Excerpt from Blind Man's Bluff by Sherry Sontag, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Blind Man's Bluff

The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage

By Sherry Sontag

Blind Man's Bluff
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  • Hardcover: Nov 1998,
    352 pages.
    Paperback: Oct 1999,
    255 pages.

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A Deadly Beginning

You gotta be nuts," Harris M. Austin grumbled under his breath as he watched the ugliest-looking piece of junk he had ever seen pull into the British naval base in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. This couldn't be his sub. This couldn't be the Cochino.



Almost anyone else on the busy pier would have thought that he was just a twenty-eight-year-old radioman. He knew better. He was here on direct orders from the U.S. chief of Naval Operations. He had been briefed by admirals who commanded the U.S. naval forces in Europe, his background checked and double-checked. And today he was about to join the crew of this sub as one of the Navy's newest spies, a "spook," someone who had been trained to snatch Soviet military signals and electronic communications out of thin air. It was going to be his job to attempt a daring grab for some of the Soviet Union's deepest secrets.

Austin jumped down onto the pier and began pulling mooring lines along with a handful of other men. Then somebody said that this was the Cochino, U.S. submarine SS-345, the boat Austin had been awaiting for three days.

"Goddamn ugly piece of junk," he thought as he hoisted a sea bag stuffed with classified documents over his shoulder and lumbered down the hatch to introduce himself and his orders to Cochino's commanding officer, Commander Rafael C. Benitez.

Austin had leapt to submarines from battle cruisers in a search for excitement, the same reason he had volunteered to make this latest leap, transforming himself from a radioman into a spook. That he was in the armed forces at all had been a near certainty from the day he was born. He came from a long line of Scottish warriors, a line he could trace back to the fourteenth century without breaking a sweat. His father had been a cook with an American air squadron in England before shifting to whalers and ocean freighters stateside. His Welsh mother had worked for a British ammunition company. Austin himself had been only nineteen years old when he first went to sea, his auburn hair quickly earning him the nickname "Red."

Benitez, thirty-two years old, was one of those men who had been bred to decorum. His father was a judge in Puerto Rico, and Commander Benitez had just finished law school, a perk that the Navy had awarded to hold on to him. As a submarine officer during World War II, he had survived several depth-chargings and earned a reputation for calm under fire. Now, in late July 1949, he had been back in the sub force for only three weeks, and he had his own command.

Actually, it was a command Benitez had tried to turn down, embarrassed by his sub's name. Cochino may have been named for an Atlantic trigger fish, but in Spanish, the language of his family and friends back home, he would be commanding the submarine Pig.

He had admitted as much to his mother when he wrote home, but her reply had yet to reach him as he stood in his cramped wardroom, shoulders back to make the most of his less than imposing frame. He was alone with this hulking enlisted man, this sailor turned spy, the kind of man who would still be declaring that he was "tougher than shit" when he reached his seventies.

Red Austin handed over his orders. The captain scanned them and tensed as he read that Cochino, his sub, was about to become an experimental spy boat.

Benitez was stunned. Cochino's mission was already complex enough. She had been scheduled to embark on a training run designed to change the very nature of submarine warfare. Classic World War II fleet submarines could dive beneath the waves only long enough to attack surface ships and avoid counterattack before needing to surface themselves. But since the war ended, Cochino and a few other boats had been dramatically altered. They now sported new, largely untested equipment, including a snorkel pipe that was supposed to let them take in fresh air, run the diesel engines, and shoot out engine exhaust without having to surface. That would allow the boats to spend much of their time underwater, rendering them effectively invisible and making it possible for them to go after other subs as well as surface ships.

From Blind Man's Bluff : The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage, by Sherry Sontag; Christopher Drew; Annette L. Drew. © 1997 by Sherry Sontag; Christopher Drew; Annette L. Drew. Used by permission.

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