The Last Sentry: The True Story that Inspired The Hunt for Red October

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His position have him a unique opportunity to organise and prepare in secret. This is probably what he meant when he said that the regime could only be destroyed from inside. Should he have refrained from taking action until he had organised an underground Leninist organisation among the sailors and then linked up with the workers in the factories? In the abstract, maybe. But Sablin knew very well the colossal difficulties facing such an enterprise. At any moment it might be betrayed to the KGB.

Here, on the other hand, he had in his hands a unique opportunity to act. Sablin was no fool and certainly no madman. He took a calculated risk. It failed and he paid for it with his life. But how superior was this act of personal heroism than all the sneering of the Pharisees who merely saved their own skins and never lifted a finger in the cause of the Soviet people! The reaction of the crew was extremely significant. Trotsky points out that the armed forces are always a faithful reflection of the tendencies within society.

The rank and file navy ratings, overwhelmingly working class youngsters, were a true reflection of the mood of the Soviet working class at the time. Faithful to socialism and the ideals of the October revolution, the latter were increasingly alienated by the arbitrary and lawless rule of the Bureaucracy. The same leaders who delivered such beautiful speeches about "building communism" in the USSR lived like millionaires and princes while the living conditions of the great majority of Soviet citizens lagged far behind. The existence of huge and growing inequalities was a constant reminder that the Soviet Union was not moving towards socialism, but on the contrary, away from it.

Subsequent developments have amply confirmed this fact. The same parasitic Bureaucracy that spoke hypocritically in the name of "socialism" and "communism" at that time was later to preside over the destruction of the nationalised planned economy and the Soviet Union. The only way to have prevented this would have been the overthrow of the Bureaucracy in a political revolution to restore power to the working class. This was what Sablin tried to do. The possibility of a political revolution against the Bureaucracy was demonstrated by the events here described.

The fact that even a big section of the officers on the Sentry immediately came over to the side of the rebellion is of great symptomatic importance. It shows in miniature the process that would have unfolded on an all-Soviet scale once the working class had begun to move. The Bureaucracy - as the Marxists had predicted - would have split down the middle, and a section would have gone over to the proletariat.

That a section of the officers refused to back the revolt is hardly surprising. As in every strike there were some scabs. The incredible thing is that among the ratings there was not a single scab, and only a few of the officers - the most cowardly and despicable elements - actively opposed the uprising. These elements naturally played a pernicious role in betraying the mutiny to the authorities. Before the Sentry could leave Riga, a junior officer jumped ship and raised the alarm.

The fact that their plans had been thus betrayed to the authorities caused a momentary vacillation. Faced with the possibility of having to face overwhelming odds, Sablin hesitated, but then decided to go ahead. Significantly, what stiffened his resolve was the firm attitude of the ordinary sailors, most of them still only teenagers, who insisted on continuing the revolt: The ship left Riga at 1am on 9 November, heading for Leningrad. Before leaving Riga Valery wrote a letter to his wife, explaining why he had decided to risk everything.

It is a most moving human document. For Valery Sablin was a man with a wife and young son, a naval officer, born into a privileged Soviet family and with a brilliant career in front of him. One can imagine with what difficulty any man would experience in such a situation.

But Sablin was a revolutionary and showed no hesitation in placing his career, his family, his freedom and his life on the line for the cause in which he believed:. The love of life. I mean not in the sense of the a comfortable bourgeois, but a bright, truthful life which inspires a genuine joy in all honest people.

I am convinced that in our nation, just as 58 years ago in , a revolutionary consciousness will alight and we will achieve Communism in our society. What grandeur of spirit is present in these lines! What a contrast with the pettiness, cowardice and meanness of the professional cynics of the Sadikov type! Oleg Maksimenko, a rating, recalls that there was a strange atmosphere, a silence on board before they left port. It is like that moment of extreme tension before an athlete springs into action, when every nerve is being concentrated, like a coiled spring. On hearing the alarm that announced the ship's departure, all this energy was suddenly released.: I felt like a blind man being led around a minefield.

There was a feeling of freedom. A kind of contentment as if one's heart was going to take flight. The dangers that would confront them were soon made clear: The Sentry made a sharp turn to the right I was nearly thrown overboard; I was just clinging on. It felt as though we were at 45 degrees. And this other ship kept on coming. Then it suddenly turned left.

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The Sentry had got out of Riga! Sablin had written the speech calling on the people of Russia to rise up and overthrow their corrupt bureaucratic rulers and create a genuinely Communist society, which he had planned to broadcast once the ship reached Leningrad. Instead, the speech was transmitted as soon as it left Riga. Immediately on leaving port, Sablin gave orders to broadcast the appeal over the ship's tannoy system on a wavelength that could be picked up by ordinary citizens.

Every line of the appeal blazed with revolutionary ardour:. Ours is a purely political act. The real traitors to the Motherland will be those who attempt to stop us. In the event of a military attack on our country we will defend it loyally. But now we have another aim - to raise the voice of truth.

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But unknown to Sablin, the radio operator did not dare to broadcast it as an open text. Sablin's voice thus was silenced. It never reached the working class audience for which it had been written. The initial reaction from the authorities in Riga was one of shocked disbelief. They were slow to move - a contributing factor probably being hangovers after the celebrations the previous day. Soon, however, the realisation dawned on the authorities that something serious had occurred. And they refused to deal with us - only with Moscow. That was bad enough.

The Truth Behind the Movie: The Hunt for Red October

But that such a thing should be led by a Commissar! The Sentry sailed on. The Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev was woken in the middle of the night and informed of the situation. By now the revolt had the undivided attention of the Politburo. The mood of the men in the Kremlin can only be imagined. Was this a defection? Or the beginning of a revolt? Brezhnev was taking no chances.

At 4am, the captain of the Baltic Fleet was woken up and told to mobilise his ships.

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Thirteen heavily armed coastal vessels were sent in pursuit of the Sentry. At daybreak on 9 November, they caught up with it. The Commander issued the order to stop or be sunk. But the commander was still in some doubt as to the intentions of the mutineers. Were they really heading for Leningrad, or was the ship intending to defect to Sweden? Leningrad lies about miles north-east of Riga as the crow flies. By sea, the route is double that length. The gulf of Riga is impassable to the north, closed off by the Estonian islands of Saaremaa and Hiiumaa.

A ship making for Leningrad from Riga needs to head west towards Gotland, then Northwest towards Stockholm, then turn east into the Gulf of Finland. There is no way of knowing whether a ship is heading for Leningrad or Sweden until the two routes separate in the Baltic. A coast guard vessel located the Sentry at dawn; the ship appeared to be heading for Stockholm. The KGB radioed the ship with a treacherous message, aimed at dividing the rebels: Understandably, at this point there was a surge of doubt among some of the mutineers, but others remained firm and this was enough to decide the outcome.

The Sentry sailed on, sending the coast guards a message: The message broadcast by the rebels began with these words: We are not traitors to the Motherland. We are not going abroad. And just at that moment, Soviet warplanes appeared overhead. The air wing of the Baltic Fleet had orders to disable and if necessary sink the Sentry. One squadron flew over the ship, openly displaying their missiles. The commander described how he gave the fatal order: Realising the psychological implications of his words, the commander asked the pilot if he had understood the order.

A minute passed, seeming an eternity, then another minute. Then the shocking reality suddenly dawned on the commander. The planes had passed over the rebel ship without having discharged their missiles! The pilots had deliberately refused to fire on their comrades.

For a moment it appeared to those in command that the mutiny was spreading. The fact that pilots of the fleet air arm had refused to open fire, defying a direct order from their commander must have sent a shudder down the spine of the masters of the Kremlin. The general staff stepped up the pressure for immediate action against the rebels. Shouting and cursing was heard over the airwaves. Defence minister Grechko was furious.

A second group of fighters was dispatched with different pilots who had been told god knows what story to persuade them to obey orders and attack the Sentry. Finally, the fear of their officers and the habit of blind military obedience overcame the natural reluctance of the pilots to fire on one of their own ships. On board the Sentry no-one said a word; the men only stared at the skies and waited. Then the sound of gunfire was heard. For a moment some of the crew thought it was a NATO attack. Then they saw a wall of water as a bomb fell in front of them. There was a loud noise as the hull cracked.

The ship lurched and started to go round in circles. Then they knew it was all over. The fighters had dropped bombs ahead of and behind the ship. The situation was now hopeless. With the ship battered by the blasts, the resolve of the men cracked. Some of the crew opened the hatch and let out captain Putorny, who seized a pistol, ran to the bridge and shot Sablin, who was unarmed and offering no resistance, in the leg. Then the captain rang the shore in a hoarse and almost unrecognisable voice: I have taken control of the ship. By 6am, the Sentry was occupied by paratroops and KGB men.

Leningrad was still miles away. The paratroopers came on board with automatic rifles. When the ship was boarded there were plain-clothes men among the new arrivals. The KGB was already taking charge. The rebels were made to stand against a wall from seven in the morning till six in the evening. Those who guarded them were ordered to shoot them in the legs if they moved. The relation between the mutineers and their guards were significant. At this stage those guarding the prisoners were ordinary soldiers. On the way back to Riga one officer asked Sasha Stein the question which must have been on everybody's mind: You broke your oath.

What sort of a life is that? Do you really think people should have to live like this? It's just one big lie. In Riga the KGB took over the investigation. The entire crew of the Sentry were arrested, even those who had opposed the mutiny. All were sworn to silence. This measure was no accident. In Riga people were already talking of a "second Potemkin ". This represented a mortal danger to the regime. The authorities did not want news of the uprising to spread and finally were therefore even prepared to present it to world public opinion as an attempted defection to the West - something that could not be further from the truth.

While waiting anxiously for news of their fate, the arrested conscripts maintained their courageous defiance, assisted by the that celebrated gallows humour characteristic of soldiers everywhere. One of the sailors - a lad from Siberia - reassured them that a trip to Siberia would not be too bad, as the scenery was stunning! Sablin, Shein and 14 others were sent to Moscow's notorious Lefortovo prison for interrogation. One of the KGB's most experienced interrogators was assigned to Sablin.

The men in the Kremlin had received a rude shock. They were determined to discover what was behind the revolt. Was there an organisation? Who had led it? A true proletarian revolutionist, Sasha Shein, when asked what part he played, manfully told the interrogators that he had played an active part from the start. In a predictable move to split the rebels, they separated the ordinary ratings from the "ringleaders". In the true style of the Inquisition, the KGB invited them to write down everything they remembered of the events on the Sentry.

For four long months the young conscripts, nineteen or twenty years of age, were kept in isolation, with no contact with the outside world and no idea of what punishment awaited them. Eventually they were brought before a special tribunal of senior officers. The make-up of the tribunal was clearly designed to overawe and intimidate them. One by one the young sailors were called before the podium and asked to give account of themselves.

These were not trained Marxists but ordinary young workers. Defeated and isolated, with no perspectives, most pleaded ignorance. One of the sailors commented wryly: The sight of a smile on the lips of the generals made the conscripts relax. That means they are human beings. They know we are all youngsters and will probably forgive us! They had never read Shakespeare's line: Sablin was still on crutches during the initial interrogation. He soon convinced his interrogators that defection was not part of his plan.

But the real truth could never be admitted by the KGB. That a high-up Party official should turn against the system - this was something that must never be known. Sablin and Shein were only brought to trial nine months later. Sablin had been interrogated every day for this period. Only when his tormentors had satisfied themselves that there was no organisation behind the uprising, that it was all down to one man, did they decide to confine the punishment to the main ringleaders, Sablin and Shein.

The others were all released - although they were subsequently victimised by the regime and marked for the rest of their lives.

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  5. But the supreme punishment was reserved for Valery Sablin. The scene in the courtroom was more dramatic than anything that could be invented by literature. At his "trial" which was held in camera, Sablin conducted himself with exemplary heroism. When Sasha Shein was finally brought face to face with his old comrade, he recalls how Sablin "looked at me with that piercing gaze of his, as if he was looking into my very soul.

    And it was if he was asking me: But the regime still had one more terrible surprise for this unbroken and defiant enemy. Although this crime usually carried a year prison sentence, the Kremlin had other ideas. Such a dangerous enemy could not be allowed to live. It was Brezhnev's personal decision to have him executed by firing squad. The regime's hired judges merely repeated a verdict that had been already arrived at in advance. The trial had been a farce. As soon as the death sentence was read out a chill ran through the courtroom.

    Sablin did not know about it till the last minute. Not even the investigators knew about the orders from the Kremlin. The judges read out the sentence and hastily began collecting their papers and walking out. Sablin gave them a piercing stare as if to say: Only after they had left did the exhaustion and strain of the previous months take their toll. Valery slumped forward against the barrier and had to be supported by a guard. Shein received an eight-year sentence. This was the last time he saw Valery Sablin.

    Sablin was executed a few weeks after his trial. They were informed of Valery's fate by a local KGB officer, one of those typical professional cynics who in every regime - democratic or fascist, bourgeois or "socialist" - are willing to perform the dirtiest tasks in order to maintain their careers and creature comforts.

    This creature of the regime, with his radiant smile and well-researched speech, soon destroyed their last hopes: Why was the family not informed? Because they had not asked. Now they had asked, they had been told. And since you did not request his possessions after six months, all of them have been destroyed, including his letters and manuscripts.

    You can have no grounds for complaint. Sablin was buried in an unmarked grave, the whereabouts of which has never been revealed. To this day nobody knows where he is buried. His family can only honour his memory at a monument for political prisoners. The Bureaucracy had succeeded in crushing a dangerous revolt. But just to defeat the revolutionaries was not enough.

    It is necessary to wipe out all trace of them and to blacken their memories.

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    Hence the disgusting slander was invented that the crew of the Sentry wanted to defect to the West. For the next 15 years Sablin's memory was covered in dirt. The regime had prepared a lying cover-story, in which Valery Sablin - that devoted Communist and Soviet patriot - was labelled a defector and a traitor to the Soviet Union.

    The true facts emerged only in , in the dying days of the corrupt and degenerate regime that undermined and destroyed the Soviet Union from within. The ship's steering was damaged and she stopped dead on the water 43 miles from Swedish territorial waters and miles from Kronstadt. After warning shots from the closing loyal warships, the frigate was eventually boarded by Soviet marine commandos. By then, Sablin had been non-fatally shot and detained by members of his own crew, who also unlocked the captive captain and officers.

    At his trial in July , Sablin was convicted of high treason and was executed by shooting on 3 August , while Shein was sentenced to prison and was released after serving eight years. The rest of the mutineers were set free but dishonorably discharged from the Soviet Navy. Storozhevoy continued in service until the late s. The crew was changed completely and the ship made extensive visits to foreign ports.

    She was transferred to the Russian Pacific Fleet and was sold to India for scrap.

    The Last Sentry: The True Story That Inspired the Hunt for Red October

    Young was the first Westerner to investigate the mutiny as part of his master's thesis Mutiny on Storozhevoy: The thesis was placed in the United States Naval Academy archives where it was read by Tom Clancy , then an insurance salesman, who used it as inspiration to write The Hunt for Red October.

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. A Burevestnik-class frigate at anchor. Storozhevoy would have looked identical in most respects to the vessel pictured here. This article includes a list of references , but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. Please help to improve this article by introducing more precise citations. December Learn how and when to remove this template message.

    A History of Naval Insurrection. Berkley Books , p. Burevestnik Krivak -class frigates. Koni class Followed by: Retrieved from " https: Use dmy dates from August Articles containing Russian-language text All articles with unsourced statements Articles with unsourced statements from March Articles lacking in-text citations from December All articles lacking in-text citations.

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