Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Book review - Red Storm Rising

Since author Tom Clancy passed away this month it is only fitting that I review one of his books.

Red Storm Rising was his second published book, way back in 1986. At that time the Soviet Union ruled over a large part of the planet and its military forces were equipped with modern equipment.  Although the ‘evil empire’ was close to collapse nobody knew it at the time.

After the defeat of the USA in the Vietnam War, the late 1970’s –early 1980’s saw a resurgence of Soviet influence in global politics. US president Ronald Reagan countered the Soviets by starting an arms race and by supporting anti-Soviet forces in Eastern Europe and in Afghanistan.
In that sense Clancy’s book is a product of the Reagan militarism of the 1980’s. The roles are clearly defined with the Soviets being evil and trying to conquer the world while the Americans are the force of democracy and freedom. The Soviets have numbers on their side, while the Americans have to rely on technology and initiative. It sounds a bit simplistic but I think that in this book it works out.

The story starts in the Soviet Union when a group of Afghan ‘freedom fighters’ attacks an important Soviet oil facility and manages to blow it up. The shortfall in oil production has catastrophic consequences for the already faltering Soviet economy and thus the Soviet leadership decides to conquer the Middle Eastern oil fields. Since this action will lead to a global war the KGB carries out an attack against the Kremlin that leads to the death of schoolchildren and pins the blame on a West German national. This gives them an excuse to attack West Germany for supposedly organizing this attack.

Initially the NATO forces are caught by surprise and suffer serious reverses. Soviet naval troops manage to occupy Iceland and the fighting in Germany is going badly for the Western side.
The Soviet goal in the Atlantic is to shut down the transfer of troops and munitions from the US to Europe. In order to achieve that goal they rely on long range bombers equipped with cruise missiles. Their first attack against a US convoy leads to heavy losses for the US side and even carriers are sunk. The Americans then respond by attacking the bomber bases and retake Iceland.

In Germany the fighting is costly for both sides but the NATO countries use their superior airforces to stop the Soviet attack and a surprise counterattack by the new M1 Abrams tanks breaches the Soviet front and dismantles their rear positions.
With their conventional attack defeated the Soviet leadership is ready to authorize the use of nuclear weapons. This disastrous scenario forces General Alekseyev (commander of the Soviet forces in the West) to take matters into his own hands and using a loyal division he storms the Politburo and arrests the communist leadership.

The book ends with both sides coming to the negotiating table but with NATO having the upper hand militarily.

It should be noted that although the Soviets are the bad guys they are not all evil. The communist politicians and the KGB are shown to be duplicitous and amoral but the military officers are brave, honorable and willing to sacrifice themselves in order to achieve victory.

One thing that can be held against Clancy is that in order for the good guys to win some weapon systems do things that they were not designed to do in real life! For example the US forces use the stealth aircraft F-117 (called F-19 in the book) to take out Soviet long range radar planes. The problem is that this plane was not designed for aerial warfare but for ground attack missions. In another part of the book the naval F-14 fighters use their long range missiles in order to shoot down Soviet bombers. First of all long range missiles of that era had a very poor record. In this specific case things would be even worse since the F-14’s did not use their radar for guidance but instead relied on the onboard optical system…

Overall this is an enjoyable novel, although a bit dated. You will get most out of it if you are already interested in the military equipment of that era.

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