On this day November 8, 1975, naval officer Valery Sablin led a mutiny aboard the Soviet Baltic Fleet destroyer “Storozhevoy” with an eye out for launching a revolution.
Valery Sablin was born in 1939 and was the son and grandson of naval officers. After graduating from the Frunze Naval Academy, Sablin completed a degree at the Lenin Military Political Academy. It was there he began to take an in-depth study of Marxism-Leninism and completely immersed in its philosophy, also becoming a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Dedicated to communist ideology, he masterminded a very detailed plan for the reconstruction of society, convinced that the current government was leading their people the wrong way. Sablin advocated a multiparty system, freedom of speech and debate, as well as changing the election procedures. In order to voice his plan that would redeem communism and point out the errors and corruption of the Soviet leadership, Sablin decided to seize the Storozhevoy.
On the night of November 8, 1975, Sablin managed to persuade most of the ship's crew, in the course of a couple of fiery speeches, to go along with his scheme. He confined the ships' captain and other officers to the wardroom and directed the Storozhevoy from its course in the Gulf Of Riga towards Leningrad (now St Petersburg).
However, a junior mechanics officer escaped from confinement and radioed for assistance. The news reached the Ministry of Defense and the Kremlin, who immediately issued an order to “Bomb it and sink it.”
When the Storozhevoy was at the Gulf of Irbe, it was hit with a series of missiles dropped by SU-24 attack aircraft in pursuit. A boarding group then landed on the mutinous ship and arrested the wounded instigator of the uprising.
Sablin took all the blame for what happened without naming anyone as an accomplice. The Military Collegiate of the Supreme Court of the USSR accused Sablin of the most shameful crime for a Soviet officer – treason against the Motherland – and sentenced him to be shot. Sablin strongly denied the accusations of treason and attempt to hijack the battleship abroad.
In August of 1976, Valery Sablin and several others involved in the rebellion were deprived of their titles and awards, and Sablin himself was executed.
The mutiny was presented to the rest of the world as an attempt at defecting to the West. The course for Leningrad, which would lead the ship through the Swedish island of Gotland and Stockholm, gave the mistaken impression that Storozhevoy was heading to Sweden instead of Leningrad. Until the end of the Cold War, Western intelligence believed that the crew was going to defect. This story inspired US author Tom Clancy to write the 1984 novel “The Hunt for Red October”, which was made into a 1990 film starring Sean Connery.
At the beginning of Perestroika, many Russian newspapers began comparing Sablin to Lieutenant Schmidt (one of the leaders of the Russian Revolution of 1905), calling him a true patriot brought to despair by the Soviet system, and a victim in the fight for justice. In 1994, the Military Collegiate of the Supreme Court of Russia revised Sablin's case and replaced his sentence from treason to abuse of power and resistance to superiors. The court posthumously changed the sentence against him from execution to ten years imprisonment. He was denied posthumous rehabilitation.