Russian submarine Kursk explosion

Russian submarine Kursk explosion

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{{Distinguish|Kurkse tragedy}} {{DISPLAYTITLE:Russian submarine ''Kursk'' explosion}} On 12 August 2000, the [[Russian Navy|Russian]] [[Oscar class submarine|Oscar II class]] [[submarine]] [[Russian submarine K-141 Kursk|''Kursk'']] sank in the [[Barents Sea]] after an explosion. The investigation showed that a leak of [[hydrogen peroxide]] in a [[torpedo]] led to explosion of its fuel, causing the submarine to hit the bottom which in turn triggered the detonation of further torpedo warheads about two minutes later. This second explosion was equivalent to about 2-3 tonnes of [[trinitrotoluene|TNT]], large enough to register on [[seismograph]]s across [[Northern Europe]]. Despite a rescue attempt by British and Norwegian teams, which was severely delayed due to the Russians refusing them access, all 118 sailors and officers aboard ''Kursk'' died. The next year, a Dutch team recovered the wreckage and all of the bodies, which were buried in Russia. [[File:Kursk wreck.jpg|thumb|Wreck of ''[[Russian submarine K-141 Kursk|Kursk]]'' in a dock]] ==The explosion== [[File:Oscar class submarine 3.jpg|left|thumb|''[[Soviet submarine K-186 Omsk|Omsk]]'', an Oscar II class submarine similar to ''Kursk'', in 1994]] On the morning of 12 August 2000, as part of a naval exercise, ''Kursk'' was to fire two [[dummy torpedo]]es at [[Kirov class guided missile cruiser|''Kirov''-class battlecruiser]] ''[[Russian cruiser Pyotr Velikiy|Pyotr Velikiy]]'', the [[flagship]] of the [[Northern Fleet]]. At 11:29 local time (07:29:50 [[UTC]]), a [[Type 65 torpedo|65-76 "Kit"]] torpedo was loaded into Kursk's number 4 [[torpedo tube]]. Due to a leaking weld in the torpedo's fuel system, [[high test peroxide]], a form of highly concentrated [[hydrogen peroxide]] used as an [[oxidiser]] for the torpedo's [[Torpedo#Modern_drive_systems|engine]], escaped into the torpedo casing where it [[catalyst|catalytically]] decomposed on the metals and oxides present there, yielding [[steam]] and [[oxygen]]{{Verify source|date=November 2010}}. The resulting [[overpressure]] ruptured the [[kerosene]] fuel tank, causing an [[explosion]] that registered as a weak [[seismic signature]] on detectors hundreds of kilometers away. A similar incident was responsible for the loss of [[HMS Sidon (P259)|HMS ''Sidon'']] in 1955. Recovered remains of the torpedo later allowed the first explosion to be pinpointed to the middle part of the torpedo. According to maintenance records the dummy torpedoes, manufactured in the 1990s, had never had their welds checked; such checks were considered unnecessary as the torpedoes did not carry warheads. The explosive reaction of 1.5 tons of concentrated hydrogen peroxide and 500 kg of kerosene blew off the external torpedo tube cover and the internal tube door. (The torpedo tube cover was later found on the [[seabed]] and its position relative to the rest of the submarine served as evidence of this version of events.) The tube door, which should have been capable of withstanding such an explosion, was not properly closed; the [[electrical connector]]s between the torpedoes and the tube doors were unreliable and often required repeated reclosing of the door before a contact was established, so it is likely that at the moment of explosion the door was not fully closed. The blast entered the front compartment, probably killing all seven men there. The [[bulkhead (partition)|bulkhead]] should have arrested the [[blast wave]], but it was penetrated by a light [[air conditioning]] channel which allowed passage of the [[blast wave]], [[fire]] and toxic [[smoke]] into the second and perhaps third and fourth compartments, injuring or disorienting the 36 men in the command post located in the second compartment and preventing the initiation of an emergency [[blowout]] to resurface the submarine. Additionally, an automatic emergency [[buoy]], designed to release itself on detection of conditions such as fire or rapid pressure changes and intended to help rescuers locate the stricken vessel, did not deploy. The previous summer, in a [[Mediterranean]] mission, fears that the buoy might accidentally deploy and reveal a submarine's position to the U.S. fleet had led to it being disabled. Two minutes and fifteen seconds after the initial eruption, a much larger explosion ripped through the submarine. [[Seismograph|Seismic]] data from stations across Northern Europe show that the explosion occurred at the same depth as the sea bed, suggesting that the submarine's collision with the sea floor, combined with rising temperatures due to the initial explosion, had caused other torpedoes to explode. The second explosion was equivalent to 2-3 [[TNT equivalent|tons of TNT]], or about 5-7 torpedo warheads, and measured 4.2 on the [[Richter magnitude scale|Richter scale]]. Acoustic data from ''Pyotr Velikiy'' indicated an explosion of about 7 torpedo warheads in rapid succession. The second explosion ripped a {{convert|2|m2|sqft|adj=on}} hole in the hull of the craft, which was designed to withstand depths of {{convert|1000|m|ft}}, and also ripped open the third and fourth compartments. Water poured into these compartments at {{convert|90000|l|cuft}} per second killing all those in the compartments, including five officers from 7th [[SSGN]] Division Headquarters. The fifth compartment contained the ship's two [[nuclear reactor]]s, encased in {{convert|13|cm|in}} of steel and resiliently mounted to absorb shocks in excess of 50[[g-force|g]]. The [[bulkhead (partition)|bulkhead]]s of the fifth compartment withstood the explosion, allowing the two reactors to shut down automatically and preventing [[nuclear meltdown]] or contamination. Later [[forensic examination]] of two of the reactor [[control room]] casualties showed extensive skeletal injuries which indicated that they had sustained shocks of just over 50g during the explosions. These shocks would have temporarily disoriented the operators and possibly other sailors further aft. {{Quote box|align=right|width=20%|quote="It's dark here to write, but I'll try by feel. It seems like there are no chances, 10-20%. Let's hope that at least someone will read this. Here's the list of personnel from the other sections, who are now in the ninth and will attempt to get out. Regards to everybody, no need to be desperate. Kolesnikov."|source=[[Captain-lieutenant]] Dmitri Kolesnikov}} Twenty-three men working in the sixth through ninth compartments survived the two blasts. They gathered in the ninth compartment, which contained the secondary escape hatch (the primary hatch having been in the destroyed second compartment). [[Captain-lieutenant]] Dmitri Kolesnikov (one of three surviving officers of that rank) appears to have taken charge, writing down the names of those who were in the ninth compartment. The air pressure in the compartment following the secondary explosions was still normal surface pressure and so it would be possible, at least from a physiological point of view, to don survival suits and use the hatch to escape one man at a time, swimming up through {{convert|100|m|ft}} of Arctic water to await help at the surface. It is not known if the escape hatch was workable from the inside; opinions differ about how badly it was damaged. However, the men would likely have rejected risking the escape hatch even if it were operable. They may have preferred instead to take their chances waiting for a [[submarine rescue ship]] to clamp itself onto the hatch. It is not known with certainty how long the remaining men survived in the compartment. As the nuclear reactors had automatically shut down, emergency power would soon have run out, plunging the crew into complete blackness and falling temperatures. Kolesnikov wrote two further messages, much less tidily. There has been much debate over how long the sailors survived. Russian sources say that they would have died very quickly. The Dutch recovery team report a widely believed two to three hour survival time in the least affected sternmost compartment. In normal operation, water leaks into a stationary [[Oscar-II]] craft through the [[propeller shaft]]s, and at {{convert|100|m|ft}} depth it would have been impossible to prevent this. Others point out that many [[superoxide]] [[chemical oxygen generator|chemical cartridges]], used to absorb [[carbon dioxide]] and provide [[oxygen]] in an emergency, were found to have been used when the craft was recovered, suggesting survival for several days. Ironically, the cartridges seem to have been the final cause of death: a cartridge appears to have come in contact with oily sea water, causing a chemical reaction and [[flash fire]]. The official investigation into the disaster showed that some men survived this fire by plunging under water (fire marks on bulkheads indicate the water was at waist level at the time) but the fire would have rapidly used up any remaining oxygen in the air, causing death by [[asphyxiation]]. ==Rescue attempts== [[File:Rudnitsky-normand-pioneer.jpg|thumb|Russian and Norwegian ships heading towards the ''Kursk'' site]] Initially the other ships in the exercise, all of which had detected an explosion, did not report it. Each only knew about its own part in the exercise, and ostensibly assumed that the explosion was that of a [[depth charge]], and part of the exercise. It was not until the evening that commanders stated that they became concerned that they had heard nothing from ''Kursk''. Later in the evening, and after repeated attempts to contact ''Kursk'' had failed, a search and rescue operation was launched. The rescue ship ''Rudnitsky'' carrying two submersible rescue vessels, ''AS-32'' and the ''Priz'' ([[Russian submarine AS-34|AS-34]]) reached the disaster area at around 8:40 AM the following morning. The submarine was found in an upright position, with its nose plowed about 2 meters deep into the [[clay]] seabed, at a depth of 108 meters. The [[periscope]] was raised, indicating that the accident occurred at a low depth. The bow and the sailbridge showed signs of damage, the [[conning tower]] windows were smashed and two missile tube lids were torn off. Fragments of both outer and inner hull were found nearby, including a fragment of Kursk's nose weighing 5 metric tons, indicating a massive explosion in the forward torpedo room. ''Priz'' reached ''Kursk's'' ninth compartment the day after the accident, but failed to dock with it. Bad weather prevented further attempts on Tuesday and Wednesday. A further attempt on Thursday again made contact but failed to create a vacuum seal required to dock. The United States offered the use of one of its two [[Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicle]]s, as did the British government, but all offers were refused by the Russian government. Four days after the accident on 16 August 2000, the Russian government accepted the British and Norwegian governments' assistance and a rescue ship was dispatched from Norway on 17 August and reached the site on 19 August. British and Norwegian [[deep diving|deep-sea divers]] reached the ninth compartment escape hatch on Sunday, 20 August. They were able to determine that the compartment was flooded, and all hope of finding survivors was lost. ==Russian government response== {{Quote box|align=right|width=28%|quote="For President [[Vladimir Putin]], the Kursk crisis was not merely a human tragedy, it was a personal [[public relations|PR]] catastrophe. Twenty-four hours after the submarine's disappearance, as Russian naval officials made bleak calculations about the chances of the 118 men on board, Putin was filmed enjoying himself, shirtsleeves rolled up, hosting a barbecue at his holiday villa on the [[Black Sea]]."|source=Amelia Gentleman}} The first [[fax]] sent from the Russian Navy to the various Press offices said the submarine had ''"minor technical difficulties"''. The government downplayed the incident and then claimed bad weather was making it impossible to rescue the people on board. On 18 August 2000 [[Nadezhda Tylik]], mother of Kursk submariner Lt. Sergei Tylik, produced an intense emotional outburst in the middle of an in-progress news [[briefing]] about Kursk's fate. After attempts to quiet her failed, a nurse injected her with a [[sedative]] by force from the back, and she was removed from the room, incapacitated. The event, caught on film, caused further criticism of the government's response to both the disaster, and how the government handled public criticism of said response. According to ''Raising Kursk'' broadcast by the [[Science Channel]]: {{bquote|In June of 2002... the Russian government investigation into the accident officially concluded that a faulty torpedo sank Kursk in the Summer of 2000.}} ===Collision theory=== [[File:Kurskvstoledo.png|thumb|300px|Size and mass comparison of the larger ''Kursk'' and the smaller USS ''Toledo'' which is less than half of the ''Kursk's'' displacement.]] At first, Russian naval sources expressed suspicion that ''Kursk'' collided with an American submarine. As is common, the exercise was monitored by two American [[Los Angeles class submarine|''Los Angeles''-class]] submarines– {{USS|Memphis|SSN-691}} and {{USS|Toledo|SSN-769}}–and the Royal Navy submarine [[HMS Splendid (S106)|HMS ''Splendid'']]; after the disaster the exercise was cancelled and they put in at European ports. ''[[The Guardian]]'' wrote in a 2002 review of two books on this topic, ''Kursk, Russia's Lost Pride'' and ''A Time to Die: The ''Kursk'' Disaster'': {{bquote|The hopelessly flawed rescue attempt, hampered by badly designed and decrepit equipment, illustrated the fatal decline of Russia's military power. The navy's callous approach to the families of the missing men was reminiscent of an earlier Soviet insensitivity to individual misery. The lies and incompetent cover-up attempts launched by both the navy and the government were resurrected from a pre-[[Glasnost]] era. The wildly contradictory [[conspiracy theories]] about what caused the catastrophe said more about a naval high command in turmoil, fumbling for a [[scapegoat]], than about the accident itself.}} French filmmaker [[Jean-Michel Carré]], in ''Kursk: a Submarine in Troubled Waters'', which aired on 7 January 2005 on French TV channel ''[[France 2]]'', alleged that ''Kursk'' sank because of a sequence of events triggered by a collision with the US submarine. Carré claimed that [[VA-111 Shkval|''Shkval'']] torpedo tests were being observed by two US submarines on duty in the region: [[USS Toledo (SSN-769)|USS ''Toledo'']] and [[USS Memphis (SSN-691)|USS ''Memphis'']]. According to his version, these observations eventually led to a collision between USS ''Toledo'' and ''Kursk''. Carré theorized that none of the subs were seriously damaged in this incident, but the sound of the collision, combined with sounds of loaded torpedo tubes, made the captain of USS ''Memphis'' believe that ''Kursk'' was preparing an attack on USS ''Toledo'', so he launched a pre-emptive strike against ''Kursk'' with a [[Mark 48 torpedo|MK-48 torpedo]]. According to Carré, this attack was successful and was the cause of the powerful explosion within ''Kursk'''s hull, sinking the submarine and leaving ''Memphis'' and ''Toledo'' slightly damaged. Carré claimed that specific damage visible on the ''Kursk'' hull was the main evidence of this version, including signs of an initial collision, and a hole left by the torpedo when it entered the ''Kursk'' hull. He also claimed that a damaged submarine was sighted leaving the ''Kursk'' incident area, and USS ''Memphis'' was sighted soon afterwards being repaired in a Norwegian port. Some argue that the torpedo theory has no basis because Mark 48 torpedoes explode under their targets instead of colliding with them. However, this only applies to surface targets: the explosion lifts the surface ship out of the water and its unsupported weight breaks the ship's back. The Mk48 is an advanced design and there is a lesser effect of a torpedo exploding underneath a submerged target. Due to the double hull construction of Russian submarines, a torpedo that would first penetrate the hull and then explode would be much more effective. [[William S. Cohen]] ([[Secretary of Defence]] of the [[United States of America]], at a press-conference in Tokyo on September 22, 2000, declared {{bquote|Q: Russians are suggesting that one of the possible reasons is a collision with a NATO or American submarine, they are asking to let them, well, have a look at a couple of United States submarines and the answer from the American side is no; so I ask, why not? And what is your own explanation of that particular accident. Thank you.}} {{bquote|A: I know that all our ships are operational and could not possibly have been involved in any kind of contact with the Russian submarine. So frankly, there is no need for inspections, since ours are completely operational, there was no contact whatsoever with the ''Kursk''.}} ==Salvage== Most of the submarine's hull, except the bow, was raised from the ocean floor by the [[Netherlands|Dutch]] [[marine salvage]] companies [[Smit International]] and [[Mammoet]] in late 2001 and towed back to the Russian Navy's Roslyakovo Shipyard. The front section was cut off because of concerns it could break off and destabilize the lifting. It was cut off using a chain of drums covered with an [[abrasive]], pulled back and forth between two hydraulic anchors dug into the seabed; the cutting took 10 days. The remnants of the bow have been destroyed by explosives in September 2002, raising further concerns among the adherents of the conspiracy theory. The bodies of the dead crew were removed from the wreck and buried in Russia–three of them were unidentifiable because they were so badly burned. Russian President [[Vladimir Putin]] signed a decree awarding the [[Order of Courage]] to [[List of the Kursk submarine dead|all the crew]] and the title [[Hero of the Russian Federation]] to the submarine's captain, [[Gennady Lyachin]]. The first five fragments to be raised were a piece of a torpedo tube weighing about a ton (to ascertain if the explosion occurred inside or outside), a high-pressure [[compressed air]] [[gas cylinder|cylinder]] weighing about half a ton (also to ascertain the nature of the explosion), part of the cylindrical section of the hard frame and part of the left forward spherical partition to determine the intensity and temperature of the fire in the forward compartment, and a fragment of the [[sonar]] system dome. The presence of explosives in the unexploded torpedoes (about 225 kg [[TNT equivalent]] each) and especially in the 23 [[SS-N-19]] cruise missiles aboard (about 760 kg each, plus about 7 kg TNT equivalent of the silo ejection charge), together with the risk of radiation release from the reactors, presented a unique set of challenges to the salvage teams. ==See also== * [[August curse]] * [[List of sunken nuclear submarines]] * [[List of the Kursk submarine dead]] * [[Major submarine incidents since 2000]] * [[Nadezhda Tylik]] * [[Seconds From Disaster#Episodes|National Geographic ''Seconds From Disaster'' episodes]] * [[Soviet submarine K-129 (1960)]], sunk in 1968 according to some claims after collision with a US submarine * [[Soviet submarine K-278 Komsomolets]], sunk in 1989 in Barents Sea after fire and refusal of Western help * [[AS-28]], Russian mini-submarine trapped underwater in 2005 and saved by the British after initial refusal of help ==Further reading== *Barany, Zoltan (2004). [http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1477-7053.2004.00131.x The Tragedy of the Kursk: Crisis Management in Putin's Russia]. ''Government and Opposition'' 39.3, 476-503. *Truscott, Peter (2004): ''The'' Kursk ''Goes Down'' – pp. 154–182 of ''Putin's Progress'', Pocket Books, London, ISBN 0-7434-9607-8 ==External links== *[http://www.largeassociates.com/kurskpaper.pdf The Recovery of the Russian Federation Nuclear Powered Submarine Kursk], Peter Davidson, Huw Jones, [[John H. Large]], [[Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers]] - World Maritime Technology Conference, October 2003 *[http://www.largeassociates.com/KurskRINA.pdf Risks and Hazards in Recovering the Nuclear Powered Submarine Kursk], [[John H. Large]], [[Royal Institution of Naval Architects]], 23–24 June 2005 *[http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_depth/europe/2000/russian_sub/default.stm In depth coverage by the BBC] *[http://www.bigglook.com/kursk/info.html Flash Animation of the explosion and the rescue attempts (Turkish)] *[http://translate.google.com/translate?u=http%3A%2F%2Fcommunity.livejournal.com%2Fwarhistory%2F844960.html%3Fthread%3D11503776%23t11503776&langpair=ru%7Cen&hl=en&safe=off&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&prev=%2Flanguage_tools Pictures of Kursk] in dry dock after explosion * [http://www.koursk.com ''The Kursk Odyssey''], a symphony to the 118 submariners of the Kursk, composed by Didier Euzet *[http://cdbaby.com/mp3lofi/sequoya-10.m3u/ Sequoya's "Barren the Sea"], a folk song about the tragedy — link is sampling of song on CDBaby.com *[http://englishrussia.com/?p=845 English Russia - The Remains of the Kursk Submarine], photographs of the recovered wreck *[http://www.bbc.com/programmes/p008zr92 BBC World Service], BBC Witness talks to people who experienced the disaster *[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=luOBPfrvYvY Капитан Колесников] (Kapitan Kolesnikov), a song about the ''Kursk'' explosion by Russian band ДДТ (DDT) {{coord missing|Arctic Ocean}} {{DEFAULTSORT:Russian Submarine Kursk Explosion}}