Wednesday, March 25, 2015

"The Ocean Man", John Craven, Cold War era scientist and spy master, passes at 90



John Pina Craven in his University of Hawaii Years

John Craven, an obscure Cold Warrior, other than in the Silent Service circles, went silent himself on February 12, 2015 at age 90. Craven was not well known to the general public, as he should not have been, he was a Cold War era spy. He is well known by the people who worked with him in the military, served in the submarine service he supported, worked with him in his civilian projects days, and, to Cold War researchers like me. To us, he is the "The Ocean Man", a moniker President Nixon gave him when they first met. He liked it that way, I presume, based on the clandestine professional life he lived and his love for the ocean. After reading his autobiography and several books where his exploits are prominently portrayed, I can tell he really enjoyed his career and life defending this country during the Cold War.

Craven was one of many instrumental players in the conversion of the U.S. Navy's submarine service from a war patrol fighting entity, to a stealth nuclear deterrent force. As Chief Scientist of the Navy Special Operations Office, among other government entities in his career, he supervised various military development programs, dreamt up wold solutions to undersea problems, pushed for deep submergence capability, and assisted with locating items on the ocean floor. His name is consistently referenced in regards to exceptional accomplishments concerning the ocean during his service. After his Cold War service, he became an educator in Hawaii.

Among his military oriented accomplishments are the success of the Polaris missile system for underwater launch capability, heading up the deep submergence capability program after the loss of the USS Thresher, locating a missing H-bomb, assisting with finding a Soviet and American submarine lost at sea, heading up the Deep Submergence Recovery Vehicle effort, deep ocean dive development through the Sea Lab project, and the most intriguing part of his career, spying on the Soviet Union through the submarine service.

Below are photos of some of the programs John Craven was involved in:

USS Nautilus SSN-571 at Sea
DSRV in piggy back transport mode 
SeaLab-1 on display
USS Halibut models in both missile and spy configurations



In the spirit of this blog being a Cold War research medium, I decided to not go into depth on his civilian career. There are many very good papers on the web that go into detail on his accomplishments in Hawaii. A short synopsis is tat he was involved with the University of Hawaii through his friend, the Governor, and headed up several programs in support of the oceans and educating the next generation of ocean scientist. Always the dreamer, he was working on harnessing the thermal energy stored in the ocean when he died. 

It was a hell of a career and life.

In preparation for this post, I challenged myself to decide which accomplishment was the most important to the safety of the USA from a Cold War viewpoint and it really was a difficult choice. He accomplished so much. The tapping of the Soviet communication lines on the ocean floor, finding the H-bomb and two missing submarines, the deep diving program, and refitting the Nautilus were stellar accomplishments. But, in my opinion, it was the Polaris program. The nuclear deterrence capability of having hundreds of nuclear warheads submerged off the coast of the Soviet Union, undetected in a stealth environment, had to influence every thought the Soviet leadership made in regards to threatening the West. I remember as a kid, building a model of the USS George Washington, the first "Boomer". 

His part in Nuclear Deterrence helped keep us safe in the Cold War. He did not do it alone but he had a very important part in it. That is the bottom line.

I built this kit around 1967 or so as an early teen

USS George Washington SSBN-598 Launch

USS George Washington SSBN-598 at Sea



I could go into great detail about Craven's career and life but I try to keep these post short and to the point as much as possible. I went considerably over on this one. There are stories and resources out there on the web for you to learn more if you wish. During my research I found numerous articles and obituaries that review his accomplishments in depth; yes, pun intended.

My personal introduction to John Craven was through the book, Scorpion Down, many years ago. He was re-introduced last year in "Blind Man's Bluff", which was suggested to me by a fellow Squid (a submariner) after our discussion on me being a "Target" sailor. It seems, every submariner I've ever met calls surface ships - "Targets". While I was purchasing "Blind Man's Bluff", Claven's autobiography, "The Silent War" was next to it. I purchased both, not knowing Craven would be such a prominent part of the first. Craven seems to be a little full of himself by the end of "The Silent War" though. 

All three books are exceptional reads and I highly recommend that you check them out of the library or link over to Amazon to get your own copy.


Please share your Cold War story. Where did you serve? Military or Civilian? Stateside or Overseas. Fulda Gap? Berlin? NATO? CIA? State Department? The Dew Line? On a Missile Battery? Down in a Silo? At Sea? Under the Sea? In the Air? According to the VA over 26 million Vets are still alive. I'd bet that most served in the 1945-1991 timeframe and I'd like to share your story on this blog. As long as it isn't still classified, email me with your story and I will post it here. proudcoldwarrior@gmail.com