Old Gamers Never Die: Hunting Soviet Sub Tenders in Arctic Ocean is No Cakewalk in ‘Cold Waters’

A Kashin-class destroyer takes evasive action as a torpedo homes in on her.

The Time: 13 November 1984, 1300  Lima

The Place: The Arctic Ocean

The Mission: Intercept and sink a Soviet Don-class (Soviet designation Project 310 Batur) submarine and any REDFLT submarines it might be replenishing and/or rearming. These sub tenders are high-value targets and are likely to have support submarine, surface ship, and naval aircraft.

The entry for the Don-class sub tender in Cold Waters’ Reference section. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

If you play Killerfish Games’ 2017 submarine simulation game Cold Waters regularly, you know that in addition to its three Campaigns and 17 scripted Single Missions, the game also allows players to create their own sandbox scenarios that are set within the geographical and chronological parameters of the three Campaigns 1968 NATO vs. USSR, 1984 NATO vs. USSR, and 2000 U.S. vs. China

These player-created Quick Missions allow you to pick a map/time period from those three campaigns, choose your side (in Cold Waters you can play either as an American submariner or a Russian/Chinese one), select the location of your engagement, time of day, weather and sea state, the types and number of enemies you wish to do battle against, and how much – or how little – air support you want to give your opponent force (OPFOR).  You can even determine how aggressive the enemy ships are – although in all fairness I must point out that even if you don’t choose to increase OPFOR aggressiveness, the enemy will do its best to kill you and your boat.

There are icebergs in this part of the ocean in (no pun intended) Cold Waters. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

I last played Cold Waters earlier this afternoon. I didn’t want to start another Campaign – I’ve completed the 1984 and 2000 ones, but I am not good with the less advanced U.S. Navy weapons available in 1968, so I’m reluctant to try that one now. I also didn’t feel like playing a scripted Single Mission, especially since there are few of those 17 missions that are so hard to play that, well, I avoid them!

This is how Red Storm Rising depicts a Mk-48 ADCAP attack on a Soviet escort ship. (C) 1988 MicroProse and Jack Ryan Enterprises, Ltd.

I still wanted to play Cold Waters – it reminds me so much of my 1990s-era favorite, Red Storm Rising – so I decided to create a mission featuring a Los Angeles-class (aka 688 class) SSN in which the primary target is a submarine tender.

The “Enemy Forces” menu for the North Atlantic 1984 Quick Missions. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

Cold Waters’ 1984 Soviet Navy features two classes of sub tenders that were in service with the Northern Fleet during the last decade of the Cold War: the Don class, of which seven were built, and the Ugra (Project 1886 to the Soviet Navy), which also numbered seven ships.

Both classes are capable of rearming, repairing, and resupplying Soviet subs, including nuclear-powered SSN, SSGN, and SSBN types, but since this was my first “sandbox game” in which tenders are prominent, I chose the Don-class ship.

It’s worth mentioning that even though players can choose which classes they want to pit themselves against from a menu of ships, subs, and planes, the game’s artificial intelligence makes randomized final choices to add some unpredictability to a Quick Mission.  

So, okay. This is what I wanted to do:

I created a “sub tender intercept mission” in the hostile – both literally and metaphorically speaking – waters of the Arctic Ocean near Novaya Zemlya, a Russian island far to the north of Norway and the mainland of the Soviet Union. I chose the following environmental parameters:

Date and Time: 13 November 1984, 1300 Lima

Weather Conditions: Storm

Sea State: Strong breeze

Soviet Force Group 1

5-6 vessels, including an Oscar-class nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine (SSGN), a Don-class submarine tender (AS), a Kashin-class destroyer (DDG) and a Kanin-class destroyer (DDG).

As you can see, I wanted at least one Oscar-class SSGN in the enemy group. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

Because I selected bad weather – storms create noisy environments that have adverse effects on sonar systems – I did not add any Soviet anti-submarine aircraft or helicopters.

Note that I selected a submarine – the Oscar SSGN – as part of the Soviet force. 

So, basically, what I ended up facing was a strange group that consisted of:

  • Three Don class sub tenders
  • One Kashin class destroyer
  • One Kanin class destroyer
  • No submarines

(Interestingly, in a previous Quick Mission involving sub tenders, Cold Waters generated a force which was mostly submarines and surface escorts, but no sub tenders. The randomizer in Cold Waters does some bizarre things in the name of unpredictability.)

Because the weather was, well, bad, my boat (USS Birmingham) had a hard time acquiring and holding sonar contacts. Cynics might say, “Well, you made the game easy because you did not add planes or check the “Aggressive” box when you picked the Soviet OPFOR.” But trust me, this mission was not easy, even though might think so just by looking at the ship types of the game generated.

I mean, would you call a game session easy when it begins with your sonar operator saying, “Conn, Sonar: Lost contact on Sierra One, bearing 237. Contact faded…”?

I didn’t think so.

Dosvidania, Rodina!

Detecting a surface ship – even one as large and noisy as a sub tender – in the noisy environment of an Arctic storm is difficult, even for a 1984-era 688-class fast attack boat like Birmingham. Contacts were acquired, lost, and reacquired several times. Ambient noise made it hard to do a proper Target Motion Analysis (TMA), and even although I wanted to win, I was disappointed when the bulk of the Soviet task force was made up mostly of Don-class tenders.

Even then, the game was not a cakewalk. One of the escorts, a Kashin, fired an ASW torpedo at me that missed me not so much because of deft maneuvering on my part, but rather because my Mk-48 ADCAP torpedo hit the destroyer first and presumably killed the weapons specialist at the controls.

Hunting the last Soviet ship….a Kanin. Note that the awful sonar conditions make it look like the Kanin is far away from the Los Angeles-class boat. It was actually a lot closer than that.

And when I tried to dispatch a tender with UGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, three of those “birds” missed! Eventually, the fourth Harpoon hit and sank the pesky Don, but seriously? Three Harpoons missed?

Nope. This was not a cakewalk by Cold Water standards.

All graphics and game elements from Cold Waters are (C) 2017 Killerfish Games.

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

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