The Cold War was by and large an information war. Both sides were constantly trying to determine intents and capabilities and went to great lengths to find out more about the other side. This was the classic era of big time spying and spies. Some fo the stories are legend. Such as the Walker case.
One story that was one of the most strange was the story of Howard Hughes and the Glomar Explorer. In 1968 the Soviets lost a submarine off Hawaii for unknown reasons. The K129 was a boomer and contained all the latest communications and code equipment. Retrieving it became a CIA priority. The big question was how to do it.
In the 1960’s the technical knowledge for deepwater salvage was nonexistent. There were no ROV’s and the other technologies that deep marine investigators take for granted these days. There were some submersibles capable of operating at depth such as the NR1, but deepwater salvage had not been attempted.
At that time the only true deepwater work had been done by the deep drilling ship Glomar Challenger and so that’s the technology that the CIA started with. At great expense the CIA ordered a large drill derrick equipped ship that had a “moon pool” equipped to handle the presumably radioactive hull and a submersible barge to hold the submarine hull. The sub would be lifted by a huge claw.
In order to provide cover, the CIA invoked Howard Hughes. It’s not often remembered now, but in the late 1960’s and early Seventies, until Hughe’s death, Hughes could be used as an excuse for just about any mystery. Hughe’s reclusive and mysterious life allowed ample room for any speculation that came along. His connection with all sorts of high technologies and record of technology curiosities made him the perfect cover for anything technologically strange. Add to that that Hughes was not going to come out and deny his involvement. The tragedy of his later life is a story in itself.
Now the CIA had the legend created and built the salvage ship, the Glomar Explorer with a great deal of secrecy. In the early 1970’s the mission to recover the sub took place and to this day it is uncertain how much of the sub was recovered and what was found inside. The fact that the Glomar Explorer was used to recover the submarine and not used for mining experiments did not remain secret for long. Certainly I knew about it almost from the time the recovery happened and I was just a kid.
After it’s spy work, the Glomar Explorer was sold into the pool of deepwater oil exploration drilling ships and disappeared into obscurity. Apparently, it’s days as a useful drill ship are at an end and the ship is going to be cut up. An end to a Cold War tale.
The interesting part is that the Glomar Explorer may have brought about the International law Of The Sea Treaty as people took the mining cover seriously and vested interests became concerned about completion from sea based competition.