Soviet submarine K-219

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Soviet Submarine K-219
Career (USSR)
Name: K-219
Laid down: 28 May 1970
Launched: 8 October 1971
Commissioned: 31 December 1971
Struck: 1986
Homeport: Gadzhiyevo
Fate: Sunk by explosion and fire caused by seawater leak in missile tube, 6 October 1986, killing 6
Status: Located in 18,000 ft. (6000 m) of water, Hatteras Abyssal Plain, North Atlantic Ocean
General characteristics
Class & type: Yankee-class submarine
Displacement: 7,766 long tons (7,891 t) surfaced
9,300 long tons (9,449 t) submerged
Length: 129.8 m (425 ft 10 in)
Beam: 11.7 m (38 ft 5 in)
Draft: 8.7 m (28 ft 7 in)
Propulsion: 2 × 90 MWt OK-700 reactors with VM-4 cores producing 20,000 hp (15 MW) each
Speed: 26 knots (30 mph; 48 km/h)
Test depth: 400 m (1,300 ft)
Complement: 120 officers and men
Armament: • 4 × 21 in (533 mm) torpedo tubes
• 2 × 16 in (406 mm) torpedo tubes
• 16 × SLBM launch tubes

K-219 was a Project 667A Navaga-class ballistic missile submarine (NATO reporting name "Yankee I") of the Soviet Navy. She carried 16 (later 15) SS-N-6 liquid-fuel missiles powered by UDMH with IRFNA, equipped with an estimated 34 nuclear warheads.[1]

K-219 was involved in what has become one of the most controversial submarine incidents in the Cold War.

The incident[edit]

Preamble[edit]

On Friday 3 October 1986, while on an otherwise routine, Cold War nuclear deterrence patrol in the North Atlantic 680 miles (1,090 km) northeast of Bermuda, the 15-year old K-219 suffered an explosion and fire in a missile tube. The seal in a missile hatch cover failed, allowing saltwater to leak into the missile tube and react with residue from the missile's liquid fuel. Though there was no official announcement, a published source said the Soviet Union claimed that the leak was caused by a collision with the submarine USS Augusta. Augusta was certainly operating in proximity, but both the United States Navy[2] and the commander of K-219, Captain Second Rank Igor Britanov, deny that a collision took place.[3] K-219 had previously experienced a similar casualty; one of her missile tubes was already disabled and welded shut, having been permanently sealed after an explosion caused by reaction between seawater leaking into the silo and missile fuel residue.[4]

Location of the incident

The authors of the book Hostile Waters reconstructed the incident from descriptions by the survivors, ships' logs, the official investigations, and participants both ashore and afloat from the Soviet and the American sides. The result was a novelized version of events.[5]

Event[edit]

Shortly after 0530 Moscow time, seawater leaking into silo six of K-219 reacted with missile fuel, producing nitric acid.[6] K-219 weapons officer Alexander Petrachkov attempted to cope with this by disengaging the hatch cover and venting the missile tube to the sea.[7] Shortly after 0532, an explosion occurred in silo six.[8] The remains of the RSM-25 rocket and its two warheads were ejected from silo six into the sea.[9]

An article in Undersea warfare by Captain First Rank (Ret.) Igor Kurdin, Russian Navy - K-219's XO (executive officer) at the time of the incident - and Lieutenant Commander Wayne Grasdock, USN described the explosion occurrence as follows:

At 0514, the BCh-2 officer and the hold machinist/engineer in compartment IV (the forward missile compartment) discovered water dripping from under the plug of missile tube No. 6 (the third tube from the bow on the port side). During precompression of the plug, the drips turned into a stream. The BCh-2 officer reported water in missile tube No. 6, and at 0525, the captain ordered an ascent to a safe depth (46 meters) while a pump was started in an attempt to dry out missile tube No. 6. At 0532, brown clouds of oxidant began issuing from under the missile-tube plug, and the BCh-2 officer declared an accident alert in the compartment and reported the situation to the GKP (main control post). Although personnel assigned to other compartments left the space, nine people remained in compartment IV. The captain declared an accident alert. It took the crew no more than one minute to carry out initial damage control measures, which included hermetically sealing all compartments. Five minutes later, at 0538, an explosion occurred in missile tube No. 6.[10]
K-219 in distress

Two sailors were killed outright in the explosion, and a third died soon afterward from toxic gas poisoning. Through a breach in the hull, the vessel immediately started taking on sea water, quickly sinking from its original depth of 40 metres (130 ft) to eventually reach a depth in excess of 300 metres (980 ft). Sealing of all of the compartments and full engagement of the sea water pumps in the stricken compartments enabled the depth to be stabilised.

25 sailors were trapped in a sealed section, and it was only after a conference with his incident specialists that the Captain allowed the Chief Engineer to open the hatch and save the 25 lives. However, it could be seen from instruments that although the nuclear reactor should have automatically shut down, it was not. 20-year old enlisted seaman Sergei Preminin volunteered to shut down the reactor, to be enabled by operating under instruction from the Chief Engineer. Working with a full-face gas mask, he successfully shut down the reactor. However, a large fire had developed within the compartment, raising the pressure. When Preminin tried to reach his comrades on the other side of a door, the pressure difference prevented him from opening it, and he subsequently died of asphyxiation in the reactor compartment.

In a nuclear safe condition, and with sufficient stability to allow it to surface, Captain Britanov surfaced K-219 on battery power alone. He was then ordered to have the ship towed by a Soviet freighter back to her home port of Gadzhievo, some 7,000 kilometres (4,300 mi) away. Although a towline was attached, towing attempts were unsuccessful, and after subsequent poison gas leaks into the final aft compartments and against orders, Britanov ordered the crew to evacuate onto the towing ship, but remained aboard K-219 himself.

Displeased with Britanov's inability to repair his submarine and continue his patrol, Moscow ordered Valery Pshenichny, K-219’s security officer, to assume command, transfer the surviving crew back to the submarine, and return to duty. Before those orders could be carried out, however, the flooding reached a point beyond recovery and on 6 October 1986 the K-219 sank to the bottom of the Hatteras Abyssal Plain, more than three miles down.[11][12] in a depth of about 6,000 m (18,000 ft). While the proximate cause of the sinking is unknown, some evidence indicates Britanov may have scuttled her.[citation needed] K-219's full complement of nuclear weapons was lost along with the vessel.

In 1988, the Soviet hydrographic research ship Keldysh positioned itself over the wreck of K-219, and found the submarine sitting upright on the sandy bottom. It had broken in two, aft of the conning tower. Several missile silo hatches had been forced open, and the missiles, along with the nuclear warheads they contained, were gone.[13]

Preminin was posthumously awarded the Order of the Red Star for his bravery in securing the reactors.[11] Britanov was charged with negligence, sabotage, and treason. He was never imprisoned, but waited for his trial in Sverdlovsk. On 30 May 1987, Defense Minister Sergey Sokolov was dismissed as a result of the Mathias Rust incident two days earlier, and replaced by Dmitry Yazov; the charges against Britanov were subsequently dismissed.

U.S. Navy reaction[edit]

The presence of the Yankee Class SSBN in the so-called Atlantic "Yankee Patrol Box" was already established by the U.S. Navy's undersea sound surveillance system prior to 3 October.[citation needed] However, there was no overt reaction by the U.S. Navy's East coast-based anti-submarine maritime patrol squadrons on Friday, something which would have been expected had USS Augusta been in active trail of K-219 that morning. The explosion of the missile inside the missile tube would likely have been detected by the North Atlantic SOSUS system had K-219 been at normal patrol depth. However, because the submarine came to periscope depth — above the sound layer — prior to detonation, no tell-tale sound "event" was recorded. A P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft was not launched to reconnoiter K-219 until Saturday morning 4 October, probably "alerted" by the highly unusual communications between the distressed submarine and Soviet Navy Northern Fleet headquarters in Murmansk.

Hostile Waters film[edit]

In 1997, the British BBC television film Hostile Waters, co-produced with HBO and starring Rutger Hauer, Martin Sheen, and Max von Sydow, was released in the United States by Warner Bros. It was based on the book by the same name mentioned above, which claimed to describe the loss of K-219. In 2001, Captain Britanov filed suit, claiming Warner Bros. did not seek or get his permission to use his story or his character, and that the film did not portray the events accurately and made him look incompetent. After three years of hearing, the court ruled in Britanov's favor.[14] Russian media reported that the filmmaker paid a settlement totaling under a $100,000.

The former Soviet Union claimed that the damage to K-219 was caused by a collision with Augusta. The U.S. Government denied this[2] and the U.S. Navy issued a statement about the book and film:[15]

The United States Navy normally does not comment on submarine operations, but in this case, because the scenario is so outrageous, the Navy is compelled to respond. The United States Navy categorically denies that any U.S. submarine collided with the Russian Yankee submarine (K-219) or that the Navy had anything to do with the cause of the casualty that resulted in the loss of the Russian Yankee submarine.

An article on the U.S. Navy's website posted by Captain 1st Rank (Ret.) Igor Kurdin (former XO of K-219) and Lieutenant Commander Wayne Grasdock denied any collision between K-219 and Augusta. Captain Britanov himself also denies a collision. He has stated that he was not asked to be a guest speaker at Russian functions because he refuses to follow the Russian government's interpretation of the K-219 incident.[16]

In a BBC interview recorded in February 2013, with the Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Navy at the time, Vladimir Chernavin, Chernavin says the accident was caused by a malfunction in a missile tube and makes no mention of a collision with an American submarine. The interview was conducted for the BBC2 series "The Silent War".

Casualties[edit]

The following casualties were directly attributed to the incident:[17]

Died 3 October 1986
Petrachkov, Alexander V. Captain, Third Rank Weapons officer
Kharchengo, Igor K. Seaman Machinist
Smaglyuk, Nicolai Seaman Weapons Division
Preminin, Sergei A. Seaman Reactor Team
Died later from health complications resulting from the incident
Karpachev, Vladimir N. Captain Lieutenant Commander's Deputy
Markov, Vladimir P. Captain Third Rank Communications Officer

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Ramana & Reddy 2003, p. 131
  2. ^ a b Irza 2004
  3. ^ Captain 1st Rank (Ret.) Igor Kurdin, Russian Navy; Lt. Cmdr. Wayne Grasdock, USN (Fall 2005). "Loss of a Yankee SSBN". Undersea Warfare 7 (5). 
  4. ^ Huchthausen, Kurdin & White 1997, p. 24
  5. ^ Huchthausen, Kurdin & White 1997, p. xi
  6. ^ Huchthausen, Kurdin & White 1997, pp. 90,93
  7. ^ Huchthausen, Kurdin & White 1997, p. 93
  8. ^ Huchthausen, Kurdin & White 1997, p. 95
  9. ^ Huchthausen, Kurdin & White 1997, p. 97
  10. ^ Kurdin & Grasdock 2005.
  11. ^ a b Offley 2007, p. 112
  12. ^ [1][dead link]
  13. ^ Huchthausen, Kurdin & White 1997, p. 333
  14. ^ Irza, John (2004), "Soundings", IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society VOLUME XXXVIII (4), http://www.ieee.org/organizations/pubs/newsletters/oes/html/fall04/soundings.html, retrieved 29 November 2004
  15. ^ "U. S. Navy: Hostile Waters". Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  16. ^ Kurdin, Igor; Grasdock, Wayne (Fall 2005), "Loss of a Yankee SSBN", Undersea Warfare 2005 Vol.7, No.5
  17. ^ Huchthausen, Kurdin & White 1997, pp. 338–341

See also[edit]

References[edit]



Coordinates: 31°25′N 54°42′W / 31.417°N 54.700°W / 31.417; -54.700