The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming!

By Sadie Roosa

[caption id="attachment363" align="alignleft" width="200"]<a href=""><img class="wp-image-363" title="800px-M-0024S.Makarevich" alt="" src="" width="200" height="130" /> Courtesty hebster,[/caption]

For my generation the Russians have always been the Russians. I never knew them as the Soviets, except retroactively. And the only connection between them and ships I can think of is the Cuban Missile Crisis, which happened in, you know, Cuba. Not off the coast of Cape Cod. So I was very surprised to come across a batch of cards about the presence of Russian ships off the Massachusetts coast, my favorite of which reads:


Russian Ships: in Westport, negotiations re: lobster boat.
There were a couple innocent sounding ones about interactions between American and Russian fishing boats, but there were also more threatening sounding stories like: “Russian Sailor Brought in for Treatment,” “Russian Trawlers at Sea,” “Russian Seaman Rescued.”

My interest was piqued, so I began to research what the heck Russian ships were doing off the coast of the Cape in the early 1970s. It turns out that the Russians were busy bulking up their naval presence, and were quickly becoming a threat in this respect. Even though the Russian presence along the East Coast was mostly for fishing, tensions were high.

[caption id="attachment183" align="alignright" width="183"]<a href=""><img class="wp-image-366" title="CapeCurrentWPB-95307underway1963" alt="" src="" width="183" height="136" /> Courtesy US Coast Guard[/caption]

In 1971 Walter Cronkite reported on disputes between USSR and US fishermen about activity off the coast of Cape Cod.  American lobstermen had their lines cuts by Soviet trawlers, and they suspected it to be deliberate. It was also speculated that many of the Russian trawlers were only there under the guise of fishing, but were actually there to spy on the position of American ships.


Americans were so suspicious (a characteristic of the time, or so I hear) that, according to Time Magazine:

Spurred by the presence of Russian trawlers that have invaded traditional U.S. fishing areas off the Northeast coast, the Senate passed a bill empowering the Administration to penalize foreign fishing vessels that venture into U.S. territorial waters, and extending U.S. jurisdiction to include the waters of the continental shelf.
Essentially we went from monitoring the sea up to 3 miles off the coast to monitoring up to 200 miles off the coast. Possibly this legal action was the result of the devastation of the Cape Cod fishing industry by Russian trawlers or maybe it was the paranoia (founded or unfounded) of the time.

All of the politics and international affairs aside, there were some really engaging stories about the specific people involved. Trying to discover who were the rescued and sick Russian sailors mentioned in the cards, I stumbled on some noteworthy finds, the most interesting of which is probably the story of Simas Kudirka, a Soviet sailor who tried to defect by jumping from his ship to an American ship, with disastrous results. This story is so dramatic that they made actually made it into a TV movie starring Alan Arkin as Kudirka. This is an excellent story to get beyond the politics (although there are a lot of politics involved) and focus on the actual people involved.

What do you remember about coverage of the Russians during the Cold War? Was it all at the national level, or do you also remember some local stories, like these?