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Why Kursk Went to the Bottom ^ | Feb 7th, 2002 |

Posted on 02/07/2002 8:08:56 AM PST by struwwelpeter

Original Title: Kursk went to the bottom because no one was at the helm

APRK (Nuclear Submarine Rocket Cruiser) Kursk's inspection at floating dock Roslyakovo is now approaching the end. Despite the fact that the reason for catastrophe still remains unknown, it is now already possible - based on the conclusions of naval experts and specialists - to reproduce a picture of events which occurred at the moment of explosion and immediately afterwards.

The first explosion, whose reason thus far remains unexplained, caused an intense fire in the first bow compartment. All the crew located there perished almost immediately. Kursk at this time was located at periscope depth and preparing for a training torpedo attack. Watertight hatches were therefore in the raised position.

The blast wave of the first explosion passed into the central command point (TsKP or bridge), which is found in second compartment. Part of the crew located there were probably killed immediately, while the rest were stunned by the shock of the explosion. The blast wave passed along the ventilation conduits and bent the rods of the hydraulic hoists for watertight doors, because of which these were all jammed in the raised position. The same blast wave blew toxic fumes into the remaining sections. Those crew remaining alive at the time donned portable respiratory apparatuses (PDA), while officers located at the controls of nuclear power plant (GEU) connected themselves to special respiratory apparatuses (ShDA) located there.

Because everyone on the bridge was out of commission and no one was at the helm, Kursk swiftly began to sink. The fire in first compartment continued and submariners from the third compartment began to depart to the stern. They did not have time to retreat further than the fourth compartment, however, before the second explosion overtook them.

Before sinking to the bottom the reactor scram system was actuated, and almost immediately afterward the second explosion (130 seconds after the first) follwed, much larger in power than the first. The reason for this explosion was due to the continuing fire in the first compartment, which eventually reached the torpedo racks and caused their detonation.

The new shock wave was several times more powerful than the first. Its blast blew out the partition between the first and second compartments and, like a piston moved to the stern, smashed and blew away everything in its path - including compressed air lines (VVD). As a result of this, compressed air escaped from the ballast tanks into the first three compartments and out through the hole in the first compartment. The second blast wave destroyed the ventilation conduits up to the 5-bis section and overtook and killed all those attempting to flee to this section. Their bodies were found there - thirty crew who lay on each other in the corridors of the fourth and fifth compartments.

Also killed in the fifth compartment by the blast wave were the entire replacement shift of the reactor team: Captain 2nd-class V. Isayenko, Captain 3rd-class D. Murachev, lieutenant commanders D. Pshenichnikov, A. Vasil'yev, S. Lyubushkin, and Senior Lieutenant A. Mityaev. Several of the officers were found ejected from their stations by the blast wave and thrown into the cutoff corridor. They were all wearing emergency breathing apparatuses.

The murderous tornado of the second shock wave stopped only at the stern compartment of the 5-bis section. In the 130 seconds between the first and second shock waves someone from the sixth compartment had time to slam shut the partition door, thus giving the rear personnel a chance of rescue. When the Kursk was raised and placed in drydock, it turned out that the stern partition of 5-bis section was bent out like an arc. However, the hatch accomplished its task and explosive force was contained in the forward compartments.

The remaining living submariners in the sixth through ninth compartments at this time did evertything possible to hermetically seal their sections. The commanders of each compartment communicated between themselves and advised each other on the further fight for the survival. Investigators found that all four rear compartments had set up emergency telephones.

Personnel of the sixth compartment under Lieutenant Commander Rashit Aryapov's command, manually connected additional high pressure gas lines to compensate for temperature expansion of the 1st reactor circuit. With this they ensured the airtightness of reactor.

Later, after the Kursk was raised, specialists were unanimous that the precise actions of sixth compartment personnel proved to be decisive in preventing nuclear contamination.

On the other hand, it remains a riddle why eighth compartment personnel failed to deploy the emergency signal buoy, which was reached by rotation of a lever from that section, especially since the system did not suffer from the explosion.

Intense flooding in the sixth compartment from the fifth section soon changed the situation. The remaining submariners made a decision to withdraw into the rear compartments. It was later established that the sixth, seventh, and eighth compartments evacuated without panic. On departing, the submariners gathered up all complete sets of V-64 air regenerators, IDA-59 individual underwater breathing apparatuses and SGP rescue wet suits. They did not run from the field of battle, but they stepped back in order to reinforce their last position and to fight their last, unequal battle in the sternmost ninth section.

By 1800 or 1900 hours on the evening on 12 August all remaining 23 submariners were collected stern ninth compartment.

TOPICS: Foreign Affairs; Miscellaneous

And there they waited until they succumbed to hypoxia and hypothermia.

The sea is a harsh mistress.

1 posted on 02/07/2002 8:08:57 AM PST by struwwelpeter
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To: struwwelpeter
Later, after the Kursk was raised, specialists were unanimous that the precise actions of sixth compartment personnel proved to be decisive in preventing nuclear contamination.
Heroes. All of them.
2 posted on 02/07/2002 8:15:59 AM PST by Asclepius
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To: struwwelpeter
Great article. What is really of greatest interest is what caused the first explosion. Was it the highly volatile fuel mixture of the new torpedo design - as pointed out by a number of Russian naval engineers who had misgivings before the Kursk sailed on its last voyage.
3 posted on 02/07/2002 8:16:22 AM PST by txzman
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To: struwwelpeter
Admittedly I haven't read the article yet but I never let that sort of thing keep from making a comment.

Torpedo go boom, kursk go glug glug.

4 posted on 02/07/2002 8:23:28 AM PST by TheErnFormerlyKnownAsBig
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To: Asclepius, txzman, Bobby777, jackie222, askel5, Chapita

Forgot to translate the schematic ;-)

The fuel is rumored to be a volatile hydrogen peroxide fuel, similar to what the Germans used in a few rocket planes during the war. History Channel broadcast a story on the Me-163 Komet and went into detail on the special handling needed for this dangerous fuel. The German technicians had several fueling accidents, and this on dry land. Can you imagine using this stuff on the high seas?

Peroxide is cheaper than solid fuel... though not in the long run.

5 posted on 02/07/2002 8:28:34 AM PST by struwwelpeter
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To: txzman
Can anyone refresh my memory?

I understood that the salvage company planned to saw the bow section away so they could raise the rest...was this done?

If so, does the forward torpedo room still rest on the sea bottom?

6 posted on 02/07/2002 8:32:10 AM PST by ZOOKER
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To: struwwelpeter
Thanks for this excellent article.
7 posted on 02/07/2002 8:32:24 AM PST by stanz
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To: struwwelpeter
A tough business, and an even tougher way to die.
8 posted on 02/07/2002 8:40:16 AM PST by Gunner9mm
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To: struwwelpeter
Thanks for the flag. I guess this is the final decision on the disaster? Are you convinced?
9 posted on 02/07/2002 8:48:37 AM PST by Jackie222
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To: struwwelpeter

Forward Compartment One (1) on the Kursk.

Control Bridge in Section (2)

Surival Suits employed on the Kursk.

Outer hatch (Photo of Kursk Rescue training)

A "sister" ship of the OSCAR Class.

The Kursk at Dock.

Anti-Ship Missile launcher Tubes.

Schematic of the Missle Tube Array.


10 posted on 02/07/2002 8:54:26 AM PST by vannrox
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To: struwwelpeter

Clean Hull Schematic in English.

Acoustic waves plotted showing the times of Explosion and magnitudes.

Rescue Points.

Reactor Control Room.

Underwater Phot taken by Diving Bell.

11 posted on 02/07/2002 9:07:10 AM PST by vannrox
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To: struwwelpeter
Having worked on submarine construction, I appreciate this article.
12 posted on 02/07/2002 9:10:09 AM PST by RightWhale
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To: txzman


The former commander of the Norwegian Northern Force, Admiral Einar Skorgen, who retired in early December of 2000, told press that on August 17 six Russian military aircraft were pursuing an American submarine along the southern coast of Norway, nearly crossing into the Norwegian air space. Norwegian fighters were scrambled to intercept Russian planes. Adm. Skorgen said that it is possible that "Kursk" collided with a US submarine.

The statement by Admiral Skorgen was confirmed by the Russian Defense Minister, Igor Sergeyev. Russian media sources reported that wives of 12 US Navy sailors, serving on the USS Memphis, were secretly flown to Bergen, Norway, shortly after the Kursk accident. The US military officials did not comment on this report.

In its Dec. 6 issue, Russian "Pravda" newspaper reported: 

"Igor Sergeyev, Russian defense minister, confirmed today in Brussels the comments by Rear-Admiral Einar Skorgen, former commander of the Norwegian Northern Force. According to the admiral, Russian anti-submarine aircraft did pursue on August 17 a foreign submarine escaping from the site of the nuclear submarine Kursk's crash. Admiral Skorgen also said that Russian North Fleet aircrafts got so absorbed in the pursuit that it nearly violated the Norwegian air space, so Norwegian fighters scrambled in an emergency takeoff.

Luckily, the air space violation was avoided thanks to a contact between the Norwegian Air Force and the Russian North Fleet commanders.

In addition, according to the admiral, there was something mechanically wrong with the US submarine "Memphis" which entered the Norwegian port of Bergen.

Moreover, wives of 12 Memphis sailors were then urgently flown from the US to Norway, the purpose of their trip being kept secret"

After analyzing a 15 m long and 2 wide 10-tonn fragment of Kursk's external hull (LK - light hull), experts of the "Rubin" submarine design bureau concluded that the damage observed on the submarine's hull about 60 cm above the waterline was not caused by a torpedo explosion. The most likely cause of the damage sustained by the light hull of "Kursk" was a collision with an external object. Officially, three most likely causes are still being considered by the investigators: an explosion aboard Kursk, a collision with a WWII mine, and a collision with a foreign submarine. About 80% of russian experts investigating the Kursk accident believe that it was caused by a collision with another submarine.

Russia opened a "Kursk" international fund in Brussels, which accepts donations to help Russia raise "Kursk" next summer. According to Russia's Vice-Premier and the head of the commission investigating the Kursk accident, Ilya Klebanov, out of about 500 methods of raising the submarine, review by the commission, two remain and the final decision will be made by the end of 2000. three foreign companies will cooperate with the "Rubin" design bureau in raising the submarine: the US-Norwegian "Hulliburton" and two companies from Holland.

On Nov. 19 investigators working on the Kursk accident case, reported that there is another circumstantial piece of evidence linking the accident with a foreign submarine. At about 14:00 on the day after the Kursk sank, Russian rescue vessels in the area of the accident detected an acoustic SOS signal using underwater microphones. Initially, the rescuers assumed that the signal was coming from Kursk and this was reported by the media. The signal disappeared shortly thereafter. However, it was recorded on tape and later analyzed by the investigators, who were surprised by the unusual rhythmic consistency of the acoustic SOS signal coming from underwater. After a computer analysis of the recording, it became clear that the signal was generated automatically by some sort of a mechanical device tapping the SOS message on the hull of a submarine. No such devices exist on any Russian submarine, but they are common on NATO submarines.

On Nov. 17 Russian Federal Security Service (the FSB) searched the design center of the "Top Secret" publishing company in Moscow and confiscated a hard drive of a computer used to edit the article about the Kursk accident for "Versiya" newspaper. The article in question included a secret satellite photograph of the American USS Memphis nuclear submarine docked in Bergen, Norway. The FSB officials said that the satellite photograph, sent to "Versiya" by an anonymous source, was classified and was a part of the ongoing investigation of the Kursk accident. The photo's authenticity was initially questioned by Norwegian military officials, who insisted that the photo was not recent, but was taken over four years ago. However, two days later Norwegian army admitted that the photo was taken on the date specified by "Versiya" (shortly after the Kursk accident) and that it does show the USS Memphis. On Nov. 21 the FSB visited the "Top Secret" publishing company once more and removed unspecified data from the company's server, which maintained backup image of the hard disk earlier confiscated by the FSB.

A Russian Navy destroyer is employing live ammunition to patrol the area around Kursk. Northern Fleet's public relations official, Vladimir Navrotsky, told journalists that the destroyer deployed and detonated a number of deep charges in order to keep any foreign submarines away from Kursk. Over 40 detonations were detected by Norwegian seismologists from the Norsar research center in close proximity of Kursk's position. The scientists were concerned that something was happening aboard Kursk.

The Russian government decided to raise Kursk in July-August of 2001. The complex operation will require participation of several companies, including the submarine's designer - the "Rubin." According to Russian government officials, the American-Norwegian "Hulliburton" company and several other companies from Holland and Belgium have expressed their desire to participate. It is believed that equipment itself will cost Russia over $60 million. However, the final cost will be known after the "Rubin" finalizes it technical plans for raising Kursk. Russian experts are confident that it will be possible to establish the origin of the foreign submarine that collided with Kursk beyond the reasonable doubt once Kursk is raised.

As of Nov. 12 a total of 12 bodies have been retrieved by Russian divers from the sunken Kursk submarine between October 20 and November 7, when the recovery operation was officially terminated due to extremely poor visibility inside the submarine and the high risk to the divers. Norwegian vessel "Regalia," rented by Russian from the Halliburton company, has already left for Norway. All of the bodies recovered from Kursk have been identified.

Russian divers will continue studying the first compartment of the submarine, but only from the outside. Detailed images of the submarine have been produced by the two Mir remotely-controlled submarines operated from the Russian research vessel.

New evidence obtained during the investigation indicates that Kursk collided with a foreign submarine. The Russian Navy's command announced that this is the final conclusion reached by the experts investigating the accident. However, at the moment investigators continue gathering evidence required to identify the foreign submarine involved in the collision with Kursk and to press charges against the submarine's owner. So far it was not officially announced to which country belonged the submarine that collided with Kursk, but the two most likely candidates are the UK and the US. In the past there were numerous collisions between Russian and NATO submarines, including in the Barents Sea.

Adm. Vladimir Kuroyedov - the commander of the Russian Navy - announced that on November 3 Russian heavy cruiser Peter the Great detected a foreign submarine in the vicinity of the Kursk accident. According to Kuroyedov, the foreign sub's mission might have been to remove some of the evidence from the accident site. Whatever the NATO submarine was doing near Kursk on November 3, it was not allowed to complete its mission.

As of Sept. 11, 2000, Russian investigators believe that Kursk collided with the USS Memphis of the US Navy. This submarine is an experimental platform used by the US Navy to test new weapons and other systems. It was manufactured in 1977 and modified for special-purpose operation in 1989 and again in 1994. There are clear signs of a collision on the damaged part of the Kursk's hull. This information was formally confirmed by the top Russian military officials.

The collision was registered by Norwegian and Russian seismologists as a weak "seismic event," which was followed by a powerful explosion 2 minutes 15 seconds later. There is a number of scientifically-valid explanations as to how a collision could have caused an explosion aboard Kursk 135 seconds later. The exact mechanism of such a process is now being studied. One possible explanation is the explosion of the air-hydrogen mix produced as the result of seawater flooding the electrical battery compartment located near the torpedo section. Such an explosion could have sank Kursk or it could have detonated the torpedoes.

The USS Memphis was detected by the Russian nuclear cruiser Peter the Great at the bottom of the sea not far from Kursk. The American submarine released a communications buoy and transmitted a coded emergency radio signal on NATO frequencies, requesting an emergency entry to a Norwegian naval base. The USS Memphis was able to recover from the collision (it was not as heavily damaged as Kursk, because the collision did not result in any explosions aboard the American submarine) and, after pulling down the rescue buoy, left the scene of the accident. The submarine's departure was also registered by the Russian cruiser.

The USS Memphis was initially tracked by a Kamov antisubmarine helicopter based aboard Peter the Great. Later, two Il-38 antisubmarine aircraft, piloted by Lt. Col. Dergunov and Lt. Col. Dovzhenko, deployed hydro-acoustic buoys and detected the USS Memphis traveling at only 5 knots. The submarine was continuously tracked by Russian vessels, aircraft and satellites until it reached the Norwegian port in Bergen. During the last reconnaissance flight of an Il-38 on August 18, the aircraft's pilot - Lt. Col. Dergunov - was unable to detect the submarine due to strong EM and hydro-acoustic interference from NATO defenses. Later that day the USS Memphis docked in Bergen.

The Russian Military Prosecutor General's office announced that they are prepared to charge the senior crew members of an unnamed vessel that collided with Kursk in accordance with the Article 263 of the Russian Criminal Code. The name of the vessel is know to the investigators but has not been made public. It was mentioned that the Pentagon has denied the official request by the Russian government to inspect the outer hull of the USS Memphis. After staying in Bergen in a dock for a short period of time the USS Memphis left for a British naval base. Again, the American submarine was tracked by the Russian Navy and by satellites.

Even the most furious opponents of the collision theory are bewildered by the Pentagon's refusal to allow an external visual inspection of the USS Memphis. This old submarine has been seen at public events, photographed, videotaped and at least its external features ceased to be a secret many years ago. Clearly, if the USS Memphis did not collide with Kursk, even a brief inspection of its hull would be quite enough to lift any suspicions. Such an inspection could have been carried out quickly and easily, because the USS Memphis was sitting in a dock in Bergen. The Pentagon said that the USS Memphis came to Norway as a part of a scheduled "courtesy visit." The Americans refused a simple and reasonable request from Russia. This is viewed by many as a de facto admission of guilt. The situation is aggravated by the fact, that the Pentagon officials lied about the number of American submarines observing the Russian Navy exercise in the Barents Sea: the US military officials stated that there were two submarines, while there were three submarines.

Many Russians, who support the collision theory, are now concerned that the Russian government may try to avoid an open confrontation with the US by not naming the vessel responsible for the collision. A similar situation had place in 1986, when on October 8 a Soviet K-219 (Type 667AU) submarine collided with the American USS Augusta. The collision led to an explosion in one of the missile launchers. The crew could not put out the fire and the submarine sank to a depth of around 5 kilometers near Bermuda islands, taking the lives of 4 crewmembers. At the time the Soviet government had its hands full with Chernobyl. In addition to that, Gorbachev did not want to put any additional strain on the improving relations between the USSR and the United States. The entire matter was suppressed and the official explanation for the accident was an unexplained explosion of a missile aboard the K-219.

At this moment, Russian prosecutors base their conclusions on four major facts:

  1. There is a history of collision between American and Russian submarines in the Barents Sea.

  2. Three US Navy submarines were present in the area of the Northern Fleet's exercise at the time of the Kursk accident.

  3. Immediately after the sinking of Kursk, one of the American submarines left the Barents Sea to dock in Norway for repairs. The submarine was followed by Russian reconnaissance planes and made an attempt to elude them.

  4. NATO officials refused an official request from the Russian government for an objective inspection of the external hull of USS Memphis.

Americans continue to deny that any of their submarines were involved in the collision with Kursk. According to the Pentagon, the USS Memphis docked in Bergen as a part of a "scheduled courtesy visit" and also (how convenient) to transfer the tapes with the information gathered during the mission in the Barents Sea. The tapes have been analyzed at the National Maritime Intelligence Center in Suitland, Maryland, and, Pentagon officials say, provide evidence against the collision theory. Although in this case Russian investigators do not consider Pentagon's information to be trustworthy, they will analyze the data gathered by the Americans. The head of the investigative commission, Ilya Klebanov, said the American tapes did not provide Russian experts with any new information regarding the cause of the accident. 

Russian press raised some valid questions regarding the likelihood of an experimental American reconnaissance submarine racing away from the subject of its interest - the Russian Navy in the Barents Sea - to pay a "courtesy visit" to Norway. If Americans really wanted to quickly transfer the tapes for analysis, there was absolutely no need for a six-day dash to Bergen. If the Russian Navy officials were evasive regarding the situation with Kursk, NATO officials were not far behind in regard to the situation with the USS Memphis. First, a Norwegian diplomat in Moscow says that the USS Memphis stopped in Bergen for repairs. A day later another Norwegian diplomat says that the American sub stopped for food and water and not for repairs. The Pentagon talks about a scheduled courtesy visit and later the story with the tapes comes out. Meanwhile, the Russians are not allowed to carry out a visual inspection of the American submarine. Finally, the sub quietly leaves the Norwegian base under the cover of darkness - just as it entered the base (some courtesy visit) - and sails to an unspecified British naval base.

Update (Sept. 13, 2000)

The "M. Keldysh" research ship of the Russian Academy of Sciences will take part in the investigation of the Kursk accident. The vessel should arrive to the site of the crash on Sept. 23. In 1998 the "Keldysh" was equipped with two manned mini-submarine - the Mir-1 and Mir-2. These submarines were used to investigate the sinking of the Soviet "Komsomolets" submarine in 1989. The two Mir mini-subs were also used during the filming of the "Titanic" movie.

Currently, the site of the Kursk accident is being surveyed by the RTM 500 remotely-controlled submarine operated from another Russian research vessel. The submarine is capable of up to 24 hours of continuous operation. The maximum depth is 500 meters. The RTM 500 is controlled via a cable by a pilot and a navigator. It is expected that the RTM 500 would complete the survey of the crash site in three days.

Russia's atomic energy minister, Yevgeny Adamov, believes that Kursk should be left alone. An attempt to raise the huge submarine, Adamov believes, may result in a radioactive leak, if the sub's powerplant section is damaged. At the moment the Russian government plans to raise the submarine. According to the head of the investigative commission, Ilya Klebanov, this operation is scheduled for the next year.

Update (Sept. 12, 2000)

In the interview to the "Trud" newspaper, Gen. Valery Manilov confirmed the reports of the signs of a collision found by Russian divers on the hull of the Kursk. In particular, Gen. Manilov said: "...our submarine was surfacing. The other submarine was traveling in the opposite direction at the depth of about 18 meters. It could have hit the "K-141" [Kursk] with its reinforced keel, which ripped through the light external hull and punctured the hard hull of our submarine. This theory is not a speculation. It is based on facts. On the right side of the Kursk's external hull we found characteristic marks formed during a dynamic collision of two objects. And another fact: the edges of the internal hull near the point of impact are bent inward. It is clear that there was an impact from the outside. Further, the elements of the superstructure atop the fin of the Kursk have been shaved off and the release mechanism of the detachable rescue vehicle has been jammed. On the seabed we found what looks like the fence from the fin of another submarine. This object was not yet raised to the surface because of its size: the submersible vehicles we have right now at the scene cannot lift this object. The suspicious object will be raised once more powerful underwater systems arrive to the area. It is quite possible that this object will tell us a lot." (Trud, Sept. 12, 2000)

Once again Gen. Manilov rejected the friendly fire theory as being utterly ridiculous. He also said that Russian specialists investigating the Kursk accident believe that the foreign submarine involved in the collision might have easily survived the accident, although it probably did sustain considerable damage.

Update (Sept. 11, 2000)

"While diving along the body of the sub, it revealed that 25 meters of the bow area were missing as if cut off by a guillotine. We turned at an 90 degree angle and saw nothing but bent pipes and ripped metal plates," said the captain of a Russian rescue submarine that was filming Kursk at the bottom of the Barents Sea. If this information proves to be accurate, Russian navy experts agree, this would indicate that Kursk was destroyed by an enormous explosion either inside or outside of the submarine. According to some reports, the edges of the forward section of the submarine are bent inward, which seems to suggest an outside explosion or a collision.

Meanwhile, the RIA Novosti news agency reports that the Russian Military Prosecutor General's office is preparing to press charges against senior crew members of an unnamed vessel responsible for the collision with Kursk. This information was confirmed by the representatives of the Military Prosecutor General's office, who said that a criminal case has been opened in accordance with the Article 263 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. Russian government officials made it clear that the crew of Kursk was not responsible for the accident. The name of the vessel that collided with Kursk seems to be known to the Russian investigators, but it was not released to the media.

In the unclassified report submitted to the Russian government, US Department of Defense continues to insist that Kursk was sank by a torpedo explosion and not by a collision. US Department of Defense spokesman Kenneth Bacon said that "there was no collision with an American or allied submarine or other vessel." Bacon added that the second and larger explosion was the equivalent of 1-5 tonnes of TNT and "led to [an] almost immediate flooding of the ship". Russian President Vladimir Putin said the information supplied by the Americans "refers to explosions registered in the area, and will help us analyze the situation and make conclusions on what caused the catastrophe". The US military and government agencies seem to be going out of their way to convince, if not the Russian investigators, then at least the Russian public, that there was no collision and that Kursk sank because of an explosion of one of its own torpedoes. Never before did American officials play such an active role in similar investigations of submarine collisions, even when the involvement of US Navy submarines was not disputed.

Update (Sept. 10, 2000)

One possible explanation of the tragedy aboard Kursk seems to have been completely ignored by Russian military and government officials: an attack by a foreign submarine. Russian media briefly mentioned this possibility. However, this was never publicly discussed by Russian officials. The logic behind this theory is quite simple: if there's anything that can quickly sink such an enormous submarine as Kursk, it is a torpedo launched by another submarine. The question is what could have prompted a foreign submarine to attack Kursk?

A NATO submarine might have attacked Kursk in self-defense, if its crew believed that they were attacked by Kursk first. We know that Kursk was carrying 24 Granit antiship missiles, two of which did not have warheads and were intended to be launched at simulated targets. One such launched took place on August 11 and the second launch was scheduled for August 12. From the initial reports about the accident aboard Kursk we know that the accident might have occured during or shortly after Kursk launched a missile or a torpedo. This led to speculation that the Russian submarine might have sank because of a malfunction of its torpedo or a missile during launch. However, this theory proved to be without basis because all weapons launched during exercises do not carry warheads.

Granit is one of the most sophisticated antiship missiles in its class. The missile's advanced electronic "brain" is designed to distinguish between actual targets and decoys. It is known that Granit will select the most realistic and most valuable target, if it is presented with a choice. Let's suppose that after launch, Granit was presented with such a choice: a stationary simulated target such as an old rusty barge or a moving surfaced submarine. There is no doubt that the missile would have selected the submarine. It is important to keep in mind that Granit is  not an antisubmarine weapon, so the only way it can target a submarine is if the latter was at least partially surfaced. NATO submarines frequently travel surfaced in the area of Russian naval exercises. And sometimes so do Russian submarines when they observe NATO naval exercises. There were numerous encounters between Russian subs and ships and surfaced NATO submarines in the Barents Sea.

Russian military officials say that they found what may be the fence surrounding the cabin of a NATO submarine in the area of the Kursk accident. In most submarines, including the American Los-Angeles class, the fence around its cabin is retractable. It is extended only when it is needed and, as you may guess, it is used for someone on top of the cabin to hold on to. The supporters of the torpedo attack theory say that even an unarmed Granit  - a heavy and fast missile - might have hit the NATO sub causing considerable damage to the cabin (casualties among the crew are also possible). The submarine's crew would have imagined that it is being attacked by the Kursk and returned fire, sinking the Russian submarine. Thus, the first "explosion" registered by the Norwegians might have been caused by the impact of the Granit (or by its launch, which is also an extremely violent event), while the second powerful explosion might have been the detonation of the NATO torpedo, when it hit Kursk. The explosive power of a modern torpedo closely corresponds to the power of the second explosion, estimated by the Norwegian seismologists as being equivalent to 1.5 - 2 tons of TNT.

This is a very speculative theory, of course. However, it is the only one that explains all the unusual commotion around the Kursk accident: a lengthy conversation between Putin and Clinton, a secret visit by the CIA director to Moscow, the information game played from the very beginning by the Russian government and military officials. A simple collision between a Russian and an American submarines is not an extraordinary event. There were many such collisions, including fatal collisions, in the past but they never resulted in this much agitation and secrecy on all sides. This theory can also explain the 135-second delay between the first explosion detected by the Norwegians and the second one, for we can no longer believe that the second powerful explosion was caused by the impact against the seabed: there was no impact but only what appears to be a "soft landing," that left a 150-meter trail behind Kursk.

Update (Sept. 9, 2000)

A surfaced submarine was sighted off the south coast of Iceland four days after the Kursk accident. Icelandic media (the TV Channel 2 in particular) speculated that this submarine might have been damaged in the collision with Kursk.

Update (Sept. 8, 2000)

Russian government officials announced that the three possible causes of the accident are being investigated: (1) a collision with a foreign submarine; (2) a collision with a W.W.II mine; (3) a malfunction of the submarine's internal systems, such as electrical batteries or missiles. All top Russian military officials, including the Defense Minister, the commander of the Northern Fleet, and the Deputy Chief of General Staff, lean toward the collision theory.

In the recent interview to the Russian press, the Deputy Chief of General Staff, Gen. Valery Manilov, revealed some interesting information related to the accident aboard "Kursk". Here are the highlights and related information:

Update (Sept. 8, 2000)

According to the New York Times, the second US submarine, that was present in the area of the Russian Northern Fleet's exercise at the time of the accident aboard Kursk, was officially identified by Russian government sources as the USS Toledo (SSN 769, Los-Angeles class) from Norfolk, Va. The Toledo is one of the newest Los-Angeles class submarines of the same type as the USS Memphis. Despite the assurance of the US military officials, that there were only two American submarines present in the Barents Sea, Russian navy experts say that usually three US submarines are present during most Russian Navy exercises. This creates a possibility that there was a third US submarine American officials would rather not talk about.

The German Berliner Zeitung newspaper reprinted an article from the Russian Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper, which insists that the Kursk was sank by a Granit antiship missile launched by the Russian Northern Fleet's flagship, Peter the Great nuclear cruiser. The newspaper says that this information was contained in a classified FSB (ex-KGB) report submitted to President Putin on August 31, 2000. The article states that the missile sank some 20 km from the cruiser, causing two (!) explosions. Berliner Zeitung (rather the Komsomolskaya Pravda) claimed that the missile hit about 400 meters from the position of Kursk. It is further claimed that the missile was an antisubmarine modification of the Granit antiship missile.

This remarkably incompetent theory caused a hail of criticism from Russian navy experts, who largely disregarded the report in Komsomolskaya Pravda - a newspaper known for its scandalous nature - but could not ignore the same article in the German press. First, there are no antisubmarine versions of the Granit. This was stated by the missile's manufacturer and is a generally-known fact. The Granit is a long-range (550 km) antiship missile and there is absolutely no reason for the Russian cruiser to practice attacking targets just 20 km away using this missile: doing so would neither test the crew's ability to acquire targets nor would it challenge the missile's targeting and guidance capabilities. The Berliner Zeitung has an explanation that goes well with the overall delirious mood of the article: the Russian flagship was defending against a simulated close-range nuclear attack! Of course it was, why didn't I think of that? I guess the next step of this exercise for the crew of Peter the Great was to throw atomic bombs using catapults and to board an enemy submarine with rocket-propelled grappling hooks and nuclear muskets. Arrgh!

Most importantly, however, all Russian Navy officials have confirmed that all missiles and torpedoes fired during naval exercises do not carry real warheads because real warheads are expensive, dangerous and completely unnecessary during an exercise. Finally, the FSB press service denied that there were any reports submitted by the agency to Vladimir Putin regarding a possibility that Kursk was sank in an incident of friendly fire.

First, the West was talking about some secret Russian missile-torpedo with a mysterious liquid-fuel propulsion system that might have sank Kursk. Now it's a secret new antisubmarine missile, which, if launched without a warhead, can cause two explosions, a 3.5-point earthquake in Norway, and tear apart one of the largest nuclear submarines in the world from a distance of 400 meters. With such a weapon the Russians can afford to lose one submarine. I guess the US Navy now has no choice but to surrender.

Not related to the above report, two medics from the S. Freud Psychiatrische Klinik Berlins have been sighted today in the office of one of the Berliner Zeitung's editors. I am quite disappointed in the Berliner Zeitung. I read this newspaper from time to time, when I think that my life is not complicated enough and when I feel a desire to see many long words with a lot of Z's in them. Reprinting this story from Komsomolskaya Pravda was a big mistake on the part of the Berliner Zeitung.

Update (Sept. 7, 2000)

One of the most scientifically complex explanations of the Kursk accident was proposed by a member of the high-profile Russian Military-Historical Forum. In a nutshell, the theory states that Kursk might have been caught between two masses of water with considerably different densities due to variations in temperature or external mechanical influence. The Russian term for this phenomenon is "liquid seabed." The liquid seabed effect is most often observed when a jet of cold water enters a larger body of warm water.

The difference in temperature may reach 20 degrees Centigrade (for example, the temperature of water can change from 28 deg. to just 8 deg. in a short distance). The USS Thrasher is believed to have sank because of this phenomenon. Simply put, when a submarine encounters a body of water with a considerably different density, a temporary loss of control occurs and the submarine's behavior becomes unpredictable. It is conceivable that under such circumstance the submarine may hit the real seabed, if there is not enough depth to maneuver, or it can rapidly go below the safe depth, as, some say, the USS Thrasher did. The American submarine sank on April 10, 1963 in the Atlantic during a test dive. All 129 men onboard were killed in the accident. The USS Thrasher sank to  depth of 2600 meters.

The "liquid seabed" phenomenon is also observed in the Barents Sea, when jets of warm water (continuations of the North Atlantic Drift) encounter the cold waters of the sea. Alternatively, sharp variations in the density of the sea can be caused by mechanical influence, such as an earthquake or a powerful underwater explosion. We know that the Norwegians detected a 3.5-point earthquake in the area of the Kursk accident. For some reason it was presumed that this earthquake was caused either by an onboard explosion of a torpedo or by the collision of the submarine with the seabed.

However, Russian seismologists are convinced that a 3.5-point earthquake, as it was registered by the Norwegian sensors, could have been only caused by nothing less than a 1-kiloton nuclear explosion, or it could have been a natural earthquake, which are not uncommon in this area of the Barents Sea. The theory's author proposes that Kursk might have lost control, when it's nose section came in contact with an underwater compression wave caused by an earthquake or a sharp temperature variation, and sank because it did not have enough room to regain control and maneuver.

Well, you wanted something more sophisticated, a simple collision with a NATO sub is not enough for you? How about an underwater compression wave caused by an earthquake (or by a 1-kiloton nuclear explosion, if you are a Tom Clancy fan)? This theory seems to be scientifically feasible, or at least that's what the oceanography experts, I talked to, say. On the other hand, this version of events does not explain the damage sustained by Kursk among other things.

Update (Sept. 6, 2000)

On Sept. 6 Russian RIA Novosti news agency quoted an unnamed representative of the Russian Navy General Staff as saying that so far there were no attempts made to raise the large metal structure found about 50 meters from Kursk. The piece of metal is believed to have come from the superstructure of a NATO submarine involved in the collision with Kursk. However, a smaller piece of the foreign submarine was raised to the surface today and is now being studied by Russian experts.

In an interview to the Russian ORT television channel, commander of the Northern Fleet, Adm. Vyacheslav Popov, said that in all likelihood the foreign submarine involved in the collision with Kursk, itself remained inoperative at the bottom of the sea for some time after the collision. However, the damaged foreign submarine managed to recover and leave the scene of the accident.

Update (Sept. 5, 2000)

Gen. Manilov, the Deputy Chief of General Staff, specified that Kursk might have collided with a foreign submarine having displacement of roughly 8,000-9,000 metric tons. The collision occured at a depth of 16-18 meters. The accident happened when the two subs were heading almost directly toward each other. Kursk was surfacing at a speed of 4-6 knots, while the foreign sub was going slightly faster (around 8 knots) and a few meters higher than Kursk. 

It is believed that the foreign sub was slowly submerging or attempted to steer down and to the left at the last moment before the impact. In any case, the force of impact had a considerable vertical component, which suggests that one sub was surfacing and the other one was submerging. Because of the retracted periscope and masts, we know that Kursk was surfacing.

Update (Sept. 4, 2000)

The Deputy Chief of General Staff, Gen. Valery Manilov, told Russian press on September 4 that a fragment of metal, possibly belonging to an American or British submarine, was found near "Kursk." The piece of metal is believed to have come from the top of the cabin of a submarine. Russian Defense Minister, Marshal Igor Sergeyev, told Russian media that available information suggests that the unidentified submarine involved in the collision with "Kursk" most likely belongs to Great Britain. What's suspected to be a piece of a British submarine will be raised to the surface for detailed analysis. 

According to Adm. Vladimir Yegorov, commander of Russia's Baltic Fleet, one of the possible reasons for the accident aboard Kursk, being investigated by the government, is a strike by a torpedo launched by another Russian vessel. Adm. Yegorov admitted that all torpedoes launched during such exercises are unarmed and that a collision of such a torpedo with Kursk was unlikely to cause any damage to the huge submarine. Nevertheless, Adm. Yegorov said that the unexpected collision with an unarmed torpedo might have caused an explosion aboard Kursk.

Since the interview with Adm. Yegorov was aired by the Russian RTR television network, many submarine experts dismissed this version of events as being theoretically impossible. There are two main arguments against Adm. Yegorov's theory. First, an impact by an unarmed torpedo would not have caused any significant damage to Kursk. "Even if it had been struck, it would have been clear that it was a torpedo from one of our own ships and it would had the effect of a mere mosquito bite on such a submarine, even less. During exercises, torpedoes never carry charges," Adm. Yegorov said. Second, it is know that there was a considerable time delay between the first impact and the second impact detected by the Americans and Norwegians. This delay rules out a possibility of a first impact directly setting off a detonation of some kind aboard Kursk.

Update (Sept. 3, 2000)

Further discussion of the accident among Russian submarine experts in private and on the pages of the Russian press, comes to a following conclusion: "Kursk" was deliberately rammed either by a large foreign submarine or by an unmanned submarine-torpedo (a project being developed by the U.S. for the past 15 years.)

Update (Sept. 2, 2000)

The American nuclear submarine SSN 691 Memphis, Los-Angeles class, is currently located at the Norwegian port in Bergen. A representative of the Norwegian embassy in Moscow told the Russian RIA "Novosti" news agency that the 'Memphis' entered the Norwegian port "for repairs." Initially the Norwegian embassy refused to say when the American submarine requested entry to and entered the Norwegian base. Shortly after publishing this information, RIA "Novosti" was contacted by another representative of the Norwegian embassy, Ule Hopestad, who said that his colleague, who gave the initial interview to the news agency, provided "incorrect information" due to his "problems with the Russian language." According to Ule Hopestad, the 'Memphis' entered the Norwegian port in Bergen on August 18 not for repairs but to replenish its supplies of food and to allow its crew to rest. Norwegian officials say that 'Memphis' was scheduled to arrive to Bergen almost two months in advance.

The SSN 691 Memphis is, perhaps, the most extraordinary submarine in the US Navy and it's appearance in Norway and a possible connection to the Kursk accident is worth a brief discussion. This Los-Angeles class submarine was modified in 1989 as a seagoing testbed for new submarine technologies and weapons. The extensive modifications included fitting of a larger torpedo tube, in 1993-94. The Memphis has an external shelter for ROVs, equipment for handling new towed arrays, and extensive test/trials monitoring equipment installations. The submarine was built in 1977 and is based at Groton (also the home port of USS Toledo - the other Los-Angeles class submarine present in the Barents Sea at the time of the Kursk accident.) This submarine is unique and highly specialized. The logical question seems to be: what was Memphis doing in the Barents Sea and why did it request emergency entry to the Norwegian port in Bergen shortly after the Kursk accident?

kursk001.gif (76283 bytes)According to the Russian Defense Minister, Igor Sergeyev, Russian experts are studying satellite photos of the area where "Kursk" sank. 'Memphis' was detected by satellites when it surfaced and was traveling at a very low speed away from the general area of the "Kursk" accident toward Norway. Later the American submarine accelerated to around 8-9 knots (16-17 km/h) and proceeded along the Norwegian coast toward Bergen (roughly 1,900 km from the site of the "Kursk" accident along the Norwegian coastline). The submarine was generally identified as a Los-Angeles class and later was determined to be the SSN 691 'Memphis'. The unidentified foreign submarine was initially detected by the Russian nuclear cruiser "Peter the Great" after it intercepted a NATO radio distress signal originated by the submarine, requesting emergency entry to one of the Norwegian naval bases.

Representatives of the Norwegian embassy in Moscow told RIA "Novosti" that the American submarine was seen by Norwegian journalists. However, attempts on the part of the Russian news agency to locate these journalists have failed.

Update (Sept. 1, 2000)

Russian press reported that three Dagestani nationals were aboard "Kursk" during the accident: Ildarov (a regular crew member of the submarine), Lt. Capt. Arnold Borisov and a civilian engineer Mamed Gadzhiyev. The latter two were the representatives of the Dagestani "Dagdizel" military factory that manufactures torpedoes. This was confirmed by the FSB director, Nikolay Patrushev. The two men were located in the torpedo section of the sub at the time of the accident. This information was confirmed by the employees of the "Dagdizel" factory. According to unofficial reports, Borisov and Gadzhiyev were supervising a test-launch of a new type of torpedo using liquid fuel as its main propellant. Arnold Borisov is a distinguished navy officer and Gadzhiyev - a civilian engineer aboard "Kursk" - comes from a family that has close ties to the Russian Navy. However, this did not prevent Chechen separatists from claiming that the two Dagestani torpedo experts aboard "Kursk" were the agents of the Chechen rebels and sabotaged the sub. Friends and relatives of the Dagestani nationals aboard "Kursk" say that they do not have any connections with the Chechen rebels and that they feel insulted by such preposterous accusations. Representatives of the Russian Navy say that all people allowed aboard a nuclear submarine have highest security clearances and are thoroughly checked by a number of military and civilian security agencies.

The news of a Los-Angeles class submarine leaving the area of the Northern Fleet's exercises and a possible connection between the accident aboard "Kursk" and an American submarine first appeared in the Russian press on August 15 - three days before the submarine in question entered the Norwegian naval base, according to the Norwegian diplomats.


The tragedy aboard "Kursk" received far more media coverage than any other accident involving Russian naval vessels. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why so much contradictory information and unsubstantiated theories have materialized in such a short period of time. Theories, "explaining" the sinking of one of the world's best nuclear submarines, range from a possible explosion of a hydrogen-air mix generated by the electrical batteries to an attack by an American Los Angeles class submarine.

Here I have assembled all the available information relevant to the accident aboard "Kursk." The information is divided into three sections. In the first part I will go over the available factual information or what is perceived as such at this moment. The second part deals with the reasonable questions that can be formulated in response to the available facts. Finally, the last section of this article will review some of the more serious theories regarding the sinking of "Kursk." We will take a look at how various theories go along with the available evidence and how they answer our questions.

I am not a submarine expert. I've never been on a submarine or anywhere near it. So it is important for you to understand, that what I write here is a personal opinion based only on my purely theoretical knowledge of military technology, including submarines, and not an expert opinion of a navy veteran. I will rely entirely on the information and expertise provided to me by experienced submariners. Before writing this article I spoke with several Russian and American submarine experts, who agreed to assist me in this project.

Part I 
What we know

"Kursk" is a huge Type 949A Antey class (NATO codename Oscar II) submarine armed with 24 nuclear-capable SS-N-19 "Shipwreck" (NATO designation) surface-to-surface missiles, as well as Type 53 533-mm and Type 65 650-mm tube-launched torpedoes. The SS-N-19 missiles are located in two groups of 12 on each side of the submarine outside the pressure hull. The maximum displacement of the submarine is stated by the Russian Navy as being up to 24,000 metric tons. The submarine is around 155 meters long with a 18.2-meter beam and a 9.0-meter draught. The submarine is powered by a pair of nuclear reactors and is capable of developing 19 knots surfaced and up to 30 knots submerged. The main role of this submarine is to attack enemy aircraft carriers. Many people know that "Kursk" is a large submarine, but they are usually surprised by just how big it is. So it's important to visualize this sub and to compare it with the things we see every day in order to better understand why this sub cannot be, say, simply lifted to the surface by another vessel.

The Antey class submarines are 1/10th of the manufacturing cost of a full-size, Enterprise class aircraft carrier (without the aircraft). The submarine has two hulls: the external "soft" hull is at least 10 mm think, and the internal "hard" hull (PK - prochny korpus), which is at least 50 mm thick. The submarine has nine sections and three escape hatches: in the front, on top of the fin, and in the rear section. There is an escape craft inside the fin. It is designed to provide the entire crew with the means of a rapid escape from any depth accessible to the submarine (over 500 meters). The sub is also equipped with a rescue buoy, which is released in cases of emergency and provides radio communications, among other functions. The buoy is connected to a cable, which guides a rescue diving bell precisely to the escape hatch of the submarine. This, along with the escape capsule, is considered to be the most effective rescue system ever developed for a military submarine.

The K-141 Kursk was the sixth submarine of the Antey class built. Other submarines of this class include: K-148 "Krasnodar", K-119 "Voronezh", K-410 "Smolensk", K-226 "Orel", K-186 "Omsk", K-132 "Belgorod", K-173 "Chelyabinsk", K-442 "Tomsk", K-456 "Kasatka." The last four submarines are assigned to the Pacific Fleet. Antey class submarines are 154 meters long and up to 18.2 meters wide. The maximum depth is around 500 meters and the top speed is 28 knots while submerged. The submarine is designed to be capable for up to 120 days of autonomous operation. The Antey class submarines are powered by the OK-650 nuclear power system based on two 190-MW reactors driving two shafts, each developing up to 50,000 hp. The submarine is armed with 24 "Ametist" antiship missile launchers, 4 533-mm torpedo launchers. The missiles and torpedoes can carry nuclear warheads. The primary role of the Antey class submarines is to attack enemy carrier battle groups.

The position of Kursk at the bottom of the Barents Sea was initially established by the Russian cruiser Peter the Great, which detected the sound of the explosion. Peter the Great found Kursk at about 6 p.m. local time on August 12. The cruiser positioned itself about one kilometer from the sunken submarine. Other ships that arrived to the area of the accident included the "Adm. Kuznetsov" aircraft carrier, the "Adm. Chabanenko" destroyer, the "Mikhail Rudnitsky" and the "Altaj" rescue ships. The two rescue vessels approached the sunken sub to within 200 meters. The rescue operation was managed from Peter the Great by the commander of the Northern Fleet's search-and-rescue department, Capt. Alexander Teslenko. The same night the commander of the Northern Fleet, Adm. Popov, arrives to Peter the Great on a helicopter.

The initial assessment of the damage to Kursk by divers from "Altaj" and other vessels revealed the enormous damage sustained by the submarine. Divers were in shock: they never expected to discover that the entire forward part of the submarine was nearly completely destroyed. The main task of the divers was to determine the exact position of the submarine and to look for any signs of life. On Tuesday a diver from "Altaj" broke his wrist during ascent. He was transferred to the medical facility aboard Peter the Great and later flown by a helicopter to the shore. Stormy weather, a strong underwater current, and muddy water made it nearly impossible for the divers to complete all of their objectives.

A brief technical description of Peter the Great. The heavy nuclear cruiser of the Kirov class was built in St. Petersburg at the Baltic shipbuilding plant. The cruiser's primary task is to attack enemy aircraft carriers. The cruiser is armed with a wide array of weapons, including 20 Granit antiship missiles, the S-300F SAM system, two dual Osa-MA SAM launchers with 20 missiles, the "Kashtan" AAA-SAM system, the AK-130-MP-184 130-mm cannon, three antisubmarine Ka-27PL helicopters, and the "Vodopad-NK" antisubmarine system. The cruiser is powered by four nuclear reactors driving four turbines, each developing up to 28,000 hp. The cruiser's top speed is 31 knots and maximum time of autonomous operation is 60 days.

A few words about the life support systems installed on Antey class submarines. The system is rather traditional and consists of five levels. First, the nuclear reactor produces electricity, powering the air filtering and regeneration systems. Second, in case of the automatic emergency shutdown of the reactors, the air regeneration systems are powered by the electrical batteries located in one of the forward sections of the submarine. Third, the submarine carries two types of tanks with pressurized air: the VVD (high-pressure) tanks that contain air under 200 atm (400 atm according to other sources) and are used to blow water out of the ballast tanks, and the VDS (medium-pressure) tanks containing air under 30 atm. The VDS air tanks can supply air for breathing in cases of emergency. Fourth, each section of the submarine has a system for chemical regeneration of air that can sustain life in each section for 10 to 24 hours. This system is highly volatile and may cause fire if its active chemical elements come in contact with the seawater. Fifth, every crewmember has an individual breathing mask that provides air for about one hour under normal temperature and pressure.

Most Russian and foreign experts agree that there is little risk of a radioactive leak from the two reactors aboard the sunken Kursk. The reactors could have easily survived the explosion that sank the submarine, because they are not directly attached to the submarine, but stand on specially-designed shock absorbers, that, according to the designers, can safely withstand a momentary acceleration of several hundred g's and a constant load equivalent to several dozen g's. The type of reactors installed aboard Kursk are the third-generation Russian submarine reactors with increased survivability. During the accident aboard Kursk, its two reactors have been safely shut down by an automatic protection system. There is no theoretical possibility that the reactors may restart or explode. Radioactive leaks are possible, if the multi-layer protective shell around the reactor was damaged. However, neither Russian nor foreign experts detected any increase in the level of radioactivity in the area of the Kursk accident. Despite the objections of the Russian Atomic Energy Ministry, the government decided to raise Kursk next year. Russian atomic energy experts are concerned that the reactors may be damaged during the exceptionally complex and potentially dangerous operation to raise Kursk. The 22 armed Granit missiles aboard Kursk complicate the situation further.

Why try to raise the submarine at all? The Antey class submarines play a major role in Russia's national defense. Causes of the accident with Kursk must be thoroughly investigated, among other reasons, because Russian operates other submarines of this class and plans to build more of them. Russian submarine designers and manufacturers, investigators and prosecutors, the Navy and the defense industry - all of them have a lot to gain if Kursk is raised and closely studied. This is the first time there is a real chance to raise a sunken Russian nuclear submarine. There are nuclear scientists and environmentalists who insist that there is a greater threat of radioactive leaks if the submarine is left at the bottom of the sea. This means that during the next several months there will be a heated debate between scientists and politicians as to which approach is safer: to raise the sub or to leave it alone.

The following is a brief review of all available facts relevant to the accident aboard "Kursk":

  1. "Kursk" is the flagship submarine of Russia's Northern Fleet. It sailed for the first time in 1994 and entered active service in 1995. It is one of the newest Russian submarines and an important element of Russia's national defense.

  2. The submarine's standard crew is 107 men. "Kursk" sank with 118 men aboard. Apparently, the 11 "extra" crew were various Navy officials present onboard to observe training exercises. The complete list of the sub's standard crew was published by the Russian press.

  3. The submarine sank in shallow waters approximately 135 km from the shore. Currently, "Kursk" is resting at the depth of only 108 meters, at a 25-deg nose-down pitch and a 60-deg roll to the right. The sub is located in the middle of an extremely strong localized underwater current.

  4. The rescue buoy was not released. The escape capsule was not used.

  5. The submarine has a large hole along the right side in the forward sections. According to some reports, the entire forward section is missing - about 25 meters. Scratch marks extend to the fin, which also has some impact damage. The fin never touched the seabed. There is a large dent in the base of the cabin, which also never touched the seabed.

  6. Large pieces of the sub's hull are scattered across the seabed.

  7. The submarine left a relatively long trail on the seabed, about 150 meters. Simple calculations suggest that there was a soft "touchdown" and the submarine gently came to rest with the average deceleration of only 0.07G.

  8. All the external masts and the periscope were extended. These systems are extended only when the sub is surfaced, surfacing, or traveling at the periscope depth of about 10 meters. Before the sub dives all masts are retracted inside the hull. This is done even during an rapid emergency dive.

  9. At least five of the nine and perhaps all of the sub's compartments are believed to be flooded. Norwegian divers confirmed that the entire submarine is flooded and it is believed that the submarine was flooded rather quickly.

  10. Norwegian seismic sensors in Orckes and Russian sensors in Apatity detected two "seismic events" separated by 135 seconds. The second "event" was identified as a explosion that was registered as a 3.5-point earthquake and might have been caused by an explosion of 1 - 2 tons of TNT or its equivalent. The second explosion was recorded as a delta-function, which indicates a massive energy release in a very short period of time - an explosion. However, the first "seismic event" is not represented by such a function, so it might have been caused by an explosion (that might have been caused by up to 100 kg of TNT or its equivalent) or by a collision (which, of course, lasts much longer than an explosion.) This immediately created a possibility that there might have been a powerful blast aboard Kursk about two minutes after the submarine collided with something. It is important to keep in mind that water amplifies the effect of an underwater explosion on the seabed by up to ten times. This means that the actual events that caused the mini-earthquakes, registered by the seismic sensors in Russian and Norway, might have been ten time less powerful than estimated.

  11. The official Russian government commission concluded that the sub sank because of a powerful explosion onboard. The cause of the explosion is believed to be a collision with an unidentified massive external body with approximate displacement of 7,000-8,000 metric tons traveling at over 6 knots (faster than "Kursk") at the depth of 20-25 meters. The impact was at a 20-30-degree angle between the velocity vectors of "Kursk" and the unidentified external object.

  12. Russian media reports indicate that the external object, which hit "Kursk" was attempting to steer away to the left and down from the Russian submarine in the last moments before the collision.

  13. At the time of the accident, Russian heavy nuclear cruiser "Peter the Great" detected a powerful hydro acoustic compression wave, which may indicate an underwater explosion. The signal's location was calculated, which later allowed to locate "Kursk."

  14. "Peter the Great" also detected green-and-white rescue buoys, which later disappeared. The Russian Navy uses only red-and-white rescue buoys. Green-and-white ones are used by the US, UK, and Norwegian navies.

  15. After locating "Kursk", the cruiser detected a second large object on the bottom of the sea, which was identified as a foreign submarine. Two NATO "Orion" naval reconnaissance aircraft were detected by "Peter the Great" in the area shortly after the accident.

  16. According to unnamed Russian Navy officials quoted by the Russian press, a coded NATO radio communication was intercepted after the explosion aboard "Kursk" was detected. The radio message, addressed to the Norwegian Navy, originated from a NATO submarine, and requested an emergency entry to one of the Norwegian naval bases for a five-day stay.

  17. Russian reconnaissance satellites detected a surfaced Los Angeles class submarine moving toward Norwegian coast at a very low speed. According to unnamed Russian Navy officials, the submarine was later identified as possibly being the SSN 691 Memphis. Initially, this submarine was tracked by a pair of Russian Il-38 naval reconnaissance aircraft. They reported back to base that an American submarine was traveling away from the general area of the Kursk accident at a speed of about 5 knots. During the second flight of an Il-38, piloted by Lt. Col. Dergunov, on August 18 (later this day the USS Memphis docked in Bergen) the American submarine could not be detected because of strong EM and hydro-acoustic interference. After docking in Bergen for a short period of time, the USS Memphis left for a British naval base. It is important to understand that Memphis docked in Bergen: this proves that the submarine required some technical service. Pentagon officially refused a request from the Russian government to inspect the outer hull of the USS Memphis.

  18. The United States government and military officials confirmed that two of their submarines and a reconnaissance vessel, the "Loyal", were observing Russian naval exercises. Americans denied that any of their submarines were involved in the accident with "Kursk." What's interesting, is that traditionally Americans employ not two but three submarines and one surface vessel to observe Russian naval exercises in the Barents Sea. Russian Navy officers jokingly call this group of spy vessels a "snake pit." The "Loyal" is a 235-foot spy ship equipped with the latest surveillance systems. This ship has a crew of 15 Navy servicemen and about 25 Pentagon-contracted civilian specialists, who do the actual spying.

  19. Vladimir Putin had a lengthy conversation with Bill Clinton about "Kursk," after which he gave the "go ahead" for the Russian Navy to seek foreign help. Putin ordered Russian Navy officials to travel to the NATO headquarter in Brussels and to evaluate NATO's ability to assist with the rescue operation. Russia has officially accepted help offers from the UK and Norway. 

  20. On August 17 the head of the CIA, George Tenet, secretly arrived to Moscow from Sofia, Bulgaria. Shortly after Russian journalists became aware of the visit. Bulgarian officials made no secret of the matter and confirmed that the head of the CIA went to Moscow. When confronted by the journalists, Russian officials stated that the unusual visit was related to the situation in Yugoslavia, and not to the accident aboard "Kursk." On the same day Russian reconnaissance satellites confirmed that a US Los Angeles class submarine entered a naval base in Norway.

  21. On May 11, the Russian Military News Agency (AVN) reported that in July-August of 2000 the Northern Fleet will be conducted a training rescue operation. As a part of the operation, one of the Northern Fleet's nuclear submarines was supposed to position itself near the seabed at the depth of about 100 meters. The rescue vessel to perform the training rescue mission was identified as "Rudnitsky."

  22. "Mikhail Rudnitsky" rescue vessel was among the first ships to arrive at the site of the accident.

  23. Norway and the United States confirmed that the Los Angeles class submarine SSN 691 Memphis - a special-purpose submarine used to test experimental weapons - entered a Norwegian naval base for repairs on August 17-18. Americans refused to say when the 'Memphis' requested entry to the base or whether these were planned repairs or an emergency situation.

  24. Russian Federation has officially requested a technical report from Norway detailing the nature of repairs carried out on Memphis.

  25. The head of the Russian parliamentary national security committee, Dmitry Rogozin, said that an international group of experts will investigate a possibility of a collision between "Kursk" and a foreign submarine. Russian Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, confirmed this information.

  26. The crash site of "Kursk" is being heavily guarded by several surface vessels and attack submarines of the Northern Fleet. Two research vessels equipped with advances hydro-acoustic systems are mapping the seabed and underwater currents in the area of the accident.

  27. Some Russian regional administration officials from Murmansk area stated that there were two civilian torpedo experts from a military research organization aboard "Kursk" supervising a test-launch of an experimental torpedo that uses liquid propellant. The "torpedo" in question is possibly the Shkval /E underwater missiles that travels at over 300 mph submersed inside a supercavitating air bubble created by its own exhaust.

  28. It was confirmed that the two torpedo experts aboard Kursk  - a navy officer and a civilian engineer - were from the "Dagdiesel" defense company. The two experts were to supervise a launch of an upgraded unarmed torpedo, which used a new cheaper type of batteries that replaced the older and more expensive silver-zinc batteries. 

  29. All torpedoes launched during exercises are unarmed. Experimental torpedoes are never launched during exercises. All experimental weapons are tested within the 12-kilometer zone from the Russian shore. Such areas are designated as testing grounds and are heavily guarded from foreign vessels by shore-based defenses. Kursk did not sink in such an area.

  30. The Deputy Chief of General Staff, Gen. Valery Manilov, reported that a large piece of metal - possibly an external fence from the cabin of a British or American submarine - was found 50 meters from the crash site of "Kursk."

  31. Additional navy vessels of the Northern Fleet were dispatched to guard the site of the accident.

  32. Russian Defense Minister, Marshal Igor Sergeyev, told journalists that available evidence points to a collision with a foreign medium-sized submarine, possibly belonging to the Royal Navy.

  33. Approximate displacement of the foreign submarine suspected of causing the accident roughly corresponds to the Trafalgar class submarines of the Royal Navy and the Los Angles class of the US Navy.

  34. Russian government decided to raise the 118 bodies from Kursk in a joint operation with the Norwegians. A group of Russian divers departed for Norway to conduct joint training operations. It was reported that only Russian divers will have access to the submarine - Norwegians will remain in the submersible rescue vehicles.

Part II

As you can see, the available information is enough to concoct at least a dozen of realistic scenarios for the accident. However, before we start discussing possible theories, let's formulate a few questions based on the available information:

  1. The first and the most important question, in my opinion, is what in the hell was a huge nuclear submarine doing in shallow waters (average depth of the Barents Sea is 360-400 meters)? Sure, for most of us 108 meters of water is quite enough. However, keep in mind the colossal size of "Kursk." This question was asked by many Russian submarine experts and navy veterans. Considering that the sub's every move during the exercises was meticulously planned in advance, the Northern Fleet command must at least be able to say whether or not "Kursk" was supposed to be in shallow waters in the middle of a powerful underwater current. There were no official explanations regarding the sub's unusual location.

  2. What was the sub doing at the time of the accident or, at least, what was it supposed to be doing according to the plan of the exercises? The Navy command should know at least that much.

  3. Who were the extra 11 people aboard the sub and what was their role?

  4. What Russian or foreign vessels were detected by the Navy in or near the area of the exercises?

  5. What was the location of the two American submarines detected earlier by the Russian ships at the time of the accident aboard "Kursk"?

  6. Was "Kursk" carrying an experimental torpedo? 
    This question was officially answered by Ilya Klebanov, who leads the government investigation into the accident aboard Kursk. The answer was short and categorical: there were no experimental torpedoes aboard Kursk.

Part III

The theories "explaining" the tragedy aboard "Kursk" are numerous. They range from ridiculous scenarios invented by journalists to serious and technically-complex theories described by submarine experts. Let's take a closer look at several most likely explanations for the accident aboard "Kursk."

  1. Collision and explosion. The official theory.

Russian government commission concluded that the most likely cause for the sinking of "Kursk" was a collision inside the submarine. The explosion was likely triggered by a collision with an unidentified massive vessel - either a large surface ship or a large submarine. This is the only theory that explains the long and deep scratch marks along the side of "Kursk" and the dent in the fin, which never touched the seabed.

The site of the accident is located along the Murmansk - Dixon route taken by large cargo ships. Many of the ships have a special armored underwater extension in the forward section. This extension is designed to allow the ship to travel through ice-covered waters by breaking the ice from below the surface. The armored extension might have damaged the sub, while protecting the ship. The ship may be eventually turn up in Archangelsk or Dixon. According to the Russian laws, the captain faces at least 8 years in prison for entering the area of military exercises and causing the accident. This scenario is not particularly likely. No surface ships were detected in the area of the accident. The crew of the ship supposedly involved in the accident would not keep quiet for long.

It is know for a fact that at least two American submarines were observing the exercises. Playing "hide and seek" is a common practice among submarine commanders under such circumstances. There is a history of collisions between Russian and NATO naval vessels, including subs. While equipped with modern navigation and surveillance systems, submarines may become disoriented in shallow waters. Factor in the strong, noisy underwater current and you have two blind submarines probably aware of each other's presence, but not of each other's precise location.

The Americans know that the Russian submarine will take part in a simulated rescue mission. Americans know the approximate location. (According to another version, "Kursk" was to test-launch an experimental torpedo and this attracted NATO's attention.) Americans find the noisy underwater current and hide there in shallow waters to observe the unusual operation. "Kursk" arrives with 11 extra people onboard - the ones to be "rescued." This roughly corresponds to the capacity of the rescue bell to be used by "Rudnitsky." "Kursk" closes in on the designated "crash" site in shallow waters. It travels at periscope depth and low speed. Americans are nearby but the underwater current and low depth prevent "Kursk" from detecting it and, quite possibly, vice versa.

Despite of the last-minute efforts on the part of the unidentified submarine to change course, the two subs collide and both sustain heavy damage. Quite possibly the smaller American sub sustains more damage than "Kursk." However, the Russian sub is further damaged by an on-board explosion of some nature and rapidly sinks. Russian officials stated that the "unidentified external object" had a displacement of  7,000-8,000 metric tons and was traveling slightly faster than "Kursk" (over 6 knots) at about the same depth. The impact was at a 20-30-degree angle between the velocity vectors of the two submarines. There are reasons to believe that the unidentified submarine tried to steer away to the left and down from "Kursk" during the last moment before the impact.

The American sub finds itself on the bottom of the sea not far from "Kursk." It releases the buoy and requests emergency entry to one of Norway's naval bases. "Kursk" and the unidentified submarine are detected by the Russian nuclear cruiser "Peter the Great," which also intercepts the radio transmission. The foreign green-and-white rescue buoy is sighted, but later disappears. Two NATO "Orion" surveillance aircraft appear in the area. The American sub travels submerged for as long as it can, then it surfaces and continues toward the Norwegian coast at low speed. It is detected by a Russian satellite and identified as Los Angeles class.

Putin has a long phone conversation with Clinton. The CIA director secretly arrives to Moscow. The fact of the collision is suppressed by both governments in order to avoid a political disaster. If the role of the American sub in the tragedy aboard "Kursk" becomes public knowledge, Putin will be forced to take the appropriate steps against the US. Following the terrorist bombing on the Pushkinskaya Square in Moscow and the subsequent connection between the British intelligence agencies and the Chechen rebels, anti-Western sentiment in Russia reaches a dangerous level. Several foreigners are beaten in Moscow just because they spoke English in public. News that a NATO submarine may be responsible for the tragedy aboard "Kursk" would be the last drop. Putin will have no choice but to take some drastic measures against NATO. He does not want to do that and orders an information blackout, which leads to contradictory statements by various officials and the general confusion in the media in regard to the accident aboard "Kursk."

Russian submarine experts are convinced that the unidentified submarine would have left fragments of its hull at the site of the collision. Russian media already quoted unnamed Russian military officials as saying that pieces of a... British nuclear submarine were found near "Kursk". Some second-level Russian government officials rejected these reports. The British Ministry of Defence announced that none of its submarines were present in the area of the accident when "Kursk" sank. Russian Navy officials say that British and American submarines did not miss a single Northern Fleet exercise in the past 40 years.

  1. Torpedo explosion theory.

    This one is a simple one: a torpedo explodes inside "Kursk" during launch. Either the warhead or the volatile liquid fuel from the new propulsion system for the torpedo recently installed aboard "Kursk." This theory is not likely and does not explain any of the available facts, such as the two explosions detected by the Americans and the Norwegians, the long scratch marks on the side of the sub, the dent in the fin, etc.

    Torpedo is not armed until it reaches a safe distance. An explosion of a torpedo fuel tank or even the warhead is not consistent with the damaged observed in "Kursk." This is an opinion shared by all of the submarine experts I consulted.

  2. Hydrogen explosion.

    The electrical batteries aboard the submarine produce small quantities of hydrogen, which, once mixed with oxygen, forms a highly explosive substance. This was the cause of many accidents aboard submarines in the past. "Kursk" is equipped with a sophisticated system of cold conversion of hydrogen into water. The system is regarded as highly effective and reliable.

    The first explosion detected by the Norwegians was described as being equivalent to the explosion of 1-2 kg of TNT (possibly up to 100 kg of TNT). Such energy is released during en explosion of 200 grams of hydrogen mixed with air. The initial explosion created overpressure in the forward section of the sub and ripped it along the seams. Sea water filled the section and came in contact with the batteries. Electrical current converted water into more hydrogen and chlorine, which was produced from NaCl contained in sea water. This formed a far more explosive mix, which detonated with an energy release equivalent to the explosion of 1-2 tons of TNT, sinking the submarine.

    This is a complex theory, which does explain two explosions separated by time - one small and one very powerful. However, this theory does not explain most of the other facts, such as, again, the scratch marks on the side of the sub, the dent in the fin, etc. It is possible, that this theory can form a part of the collision theory, presuming the initial collision with another vessel filled the battery compartment with water.

  3. The "Killer Whale Jump" theory.

    Sort of like the Cobra and Tail Slide maneuvers in aviation, the "Killer Whale Jump" is an impressive looking, but dangerous maneuver performed when the submarine has to rapidly surface. As you may imagine, after performing such a maneuver, the sub would slam into the water with great force and briefly submerge to a significant depth, considering its enormous mass and potential energy. In other words, if "Kursk" performed such a maneuver in shallow waters, it might have hit the seabed with great force, which caused the extensive damage to the hull and, possibly, even an explosion onboard.

    This is one of the more ridiculous theories, which assumes that the sub's highly experienced captain was incompetent enough to attempt such a dangerous maneuver in shallow waters in the middle of a strong underwater current and without any reason to risk the submarine. Furthermore, calculations based on the sub's mass, maximum speed, shape and volume show that, even if Kursk performed such a maneuver, it would not have hit the seabed.

  4. The failed "rescue" theory.

    It is known that a nuclear sub was to lay on the seabed at about 100 meters and simulate and accident. The "Mikhail Rudnitsky" rescue vessel would lower the diving bell and "save" the crew. As I mentioned above, all or some of the 11 extra people onboard "Kursk" might have been the ones to be "rescued" in the exercise. This theory explains why the submarine ended up in shallow waters.

    It is supposed that "Kursk" hit the seabed with some force after the crew miscalculated parameters of the dive and external conditions. The submarine experts I consulted rule out such a possibility. If the submarine was to lay on the seabed, it would have done so in a very slow vertical dive without or with minimal forward motion. The periscope and the masts would not have been extended. The sub would definitely not have left the long trail in the seabed observed by the divers. The submarine would not have sustained the scratch marks along its side or any damage to the fin.

  5. The experimental torpedo

    According to some Russian government officials, there were two civilian engineers aboard "Kursk." Apparently they were torpedo experts from a military research organization and were supervising the launch of an experimental torpedo. Again, this theory does not explain most of the available facts.

  6. The friendly fire theory

A rumor circulating in Murmansk has it that "Kursk" was sank by an antiship missile launched by the nuclear cruiser "Peter the Great." The submarine unexpectedly surfaced when the missile was launched and was picked up by the missile's targeting systems.

Submarine experts I spoke to, find this version of events to be highly unlikely. "Kursk" and "Peter the Great" were aware of each other's location. A submarine would not try to sneak up on a cruiser launching missiles. It's sort of like running around a shooting range with a target mark on your back.

Latest news

Kursk Accident News Archive


y">This is one of the more ridiculous theories, which assumes that the sub's highly experienced captain was incompetent enough to attempt such a dangerous maneuver in shallow waters in the middle of a strong underwater current and without any reason to risk the submarine. Furthermore, calculations based on the sub's mass, maximum speed, shape and volume show that, even if Kursk performed such a maneuver, it would not have hit the seabed.

13 posted on 02/07/2002 9:19:30 AM PST by vannrox
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To: Dark Wing
14 posted on 02/07/2002 9:28:15 AM PST by Thud
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To: struwwelpeter
Those poor guys. Sounds to me like the guys who prevented a nuclear leak deserve some kind of posthumous award or medal.

I cannot imagine the sadness and utter desolation of the remaining few who took so long to die. A real tragedy. My heart goes out to them and their families.

15 posted on 02/07/2002 9:38:07 AM PST by Paradox
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To: struwwelpeter
Bookmarked for a later read.

Thanks for the info. Doink!

16 posted on 02/07/2002 9:48:18 AM PST by Doomonyou
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To: vannrox
17 posted on 02/07/2002 10:48:11 AM PST by Shermy
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To: struwwelpeter
what was their sub that suffered a liquid-fuel leak in 1980's, detonating in the sub, killing/injuring several and causing the sub to eventually sink? ... after that event especially I would have thought they would have moved away from liquid propellant ... hard to handle, unstable, leaks, etc. ... undoubtedly one of the weapons developed a similar leak ... it's only a matter of time ...
18 posted on 02/07/2002 7:57:07 PM PST by Bobby777
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To: struwwelpeter
Thanks for the fine article and transaltions.

These sailors died heroically.

19 posted on 02/07/2002 8:13:03 PM PST by Looking for Diogenes
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To: struwwelpeter; Asclepius; vannrox; RightWhale
For your information, article from March 21 Moscow Times:

Official: Kursk Crew Lived 3 Days

Free access to the article is only up for a week.

20 posted on 03/20/2002 5:01:39 PM PST by Shermy
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