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Is The Hunt For Red October Based On A True Story?

Before launching one of the most prolific spy-thriller writing careers of the last half-century, Tom Clancy was an insurance broker in Maryland, according to the Irish Independent. He changed that with the Jack Ryan novel "The Hunt for Red October," which became an instant bestseller. Clancy wrote 12 more Ryan novels before his death in 2013; as of early 2022, other authors have written eight more books to continue the franchise.

Six years after its release as a novel, "The Hunt for Red October" was adapted into an Academy Award-winning feature film starring Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, Scott Glenn, and James Earl Jones. Both the novel and film follow the honorable Jack Ryan (Baldwin), a CIA analyst and Boy Scout pulled into the drama of a defecting Russian submarine commander named Marko Ramius (Connery). While other characters push the two countries to the brink of war, Ryan is the cool head in the center of it all attempting to prevent a nuclear conflict.

But was the tale more than dramatic flair? Did Tom Clancy invent the plot himself, or was "The Hunt for Red October" based on actual events?

It is loosely based on true events

The premise of "The Hunt for Red October" is straight out of a Cold War nightmare. An untraceable nuclear submarine goes dark somewhere between Russia and America, and the Americans think the Russians are preparing to attack, while the Russians think the vessel's commander is defecting. Both countries are ready to do what they have to in order to protect themselves, the threat of war hanging thick in the air. It turns out that at least some of this story is rooted in truth.

In November 1975, Soviet political officer Valery Sablin had grown tired of USSR president Leonid Brezhnev and his treatment of the working class of Russia. He resented the leaders of the political party in power and wished to change the lives of the middle class and bring down the hypocrisy of the Russian elites. He led a mutiny aboard the battleship Sentry, taking heavy inspiration from the October Revolution of 1905. Sablin's revolt ultimately failed, as others on the ship feared retribution from the leaders in the Kremlin. He was sentenced to death and executed in August of the following year.

As War History Online noted of the incident, the story of Sablin may have inspired Tom Clancy's tale, but the gaps between fact and fiction rendered the comparison almost unrecognizable. Apart from the obvious difference between submarine and battleship, Sean Connery's character looked to defect to the West, starting a new life in America. Sablin endeavored to do the opposite — to usurp the leadership in the USSR and replace the president with himself. While the story as told in "The Hunt for Red October" was enough to propel Clancy to a very successful career, it amounts to little more than inspired fiction.