After-Action Report: RVM #69 with Robert Williscroft

Many thanks to Official RINGKNOCKER Dad Robert Williscroft (NESEP ’69) for his talk this evening!

Like many of us, I grew up in the Navy. My dad was a naval officer, my mom was a Navy wife, all the kids at school had dads who went on deployment, and I changed schools about every two years. You know the drill.

But it wasn’t until I grew up and joined the service myself that I learned the Navy I grew up in was a little different from the one my schoolmates knew. In my Navy, there weren’t that many sailors. It was a little hard to tell who was in charge. There were a lot of handlebar mustaches. And absolutely nobody talked about what they actually DID on deployment.

So one day in the late ’90s, after I received my own commission, my dad sent me a book in the mail. The book was newly published, and it told the recently-declassified story of OPERATION IVY BELLS, a Cold-War naval operation so secret that even most of the sailors who directly participated in it had no idea what they were up to… and so technically and tactically audacious that few would have believed it possible. The name of the book was Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage, and my dad’s inscription to me inside the front cover was just three words long: NOW YOU KNOW.

Robert has just published Operation Arctic Sting, the third in his Mac MacDowell Mission series of adventure novels, which are based on his experiences around OPERATION IVY BELLS. The ink on that one is barely dry and for my own part I can tell you that I’m already pestering him about #4.

Tonight we dug into many different angles of this story, including…

  • The real-life back story of OPERATION IVY BELLS.
  • The story told in the novels, where the IVY BELLS dive team is tapped for additional missions.
  • The Soviet Alfa submarine, a contemporary marvel of automation and minimum manning that carried a deadly design flaw.
  • The role of marine mammals in the novels and in the real lives of deep divers. AKA how to make friends with a killer whale.
  • An exploration of the physical realities of living and breathing at 30+ atmospheres of pressure.

There was lots more, and we’ll get it all out in the clips!

Different topic: before we got started, there was a little discussion about efforts to reduce air pollution in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital. I described one of the realities of life in Indonesia: wherever you go, whenever you go there, something’s on fire.

After the Meetup, I went out to breakfast. And on the way home, I passed this burning rice field.

Random rice field burning in Canggu, Bali (click to zoom)

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