The Kursk Disaster

Hotdoglegs, Going Postal

I do like a good Submarine story or film or anything to do with Submarines, their menace and stealth has always fascinated me from a child, and since have held utter respect for the crew’s on board these monsters of the Deep, who’s lives can be snuffed out in an instant.

I have watched most of the decent films as most have, Das boot, we dive at dawn, Red October ect, and lots of good documentary’s about them which you can find on Youtube.

A good one is about this particular story, “Raising the Kursk” which exploded beneath the icy inky black waters of the Barents Sea

There have been many incidents and disasters involving Submarines over the decades, none more poignant and tragic than the Kursk story.

All of these incidents are always shrouded in mystery and intrigue, so you are never sure off what actually happened, so make your own minds up, to me, it was just a tragic accident arising from a badly maintained ship, along with the ageing Baltic Fleet which caused the Disaster.

A ship in troubled waters.

The Kursk submarine disaster was the largest naval tragedy ever to happen in the Russian Federation during peacetime. The country had been experiencing a lot of political turmoil in the 90s following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and it now entered the new millennium rather tragically.

The Oscar-class, nuclear-powered submarine Kursk (K-141), named after the location of the famous WWII tank battle, sank on 12th of August, 2000, in the Barents Sea in northern Russia, claiming the lives of 118 men. The entire crew of the Kursk died on the bottom of the sea, mostly due to the lack of safety measures aboard and the utter lack of preparation for emergency situations by the authorities.

The disaster occurred during a large naval exercise conducted by the Russian Navy. It was the first major exercise in 10 years and an opportunity to prove that the successor of the Soviet Army is capable of responding to potential threats. The exercise included 30 ships and three submarines

Although it is not usual for submarines to carry combat weapons during such training, Kursk was armed with 18 anti-ship torpedoes and 22 cruise missiles.

The sailors aboard the Kursk were recognised as the best crew of the North Fleet for their conduct just before the accident. The submarine itself was considered unsinkable and capable of withstanding a direct torpedo hit.  It was claimed that Kursk was capable of confronting entire formations of US aircraft carriers.

Apparently, one of the torpedoes aboard the Kursk was damaged during transport and it was leaking fuel. It is possible that the damage occurred during transport, as several sources later claimed that they witnessed when the torpedo was dropped on the ground. Nevertheless, it was loaded on the submarine. This particular torpedo wasn’t armed with warheads and the inspection gave it little attention, but noticed the leakage.

The officers neglected the malfunction, for the exercise was a top priority, and it had to be conducted on schedule. The military high command had long before been involved in corruption scandals, often neglecting the malfunctioning equipment in the Russian Army. The fate of the sailors was thus sealed.

The fuel leakage led to the initial explosion. Two minutes and 14 seconds after the first explosion in the torpedo compartment, the fire it triggered set off a second explosion of five to seven combat-ready torpedo warheads.

The seismic readings of the explosions were first caught by a Norwegian seismic array at 11:29h on Saturday, 12th of August, 2000. The Russian command lost contact with the Kursk after the explosions took place, but didn’t even acknowledge that the submarine suffered an accident for six hours. After it became obvious that something was wrong, a rescue operation was organised, failing to locate the submarine during the first day.

Hotdoglegs, Going Postal

Hotdoglegs, Going Postal

Above a letter recovered from the body of Captain-lieutenant Dmitri Kolesnikov, who was found in the black inky waters of the ninth compartment. “12.08.2000 15:15 It is dark to write, but I will try by feel. It seems there is no chance, 10 to 20 percent. Let’s hope someone will read this Here is a list of the personnel of the sections who are in the ninth (section) and will try to get out. Hello to everyone, there is no need for despair Kolesnikov”

The Kursk was slowly turning into an international scandal. Since the Norwegians picked up the readings that clearly indicated that an underwater explosion took place in the Barents Sea, the British government along with the USA, Norway, Israel, France, Germany, and Italy offered help. The Russians dismissed the offer, claiming that a rescue operation was well under way and that everything was under control.

Somebody within the government made claims that the Kursk was badly damaged due to a collision with a NATO submarine, which turned out to be a complete act of paranoia. Nevertheless, this claim fuelled the Russian stand to refuse any foreign assistance.

On Monday, 14th of August, an official statement was given. The Navy told the press that the submarine had “descended to the ocean floor,” that they had established contact with the crew, were pumping air and power to the ship, and that “everyone on board is alive.”

President Putin met with relatives of the dead sailors in Vidyayevo in a contentious meeting during which the families complained about the Russian Navy’s response to the disaster.

The pressure was rising, as the Russian government continued to mislead the public. Four days after the accident some of the Navy officials claimed that the Kursk was damaged after it hit an old underwater mine that dated from the WWII era.

The public was furious. Family members of the crew protested, asking for additional information, as they were given next to none. Some of the family members weren’t notified by the authorities at all and learned everything about their husbands, sons and brothers fate through the newspapers.

Meanwhile, all rescue attempts failed to due to bad weather conditions and inappropriate equipment. British and Norwegian divers finally gained authorisation to help with the rescue mission but were given many restrictions. The Russians still feared to let the foreigners go near the submarine. They were extremely cautious concerning the Kursk, for it represented the pinnacle of Soviet engineering.

After the international team had inspected the wreck, they learned of the first casualties. The explosions killed most of the men aboard, but 23 sailors survived. Due to the slow reaction by the authorities, the men slowly suffocated as the oxygen reserves were depleted.

It was time to come out with the truth. On August 21st, the Chief of Staff of the Russian Northern Fleet, Mikhail Motsak, announced to the public that the Kursk had flooded, and the crew was dead. The next day, President Putin met with the families of the dead sailors and officers.

The Russian government committed to raising the wreck in a US$65M salvage operation. They contracted with the Dutch marine salvage companies Smit International and Mammoet to raise the Kursk from the sea floor. It became the largest salvage operation of its type ever accomplished

On 8 October 2001, fourteen months after the disaster, and only five months after the contract had been awarded to them, the salvage team raised the remainder of the ship in a 15-hour operation. Once the sub was raised and joined to the barge, it was carried back under the barge to the Russian Navy’s Roslyakovo Shipyard in Murmansk.

Hotdoglegs, Going Postal

Hotdoglegs, Going Postal

In Murmansk the Kursk was moved into a drydock, then the hull of the ship was gradually opened, and the bodies of all but three of the 118 personnel on board were recovered. The last three were so badly destroyed by the blast and fire that their bodies could not be identified or recovered.

© хотдогlegs 2018

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