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

The Last Sentry: The True Story that Inspired The Hunt for Red October. By Gregory D. Young and Nate Braden. (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2005. Pp. 250. $19.99.)

This is an exciting account of the 1975 mutiny aboard one of the Soviet Navy's most advanced warships, the destroyer Storozbevoy (Sentry in English). The mutiny was led by the ship's political commissar, Valery Sablin, a Communist idealist who became fed up with conditions in the Soviet Union and hoped that the mutiny would trigger the overthrow of Leonid Brezhnev's government.

The Soviets suppressed news of the incident, but one of the authors of this work, Gregory D. Young, a U.S. naval officer, succeeded in piecing the story together while studying at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. His report was discovered in 1982 by Tom Clancy, who made it the basis of his best-selling fictionalized account, The Hunt for Red October. However, unlike Clancy's novel, the ending of The Last Sentry is tragic. Sablin's ship was bombed and seized by the Soviet military, and he subsequently was executed.

Though Sablin's story is exciting to read, it is particularly valuable for the insights it provides into the conditions that existed in Brezhnev's empire. In a speech to the crew (reproduced in the book's appendix) that Sablin delivered after he had imprisoned the ship's captain, he accused the Brezhnev regime of depriving the people of basic human rights, as well as necessary consumer goods, while squandering the country's natural resources on the military-industrial complex. Most of the crew went along with him, not only because they believed what he said was true, but also because Sablin lied to them when he said that other naval units were also preparing to rebel.

Why did Sablin believe he could overthrow the Brezhnev government? Because he knew, from his study of Russian history, that naval mutinies had succeeded in bringing about political changes in the past. Several warships of the Russian Black Sea Fleet mutinied in 1905, triggering a revolution that prompted Czar Nicholas II to accept a constitution. The Bolshevik Revolution in November 1917 began when the cruiser Aurora fired on the Winter Palace. Moreover, Brezhnev's government reacted as though Sablin's mutiny was the beginning of a coup, which helps to explain why the Soviets covered up the incident.

The Last Sentry is an impressively researched, clearly written, and balanced assessment of a significant event in Soviet history. Additionally, the authors interweave Soviet history throughout their account of the mutiny. For this reason, among others, the book should be of interest not only to specialists in naval history but also to more general readers seeking to understand why the Soviet Union collapsed.

Ronald E. Powaski

Cleveland State University

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Author:Powaski, Ronald E.
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2006
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