USS Scorpion (SSN-589)
||This article appears to contain unverifiable speculation and unjustified claims. Information must be verifiable and based on reliable published sources. (June 2013)|
USS Scorpion 22 August 1960 off New London, Connecticut.
|Ordered:||31 January 1957|
|Builder:||General Dynamics Electric Boat|
|Laid down:||20 August 1958|
|Launched:||29 December 1959|
|Commissioned:||29 July 1960|
|Struck:||30 June 1968|
|Fate:||Sank on 22 May 1968; cause of sinking unknown. All 99 on board killed.|
|Status:||Located on the seabed of the Atlantic Ocean,  in 3,000 m (9,800 ft) of water, 740 km (400 nmi) southwest of the Azores,|
|Class & type:||Skipjack-class submarine|
|Displacement:||2,880 long tons (2,930 t) light
3,075 long tons (3,124 t) full
195 long tons (198 t) deadweight
|Length:||76.8 m (252 ft 0 in)|
|Beam:||9.7 m (31 ft 10 in)|
|Draft:||9.1 m (29 ft 10 in)|
|Complement:||8 officers, 75 men|
|Armament:||6 × 21 in (533 mm) torpedo tubes
2 × Mark 45 torpedoes
USS Scorpion (SSN-589) was a Skipjack-class nuclear submarine of the United States Navy and the sixth vessel of the US Navy to carry that name. Scorpion was lost on 22 May 1968, with 99 crewmen dying in the incident. The USS Scorpion is one of two nuclear submarines the US Navy has lost, the other being USS Thresher. In November 2012, the US Submarine Veterans, an organization with over 13,800 members (all former submariners), asked the US Navy to reopen the investigation on the sinking of USS Scorpion.
- 1 Service
- 2 Disappearance: May 1968
- 3 Navy Investigations
- 4 Theories about the loss
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
Scorpion's keel was laid down 20 August 1958 by EB, a division of General Dynamics Corporation in Groton. She was launched 19 December 1959, sponsored by Mrs. Elizabeth S. Morrison (daughter of the last commander of the World War II-era USS Scorpion—also lost with all hands, in 1944), and commissioned 29 July 1960, Commander Norman B. Bessac in command.
Assigned to Submarine Squadron 6, Division 62, Scorpion departed New London, Connecticut, 24 August for a two-month European deployment. During that time, she participated in exercises with 6th Fleet units and NATO-member navies. After returning to New England in late October, she trained along the eastern seaboard until May 1961. On 9 August 1961, she returned to New London, moving to Norfolk, Virginia, a month later. In 1962, she earned a Navy Unit Commendation.
Norfolk was Scorpion's port for the remainder of her career, and she specialized in developing nuclear submarine warfare tactics. Varying roles from hunter to hunted, she participated in exercises along the Atlantic coast, Bermuda, and Puerto Rico operating areas. From June 1963 – May 1964, she interrupted operations for an overhaul at Charlston. She resumed duty in late spring, but was again interrupted from 4 August – 8 October for a transatlantic patrol. In the spring of 1965, she conducted a similar patrol in European waters.
During late winter, early spring, and autumn of 1966, she deployed for special operations. After completing those assignments, her commanding officer (CO) received a Navy Commendation Medal for outstanding leadership, foresight, and professional skill. Other Scorpion officers and crewmen were also cited for meritorious achievement. Scorpion is reputed to have entered an inland Russian sea during a "Northern Run" in 1966 where it filmed a Soviet missile launch through its periscope before fleeing from Soviet Navy ships.
On 1 February 1967, Scorpion entered Norfolk Naval Shipyard for another extended overhaul. However, instead of a much-needed complete overhaul, she received only emergency repairs to get quickly back on duty. The preferred SUBSAFE program required increased submarine overhaul times, from nine months in length to 36 months. Intensive vetting of submarine component quality SUBSAFE was required, coupled with various improvements and intensified structural inspections—particularly hull-welding inspections using ultrasonic testing—and reduced availability of critical parts like seawater piping. Cold War pressures prompted U.S. Submarine Fleet Atlantic (SUBLANT) officers to hunt for ways to cut corners; the last overhaul cost only one-seventh of those given other nuclear submarines at the same time. This was the result of concerns about the "high percentage of time offline" for nuclear attack submarines, estimated at about 40% of total available duty time.
Scorpion's original "full overhaul" was reduced in scope; long-overdue SUBSAFE work, such as a new central valve control system, was not performed. Crucially, her emergency system was not corrected for the same problems which killed Thresher. While Charleston Naval Ship Yard claimed the Emergency Main Ballast Tank Blow (EMBT) system worked as-is, SUBLANT claimed it did not and their EMBT was "tagged out" or listed as unusable. Perceived problems with overhaul duration led to a delay on all SUBSAFE work in 1967.
In late October 1967, Scorpion started refresher training and weapons system acceptance tests, and was given a new commanding officer, Francis Slattery. Following type training out of Norfolk, Virginia, she got underway on 15 February 1968 for a Mediterranean Sea deployment. She operated with the 6th Fleet into May and then headed west for home. Scorpion suffered several mechanical malfunctions including a chronic problem with Freon leakage from refrigeration systems. An electrical fire occurred in an escape trunk when a water leak shorted out a shore power connection.
Departing the Mediterranean on 16 May, two men left Scorpion at Rota, Spain - one for a family emergency and the other, IC1 Joseph Underwood, was dispatched for health reasons. Scorpion was then detailed to observe Soviet naval activities in the Atlantic in the vicinity of the Azores. With this completed, Scorpion prepared to head back to Naval Station Norfolk.
Disappearance: May 1968
For an unusually long period of time, beginning shortly before midnight on 20 May and ending after midnight 21 May, Scorpion attempted to send radio traffic to Naval Station Rota in Spain but was only able to reach a Navy communications station in Nea Makri, Greece, which forwarded Scorpion's messages to SUBLANT. Six days later, the media reported she was overdue at Norfolk.
The Navy suspected possible failure and launched a public search. Scorpion and her crew were declared "presumed lost" on 5 June. Her name was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 30 June. The public search continued with a team of mathematical consultants led by Dr. John Piña Craven, the Chief Scientist of the U.S. Navy's Special Projects Division. They employed the methods of Bayesian search theory, initially developed during the search for a hydrogen bomb lost off the coast of Palomares, Spain, in January 1966 in the Palomares B-52 crash.
Some reports indicate that a large and secret search was launched three days before Scorpion was expected back from patrol; this, combined with other declassified information, leads to speculation that the US Navy knew of the Scorpion's destruction before the public search was launched.
At the end of October 1968, the Navy's oceanographic research ship, Mizar, located sections of the hull of Scorpion on the seabed, about 740 km (400 nmi; 460 mi) southwest of the Azores, under more than 3,000 m (9,800 ft) of water. This was after the Navy had released sound tapes from its underwater "SOSUS" listening system which contained the sounds of the destruction of Scorpion. The court of inquiry was subsequently reconvened and other vessels, including the bathyscaphe Trieste II, were dispatched to the scene, collecting many pictures and other data.
Although Craven received much credit for locating the wreckage of Scorpion, Gordon Hamilton—an acoustics expert who pioneered the use of hydroacoustics to pinpoint Polaris missile splashdown locations—was instrumental in defining a compact "search box" wherein the wreck was ultimately found. Hamilton had established a listening station in the Canary Islands, which obtained a clear signal of what some scientists believe was the noise of the vessel's pressure hull imploding as she passed below crush depth. A Naval Research Laboratory scientist named Chester "Buck" Buchanan, using a towed camera sled of his own design aboard Mizar, finally located Scorpion. The towed camera sled, which was fabricated by J. L. "Jac" Hamm of Naval Research Laboratory's Engineering Services Division, is housed in the U.S. Navy Museum. Buchanan had located the wrecked hull of Thresher in 1964 using this technique.
It would appear that the bow of Scorpion skidded upon impact with the globigerina ooze on the seafloor, digging a sizable trench. The sail had been dislodged as the hull of the operations compartment upon which it perched disintegrated, and was lying on its port side. One of Scorpion's running lights was in the open position as if it had been on the surface at the time of the mishap, although it may have been left in the open position during the vessel's recent nighttime stop at Rota. One Trieste II pilot who dived on Scorpion said the shock of the implosion may have knocked the light into the open position.
The secondary Navy investigation – using extensive photographic, video, and eyewitness inspections of the wreckage in 1969 – offered the opinion that Scorpion's hull was crushed by implosion forces as it sank below crush depth. The Structural Analysis Group, which included Naval Ships Systems Command's Submarine Structures director Peter Palermo, plainly saw that the torpedo room was intact, though it had been pinched from the operations compartment by massive hydrostatic pressure. The operations compartment itself was largely obliterated by sea pressure and the engine room had telescoped 50 ft (15 m) forward into the hull by collapse pressure, when the cone-to-cylinder transition junction failed between the auxiliary machine space and the engine room.
The only damage to the torpedo room compartment appeared to be a hatch missing from the forward escape trunk; Palermo pointed out that this would have occurred when water pressure entered the torpedo room at the moment of implosion.
Court of Inquiry report: 1968
Shortly after her sinking, the Navy assembled a Court of Inquiry to investigate the incident and to publish a report about the likely causes for the sinking. The court was presided over by Vice Admiral Bernard L. Austin, who had presided over the inquiry into the loss of Thresher. The panel's conclusions, first printed in 1968, were largely classified. At the time, the Navy quoted frequently from a portion of the 1968 report that said no one is likely ever to "conclusively" determine the cause of the loss.
The Clinton administration declassified most of this report in 1993, and it was then that the public first learned that the panel considered that a possible cause was the malfunction of one of Scorpion's own torpedoes.
An extensive, year-long analysis of Gordon Hamilton's hydroacoustic signals of the submarine's demise was conducted by Robert Price, Ermine (Meri) Christian and Peter Sherman of the Naval Ordnance Laboratory. All three physicists were experts on undersea explosions, their sound signatures, and their destructive effects. Price was also an open critic of Craven. Their opinion, presented to the Navy as part of the Phase II investigation, was that the death noises likely occurred at 2,000 ft (610 m) when the hull failed. Fragments then continued in a free fall for another 9,000 ft (2,700 m). This appears to differ from conclusions drawn by Craven and Hamilton, who pursued an independent set of experiments as part of the same Phase II probe, demonstrating that alternate interpretations of the hydroacoustic signals were possibly based on the submarine's depth at the time it was stricken and other operational conditions.
The Structural Analysis Group (SAG) concludes that an explosive event is unlikely, and are highly dismissive of Craven and Hamilton's tests. The SAG physicists argued that the absence of a bubble pulse, which invariably occurs in an underwater explosion, is absolute evidence that no torpedo explosion occurred outside or inside the hull. Craven had attempted to prove Scorpion's hull could "swallow" the bubble pulse of a torpedo detonation by having Gordon Hamilton detonate small charges next to steel, air-filled containers. It should also be pointed out that the massive hull of the Russian submarine Kursk, when its torpedoes detonated at the time of its loss on 12 Aug 2000, was ripped open by hydrogen peroxide-fueled torpedoes, and emitted a huge bubble pulse that was transmitted to geophones across Europe. With a pressure hull twice the size of Scorpion's, the accident indicated even a massive hull could not absorb the bubble pulse.
The 1970 Naval Ordnance Laboratory "Letter", the acoustics study of Scorpion destruction sounds by Price and Christian, was a supporting study within the SAG report. In its conclusions and recommendations section, the NOL acoustic study states: "The first SCORPION acoustic event was not caused by a large explosion, either internal or external to the hull. The probable depth of occurrence...and the spectral characteristics of the signal support this. In fact, it is unlikely that any of the Scorpion acoustic events were caused by explosions."
The Naval Ordnance Laboratory based much of its findings on an extensive acoustic analysis of the torpedoing and sinking of Sterlet in the Pacific in early 1969, seeking to compare its acoustic signals to those generated by Scorpion. Price found the Navy's scheduled sinking of Sterlet fortuitous. Nonetheless, Sterlet was a small World War II-era diesel-electric submarine of a vastly different design and construction than Scorpion with regard to its pressure hull and other characteristics. Its sinking resulted in three identifiable acoustic signals as compared to Scorpion's 15. The mathematical calculations Price used remain unknown to the public.
The NOL acoustics study provided a highly debated explanation as to how Scorpion may have reached its crush depth by anecdotally referring to the near-loss incident of the diesel submarine Chopper in January 1969, when a power problem caused her to sink almost to crush depth, before surfacing.
In the same May 2003 N77 letter excerpted above (see 1. with regard to the Navy's view of a forward explosion), however, the following statement appears to dismiss the NOL theory, and again unequivocally point the finger toward an explosion forward:
The Navy has extensively investigated the loss of Scorpion through the initial court of inquiry and the 1970 and 1987 reviews by the Structural Analysis Group. Nothing in those investigations caused the Navy to change its conclusion that an unexplained catastrophic event occurred.
Today, the wreck of Scorpion is reported to be resting on a sandy seabed at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean in approximately 3,000 m (9,800 ft) of water. The site is reported to be approximately 400 nmi (740 km) southwest of the Azores Islands, on the eastern edge of the Sargasso Sea. The actual position is 32°54.9'N, 33°08.89'W. The U.S. Navy has acknowledged that it periodically visits the site to conduct testing for the release of nuclear materials from the nuclear reactor or the two nuclear weapons aboard her, and to determine whether the wreckage has been disturbed. The Navy has not released any information about the status of the wreckage, except for a few photographs taken of the wreckage in 1968, and again in 1985 by deep water submersibles.
The Navy has also released information about the nuclear testing performed in and around the Scorpion site. The Navy reports no significant release of nuclear material from the sub. The 1985 photos were taken by a team of oceanographers working for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
The U.S. Navy has periodically monitored the environmental conditions of the site since the sinking and has reported the results in an annual public report on environmental monitoring for U.S. nuclear-powered ships and boats. The reports provide specifics on the environmental sampling of sediment, water, and marine life that is done to ascertain whether the submarine has significantly affected the deep-ocean environment. The reports also explain the methodology for conducting this deep sea monitoring from both surface vessels and submersibles. The monitoring data confirm that there has been no significant effect on the environment. The nuclear fuel aboard the submarine remains intact and no uranium in excess of levels expected from the fallout from past atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons has been detected by the Navy's inspections. In addition, Scorpion carried two nuclear-tipped Mark 45 anti-submarine torpedoes (ASTOR) when she was lost. The warheads of these torpedoes are part of the environmental concern. The most likely scenario is that the plutonium and uranium cores of these weapons corroded to a heavy, insoluble material soon after the sinking, and they remain at or close to their original location inside the torpedo room of the boat. If the corroded materials were released outside the submarine, their large specific gravity and insolubility would cause them to settle down into the sediment.
Theories about the loss
Accidental activation of torpedo
The US Navy's court of inquiry listed as one possibility the inadvertent activation of a battery-powered Mark 37 torpedo. This acoustic homing torpedo, in a fully ready condition and without a propeller guard, is believed by some to have started running within the tube. Released from the tube, the torpedo then somehow became fully armed and successfully engaged its nearest target—Scorpion herself. This is considered highly unlikely due to the fact that Scorpion would have maintained the ability to destroy the weapon before it reengaged. Although much has been made of claims by Dr. Craven that the SOSUS network tracked the submarine moving back onto its original course, which would be consistent with performing a 180° turn in an attempt to activate a torpedo's safety systems, Gordon Hamilton has said that the acoustical data is too garbled to reveal any such details.
Explosion of torpedo
A later theory was that a torpedo may have exploded in the tube, caused by an uncontrollable fire in the torpedo room. The book Blind Man's Bluff documents findings and investigation by Dr. John Craven, who surmised that a likely cause could have been the overheating of a faulty battery. (Dr. Craven later stated in the book Silent Steel that he was misquoted.) The Mark 46 silver-zinc battery used in the Mark 37 torpedo had a tendency to overheat, and in extreme cases could cause a fire that was strong enough to cause a low-order detonation of the warhead. If such a detonation had occurred, it might have opened the boat's large torpedo-loading hatch and caused Scorpion to flood and sink. However, while Mark 46 batteries have been known to generate so much heat that the torpedo casings blistered, none is known to have damaged a boat or caused an explosion.
Dr. John Craven mentions that he did not work on the Mark 37 torpedo's propulsion system and only became aware of the possibility of a battery explosion twenty years after the loss of Scorpion. In his book The Silent War, he recounts running a simulation with former Scorpion executive officer Lieutenant Commander Robert Fountain, Jr. commanding the simulator. Fountain was told he was headed home at 18 knots (33 km/h) at a depth of his choice, then there was an alarm of "hot running torpedo". Fountain responded with "right full rudder", a quick turn that would activate a safety device and keep the torpedo from arming. Then an explosion in the torpedo room was introduced into the simulation. Fountain ordered emergency procedures to surface the boat, stated Dr. Craven, "but instead she continued to plummet, reaching collapse depth and imploding in ninety seconds—one second shy of the acoustic record of the actual event."
Craven, who was the Chief Scientist of the Navy's Special Projects Office, which had management responsibility for the design, development, construction, operational test and evaluation and maintenance of the UGM-27 Polaris Fleet Missile System had long believed Scorpion was struck by her own torpedo, but revised his views during the mid-1990s when engineers testing Mark 46 batteries at Keyport, Washington, said the batteries leaked electrolyte and sometimes burned while outside their casings during lifetime shock, heat and cold testing. Although the battery manufacturer was accused of building bad batteries, it was later able to successfully prove its batteries were no more prone to failure than those made by other manufacturers.
Malfunction of trash disposal unit
During the 1968 inquiry, Vice Admiral Arnold F. Shade testified that he believed that a malfunction of the trash disposal unit (TDU) was the trigger for the disaster. Shade theorized that the sub was flooded when the TDU was operated at periscope depth and that other subsequent failures of material or personnel while dealing with the TDU-induced flooding led to the sub's demise.
The book All Hands Down by Kenneth Sewell and Jerome Preisler (Simon and Schuster, 2008) concludes that the Scorpion was destroyed while en route to gather intelligence on a Soviet naval group conducting operations in the Atlantic. While the mission for which the submarine was diverted from her original course back to her home port is a matter of record, its details remain classified.
Ed Offley's book Scorpion Down promotes a hypothesis suggesting that the Scorpion was sunk by a Soviet submarine during a standoff that started days before 22 May. Offley also cites that it occurred roughly at the time of the submarine's intelligence-gathering mission, from which she was redirected from her original heading for home; according to Offley, the flotilla had just been harassed by another US submarine, the USS Haddo.
Both All Hands Down and Scorpion Down point toward involvement by the KGB spy-ring (the so-called Walker Spy-Ring) led by John Anthony Walker, Jr. in the heart of the US Navy's communications, stating that it could have known that the Scorpion was coming to investigate the Soviet flotilla. According to this theory, there was a common agreement made by both navies to hide the truth about both incidents. Several USN SSNs collided with Soviet Echo subs in Russian and Scottish waters in this period. Commander Roger Lane Nott, Royal Navy commander of the SSN HMS Splendid during the 1982 Falklands War, stated that in 1972, during his service as a junior navigation officer on the SSN HMS Conqueror, a Soviet submarine entered the Scottish Clyde channel and Conqueror was given the order to 'chase it out'. Having realized it was being pursued, "a very aggressive Soviet Captain turned his submarine and drove it straight at HMS Conqueror. It had been an extremely close call."
The Soviet submarine force was as professional as the British and the Americans. According to a translated article from Pravda, Moscow never issued a 'fire' command during the cold war. This is disputed by Royal Navy officers, "there had been other occasions when harassed Russians had fired torpedoes to scare off trails." The Navy court of inquiry official statement was that there was not another ship within 200 miles of Scorpion at the time of the sinking.
The results of the U.S. Navy's various investigations into the loss of Scorpion are inconclusive. While the court of inquiry never endorsed Dr. Craven's torpedo theory regarding the loss of Scorpion, its "findings of facts" released in 1993 carried Craven's torpedo theory at the head of a list of possible causes of Scorpion's loss.
The Navy failed to inform the public that both the U.S. Submarine Force Atlantic and the Commander-in-Chief U.S. Atlantic Fleet opposed Craven's torpedo theory as unfounded and also failed to disclose that a second technical investigation into the loss of Scorpion completed in 1970 actually repudiated claims that a torpedo detonation played a role in the loss of Scorpion. Despite the second technical investigation, the Navy continues to attach strong credence to Craven's view that an explosion destroyed her, as is evidenced by this excerpt from a May 2003 letter from the Navy's Submarine Warfare Division (N77), specifically written by Admiral P.F. Sullivan on behalf of Vice Admiral John J. Grossenbacher (Commander Naval Submarine Forces), the Naval Sea Systems Command, Naval Reactors, and others in the US Navy regarding its view of alternative sinking theories:
The first cataclysmic event was of such magnitude that the only possible conclusion is that a cataclysmic event (explosion) occurred resulting in uncontrolled flooding (most likely the forward compartments).
- USS George Washington (SSBN-598) was originally to have been Scorpion (SSN-589), and began construction under that name.
- CINCLANTFLEET History Log June '68 to July '69 page 104 at 4.a.
- Sontag, Sherry; Drew, Christopher (2000). Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage. New York: Harper Paperbacks. p. 432.
- "Submarine vets call for USS Scorpion investigation". Usatoday.com. 16 November 2012. Retrieved 2014-03-17.
- Submarine Safety Program (SUBSAFE), Electric Boat Corporation.
- ...qualification and authorization of activities to perform SUBSAFE work...
- "After 25 years of loss, families resent Navy's silence about sub". Baltimore Sun. 1993-11-21. Retrieved 2014-01-07.
- Offley, Ed (2007). Scorpion Down: Sunk by the Soviets, Buried by the Pentagon: The Untold Story of the USS Scorpion. New York: Perseus Books Group. pp. 241 ff. ISBN 978-0-465-00884-1.
- "Strange Devices That Found the Sunken Sub Scorpion." Popular Science, April 1969, pp. 66–71.
- Command History of the Commander in Chief U.S. Atlantic Fleet, OPNAV REPORT 5750-1, July '68 – June '69, p. 104 at 4. a.
- Sontag and Drew, Blind Man's Bluff, p. 432.
- Johnson, Stephen (2006). Silent Steel: The Mysterious Death of the Nuclear Attack Sub USS Scorpion. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. p. 304.
- Johnson, Stephen (23 May 1993). "A long and deep mystery/Scorpion crewman says sub's '68 sinking was preventable". Houston Chronicle (Hearst Corporation). Retrieved 27 June 2008.
- Sewell, Kenneth; Preisler, Jerome (2008). All Hands Down: The True Story of the Soviet Attack on the USS Scorpion. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 288.
- Offley, Scorpion Down, p. 480.
- Rowland White. Vulcan 607. Bantam/Random House. London (2006), p. 39.
- R.White. Vulcan 607. Bantam/Random House,(2006)London, p39.
- Court of inquiry, finding of fact #49 to 53, see http://www.jag.navy.mil/library/investigations/USS%20SCORPAIN%2027%20MAY%2068.pdf
- Love, Robert W. History of the U.S. Navy, 1942–1991 (History of the U.S. Navy) (October 1992 ed.). Stackpole Books. p. 912. ISBN 0-8117-1863-8.
- Sewell, Kenneth; Richmond, Clint. Red Star Rogue: The Untold Story of a Soviet Submarine's Nuclear Strike Attempt on the U.S. (26 September 2006 ed.). Pocket Star. p. 480. ISBN 1-4165-2733-8.
- Rule, Bruce. Why the USS Scorpion (SSN 589) Was Lost: The Death of a Submarine in the North Atlantic (31 October 2011 ed.). Nimble Books LLC. p. 74. ISBN 1608881202.
- Rebutting Conjecture SCORPION Reversed Course Just Before Being Lost Bruce Rule – September 22, 2013
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to USS Scorpion (SSN-589).|
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