Literature / The Hunt for Red October
The first and most famous novel by Tom Clancy, first published in 1984. It is the fourth novel to take place chronologically in the Ryanverse.

It's a Cold War tale of the fictional "Typhoon" class missile submarine Krasniy Oktyabr ("Red October"). The sub has an experimental ducted tunnel drive, which allows it to run more quietly than any other ship at sea; effectively making it nigh-invisible to sonar detection. On its first deployment, Captain Marko Ramius murders his political officer, taking his set of keys for the October's nuclear missiles. Conspiring with his senior officers, Ramius notifies his crew that they will be testing the ship by evading both the U.S. and Soviet navies to reach the eastern coast of the United States itself....

Not desiring to lose their sub or the secret of the "caterpillar drive", the Soviets send their surface and attack-sub fleets after it, an amount of activity that's suspicious to the other side.

The Americans must find the sub before it is destroyed, assuming that CIA analyst Jack Ryan is right that the officers plan to defect — as opposed to just unilaterally launching their missiles...

The Typhoon-class submarine is real, and the largest submarine in the world. The submarine in the story, though, is quite considerably different to its real-life counterpart, to the point where they can't really be considered the same vessel, mainly because of its fictional "silent" propulsion system and due to a lot of details of the Typhoons having been classified at the time.

The 1990 film adaptation stars Sean Connery, playing the Lithuanian captain Marko Ramius, and Alec Baldwin, playing Jack Ryan.

The book contains examples of:

  • Anti-Mutiny: The GRU mole, placed there as a final line of defense against an act of barratry or defection.
  • Arbitrary Minimum Range: Russian torpedoes have a safety feature that will only arm the torpedo when it is a safe distance away from the ship that fired it. Captain Ramius knows this so he steers his submarine toward an incoming torpedo so the torpedo does not have time to arm itself and bounces harmlessly off the sub's hull. The pursuing sub then deactivates the safety feature for its next shot so the torpedo no longer has a minimum range. Just like Ramius wanted. His next trick is to redirect the resulting unsafetied torpedo into destroying the attacking sub!
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: Sonarman 1/C Jones. In just a few hours, he finds a way to beat the Red October's top secret stealth propulsion system and track the sub.
  • Badass Bookworm: Jack Ryan: CIA academic and retired Marine, with a doctorate in history.
  • Badass Bureaucrat: Jack Ryan starts as this. He is considered completely incorruptible and can figure out any riddle that international politics can bring to bear.
  • Based on a True Story: the story was inspired by a real-life mutiny on board a Soviet frigate (the Storozhevoy, mentioned in the book) in 1975, but differs in several key respects from it. Most notably in that Valery Sablin (the real-life mutineer) was attempting to ignite a second, anti-Stalinist bolshevik revolution, rather than flee to the west in his lust for blue jeans and Coca-Cola.
  • Batman Gambit: Much of the defecting officers' plans relied on one of these, by instilling paranoia in the crew through radiation tests, refusal to inform the enlisted crew of the situation and other suspicious activities, to the point where the crew would gladly leave the ship to be scuttled without asking too many questions.
  • Bothering by the Book: The President had the Attorney General dig up some precedents in maritime law that would have granted America the right to keep the Red October until such time as the Russians paid the US Government a finder's fee as determined by a salvage court — which had a one year backlog of cases to go through before even attempting to assess how much the Russians would have to fork over to get their sub back. However, since the Navy and CIA worked out a plan to trick the Russians into thinking that the Red October had been destroyed, this scheme never got past the planning stage.
  • Burning the Ships: Ramius sends a letter to the chief political officer of the Soviet Navy stating that he and his command staff are defecting. When his staff officers ask him why he did it, he says the knowledge that there is no way back will strengthen their motivation and commitment.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Jones is described as weird even by Navy sub sonarman standards.
  • Buzz Job:
    • At one point a Yak-38 Forger intends to do this to an American E-3, buzzing by with his missiles plainly visible, but the AWACS sees him coming and sends a flight of F-15s as an "escort". He's still worked up over it when a pair of F-14s buzz his flight, and he actually fires at them, severely damaging the flight controls of one, while the other settles in behind ready to shoot the lot of them down, but American commanders call him off.
    • Later in the book a flight of A-10s buzz a Russian cruiser and shoot off flares to send a message.
  • The Captain: Bart Mancuso of the USS Dallas, and Marko Ramius of the Red October.
  • Chekhov's Gun: A minor one, but the Politovskiy gets mentioned as one of Ramius's only missteps, when a crash into a whale nearly sinks the ship, but Marco manages to save the ship and crew. Later on, the Politovskiy, as one of the ships sent to pursue the Red October, suffers a fatal reactor failure that kills the crew. Its death has one last part to play, when the only survivor, a cook, plays as an in-universe Red Herring to the Russians, believing that he was possibly a member of the crew of the October.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Loginov, the cook's assistant who witnessed Ramius taking the political officer's keys, is the GRU sleeper agent.
  • Chromosome Casting
  • CIA Evil, FBI Good: Mostly averted though it is acknowledged that the CIA does some Dirty Business.
  • The Consigliere: Jeffrey Pelt is the President's National Security Advisor.
  • Critical Staffing Shortage: The final act (at least in the book version) gives some additional difficulties to the people that remain on the titular missile sub because they're twenty people handing a ship designed to be run by a crew of roughly a hundred and twenty. An earlier sub-plot excised from the movie version involved the running of an about-to-be-decommissioned American sub to the spot where the Red October was to be "sunk" and be destroyed in its stead, while also being only staffed by about a dozen officers who had to do multiple duties, like an engineer working as a cook when off-shift.
  • Crusading Widower: The last straw turning Ramius against the Soviet Union was the death of his wife. He came to the revelation, at her miserable excuse for a funeral, that the government had not only been responsible for her death, it also left him no choice but to deny the hope — even if it was a false hope — of seeing her again.
  • Daddy's Girl: Jack Ryan always remembers to get his daughter a present, even when busy saving the world.
  • Damage Control: The sub takes damage in a fight with another sub and has to be repaired.
  • Dated History: The fall of the Iron Curtain led to the revelation that a number of Clancy's guesses about the Soviet stuff were completely wrong:
    • The Storozhevoy, the Real Life basis for the story, is mentioned in the novel as attempting to defect to the West. The political officer who led the mutiny (and was later shot) was actually attempting to mimic the actions of the Avrora in 1917: sail into Leningrad, denounce the cronyism of the Brezhnev regime, and demand reform among Leninist lines.
    • Many technical details about the Red October and the Typhoon class in general, such as the unique internal arrangement of these vessels (practically two big submarines and three minisubs connected inside an outer shell), the number of reactors and the lack of a missile room, which would have invalidated several plot points. There are similar problems with his depiction of the Alfa class.
    • Zampoliti didn't have authority over combat matters, were strictly subordinate to the commanding officer, and functioned similarly to a chaplain in a Western military.
    • Most Soviet vessels weren't named; then again, The Hunt for K-139 doesn't really sing or dance.
    • The reactor accident that sinks the first Alfa would be impossible; they used a liquid metal cooled nuclear reactor that wasn't pressurized, and any leaking coolant would simply have frozen, sealing the leak. Ironically, the use of a liquid metal plant rather than an American-style pressurized water reactor is mentioned as a faulty guess by U.S. military intelligence.
    • The "Crazy Ivan" was a real maneuver. Its existence was highly classified when the book was written; Clancy had figured it out himself. However, it had by and large been rendered obsolete by the use of towed-array sonar equipment, which was also classified at the time.
  • Death By Child Birth: Ramius' mother died giving birth to him.
  • Death by Falling Over: How Ramius disposes of Putin.
  • Defector from Decadence: See It's Personal.
  • Excessive Steam Syndrome: The Soviet officers mention a cook who tried cleaning his pots and pans with steam from the primary coolant loop (read: radioactive steam) for the ship's reactor and ended up killing himself and irradiating the entire engine compartment. "I bet he got his pans cleaned, though. They may even be safe to use in another fifty years."
  • Everyone Knows Morse: Justified: the British Signals Officer is the one who sends the message via blinker from HMS Invincible to the Red October. It is described as a slow and rather jerky process since the officer is a bit rusty at it. On the other hand, Ramius knowing Morse is entirely believable, since he's from an older school of military.
  • Expy: Andre Narmonov is one for Soviet premier Konstantin Chernenko; when he died 11 months after taking office, later novels would turn him into an expy of Gorbachev.
  • A Father to His Men: Ramius and his wife, in the backstory that is given, are said to have taken junior officers in as the children that they never had.
  • Feed the Mole: The CIA uses Henderson to feed the KGB false data about the operation to acquire the eponymous submarine of the novel.
  • Four-Star Badass: Admiral Greer
  • Good Is Not Soft: One of the Joint Chiefs hints that DCI Arthur Moore, a laid-back, soft spoken former judge, was involved in some very dark stuff in his CIA career, like making the crew of a captured North Korean freighter disappear.
  • He Knows Too Much: Ryan tries to talk the GRU mole into surrendering, but it's a waste of time as both parties know the CIA will kill him to preserve the secret of Red October being in their hands.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Played with in that the crew of the Red October end up believing Ramius and the officers scuttled the sub to prevent its capture by the Americans.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: A Sleazy Politician who had repeatedly butted heads with the CIA over his fishing for information during the committees he chaired. He eventually got a CIA-turned agent killed. The CIA began to investigate him and learned that he was leaking info to an aide who was a Double Agent. Said aide was arrested for espionage and treason, allowing the CIA to pressure him into retiring in order to prevent his name being tied to the scandal.
  • Hot Sub-on-Sub Action: The primary focus of the naval scenes is the cat-and-mouse game played by NATO and Soviet submarines, with the climax involving actual combat between the Red October and the Konavalov, with the Dallas being restricted from directly assisting by the rules of engagement limiting it to defensive fire only.
  • If I Wanted You Dead...:
    • The Americans, being understandably nervous about the Soviet fleet off their shores, give them several such moments, with the Crowning Moment of Awesome being having four A-10 Warthogs zoom in under the radar horizon and box the Kirov with flares.
    • At first, the Americans are scared Ramius might be getting in range of his nuclear missiles in an attempt to single-handedly start a nuclear war. It's quickly pointed out that his missiles are perfectly capable of doing so from where he undocked: "He's had six days to do it and he hasn't done it." See A Nuclear Error below.
    • Inverted during the final showdown, the political officer of the Soviet submarine Konovalov is worried about the American subs protecting Red October. Captain Tupolev replies that he will ignore Dallas and Pogy and points out that if the Americans had authorization to shoot (which they only did if they were shot at first), one of them would have already sunk Konovalov. Tupolev is still operating under his original mission orders and already has permission to shoot Red October, but he cannot shoot at the Americans.
  • Informed Flaw: Ivan Putin is characterized as an evil man with no conscience; he only appears in a single chapter of the book, during which he exhibits none of these tendencies. His biggest sin is simply being annoying and blathering on about how pretty Gorky is in the winter.
  • It's Personal:
    • Ramius' main motive was to punish the state for the fact that his wife had died in a botched operation directed by a surgeon who had got the job from Party Patronage, compounded by faulty medicine that did nothing to improve Mrs. Ramius' health. Further, what he considers the greatest crime is the State's suppression of religion that robbed him of "the hope, even if it was a lie", of seeing his wife again.
    • Several of Ramius' officers have similar stories of being screwed over and subjected to indignities by the state. One was repeatedly denied promotion for decades because his parents, despite being loyal Communists, were Jewish; another was sexually propositioned by a superior officer, and was subsequently punished for reporting the impropriety because the man was the son of an extremely high-ranking party official.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: One of first actions taken by Ramius is to break Ivan Putin's neck and then set it up to look like he slipped on spilled tea and fell backwards into the corner of a table. This is largely done to fool Doctor Petrov and the enlisted men so that they would not discover the officers' plans.
  • Mr. Exposition: Melekhin, the officer in charge of the nuclear power plant aboard Red October. As one of his subordinates thinks, he's the slowest and most methodical man in the world when he's trying to demonstrate an important point. His detection and repair of the supposed "sabotage" and radiation leak is accompanied by a detailed lecture to the subordinate in question as to how it was done and why this "leak" was so hard to find.
  • Mr. Fixit: Skip Tyler
  • The Mutiny: Inverted. An American officer calls it a mutiny, only to be told that "mutiny" is when the crew rises against officers. When the officers try to steal their ship, the correct term is "barratry".
  • Nerds Are Sexy: It's stated that Jonesy, despite not being hugely attractive, gets a lot of "action" on shore leave.
  • A Nuclear Error: Averted — it's specifically stated that A) if he had wanted to and were capable of doing so, Ramius could have launched from the dockside and his missiles would still have enough range to hit the U.S. and B) Soviet controls against a rogue launch are even stricter than their NATO equivalents.
  • Oh Crap!: Several cases, but one of the most justifiable was the reaction of the crew of the Dallas when the nuclear missile the GRU mole attempted to sabotage was jettisoned, causing them to worry that the October was launching said missile.
  • The Political Officer:
    • Putin on board the Red October. Described as the perfect zampolit, a landsman and an easy man to fear.
    • Ramius' father, Aleksandr, was a distinguished political commissar in the 40s. Marko was deeply ashamed to be the son of a true Stalinist hero
  • Ramming Always Works: Justified by Red October lacking enough manpower to fire torpedoes and Ramius' expert knowledge of how Soviet submarines handle (and their commanders behave), being effectively the submarine captain version of a test pilot for new designs. And because they plan to dissect the sub anyway so a little damage is less of a big deal. It helps that the Typhoon Class sub was a lot bigger than it's target.
  • Reporting Names: A Soviet officer is asked what his sub is actually called and doesn't answer — in case you wanted to know, a Project 671RTM, known to NATO as the "Victor III".
  • Ruptured Appendix: Due to drunkenness while on duty, a surgeon botched removing an inflamed appendix from the wife of Marko Ramius, the organ bursting because the doctor took too long to try to sober up by breathing pure oxygen.note 
  • Saving Christmas: What a time for a possible World War III!
    Capt. Randall Tait: [thinking] A missile sub right off our coast, and all this activity in the North Atlantic... Christmas season. Dear God! If they were going to do it, they would do it right now, wouldn't they?
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: A Soviet doctor who was drunk on duty botched what should have been a simple appendix removal. Being the son of a senior party official, he remained unpunished for the violation of the rules and the death resulting in it. This is part of what drove Ramius to defect, as the victim was his wife.
  • Shown Their Work: The portrayal of submarine life and submarine warfare is pretty realistic — in some cases, too realistic, as some of the technology got Clancy a visit from the government to find out how he knew about it, as it was classified top secret at the time.
  • The Smart Guy: Submarine warfare is probably the geekiest form of war yet invented by mankind and this book is practically an orgy of smartness. Nevertheless Seaman Jones the sonarman is closest to the classic model, with the Executive Officer of the Dallas mentally commenting that Seaman Jones has the highest IQ on the boat by a healthy margin.
  • Stock British Phrases: Clancy's attempts at writing dialogue for the British characters fall short of reality.
    • Near the end, Mancuso, aboard the Red October, impersonates a British officer over the radio, just to throw off any nearby snoops wondering what an obviously non-American sub is doing in Chesapeake Bay at four in the morning.
  • The Strategist: Ramius, whose plan sets everything in motion. Jeffrey Pelt, Admiral Greer, and to some degree Jack Ryan. And the unnamed President.
  • Technology Porn: Several pieces of military hardware in the US (and Russian, to a lesser extent) get paragraphs of description.
  • Techno Wizard: Seaman Jones is not only an expert on US Navy sonar systems, but even with the handicap of not knowing Russian he does pretty good with Soviet hardware aboard the Red October.
  • Title Drop: "'We will find him and finish him,' Tupolev said calmly, fully caught up in the hunt for Red October."
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle: The eponymous Hunt is called off about 80% through after the October's apparent going down. Cue a lingering Soviet attack sub.