The Oscar-class nuclear-powered cruise missile attack submarine KURSK left her base on 12th August 2000 at her purpose was Northern Fleet training exercises in the Barents Sea. She was under the command of Captain 1st Rank Gennadiy P. Liachin accompanied by 118 members of crew. At 08:51 a.m. on the morning of 12.08.2000, the Captain requested and recieved permission for an educational night torpedo attack at periscope depth approximately 25 meters, the main target of her torpedo attack was a large group of surface ships lead by the Heavy Nuclear Missile Cruiser PETR VELIKIY which lay about 30 miles from KURSK.
According to information recieved by the Norwegian Siesmic Array Team (NORSAR) there were two explosions detected at approximately 69o38'North 37o19'East measuring 3.5 on the Richter scale. The first explosion was at 11:29:34 (Moscow time), the second - at 11:31:48. This information is co-oberated by seismic monitoring stations in Canada and Alaska. Also, within this area were USS MEMPHIS and USS TOLEDO and one British submarine HMS SPLENDID, and by intelligence ships USS LOYAL and MARJATA (Norway) who were shadowing / monitoring the exercises.
A third explosion was heard at 11:44 by the Russian Cruiser PETR VELIKIY. The Americans believed one of the explosions was ballast tanks blowing or of an increase in propellor speed (Kursk travelled some 400miles between explosions!)
The submarine hit the ocean floor at a point 45 miles off the Kola Peninsula, 69o40'N 37o35'E, The vessel was lying in silt. The Russian Navy says that shewas listing 30 degrees to port. Other sources report it as listing as much as 60 degrees. Early reports stated that one or two compartments of the submarine were immediately flooded; this caused the crew to shut down the Kursk's two nuclear reactors. According to the Russian Navy, the reactor shutdown eliminated the risk of environmental contamination. While there is no external power to circulate water to cool the reactor, and the cooling intakes are blocked by the seabed, third-generation reactors like that on the Kursk are reportedly equipped with a battery-free cooling system in which water continues to circulate in the reactor installation without electricity supply. The reactor shutdown, however, resulted in a loss of electricity, needed for lighting and operation of a system that manufactures fresh oxygen from seawater. Sea temperature at a depth of 100 m -3 degree's Celsius, on the surface the temperature was 7-8 degrees.
Almost immediatly, Russian naval authorities reported that sonar used to locate Kursk as it lay on the bottom showed not one, but two submarines lying on the sea floor. While the Russians worked on the Kursk itself, the second unknown submarine slowly moved off. CBS news then broke the story that the United States had three ships in the vicinity. This was immediatly followed by an announcement from the Pentagon that one of the two submarines which had been spying on the Kursk was late in establishing radio contact. A few days later, the Pentagon reported that the submarine had finally checked in, and it was at this time that the United States government took the official position that the Kursk had sunk because of a torpedo explosion.
The Russians, however, while agreeing that there were one or more torpedo explosions onboard Kursk, insisted that the explosions were the result of a collision involving a foreign submarine. The fact that the crew was not able to use any of the many rescue or communication devices, testifies that the damages on KURSK were obviously massive and that events escalated at a phenominal rate.
An announcement was made by Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev "We are now investigating more than 10 versions of the Kursk catastrophe, but I lean to the position that the tragedy occurred as the result of a collision with a foreign submarine." furthermore stating that they had identified the submarine that they believed had collided with Kursk, then lay on the bottom before slowly moving away, as USS Memphis. Radio amatuers had reported overhearing a US Navy submarine asking for emergancy permission to enter a Norwegain port, and the Norwegian embassy in Moscow informed the Russians that USS Memphis had required emergancy repairs of an unspecified nature. This report was later retracted with the excuse that the Norwegian embassy in Moscow does not employ people who speak fluent Russian, and that the word for "food" had been confused with the word for "repair". The Norwegians then reversed their story again, admitting that USS Memphis was undergoing repairs and that Norwegian journalists had actually seen the damage. Russia officially requested a report on the damage to USS Memphis from the Norwegian government.
On the evening 14 of August, Canada, France, German, Great Britain, Israel, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, United States of America along with many other countries offered their immediate assistance. On August 17, a Conciliatory Commission was set up in Brussels in an attempt to formulate some form of rescue operation.
A Government Commission was set up on the 14th headed by the Vice-Premier Ilya Klebanov was created on August 14 to investigate possible causes and circumstances of the events. These were wide ranging and highly interesting!
- Collision with unknown surface or submersible ship (Main Theory)
- Explosion of the weapons and/or batteries or gas mixture in 1st compartment as a result of some form of internal fire
- Collision with own target resulting in a torpedo explosion (1st "blast")
- Collision with a World War Two Mine
- Flooding through unclosed bow tubes after the exercises or due to torpedo stuck in tube
- Impact of a foreign torpedo hit, fired in error..
- Mass poisoning of crew by the sharply evolved chlorine
- Hit by "secret, latest" weapon of NATO
- Error in ship's directional control caused to her strike the ground at high speed.
- Combat torpedo or ASW missile hit during the exercises (own or launched by other ship)
- Mass decompression sickness of the whole crew at the moment of transition from "whale jump" to emergency diving. In result the submarine went out of control, was stuck against the seabed, there was weapons explosion.
- Explosion during trial a "secret torpedo" or other newest Russian weapon
The first meeting of the Governmental commission was held on August 17 in the evening. At the exactly the same time the official version of disaster was declared. After more precise definition of August 19/20 the Commission is considering 3 reasons:
- It was identified that the first cause of tragedy was a strong "dynamic external impact"-corresponding with "first event" at 11:29.
It was highly likely that there was a collision either with a foreign submarine (whose displacement was not less than 10'000t and moved on speed about 10 kn.), or with large surface ship, for example an ice-breaker or dry cargo ship with ice strengthening of the hull (whose displacement was not less than 150'000 t).
It is felt that the most likely version is the collision with foreign submarine. Owing to large and fast entry of water in bow compartments, the submarine was crashed against the seabed with a trim difference on a high speed, resulting in detonation of weapons in 1st compartment ("second event" at 11:31). With events moving at such a high speed it is very possible to expect that the crew members within most of compartments (with the exception of 2-3 stern)died quickly within the first minutes.
During a TV-interview on August 21, the Russian Minister of Defence, announced three pieces of information (without any documentary proof)
- Approximately 200m from KURSK's bow, fragments of what appeared to be the conning tower of a foreign submarine were detected (Norwegian divers declared that they, at least, did not see anything resembleing it, also co-oberated by the scientists of AKADEMIK KELDYSH).
- On the morning of August 13 on the seabed close by KURSK, an object of similar size and dimension was detected.
- Buoys of foreign colouring, green and white, were spotted also (but no traces were ever found). However, according to Ilya Klebanov and deputy Head of Northern Shipping Route Administration A. Ushakov, there was no civil vessels in exercises area. Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy Kuroyedov stated that he "was 80% sure about these versions". Commander of Northern Fleet Viacheslav Popov also supports it.
- Or it was collision with an old mine from the Second World War period
- Or "extraordinary event in I-st compartment". Interpreted as the explosion of a torpedo. The Governmental Commission emphasized the fact that torpedoes were the usual 1975-year model. The only modernization was the replacement of the storage battery. Secondly, the explosion of atmospheric Hydrogen Peroxide is also under serious consideration.
Concluding the investigation by AKADEMIK KELDYSH this last version has became the most widely accepted as the main cause of the disaster by Officials.
International experts accept the version of explosion in 1-st compartment as most probable. In theory, there was a detonation of an ASW rocket during the launch procedure from one of the torpedo tubes at first likely to be a propellant, followed by a warhead explosion. Testing of the upgraded VA-111 ("Shkval") torpedo with rocket propulsion is conducted onboard explaining the physical presence onboard of two experts of "Dagdizel" military plant.
Analysis of audio signals obtained USS MEMPHIS and the NORSAR Service also favour this version of events. Information on the upgraded torpedo trials is gradually being released predominantly from both high ranking officers of the Northern Fleet and from the "Sevmashpredpriyatiye" workers. However, the version is totally rejected by the "Dagdizel" Director and the Governmental Commission, but for what reasons we do not know - as no evidence to the contrary has been provided. The official comment regarding the presence of the Dagdizel civil experts is that they were "merely overseeing the workings of new accumulator battery in the standard torpedo and not supervising a test-launch of an experimental torpedo that uses liquid propellant. ."
A report for Zhizn' newspaper (31.10.2000), disclosed another version under greater discussion - one of PETR VELIKIY (Peter the Great) officers, Captain 1st Rank Sergey Ovcharenko, told that the Cruiser made some trials of ASW weapons at that time of the exercise in violation of exercises rules. He and his comrades saw the unusual huge explosion of the "Vodopad" ASW rocket at 11:30 and presumed that they had hit American submarine. It was later discovered to have been a direct hit on the Kursk.
According to the Russian Defense Minister, Igor Sergeyev, Russian experts studying satellite photos of the area where "Kursk" sank discovered USS 'Memphis'-detected by satellites as it surfaced and was traveling at a very low speed away from the area of the "Kursk" accident. 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 identified as a Los-Angeles class the SSN 691 'Memphis'. This "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 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.....
On August 24, the Russian Main Office of the Military Prosecutor instituted proceedings against the culprits of collision according to clause 263.3 of Criminal Code ("violation of safety traffic regulations on railway, air or water lines, entailed, on carelessness, death of two or more persons"). The guilty party or parties are threatened with severe sentences.
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.
The operation for the removal of the crew held from October until November 7 rendered new data, which made the collision version more probable. There are typical dent and scratches on her starboard at 1st an 2nd compartments. This data is not sufficient to prove the cause and new investigations are expected.
The Raising Of The Kursk
Mysteries of the Deep.
The Men Who Lost Their Lives Aboard Submarine KURSK
Role of Honour
Return to the History Web
Last updated by D Cohen 2 January 2002