Another Long, Boring Sea Story
So there I was... the first deployment of the USS Topeka (SSN 754) in November 1992. We were the first American submarine known to enter the Arabian (Persian) Gulf; the first Iranian Kilo-class submarine was on her way to Iran from Russia, and Big Navy wanted to see if the Gulf was suitable for submarine operations. (Iran currently has three of these submarines.) Here's how the Washington Report described this historic deployment:
In a demonstration of America's commitment to the region, the Navy sent the nuclear-powered attack submarine U.S.S. Topeka into the Gulf shortly after Iran's first Kilo submarine arrived in November 1992.
Here was an article in the USA Today on November 5, 1992:
TOPEKA HEADS INTO PERSIAN GULF: The USS Topeka, the first submarine known to enter the Persian Gulf, steamed toward the center of the strategic waterway Wednesday, days ahead of a sub that Iran has purchased from Russia. The nuclear-powered sub appeared to be heading to the gulf as a reminder of U.S. regional strength.
Okay, so the two articles don't agree on the timeline of Topeka arrival vs. Kilo arrival (Topeka was there first). Bottom line, it was an important deployment, so the Navy didn't want any junior officers messing it up.
So I'm standing Contact Coordinator as we're cruising west on the surface across the Central Arabian Gulf towards Mina Sulman, Bahrain. We're going there because the submarine tender USS Dixon (AS-37) was there, and we were going to tie up to her the next morning for a three week upkeep. (This throws a little cold water on the account of our deployment in Blind Man's Bluff. That book says we went into the Gulf to monitor the deployment of the Iranian Kilo, which I suppose we could have done if the Kilo had gotten lost and pulled up to the pier next to us. In all fairness to the authors, that's what most of the contemporary press reports said we were doing.) The sun is going down, there's a crescent moon out, and it's really, really dusty, even 100 miles from land. As Contact Coordinator, I'm responsible for keeping a lookout with the periscope, figuring out what all the other sea-going traffic is doing, and advising the Officer of the Deck how to avoid said traffic. There's not much traffic around, and we were pretty upbeat after having gotten rid of the Iranian P-3 that had been following us most of the day. As the sun finally sets, I find that I can't see the horizon at all, due to all the dust. Even worse, I picked up a light directly astern of us that hadn't been there before. Could it be an Iranian patrol boat coming to ram us at night? I did an observation (gave the bearing and range to the Fire Control Party) , designated the contact as Victor (visual target) - 38, and conscientiously reported the new contact to the bridge; I figured it was about 10 miles behind us, since that was about how far the horizon was. After another sweep, I did another observation. The light was still directly astern of us, coming straight from the Iranian coast. They must be following us! After I did a third observation, and the contact hadn't changed in bearing by even a tenth of a degree, a horrible realization came over me. Simultaneously, my FTOW asked, "Sir, are you tracking our stern light?" I was, and all I could say was "Drop Victor 38". I don't think I ever lived that one down, no matter how much I reminded the crew of my fellow officer who had tracked an island in the Tsushima Straits for half an hour, even giving it a speed of 5 knots.
OK, it was funny if you were there. It was either post this, or a discussion on how my suggestion for the ship's motto for the USS Connecticut (SSN-22) ("We regret that our enemies have but one life to give for their country") was better than the one actually chosen ("Arsenal of the Nation").
Bell-ringer 0911 10 Feb: Based on a comment, I added "American" to the second sentence to more closely reflect reality. Here's an account that discusses possible British submarine operations in the Gulf during the 1991 Gulf War.