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Captain David Minton III

USS Guardfish (SSN-612)

USS George Washington (SSBN-598)

Captain (then commander) David Minton stares into the periscope, monitoring the waters to the northwest. A yellowish-greenish light flickered from the approaching Echo II, a Soviet missile submarine, as it steamed past the USS Guardfish (SSN- 612). Back in Washington, President Richard Nixon announced to the world that he had ordered the mining and bombing of North Vietnam harbors, depriving the country of 85% of its imports. In Moscow and Vladivostok, orders raced from the Kremlin, sending the Soviet Union's submarines in port to general quarters and beginning preparations to sail immediately to the South China Sea. As Commander Minton watched the Soviet submarine sail by him, he could not have known how vital his submarine would become in the American-Soviet game of nuclear checkers. 

Captain David C. Minton III was born on November 20th, 1934 in Leavenworth, Kansas. The son of an engineer, his parents were working in Mexico for mining corporations to assess profitability of abandoned mines. Due to inadequate health measures, his mother was sent back to the family home in Kansas. Growing up, Minton moved across America and abroad often. His first taste of the sea was on his relocation from California to the Philippines. The voyage across the open ocean was what did him in for a career in the navy,. salt in his face and sun on his cheeks. He met many naval officers while living at Subic Bay as a young boy, touring ships with his family and beginning from a young age what it meant to be a sailor. As Japan was preparing to unleash their military might in the Pacific, eyeing up the Philippines and other American islands, his father sent him back to America with his mother and family car while he stayed behind to teach students. Minton sailed from Manila on a small vessel loaded with coconuts while his father left on the final commercial ship to leave from Manila Bay.

In June 1966, Minton served at the Fleet Submarine Training Facility in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii as the Officer in charge of the Engineering Training Department. While there, he instructed sailors as well as built the first Submarine Damage Control Trainer, attended the Prospective Commanding Officer School, wrote a command thesis, and completed his qualifications to act as a submarine commander. He put this training to good use, next being assigned as the Executive Officer of the USS Swordfish (SSN-579). He joined the Swordfish while she was docked in Hong Kong during her transit to Japan for refit. Japan in the 1960s was not very friendly to nuclear-powered vessels in their waters for obvious reasons, resulting in a political backlash against the crew of the Swordfish and conspiracy theories to jump out of the woodwork by frenzied Japanese observers. It got to the point that Secretary of State David Dean Rusk sent a personal message to Minton and the boat's commanding officer, Commander Taylor Rigsbee, to get out of Japan as soon as possible. Minton served aboard the Swordfish for two deployments in the Pacific. 

Click on a photo in this slideshow for a closer look or click on the arrows at the edges of the slideshow to look through the photos.

USS Guardfish (SSN-612)

In 1970, during the height of the Vietnam War, Minton took command of the USS Guardfish (SSN-612) in the shipyards of Pascagoula, Mississippi where she was undergoing an overhaul. The Thresher-class fast attack submarine was powered by an S5W nuclear reactor and armed with four torpedo tubes, each capable to fire nuclearly armed torpedos. She was 279 feet long with a beam of 32 feet and a draft of 29 feet. Capable of 20 knots submerged and able to dive to 1,300 feet, she was the motto of the submarine fleet: silent and deadly. Following her overhaul, she conducted sea trials in the Gulf of Mexico accompanied by a diesel submarine, testing her systems and practicing diving to 1,300 feet. In 1971, with her trials and overhaul complete, the USS Guardfish sailed for Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico. It was during this transit that, as Capt. Minton says in his book On Opposite Sides of the Periscope, "...could have been career or life-ending." As he said in his book:

"We were headed south in the submarine transit lane into the Gulf Stream toward the city of San Juan. The transit lane is in relatively deep water approaching San Juan from the northern shore of Puerto Rico. I woke up in the wee hours of the morning with a feeling of apprehension for no apparent reason and I went up to the control room to take a look around.... Then I ordered the Officer of the Deck to slow, clear baffles, and come to periscope depth. Almost immediately the navigator appeared in the control room telling me it was too soon we had more than an hour to go to reach the planned surfacing point. As I raised the Periscope I sighted the city lights of San Juan covering about 130 degrees of the horizon before me."

After the potential debacle off of San Juan was averted, Minton transited the Panama Canal into the Pacific Ocean prior to conducting sound trials off of Seattle, Washington. Sound trials consist of a submerged submarine suspended by chains from two mooring buoys while an electrical cord ran to the submarine from shore, allowing the reactor to be shut off and the boat's machinery be recorded. During these trials, as Minton was in the control room, the Guardfish received a rather interesting phone call from none other than Admiral Hyman G. Rickover himself. Rickover told Minton in his colorful way that he could find the Guardfish no matter what Minton did. In early 1972, Minton sailed to the Western Pacific, tasked with trailing a Soviet November-class submarine. The November-class was the USSR's first nuclear attack submarine class, doubled hulled and equipped with two small nuclear reactors and capable of speeds of around 30 knots submerged. Though capable of impressive speeds, these submarines could only last 50-60 days deployed and dive to 300-350 feet. Due to a coolant system issue and his experience aboard the USS Swordfish, Minton rerouted his boat from their original port in Japan to one on Guam for repairs. While docked at Guam, Commander Minton was given a new mission of great importance and was ordered to sail as soon as he could. What would result from this was a historic chase equal to the feats of Whitey Mack and the other hotshot submarine captains of Minton's day.

Click on a photo in this slideshow for a closer look or click on the arrows at the edges of the slideshow to look through the photos.

Cat & Mouse

On May 9th, 1972, the global geopolitical stage was in turmoil. The Paris Peace Talks had stalled, President Richard Nixon had ordered the mining of North Vietnamese harbors, and the USS Guardfish was lurking off of the Russian port of Vladivostok. Then Commander Minton watched the Soviet port carefully, avoiding its sonar buoys and listening for noise from the vessels within. The next day, the Guardfish's sonar detected a vessel sailing towards the open ocean and that evening Minton peered through the periscope, identifying the passing ship as K-184, a Soviet Echo II-class submarine. The Echo II-class is an anti-aircraft carrier missile submarine, equipped with twin nuclear reactors and eight P-6 'Shaddock' turbojet missiles. They can dive nearly 1,000 feet and sail for 50 days with a range of 18,000-30,000 miles. 

Minton's orders were to watch for a large deployment of Soviet warships, but with K-184 being the only vessel he had seen, he opted to pursue it, beginning a historic chase that rings in the annals of American naval history. While following K-138, the USS Guardfish detected three additional Soviet submarines nearby, upping the stakes of the war in Vietnam. Due to this, Minton focused his efforts on trailing K-184 instead of all four Soviet submarines and tried to remain undetected. On the night of May 12th, Commander Minton broke radio silence, an unprecedented move for the Cold War-era submarine fleet.


As Minton wrote in his book, "reporting the deployment of three, possibly four, Soviet Submarines was clearly a requirement of my operations order." 

For twenty-eight days, the USS Guardfish trailed K-184 through the Sea of Japan, East China Sea, Phillippine Sea, and the South China Sea, following the Soviet submarine while transmitting her findings to Washington. This crucial game of cat and mouse finally ended on May 26th with President Richard Nixon meeting with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev for a summit in Moscow. During the talks, then National Security Advisor Henry Kissenger had a private meeting with Brezhnev where he disclosed American knowledge of K-184 sailing towards Vietnam and how it was perceived as an act of aggression. Besides the signing of the SALT 1 agreement, the Soviets also sent their submarines home, ending the historic chase beneath the waves. For his stoic leadership and coolness under extreme difficulties, Minton was awarded the Navy Distinguished Service Medal.

 In the end, the USS Guardfish spent 28 days stalking the K-184 and spent a record 123 days submerged during her deployment. Besides the Distinguished Service Medal, Minton also earned two Meritorious Service Medals and a Navy Commendation Medal as well as the Navy Unit Citation, Navy Meritorious Unit Citation, the National Defense Service Medal with bronze star attachment, Armed Forced Expeditionary Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with three campaign stars, Navy Overseas Service Ribbon, and the South Vietnamese Vietnam Campaign Medal.

Report to Washington

USS Guardfish sailed for Guam where Commander Minton was ordered to Pearl Harbor to debrief Admirals P. L. Lacy Jr. and Admiral B. A. Clary, the commander of Submarine Force US Pacific and the Commander-in-Chief of the US Pacific Fleet respectively. Minton then was afforded a few days of leave with his family prior to being sent to Washington DC to debrief Vice Admiral Eugene Wilkinson, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Submarine Warfare. Over the span of two days, Minton was debriefed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and high-ranking officials within the Department of Defense, CIA, the Chief of Naval Operations, and Admiral Hyman Rickover.  In March 1973, Minton took command of the USS George Washington (Gold) (SSBN-598), America's oldest Polaris missile submarine. When Minton took command, the George Washington was in poor condition, requiring him to put serious determination in getting her worthy to sail. He created a long list of critical issues and during his three Polaris patrols out of Guam, he was able to whittle it away. As his naval career was nearing its end, Minton served as the Commander of Submarine Forces Pacific, Air Forces Pacific, and Surface Forces Pacific before retiring in 1980.


In 1999, the US Navy declassified USS Guardfish's exploits from the summer of 1972 as a part of the celebration of the US Navy's centennial celebration. Then, in 2008, Captain Minton (Ret.) received an email containing the translation of a blog post written by former Soviet Rear Admiral Alfred Semenovich Berzin who in 1972 commanded a Soviet Echo II submarine: K-184. It took over a year of failed emails, detective work, and friends of friends before in early 2009 the two captains began a discourse, not as adversaries beneath the Pacific but as comrades in arms. In 2012, Minton and his wife traveled to Saint Petersburg, spending time and swapping sea stories with Berzin.



  • Minton III, David C, and Alfred S Berzin. From Opposite Sides of the Periscope: The Trail Is On. Archway Publishing, 2018.

  • “NavSource Online: Submarine Photo Archive.” Submarine Photo Index,

  • Preston, Dallas. Guardfish Reunion Home Page,

  • Sontag, Sherry, et al. Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage. Harper Collins, 1998.

  • “U.S.S. Guardfish.” USS GUARDFISH (SSN-612) Deployments & History,

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