The Hunt for Red October

The Hunt for Red October is the debut novel by Tom Clancy, first published on October 1, 1984 by the Naval Institute Press. It depicts Soviet submarine captain Marko Ramius as he seemingly goes rogue with his country's cutting-edge ballistic missile submarine Red October, and marks the first appearance of Clancy's most popular fictional character Jack Ryan, an analyst working for the Central Intelligence Agency, as he must prove his theory that Ramius had intended to defect to the United States. The book was loosely inspired by the mutiny on the Soviet frigate Storozhevoy in 1975.[1]

The Hunt for Red October
First edition cover
AuthorTom Clancy
CountryUnited States
SeriesJack Ryan
PublisherNaval Institute Press
Publication date
October 1, 1984
Media typePrint (Hardcover, Paperback)
Preceded byRed Rabbit 
Followed byThe Cardinal of the Kremlin 

The Hunt for Red October launched Clancy's successful career as a novelist, especially after then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan remarked that he had enjoyed reading the book.[2] A namesake film adaptation was released on March 2, 1990, and several computer and video games based on the book have been developed. Since then, the book has become instrumental in bringing the book genre of techno-thriller into the mainstream.

Plot summary

During the Cold War, Marko Ramius, a Soviet Navy submarine commander of Lithuanian descent, plans to defect to the United States with his hand-picked officers on board the ballistic missile submarine Red October, a Typhoon-class vessel. It is equipped with a cutting-edge silent propulsion system, known as the caterpillar drive, that makes audio detection by passive sonar extremely difficult and enables the submarine to sneak its way into American territorial waters and launch nuclear missiles with little or no warning. As the ship leaves the shipyard at Polyarny, Ramius kills Ivan Putin, his political officer, to ensure that he will not interfere with the defection. Initially, Ramius was instructed to conduct military exercises with Soviet Alfa-class attack submarine V. K. Konovalov, commanded by his former student Viktor Tupolev, for the purpose of testing the effectiveness of the caterpillar drive. Instead, he plots on a new course for the North American coast, falsely informing the crew that they will be proceeding all the way to Cuba undetected. Before sailing, Ramius had sent a letter to Admiral Yuri Padorin, the uncle of his deceased wife, Natalia, 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.

By sheer happenstance, Red October passes near USS Dallas, a Los Angeles-class submarine under the command of Bart Mancuso, which is patrolling the entrance of a route used by Soviet submarines in the Reykjanes Ridge off Iceland. Dallas′s sonar operator hears the sound of the stealth drive but does not immediately identify it as a submarine. As tensions rise between the U.S. and Soviet fleets (due to the unannounced incursion of the Soviet Northern Fleet into Atlantic waters), the crew of Dallas analyzes tapes of Red October′s acoustic signature and realizes that it is the sound of a new propulsion system. Meanwhile, CIA analyst and former Marine Jack Ryan, who was initially tasked to examine MI6's photographs of Red October, finds out that the submarine's new construction variations house its stealth drive.

Later putting information about Ramius's letter together with the subsequent launch of the entire Northern Fleet, Ryan deduces Ramius's plans to defect. The U.S. military reluctantly agrees to assist, while planning for contingencies in case the Soviet fleet has intentions other than those inferred. 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 John 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, 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 Ethan Allen′s 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 succeeds in convincing Soviet observers that Red October has been lost and the Soviet forces withdraw. However, Igor Loginov, a GRU intelligence officer masquerading as one of Red October's cooks, was suspicious and stayed behind when the crew evacuated. On learning of Ramius' intentions, he attempts to manually launch one of the submarine's missiles in its silo in order to destroy Red October. Loginov is discovered and he fatally shoots Captain Lieutenant Kamarov (the ship's navigator) and seriously wounds Ramius and Williams. Ryan tries to reason with the GRU agent, who refuses to listen and is killed in a firefight in the submarine's missile compartment. Later, Tupolev, aboard V.K. Konovalov which stayed behind when the Soviet fleet withdrew, happens upon what they initially believe is an Ohio-class submarine, being escorted by two other submarines. Based on its acoustical signature, Tupolev realizes that the Ohio is in fact Red October, which was reported sunk, and proceeds to engage it. The two U.S. submarines escorting Red October are prevented from firing on the Konovalov by rules of engagement. After a tense battle in which the Red October is damaged by a torpedo from the Konovalov, Ramius manages to ram Tupolev and sink him.

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 settlement into American life. Ryan is commended and debriefed by his superiors; he later flies back to his posting in London.


The Soviets

  • Captain First Rank Marko Aleksandrovich Ramius: Soviet submarine captain who commands the Red October, the Soviet Navy's newest ballistic missile submarine. His decision to defect was spurred by personal factors. His wife, Natalia, had died at the hands of an intoxicated and incompetent doctor; however, the doctor escaped punishment because he was the son of a Politburo member. Natalia's untimely death, combined with Ramius's long-standing disillusionment 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.
  • Captain Second Rank Viktor Aleksievich Tupolev: Commanding officer of the Alfa-class attack submarine V. K. Konovalov and Ramius's former student. Dead after a stunning maneuver by the Red October, resulting in the sinking of the Konovalov
  • Captain Second Rank Vasily Borodin: Executive officer of Red October
  • Dr. Yevgeni Konstantinovich Petrov: Red October's medical officer
  • Igor Loginov: GRU intelligence officer, on duty aboard the Red October as a cook in order to prevent the defection or capture of the vessel
  • Alexei Arbatov: Soviet ambassador to the United States
  • Captain Second Rank Ivan Yurievich Putin: Political officer (zampolit) aboard the Red October. Killed by Ramius so that he will not interfere with his defection.
  • Admiral Yuri Ilyich Padorin: Chief political officer for the Soviet Navy, Ramius's uncle-in-law and mentor

The Americans and the British


The Hunt for Red October introduced Tom Clancy's writing style, which included technical details about weaponry, submarines, espionage, and the military. The accurate nature of Clancy's writing was well known among the American military that Clancy remarked in a 1986 interview: “When I met Navy Secretary John Lehman last year, the first thing he asked me about the book was, ‘Who the hell cleared it?’”[3]

The novel shares elements with James Clavell’s works, particularly Shōgun (1975) and Noble House (1981), where political power is used instead of physical confrontation with an enemy. Clancy portrays the Soviets, especially Captain Ramius, sympathetically, and most characters are understandable in their actions and fears, while at the same time comparing and contrasting their philosophies and values against their American counterparts, who in turn are shown as more competent in their profession, this being explained by the US Navy being better equipped and trained than the Soviet sailors who are mostly conscripts.

In the novel the US and its service personnel are unmistakably the "good guys" and the central theme of the US being flawed, but ultimately a force for good and hope in the world, is something the author would explore more in his later novels. However unlike in The Hunt For Red October, these later novels often include negative Americans characters, motivated by power or greed.

In addition, The Hunt for Red October is considered as a coming-of-age story regarding the main character Jack Ryan. However, instead of running away from responsibilities, a theme common in contemporary American literature, Clancy subverts the convention by having Ryan rushing toward the burdens of the adult world. Moreover, it introduced Jack Ryan as a new archetype of the American hero — an everyman who uses his prior knowledge instead of physical power in solving a particular crisis.[4]


From a young age, Clancy was an avid reader of naval history and sea exploration. However, he was later rejected from serving in the military because of his poor eyesight. Since graduating from high school and eventually earning an English major, he always wanted to write a novel. He eventually worked as an insurance agent for a small business owned by his then-wife's family.[5]

In his spare time, Clancy started working on The Hunt for Red October on November 11, 1982, and finished it four months later on February 23, 1983.[6] Contrary to popular belief that Clancy had access to top-secret intelligence in researching for the novel, he consulted technical manuals, discussions with former submariners and books like Norman Polmar’s Guide to the Soviet Navy and Combat Fleets of the World in order to maintain accuracy in describing Soviet submarines.[7]

He then submitted the first draft of the novel to the Naval Institute Press, where he previously wrote an article on the MX missile for their magazine Proceedings of the U.S. Naval Institute.[8] Three weeks later, the publication company returned his manuscript, along with a request to cut about a hundred pages’ worth of numerous technical details. After fixing his work, Clancy then sold The Hunt for Red October to the Naval Institute Press for a modest sum of $5,000.[9]

Having recently decided to publish fiction, the publication company made Clancy's work as their first published novel. Editor Deborah Grosvenor later recalled convincing the publishers: “I think we have a potential best-seller here, and if we don’t grab this thing, somebody else would." She believed Clancy had an "innate storytelling ability, and his characters had this very witty dialogue".[10]



The book received critical acclaim, especially from the American government. U.S. President Ronald Reagan had pronounced the book, which was given to him as a Christmas gift, as “the perfect yarn” and “unputdownable”; his endorsement eventually boosted the novel's sales and solidified Clancy's reputation as a bestselling author.[11][12] Regarding the reception, Clancy remarked: “I was thunderstruck, dumbfounded, bowled over, amazed. But I wasn't surprised."[13] Many members of the White House were fans of the book. [14]

The Hunt for Red October was also popular among the military. On a 1985 visit to the USS Hyman G. Rickover, Clancy discovered 26 copies of the novel among the crew.[15] The Washington Post, in its original review, praised the novel as "the most satisfactory novel of a sea chase since C.S. Forester perfected the form."[16]


Due to an extensive marketing campaign by the Naval Institute Press for their first published work of fiction, which was initially aimed on the military, the book sold 45,000 copies by March 1985. Clancy said in a 1991 interview: “I thought we’d sell maybe five thousand or ten thousand hardcovers and that would be the end of it. I never really thought about making money.”[17]

After Reagan's endorsement, The Hunt for Red October topped the national bestseller lists, particularly The New York Times. It eventually sold more than 365,000 copies in hardback. After securing the paperback rights to Berkley Books for $49,500, the novel sold another 4.3 million copies.[18]



The novel was adapted as a feature film, which was released in the United States on March 2, 1990, months after the Cold War ended. Captain Marko Ramius was played by Sean Connery, while Alec Baldwin played Jack Ryan. It serves as the first entry in the Jack Ryan film series, which would later follow a chronological order differing from the novels. The movie is a nearly faithful depiction of the novel even though there are many deviations, including Red October traveling up the Penobscot River in Maine to dry dock, the omission of the Royal Navy task force including Ryan's time aboard HMS Invincible, and the "caterpillar drive" being described as a magnetohydrodynamic drive system, essentially, "a jet engine for the water", rather than a means of disguising the sound created by the screws. In addition, while technically feasible, a magnetohydrodynamic drive would not be practical as a stealthy drive system for a submarine, due to the intense magnetic fields employed—one method of submarine detection is searching for magnetic anomalies—thus this drive system would be about as stealthy as a bright strobe light in a dark room.

The film received mainly positive reviews from critics, holding an 88% rating from Rotten Tomatoes based on 66 reviews.[19] It was the 6th top-grossing film of the year, generating $122 million in North America and more than $200 million worldwide in box office.[20] In a 1991 interview, Clancy remarked of the film's success: "It was reasonably true to the spirit of the book, although the movie had a lot of technical errors in it and some changes in the story which I do not think is necessary. But you have to remember that the printed word and visual representation on the screen are two different art forms and they have very different roles."[21]


The novel also became the basis for three computer, video, and console games. One version, a combination of a submarine simulator and strategy game, was released in 1987 and received positive reviews. Another game based on the movie was released in 1990. The console game was released in 1991 for the Nintendo Entertainment System. In addition, a board game, published in 1988 by TSR, Inc. became one of the bestselling wargames of all time.[22]

In late 2015, River Horse announced it had acquired the rights and intended to crowdfund another game based on the intellectual property.[23][24] The 2017 Indiegogo launch failed.[25] The fate of the project is unknown as of late 2017.


The Hunt for Red October popularized the book genre of techno-thriller into the mainstream. “Tom Clancy defined an era, not just of thrillers but of pop culture in general," said Jon Land, an author and marketing chair for the International Thriller Writers. "No one encapsulated the mindset and mentality of the Reagan era more, as the Cold War was heating up for the last time and we were entering a new age of modern warfare. Clancy's books tapped into our fears and helped define our psyches, even as he reinvigorated the thriller genre by bringing millions of new readers into the fold.”[26]

The book was instrumental in restoring confidence in the American military and government, which had endured a bitter defeat in Vietnam War and foreign policy failures during the late 1970s. The book also led to a shift in book sales qualifying the bestseller lists from mass market paperback back to hardcover, a trend that other “brand-name” authors such as Stephen King, Clive Cussler, Michael Crichton, and Danielle Steel would later follow.[27]

On April 20, 2018, The Hunt for Red October was included in the list of 100 most-loved books in the U.S., compiled by PBS as part of their new series and multi-platform initiative The Great American Read.[28][29]

The book appeared in a fake commercial ad serving as a teaser trailer for the third season of the Netflix web television series Stranger Things, which was released on July 16, 2018.[30]

See also


  1. Hagberg, David; Gindin, Boris (2008). Mutiny: The True Events That Inspired The Hunt For Red October. New York: Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-7653-1350-8.
  2. Schwab, Nikki. "Ronald Reagan Responsible For Tom Clancy's Rise". U.S. News. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  3. Bosman, Julie. "Tom Clancy, Best-Selling Master of Military Thrillers, Dies at 66". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 August 2018.
  4. Greenberg, Martin H. The Tom Clancy Companion (Revised ed.). pp. 6–11.
  5. "PW Interviews Tom Clancy". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 3 August 2018.
  6. The Tom Clancy Companion (Revised ed.). p. 3.
  7. McDowell, Edwin. "AUTHOR OF 'RED OCTOBER' STIRS UP A 'RED STORM'". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 August 2018.
  8. Haglund, David. "How the Hunt for Red October Movie Revealed Classified Information About U.S. Submarines". Retrieved 3 August 2018.
  9. Kaltenbach, Chris. "Clancy invented 'techno-thriller,' reflected Cold War fears". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 3 August 2018.
  10. "Tom Clancy, Best-Selling Master of Military Thrillers, Dies at 66".
  11. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on June 9, 2004. Retrieved 2005-11-27.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  13. "PW Interviews Tom Clancy".
  14. Merry, Ronald W. "Tom Clancy and Ronald Reagan". The National Interest. Retrieved 3 August 2018.
  16. "'The Hunt for Red October': The Washington Post's original review from 1984". The Washington Post. Retrieved 3 August 2018.
  17. The Tom Clancy Companion (Revised ed.). p. 53.
  18. Anderson, Patrick. "KING OF THE 'TECHNO-THRILLER'". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 August 2018.
  19. "The Hunt for Red October (1990)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 4 August 2018.
  20. "The Hunt for Red October". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2007-12-03.
  21. The Tom Clancy Companion (Revised ed.). p. 58.
  22. "The History of TSR". Wizards of the Coast. Archived from the original on 2008-09-24. Retrieved 2005-08-20.
  23. "brennon", River Horse snap up rights to Hunt for Red October, November 5, 2015
  26. "Clancy invented 'techno-thriller,' reflected Cold War fears".
  27. The Tom Clancy Companion (Revised ed.). pp. 5–6.
  28. "THE GREAT AMERICAN READ, a New Multi-Platform PBS Series, Reveals List of America's 100 Favorite Novels". Retrieved 6 August 2018.
  29. "Books - The Great American Read". Retrieved 6 August 2018.
  30. Renfro, Kim. "A goofy new 'Stranger Things' mall teaser might have a very serious clue about season 3 hiding in plain sight". Business Insider. Retrieved 4 August 2018.

Further reading

  • Gallagher, Mark. Action figures: Men, action films, and contemporary adventure narratives (Springer, 2006).
  • Griffin, Benjamin. "The good guys win: Ronald Reagan, Tom Clancy, and the transformation of national security" (MA thesis , U of Texas, 2015). online
  • Hixson, Walter L. "Red Storm Rising: Tom Clancy Novels and the Cult of National Security." Diplomatic History 17.4 (1993): 599-614.
  • Outlaw, Leroy B. "Red Storm Rising-A Primer for a Future Conventional War in Central Europe"" (Army War College, 1988). online
  • Payne, Matthew Thomas. Playing war: Military video games after 9/11 (NYU Press, 2016).
  • Terdoslavich, William. The Jack Ryan Agenda: Policy and Politics in the Novels of Tom Clancy: An Unauthorized Analysis (Macmillan, 2005). excerpt
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