and then sailing it out of the Bay of Riga (where elements of the Soviet Baltic fleet were based) and onto Leningrad (modern St. Petersburg).
On arrival in Leningrad he would navigate the ship along the Neva river and then moor alongside the Cruiser Aurora, a museum ship and symbol of the Russian Revolution. Sablin then intended to broadcast a national address to the people of the Soviet Union. This address would say what he believed the public wanted to say openly but could only be discussed in private: “that socialism and the motherland were in danger; the ruling authorities were up to their necks in corruption, demagoguery, graft, and lies, leading the country into an abyss; communism had been discarded, and there was a need to revive the Leninist principles of Justice”.
On the evening of the 9th of November 1975 Sablin put his plan into action. He lured the captain to the lower deck with false reports of some officers being drunk on duty and requiring disciplinary action. On his arrival Sablin detained him and other officers by locking them in the forward SONAR compartment allowing him to take control of the ship.
After a vote from the remaining officers saw 8 vote in favour of the mutiny and 7 against (these were also imprisoned) Sablin set about winning the support of the ships crew for his plan. This was easy as he was a popular officer among the seamen and was able to motivate them with a passionate revolutionary speech.
On discovering that their plan may soon be revealed as one officer had managed to get off the ship to raise the alarm Sablin took the decision to set sail immediately instead of waiting until the rest of the fleet was scheduled to set sail in the morning.
Under the cover of darkness and with her radar switched off to avoid detection the Storozhevoy slipped out of port and out to sea.
Upon learning of the mutiny the Kremlin ordered that “control must be regained” while fearing that Sablin may attempt to gain political asylum for himself and his crew in Sweden.
Half of the Baltic fleet was put to sea to pursue the mutineers. The force was made up of 13 naval vessels with 60 warplanes including Yak-28 jet fighters.
The fighters dropped 500lb bombs around the ship and carried out repeated strafing runs against the Storozhevoy. These attacks damaged the ship’s steering forcing her to stop dead in the water in a position 43 miles from Swedish waters. Soviet ships began to close in on the Storozhevoy firing warning shots until they were close enough to carry out boarding action with marine commandos.
Upon boarding the commandos found Sablin had already been shot and was being detained by members of the ships crew who had also released the captain and officers from their imprisonment.
On their return to shore the entire ships company was arrested and interrogated by authorities however only Sablin and his second in command Alexander Shein (a 20-year-old seaman) were eventually tried for the mutiny. The rest of the crew were free but were dishonorably discharged from the navy.
Shein was sentenced to prison and was released after serving an eight years. Sablin was convicted of high treason and was executed by firing squad on the 3rd of August 1976.
In 1982 as part of an academic thesis: “Mutiny on Storozhevoy: A Case Study of Dissent in the Soviet Navy” Gregory D. Young investigated the events of the 1975 mutiny. This thesis was placed in the US Naval Academy archives. A few years later the thesis was read by an insurance salesmen by the name of Tom Clancy…
Gaming the Mutiny
The mutiny on the Storozhevoy could be used as a naval wargaming scenario using my Naval Command rules. One player takes command of the Krivak class Frigate Storozhevoy under the command of Valery Sablin while the opposing player takes control of elements of the Soviet Baltic Fleet and Soviet Airforce. The Baltic fleet will outnumber the mutineers making this a tricky mission. I would suggest using the hidden deployment rules and giving the Storozhevoy and additional decoy marker.
The Storozhevoy begins the game 60cm from the port to represent its head start by leaving port at night. The Storozhevoy also automatically wins the initiative for the first turn.
The objective zone is a square area 60cm from the Storozhevoy’s starting position.
By the end of 10 turns the Storozhevoy must make it to the objective zone. This represents the ship leaving Soviet territorial waters.
The Soviets must attempt to cause enough damage to force the Storozhevoy to stop or slow down enough to bring another ship alongside to enable boarding.
If the Storozhevoy is sunk the game results in a draw as although the mutiny has been stopped, the mutineers may become martyrs to their cause.