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Doomsday Ships Were Ready to Ride Out Nuclear Armageddon Before Doomsday Planes (thedrive.com)
96 points by pseudolus 12 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 76 comments

It's fiction, but I really enjoyed the chapters of World War Z [1] from the perspective of the nuclear submarine, and their "oh it seems like the world is ending, we have to wait this out" perspective. Really something that just get's you thinking, and I'm not sure if I feel safer, or more worried that people have been thinking about exactly that.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_Z

What a fantastic book. The movie was such a disappointment.

The book was so great, I have to read it again. The movie, so, well, it has nothing to do with the book, does it?

The book is also the only zombie fiction that really covers, somewhat realistically, the period between case zero and the break down of society. All other shows just show the early outbreak and then jump right into the post apocalyptic anarchy.

One good historical precedent to build this kind of fiction upon would be the Black Death in Europe. Good sources, real apocalyptic pandemic without counter measures. And yet society didn't completely disintegrate. World War Z is the only work I know of that comes close.

The unabridged audiobook is actually better than book, because of the amazing actors.

It amazes me that I like even though it requires a huge suspension of disbelief when the military is brought up.

Thanks for the tip. I just borrowed that from my library. The cast of voice actors is impressive

Make sure you get the later unabridged version since it has the full book and some really cool performances.

That's.... actually movies in general (IMHO).

To me the last 20 years has been the true Golden Age of Television because streaming has enabled the rise of serialized TV as the best medium to adapt long form written content.

Movies are for comics, short stories and literary works (because they tend to be incredibly short). TV is for novels.

Like Game of Thrones would never have worked as a movie (or even a series of movies). It's just such a shame it mysteriously ended after season 6.

Back in 2006 I actually had a conversation with someone after seeing Deadwood (fantastic show BTW) where I literally said that the GRRM books should be a TV show and it would probably take the likes of HBO to do it. IIRC HBO optioned the books in 2007.

I haven't read WWZ but yeah, the movie... was not great. Like 3 things happened.

Movies, miniseries, and long-running TV series are just all different. Even if it means trimming out subplots and side stories, a lot of the time I just want a story that plays out over a couple hours. (I'm also not sure the distinction you're drawing between "literary works" and novels. There are tons of novels that are "literature" and many have been made into very good films.)

I agree with your basic point that streaming has somewhat freed video from the confines of either having a ~2 hour film or a generally episodic TV series that runs for as long as people will continue to watch it. There have obviously been various exceptions but 2 hour film or Law and Order was pretty much the norm.

I’m looking forward to Apple’s upcoming TV versions of Dune by Frank Herbert and Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy. These are such big stories that they can’t be squeezed into a movie without losing their allure.

My guess is that the studio knew the adaptation of such book would make a mediocre movie, and decided to save the effort and go straight to mediocre movie instead.

I guess it doesn’t have a likeable protagonist per se and is mostly episodic. Maybe it would work better as a Tv show instead? Still I came away disappointed.

Yeah, as a TV show it would almost be an anthology series. Lots of little vignettes told in the same continuity with totally different casts.

I didn't hate it. I just didn't like it that much. What most stuck with me was that it seemed like it required a string of unlikely events/coincidences without which you wouldn't have had a movie. So, yes, episodic in that sense.

If I had seen the movie before reading the book, I think I would have enjoyed both, maybe the problem was our high expectations.

I've always said it should have been handed to HBO to make a mini series out of it.

Felt like it needed the starship troopers sort of treatment as a movie.

I like the film. It wasn't anything to do with the book except in name, that was disappointing. But taking the film as its own thing I thought it was good.

I think the book would be better as a series.

Me too. The scene on the passenger aircraft really stood out for me. Honestly don't understand the hate for the movie, as it allows the book to stand on its own.

The hate is the vocal minority (those of us that love the book)

Think of it this way, if the lord of the rings films had kept the idea of a powerful ring and orcs, but changed the pacing, plot and characters, most people who liked the books would be understandably pissed.

Sadly it seems to be an on going trend with cherished books.

First WWZ, then Artemis Fowl, and soon, Discworld's The Watch....

What a fantastic book. The movie was such a disappointment.

The only let-down about WWZ was the lack of a convincing biology or physics model for the zombies. The Girl With All The Gifts does it better IMHO (only read the book, not seen the film).

I found the movie to be far better.

What did you like about the movie? The book made the whole “surviving a zombie apocalypse” trope...I hesitate to say realistic, but at least more realistic than other treatments at the time. What I remember of the movie, a standArd blockbuster. Nothing wrong with that I just felt that it was much weaker than the book.

Similar setup with the submarine in Terminator Salvation.

Too bad that movie was terrible, terrible, terrible. Worst movie in the franchise IMHO.

Richard Rhodes in his two-volume work on A-Bomb and H-Bomb development talks a lot about MAD and how it led to rational but awful thinking. In the absence of better choices, the planners did what they thought was best, but both sides came to realise the only suitable posture was to be capable of retaliation and make sure the other side knew it, but also to minimise belief there was specific hostile intent.

Politicians didn't like it. the US never renounced first strike.

I still struggle with how "hard" a hardened C&C jet can be, and I think there is a general principle, that the EMP pulse you can defend against is not as big as the one the enemy can produce.

I read that defector provided soviet jets at one point had tiny weeny valves, which were not indications of how backward their electrical engineering was: they were capable of being rad-hardened more than the IC's of the time. I'm not sure this is true.

>tiny weeny valves

For US readers, a "valve" (in the context of electrionics) is known as a vacuum tube on this side of the pond. It's called "valve" in British english because it controls electricity like a valve does water.

> I read that defector provided soviet jets at one point had tiny weeny valves, which were not indications of how backward their electrical engineering was: they were capable of being rad-hardened more than the IC's of the time. I'm not sure this is true.

Viktor Belenko's defection to Japan w/ a MiG-25 is a fascinating story unto itself. But, yes, the MiG-25 had vacuum tubes and other design elements that seemed like anachronisms @ first glance.

> The use of vacuum tubes also made the aircraft's systems resistant to an electromagnetic pulse, for example after a nuclear blast. They were also presumably used to provide radiation hardening for the avionics.


Whenever Vacuum tubes and Soviet Era aircraft are brought up it's stated they used vacuum tubes because they lacked the capabilities to make semiconductors. I am sure it helped with rad-hardening but it was not the reason they chose the tech.

Any book recommendations about this (the defection story)?

Belenko cowrote an autobiography, MiG Pilot.


There's an episode of the (excellent) podcast Hardcore History by Dan Carlin that explores the topic of MAD and articulates it extremely well (IMHO). The episode is called the Destroyer of Worlds [1].

[1]: https://www.dancarlin.com/hardcore-history-59-the-destroyer-...

I have heard what seemed like a rational justification for first strike.

For MAD to be effective you need to convince people you’re both able and willing to vindictively kill off large swaths of the worlds population. As such you do want to come off as just slightly unhinged which having first strike capability projects.

The main reason for US/NATO not to renounce first strike was because it would be fairly easily overwhelmed by Warsaw Pact forces if WP attacked conventionally. Probably some kind of large WP exercise turned real very quickly combined with Spetsnaz causing havoc behind NATO lines.

First strike was needed in order to slow things down and do some damage, in theory to a) give the US time to rush conventional forces to Europe, b) bloody the nose of WP enough to make them think twice and c) destroy as much as possible of the WP rear areas and reinforcements. If the WP had gone through the Fulda Gap or the South option near Switzerland -tactical nuclear mines, Special Operations nuclear devices, tactical nuclear artillery, tactical aircraft attacks etc would have been used pretty quickly on them.

In reality it probably would have escalated to far worse than that pretty quickly I'm guessing.

This fictionalized account will always be strange and chilling.


It remembers me of a fictional documentary like 20 ago in German TV covering the third world war. The premise was a military coup in Russia. Back then, Jelzin just squashed the coup attempt against Gorbatshev. The development was very cold war like, focused on Germany and ended with a full scale nuclear war. Quite chilling. Only criticism I would have is that the Russians were the bad guys, so.

Edit 1: I think that's the one (in German): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJ3vkqDaPdg

Edit 2: It is set before the fall of the USSR and the German reunification, classic cold war stuff. Just watching it. Forgot the details, but damn the fall of the iron curtan could really have ended differently. Basically, Gorbatshev was forced to step down and military hawks took over.

Reply: There is a version on Youtube with English subs. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EpicB7YI3B8

Well that was an interesting way to start the week.

Only skimmed the timeline quickly of the video quickly (ticker headlines gave a good indication of events) and the script seems to roughly follow modernized equivalent events of the first hour of the movie The Day After from 1983. (a worthy watch but not really for enjoyment) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iyy9n8r16hs

Do yourself a favour and never watch the BBC Movie from the 80s called Threads about a nuclear war breaking out. Incredible movie but by far the most depressing thing I've ever watched. I felt down for days after watching it during college one time. Never been so effected by a movie. Quite a remarkable piece of work.

Another is Countdown to Looking Glass. It starts out as being told through live news reports although I guess the writers couldn't find a way to maintain that type of storytelling through the whole movie.

Although it's not nuclear war, a better example in the same vein is Special Bulletin.

More of the the US bomber crew/SAC footgage can be seen here in this SAC promo video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gcREJyRmZGg

and here in this PBS documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jlPEBROvR9w

Another story I can't validate, is that most of the EEC (at the time) agreed that if there was any attempt by NATO forces to arm and deploy the bombs held inside the european territory and they hadn't agreed, they'd seize them.

Basically, first-strike was a posture in public. The real question was "who commanded it"

Conversely in the early days of NATO, the US nuclear command and control was aggressively re-engineered when it was realized that a 24 year old private on a European airbase with the keys to the arming mechanisms for the on-site nuclear bombs wasn't actually going to deter a European battlefield commander who believed he needed to use them right now.

Daniel Ellsberg was rather alarmed to find that Eisenhower had secretly delegated nuclear release capability to regional commanders who had then delegated authority to fairly low level commanders. This delegation wasn't removed when Kennedy became president.

Rhodes writes about earlier concern whose finger was on what button, iirc when Macarthur panicked about the Korean war and requested local tactical command.

I'd be interested in learning more about this - can you point me to any sources?

The Sandia National Labs youtube channel has some great documentaries on the history of US nuclear policy: the one I watched (of a few) was Always/Never: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLouetuxaIMDrht4F8xiS4...

Which is kind of an oral history of the development of the current command and control systems (includes some great notes on things like "how unlikely the air force thought a mid-air collision of nuclear armed bombers was" - the spoiler is surprisingly more likely then it was thought after the second one happened).

Daniel Elllsberg's "The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner" covers this (and other related issues) in good detail.


Tom Clancy's novel Red Storm Rising is all about a similar war (which doesn't go nuclear).

"Deterrence is the art of producing, in the mind of the enemy, the fear to attack. [...] The whole point of a doomsday machine is lost if you keep it a secret." ~~ Dr. Strangelove

Its forgotten now but during the Cold War there were lengthy discussions in Europe and the USSR about just how willing the US would be to go to WW3 over Paris or Berlin.

Both the French and the English decided to maintain their own nuclear deterrent for this reason.

A Vault-Tec ship docking after 200 some odd years in a port city sounds like a good idea for a Fallout game. Get on it Bethesda!

This is fun just because im rereading Seveneves, which i highly recommend as a fun fictional 'what if a cataclysmic event took place with near current technology'.

One of the minor plots is a submarine equipped to handle thermonuclear war being further fitted to survive the several thousand years to ride out the event. I wont spoil it further.

Reminds me of the scifi post-apoc novel "The Last Ship" by William Brinkley about a US navy ship taking part in mutual destruction and surviving to roam the dying world and start over with a partly female crew.

Also similar: “on the beach”

In On the Beach I seem to recall the crew of the submarine dying horribly, along with everyone else

A spoiler alert would be a good idea -- not everyone has read it. :)

It's a very good novel on the same theme, and thus relevant. Highly recommended.

I mean yeah, but the books from 1957 so I'm not sure if thats completely necessary :P

They made a TV show of that right? Haven’t seen it but may check it out. Was the book any good?

The show is very loosely related, as rather than a nuclear war the ship takes part in, there's a pandemic that devastates the world that the ship is coincidentally protected from by isolation.

It was pretty ok but not good imo. Too much emotional introspection by the narrating character, the captain. Not enough action or detail in the society building.

Never heard of the TV show. I'm sort of afraid of watching it, kinda like the Timeline movie based on the Crichton novel.

The show performed terribly.

>the Wright could deploy an unmanned QH-43 Huskie helicopter, a unique version of the Kaman design that could lift a super very-low-frequency antenna over two miles into the air and thereby communicate with Navy submarines around the globe.

Wow, I wonder if that’s really for a two mile wave or if it’s coiled to really be far bigger.

Almost certainly coiled, where "coiled" might be using the earth itself as half of a capacitor:


There's at least one other US Navy VLF station as well in Cutler Maine. A few countries have lower frequency ELF transmitters, but the US abandoned its facility.

The VLF land stations are on 24.8 kHz, which is 7.4miles wavelength. The two mile antenna is probably a 1/4 wave dipole.

The sub comms are at 25 kHz, which is 3000m at 1/4 wavelength. So 2 miles makes sense for a 1/4 wave monopole with the Earth as a counterpoise.

The UK had plans in the 1960s for the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, and the Home Secretary to spend WW3 on board the royal yacht Britannia, which would use remote Scottish lochs to hide.

(The Home Secretary was there to allow quorate meetings of the Privy Council, including to appoint a new Prime Minister).

Later on, a class of car ferries were built with airtight doors that could seal the car deck, as well as other features allowing them to be used as floating nuclear bunkers.

Presumably one of the reasons the Britannia carried Royal Marines was to fend off Spetsnaz or possibly rebellious locals.

HMY Britannia was commissioned and crewed by the Royal Navy, and like other RN vessels would carry Royal Marines as part of the “Ships Force Protection Team”. With the Head of State onboard, and visiting foreign ports ... it would have made sense to have a lot of amphibious infantry on hand, just in case.

I knew someone who was having a quiet walk with their dog on a secluded beach in the Outer Hebrides when they were surprised to find marines landing and running past them into the dunes and not speaking to them.

A few minutes later Elizabeth and Margaret arrived with their dogs - an obligatory conversation about the weather and respective dog breeds was had before all the visitors piled back into their boats.

Take Charge and Move Out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TACAMO

Since the ships main purpose was communication, wouldn't that mean, it could have been easily detected by the enemy, and then the command chain would vanish?

Detection is one thing, targeting is another. Back then the Soviet Union didn't have much of a blue water navy, or many reconnaissance satellites, or missiles that could accurately hit a moving ship.

The text mentions spy satelites as the main factor that came later, as well as cruise missiles etc.

But still, radio triangulation was a known technic and submarines did exist and should have been expected to be build by the sovjets, so I am still wondering a bit, why the dedection issue was not mentioned.

thanks i now have 8 tabs open of different articles from this site.

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