Visiting his local VA medical center recently, one veteran’s eye was caught by a U.S. Navy poster in the lobby which looked like an early April Fool joke. Because next to the images of U.S. sailors, U.S. Navy ships and a U.S. Blue Angel F/A-18 jet was a submarine which looked a little out of place. Because rather than being part of America’s underwater force, it was Russian.
Few people would have noticed the error, but Paul Lazzarotti has been a submarine enthusiast for decades. As a boy he wrote to surviving submarine commanders from WWII, and even met Commander Edward Beach who wrote the classic Run Silent, Run Deep. He identified the rogue submarine instantly. You might say, with one ping only.
The Russian Typhoon Class nuclear sub is a monster, the largest type ever built. It is 574 feet long and displaces 48,000 tons submerged – that’s almost three times as much as the U.S. Ohio class. The Typhoon is also well known to movie fans as the vessel captained by Sean Connery in The Hunt for Red October, in which the defecting commander Marko Ramius attempts to take his sub – a special Typhoon fitted with new super-secret technology – to America, while evading Soviet pursuers.
Lazzarotti told Forbes that he was entertained rather than outraged by the error in the poster, and shared a picture of it with a submarine enthusiast group online, who found the poster predictably hilarious. The image was soon copied and rapidly took off on Twitter . He asked the VA office in charge of wall art for a copy, and ended up receiving a very apologetic call from their public relations team, who were aware of the problem.
“I told them I wasn’t upset or anything,” says Lazzarotti. “Just amused by the error.“
They explained that the poster had been assembled using pictures from a vendor, who only had a limited range of submarine photographs of high enough resolution. Clearly they were not submarine enthusiasts and had picked the wrong one. The poster had been checked by several people, but unfortunately the version for checking was just 11 by 8.5 inches and the submarine had evaded detection. As submarines tend to.
They told Lazzarotti a corrected poster was in the pipeline.
Meanwhile the poster’s online journey made it as far as Russian social network Telegram, giving Russians the opportunity to comment on how envious America was of their submarines. A Reddit thread on the poster was a mixture of facepalming for the error and knowing comments referencing The Hunt for Red October suggesting the sub really was in U.S. possession..
“Well….we did get that one a few years back,” noted one commenter, adding “I watched the documentary just a few weeks ago.”
Sutton notes that the worst offenders are the media, who frequently match inappropriate pictures to stories. He charitably says this can sometimes be for copyright reasons when subeditors cannot get the right image and reach for a stock ‘submarine’ picture. So, for example, stories about the USS Connecticut, which recently suffered a bedbug infestation may be illustrated with photos of other subs .
However, Sutton has also seen egregious cases where naval organizations have used pictures of the Typhoon in their literature, mistaking for a U.S. submarine, when they ought to know better.
“The Typhoon class is the largest submarine in the world, and probably the most recognizable,” says Sutton. “It has a distinct silhouette unlike any other.”
He mentions some notable errors but requested the guilty parties not be named to save their embarrassment. Clearly though this is something everyone involved needs to watch out for, and Sutton’s book might come in handy.
Lazzarotti though is more inclined to be forgiving, accepting that not everyone can tell a U.S. Virginia-class from a Russian Yankee, or a Seawolf-class submarine from a Delta as easily as he can.
“It was an honest mistake,” says Lazzarotti. “They’re basically all big steel tubes, and if you don’t know submarines, they all look alike.”