The Hunt for Red October was Tom Clancy's 1984 debut novel. The story follows a CIA analyst who leads a group of US Navy officers to take possession of a cutting-edge Soviet nuclear submarine from 26 defecting Soviet officers, and the intertwined adventures of Soviet submarine captain Marko Aleksandrovich Ramius and Jack Ryan, a Marine turned CIA analyst. It was loosely inspired by the mutiny on the Soviet frigate Storozhevoy in 1975.
The novel was originally published by the U.S. Naval Institute Press—one of the first fictional works it ever published, and still its most successful.
During the Cold War, Marko Alexandrovich Ramius, a Lithuanian submarine commander in the Soviet Navy, intends to defect to the United States with his officers on board the experimental nuclear submarine Red October, a Typhoon-class vessel equipped with a revolutionary stealth propulsion system that makes audio detection by passive sonar extremely difficult. The result is a strategic weapon platform that is capable of sneaking its way into American waters and launching nuclear missiles with little or no warning.
The strategic value of Red October was not lost upon Ramius, but other factors have spurred his decision to defect. His wife, Natalia, died at the hands of a doctor who was incompetent and intoxicated; however, the doctor escaped punishment because he was the son of a Politburo member. Natalia's untimely death, combined with Ramius's long-standing dissatisfaction with the callousness of Soviet rule and his fear of Red October's destabilizing effect on world affairs, exhausts his tolerance for the failings of the Soviet system.
As the ship leaves the shipyard at Polyarny, Ramius kills Ivan Putin, his political officer, to ensure that Putin will not interfere with the defection. Before sailing, Ramius had sent a letter to Admiral Yuri Padorin, Natalia's uncle, brazenly stating his intention to defect. The Soviet Northern Fleet therefore sails out to sink Red October under the pretext of a search and rescue mission. Meanwhile, Jack Ryan, a high-level CIA analyst and a former Marine, flies from London to Langley, Virginia, to deliver MI6's photographs of Red October to the Deputy Director of Intelligence. Ryan consults a friend at the U.S. Naval Academy, ex-submariner Skip Tyler, and finds out that Red October's new construction variations house its stealth drive.
Red October passes near USS Dallas, a Los Angeles class submarine under the command of Cdr. Bart Mancuso, which is patrolling the entrance of a route used by Soviet submarines in the Reykjanes Ridge off Iceland. Dallas hears the sound of the stealth drive but does not identify it as a submarine. Putting information about Ramius's letter together with the subsequent launch of the entire Northern Fleet, Ryan deduces Ramius's plans. The U.S. military reluctantly agrees, while planning for contingencies in case the Soviet fleet has intentions other than those inferred. As tensions rise between the U.S. and Soviet fleets, the crew of Dallas analyzes sonar tapes of Red October and finally realizes that it is the sound of a new propulsion system. Ryan must contact Ramius to prevent the loss of the submarine and her revolutionary technology. After it is revealed that Ramius has informed Moscow of his plan for him and his officers to defect, Ryan becomes responsible for shepherding Ramius and his vessel away from the pursuing Soviet fleet, and meets with an old Royal Navy acquaintance, Admiral White, commanding a task force from the aircraft carrier HMS Invincible.
In order to convince the Soviets that Red October has been destroyed, the U.S. Navy rescues her crew after Ramius fakes a reactor meltdown. Ramius and his officers stay behind, claiming they are about to scuttle the submarine to prevent it getting into the hands of the Americans. A decommissioned U.S. ballistic missile submarine, the USS Ethan Allen, is blown up underwater as a deception. A depth gauge taken from the main instrument panel of Red October (with the appropriate serial number) is made to appear as if it had been salvaged from the wreckage. Meanwhile, Ryan, Captain Mancuso, some of his crew, and Owen Williams (a Russian-speaking British officer from Invincible) board Red October and meet Ramius face-to-face.
The deception efforts succeed in convincing Soviet observers that Red October has been lost. However, GRU intelligence officer Igor Loginov, masquerading as Red October's cook, is aware of what Ramius is doing and attempts to ignite a missile's rocket motor inside a launch tube so as to destroy Red October. Loginov opens fire with his weapon, killing Captain Lieutenant Kamarov (the ship's navigator) and seriously wounding Ramius and Williams. Ryan attempts to persuade the fiercely patriotic Loginov to surrender rather than die in the explosion, but Loginov refuses. Ryan manages to kill Loginov in the submarine's missile compartment.
Captain Viktor Tupolov, a former student of Ramius and commander of the Soviet Alfa-class attack submarine V. K. Konovalov, has been trailing what he initially believes is an Ohio-class vessel. Based on acoustic information, Tupolev realizes that it is Red October, and proceeds to pursue and engage it. The two U.S. submarines escorting Red October are prevented from firing by rules of engagement, and Red October is damaged by a torpedo from the Alfa. After a tense standoff, Red October rams Konovalov broadside and sinks it.
The Americans escort Red October safely into dry dock in Norfolk, Virginia, where Ramius and his crew are taken to a CIA safehouse to begin their Americanization. Ryan is commended by his superiors and flies back to his posting in London.
The Hunt for Red October was the start of a loosely connected series by Tom Clancy which shared a rough continuity. Many of the characters in the novel, particularly Jack Ryan, went on to be the central characters of many of Clancy's later novels. The ultimate fate of Red October is explained in the Clancy novel The Cardinal of the Kremlin, where it is revealed that the vessel was reverse engineered and stripped of all technology. Red October was then sunk in a deep ocean trench off Puerto Rico to avoid discovery. Both Ryan and Ramius are on hand to see the submarine off for the last time, and Ramius sentimentally comments, "He was a good ship."
The novel was made into a commercially successful movie in 1990, starring:Alec Baldwin as Jack Ryan
Sean Connery as Marko Ramius
James Earl Jones as Adm. James Greer
Scott Glenn as Cdr. Bart Mancuso
Sam Neill as Captain 2nd Rank Vasily Borodin
Jeffrey Jones as Skip Tyler
Fred Dalton Thompson as Rear Adm. Joshua Painter
There were several differences between the novel and the film, including Red October traveling up the Penobscot River in Maine to dry dock, and the prominence of the Royal Navy, including light aircraft carrier HMS Invincible. The order of many events also has been changed. In the film version, the "caterpillar drive" is described as a magnetohydrodynamic drive system, essentially, "a jet engine for the water".
The novel also served as the basis for several computer and video games, as well as some board games.
The Hunt for Red October wargame, published in 1988 by TSR, Inc. became one of the bestselling wargames of all time.
The Hunt for Red October sold very well and launched Clancy's successful career as a novelist. President Ronald Reagan helped to fuel the success of The Hunt for Red October when he announced that he enjoyed the book at a televised press conference, calling it "unputdown-able" and a "perfect yarn."
The hardback edition of The Hunt for Red October is the first novel published by the Naval Institute Press. Clancy had not been able to place the novel with any traditional publishers, but had a good relationship with the Press from writing articles in their Proceedings of the Naval Institute. To his surprise the Press accepted the manuscript and sent a small advance. After receiving unexpected praise from President Reagan, the book became a bestseller. Clancy's later books were published by Penguin Putnam.
The paperback edition was the first in a string of successful publications of technothrillers by Berkley Books.
In 1988 it was published in French as Octobre Rouge, translated by Marianne Véron and with the collaboration of Jean Sabbagh.