7

The age of the nuclear submarine

THE NUCLEAR SUBMARINE: THE DOCTRINE IN PRACTICE

For most of the fifties, the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union had been dominated by the development of nuclear bombs and bombers. This meant that the polar regions were of great strategic importance, and resulted on the American side in the development of a radar network. The introduction of the intercontinental missile, which was not strictly limited to a course over the Pole, reduced this strategic interest, although the danger of a bomber attack still remained. But a new range of possibilities surfaced when, in 1958, the nuclear submarine Nautilus navigated under the icecap to the North Pole. This indicated that nuclear submarines could launch their missiles from near the Siberian coast. Under these circumstances a legal doctrine was needed that could prevent foreign naval vessels from approaching the Siberian coast. The question of sovereignty attracted fresh attention, as can be seen in the 1960 Law on the Soviet Borders. Technicaliy this law, which mentioned historic seas and straits, was nothing but a ratification of the results of the Geneva conference, although 'Geneva' had reached no conclusion about historic bays. The 1960 law was a clear signal, without causing a legal controversy about the Siberian seas.

The first to attempt navigation under ice had been Hubert Wilkins in 1931. After that, submarines had occasionally navigated under ice, but only after the war had the problem been studied seriously. This began during the American manoeuvres in the Antarctic in 1947. An important step forward was the use of a sonar in the upper side of the submarine, which allowed it to measure ice thickness. A surprising discovery was the fact that the ice surface under water is even more rugged than it is above water: 20-metre stalactites were no exception. This fact, together with the shallowness of the Siberian coastal seas, made the use of large submarines no easy matter. Only much later did the United States admit that an early attempt by the Nautilus to reach the North Pole by the Bering Strait had failed, because of the ice and the shallowness. To use submarines in the Arctic necessitated a profound knowledge of the Arctic seas. After the success of 1958 a number of voyages took place. In 1960 the nuclear submarine Sargo managed, despite all the difficulties, to pass the Bering Strait In the same year the Seadragon passed the Davis Strait. The Northwest Passage, a route along

-109-

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The Soviet Arctic
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Contents ix
  • Acknowledgements xii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Russian Policy in the Far North 1897-1917 6
  • 2 - Soviet Sovereignty in the Arctic and the Advent of Flying 1917-32 21
  • 3 - The Stalinization of Arctic Exploration 35
  • 4 - In Stalin's Time 1932-53 53
  • 5 - Arctic Policy During the Cold War 67
  • 6 - Historiography in the Cold War 84
  • 7 - The Age of the Nuclear Submarine 109
  • 8 - Arctic Shipping Since 1953 120
  • 9 - The Western Section: Winter Navigation 127
  • 10 - The Season of 1983 139
  • 11 - Arctic Studies Since 1953 152
  • Conclusion 170
  • Appendix 175
  • Glossary 179
  • Bibliography 181
  • Index 222
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