"Royal Navy and Maritime Book Reviews" PROVIDED BY - Rob Jerrard

The Perseus Books Group

The Perseus Books Group: Reviewed in 2008

Scorpion Down
Sunk by the Soviets, Buried by the Pentagon
Edition: Paperback
Author: Ed Offley
ISBN: 9780465051861
Publishers: Basic Books (The Perseus Books Group)
Price: £9.99
Publication Date: 1st May 2008
Publisher's Title Information

One Navy admiral called it “one of the greatest unsolved sea mysteries of our era.” The U.S. Navy officially describes it an inexplicable accident. For decades, the real story of the disaster eluded journalists, historians, and the family members of the lost crew. But a small handful of Navy and government officials knew the truth: The sinking of the U.S.S. Scorpion on May 22, 1968, was an act of war. In Scorpion Down, military reporter Ed Offley reveals that the true cause of the Scorpion's sinking was buried by the U.S. Government in an attempt to keep the Cold War from turning hot. For five months, the families of the Scorpion crew waited while the Navy searched feverishly for the missing submarine. For the first time, Offley reveals that entire search was a cover-up, devised to conceal that fact that the Scorpion had been torpedoed by the Soviets. In this gripping and controversial book, Offley takes the reader inside the shadowy world of the Cold War military, where rival superpowers fought secret battles far below the surface of the sea.

The Author
Ed Offley has been a military reporting specialist for newspapers and online publications since 1981, including the Ledger-Star in Norfolk, Virginia, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Stripes.com, and DefenseWatch magazine. He is currently Military Reporter for the News Herald in Panama City, Florida. A graduate of the University of Virginia, Offley served in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam. He lives in Panama City Beach, Florida.


It appears that the US Navy responded very quickly to the news that USS Scorpion was missing and one of the first to put to sea in the search was USS Petrel (ASR14), which had a McCann Rescue Chamber onboard. However, according to this account, 'for the first night a destroyer Admiral from the “Black Shoe” Navy and not a submariner would be in charge. I understood this to mean the term for an Officer who served on surface ships, at least here it does. Without the Internet I think I may have been in trouble here. There is a Glossary, which does help us RN types from the “Black Shoe Royal Navy” to understand terms.
The US Navy went all-out to find this missing submarine and Rear Admiral Bernard transferred from USS Petrel to the larger USS William H Standley.
It was not until 30 October that Scorpion, missing since 22 May was found. USNS Mizar found and photographed the wreckage at 11,100 feet.
The subtitle of this book is 'Sunk by the Soviets, Buried by the Pentagon: The Untold Story of the USS Scorpion', which is a very bold claim and I will leave it to the reader to decide if it is true. Was it a Soviet attack? Did one of Scorpion's torpedoes accidentally detonate? Did she have what is termed a 'hot run'? The remains were found facing east.
According to the last chapter of 'The Death of the USS Thresher', Norman Polmar, The Lyons Pres, 2004, 'After the loss of the submarine Tang in World War II and other torpedo incidents, the Navy had designed torpedoes to automatically shut down if they made a 170-degree turn, so that they would not double back and strike the launching submarine. If the Scorpion had a "hot running" torpedo within the submarine or stuck in a tube, Commander Slattery would undoubtedly have turned the submarine to make the torpedo's guidance system believe that it had made a U-turn. The Mk 37 torpedo had suffered several problems in service. Indeed, on December 5, 1967, during a lengthy series of torpedo firings, the Scorpion had suffered a Mk 37-1 exercise torpedo malfunction with the weapon inadvertently starting up in a tube. Then, due to personnel error, it was improperly launched. (During the same firing series an unarmed Mk 45-1 ASTOR torpedo also was improperly launched; however, 27 of the Scorpion torpedo launches functioned properly during the period from October to December 1967.)
On the return voyage to Norfolk the submarine's crew would have been disarming all torpedoes in preparation for them being offloaded prior to entering the shipyard. Could a Mk 37 torpedo have malfunctioned and its warhead detonated before the turn was fully achieved, or had the cut-off mechanism failed? The Court of Inquiry noted that "There are ways in which one or more warheads could have been detonated including an uncontrollable fire in the Torpedo Room." The Court's report "suggested" the most probably cause of a torpedo failure:
1. A Mark 37 torpedo in a tube in fully ready condition, without propeller guard starts a "hot run" due to inadvertent activation of the battery.
2. The ship begins a turn to attempt shutdown of the propulsion motor by means of the anti-circular run device.
3. Acting on impulse, and perhaps influenced by successful ejection of a Mark 37 exercise shot which was running hot in the tube December 1967, the torpedo was released from the tube, became fully armed, and sought its nearest target, SCORPION.
As proper, the Court looked into other possible causes of the Scorpion lossfire, weapons handling accident, collision, sabotage, irrational act by a crewman, flooding due to structural or personnel failure, and loss of ship control. But the Court concluded, that the most probable explanation was a torpedo detonation within or outside of the submarine.'
Was this the reason or did its hull crack due to poor maintenance? Did its main storage battery explode? Can we conclude that the ship's end will remain an enigma?
Rob Jerrard

Other Reviews
Offley... presents solid and extensive evidence that the Scorpion's loss was not an 'unsolved mystery.'
Roanoke Times
[I]ntriguing... In this thoroughly researched and well-written book, Offley does a masterful job of describing tensions between U.S. and Soviet submariners in the late '60s. He skillfully relates how U.S. submarines, using their superior technology, stealthily patrolled off the Soviet coast and in the midst of Soviet Navy operations, collecting valuable intelligence and frustrating their adversaries.
...this well-told narrative history holds much appeal for naval historians and conspiracy buffs.
Publishers Weekly
Based on 25 years of research, which included investigating declassified navy documents, Offley reveals details of the events that led to the vessel's sinking and the cover-up that followed. He has written a searing account of this tragedy at sea.
Offley (military reporter, News Herald, Panama City, FL) has put together an astoundingly detailed picture of the last cruise of a nuclear attack submarine. The USS Scorpion, with a crew of 99, was reported lost on May 27, 1968.
Library Journal

For the early career of some of the US Navy officers See