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Russian submarine Kursk (K-141)

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K-141 Kursk
NameK-141 Kursk
NamesakeBattle of Kursk
Laid down1990
Commissioned30 December 1994
Stricken12 August 2000
FateAll 118 hands lost in 100 m (330 ft) of water in Barents Sea on 12 August 2000
StatusRaised from the seafloor (except bow), towed to shipyard, and dismantled
General characteristics
Class and typeOscar II-class submarine
Displacement13,400 to 16,400 tonnes (13,200 to 16,100 long tons; 14,800 to 18,100 short tons)[clarification needed]
Length154.0 m (505.2 ft)
Beam18.2 m (60 ft)
Draft9.0 m (29.5 ft)
Propulsion2 OK-650b nuclear reactors (HEU <= 45%[1]), 2 steam turbines, two 7-bladed propellers
Speed32 knots (59 km/h; 37 mph) submerged, 16 knots (30 km/h; 18 mph) surfaced
Test depth300 to 500 m (980 to 1,640 ft) by various estimates
Complement44 officers, 68 enlisted
Armament24 × SS-N-19/P-700 Granit, 4 × 533 mm (21 in) and 2 × 650 mm (26 in) torpedo tubes (bow); 24 torpedoes
NotesHome port: Vidyayevo, Russia

K-141 Kursk (Russian: Атомная Подводная Лодка «Курск» (АПЛ «Курск»), transl. Atomnaya Podvodnaya Lodka "Kursk" (APL "Kursk"), meaning "Atomic-powered submarine Kursk") was an Oscar II-class nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine of the Russian Navy. On 12 August 2000, K-141 Kursk was lost when it sank in the Barents Sea, killing all 118 personnel on board.


Silhouette of an Oscar-II class submarine

K-141 Kursk was a Project 949A class Antey (Russian: Aнтей, meaning Antaeus) submarine of the Oscar class, known as the Oscar II by its NATO reporting name, and was the penultimate submarine of the Oscar II class designed and approved in the Soviet Union. Construction began in 1990 at the Soviet Navy military shipyards in Severodvinsk, near Arkhangelsk, in the northern Russian SFSR. During the construction of K-141, the Soviet Union collapsed; work continued, and she became one of the first naval vessels completed after the collapse. In 1993 K-141 was named Kursk after the Battle of Kursk[2] in the 50-year anniversary of this battle. K-141 was inherited by Russia and launched in 1994, before being commissioned by the Russian Navy on December 30, as part of the Russian Northern Fleet.[3]

Kursk was assigned to the home port of Vidyayevo, Murmansk Oblast.


The Antey design represented the highest achievement of Soviet nuclear submarine technology. They are the second-largest cruise missile submarines ever built, after some Ohio-class submarine ballistic missile submarines were converted to carry cruise missiles in 2007.[4]: 22–23  It was built to defeat an entire United States aircraft carrier group. A single Type 65 torpedo carried a 450 kg (990 lb) warhead powerful enough to sink an aircraft carrier.[5] Both missiles and torpedoes could be equipped with nuclear warheads. She was 9.1 m (30 ft) longer than the preceding Oscar I-class of submarines. The senior officers had individual staterooms and the entire crew had access to a gymnasium.[6][7]

The outer hull, made of high-nickel, high-chromium stainless steel 8.5 mm (0.33 in) thick, had exceptionally good resistance to corrosion and a weak magnetic signature which helped prevent detection by U.S. magnetic anomaly detector (MAD) systems. There was a 200 mm (7.9 in) gap to the 50.8 mm (2.00 in)-thick steel pressure hull.[8] She was designed to remain submerged for up to 120 days. The sail superstructure was reinforced to allow it to break through the Arctic ice.[3] The submarine was armed with 24 SS-N-19/P-700 Granit cruise missiles, and eight torpedo tubes in the bow: four 533 mm (21 in) and four 650 mm (26 in). The Granit missiles with a range of 550 km (340 mi), were capable of supersonic flight at altitudes over 20 km (12 mi). They were designed to swarm enemy vessels and intelligently choose individual targets which terminated with a dive onto the target.[6] The torpedo tubes could be used to launch either torpedoes or anti-ship missiles with a range of 50 km (31 mi). Her weapons included 18 SS-N-16 "Stallion" anti-submarine missiles.[3]

Kursk was part of Russia's Northern Fleet, which had suffered funding cutbacks throughout the 1990s. Many of its submarines were anchored and rusting in Zapadnaya Litsa Naval Base, 100 km (62 mi) from Murmansk.[9] Little work to maintain all but the most essential front-line equipment, including search and rescue equipment, had occurred. Northern Fleet sailors had gone unpaid in the mid-1990s.[3]


During her five years of service, Kursk completed only one mission, a six-month deployment to the Mediterranean Sea during the summer of 1999 to monitor the United States Sixth Fleet responding to the Kosovo crisis.[10]: 215  As a result, many of her crew had spent little time at sea and were inexperienced.[4]

Naval exercise and disaster[edit]

Kursk joined the "Summer-X" exercise, the first large-scale naval exercise planned by the Russian Navy in more than a decade,[11] on 10 August 2000. It included 30 ships including the fleet's flagship Pyotr Velikiy, four attack submarines,[3] and a flotilla of smaller ships. The crew had recently won a citation for its excellent performance and had been recognized as the best submarine crew in the Northern Fleet.[12] While it was on an exercise, Kursk loaded a full complement of combat weapons. It was one of the few vessels authorized to carry a combat load at all times.


On the first day of the exercise, Kursk successfully launched a Granit missile armed with a dummy warhead.[3] Two days later, on the morning of 12 August, Kursk prepared to fire dummy torpedoes at the Kirov-class battlecruiser Pyotr Velikiy. These practice torpedoes had no explosive warheads and were manufactured and tested at a much lower quality standard.[13] On 12 August 2000, at 11:28 local time (07:28 UTC), there was an explosion while preparing to fire.[14] The Russian Navy's final report on the disaster concluded the explosion was due to the failure of one of Kursk's hydrogen peroxide-fueled Type 65 torpedoes.[15] A subsequent investigation concluded that high-test peroxide (HTP), a form of highly concentrated hydrogen peroxide used as propellant for the torpedo, seeped through a faulty weld in the torpedo casing.[16] When HTP comes into contact with a catalyst, it rapidly expands by a factor of 5000, generating vast quantities of steam and oxygen. The pressure produced by the expanding HTP ruptured the kerosene fuel tank in the torpedo and set off an explosion equal to 100–250 kilograms (220–550 lb) of TNT. The submarine sank in relatively shallow water, bottoming at 108 metres (354 ft) about 135 km (84 mi) off Severomorsk, at 69°40′N 37°35′E / 69.667°N 37.583°E / 69.667; 37.583. A second explosion 135 seconds after the initial event was equivalent to 3-7 tons of TNT.[17] The explosions blew a large hole in the hull and caused the first three compartments of the submarine to collapse, killing or incapacitating all but 23 of the 118 personnel on board.[10]: 208 

Rescue attempts[edit]

The British and Norwegian navies offered assistance, but Russia initially refused all help.[18] All 118 sailors and officers aboard Kursk died. The Russian Admiralty initially told the public that the majority of the crew died within minutes of the explosion. On 21 August, Norwegian and Russian divers found 24 bodies in the ninth compartment, the turbine room at the stern of the boat. Captain-lieutenant Dmitri Kolesnikov wrote a note listing the names of 23 sailors who were alive in the compartment after the boat sank.

Kursk carried a potassium superoxide cartridge of a chemical oxygen generator; these are used to absorb carbon dioxide and chemically release oxygen during an emergency. However, the cartridge became contaminated with sea water and the resulting chemical reaction caused a flash fire which consumed the available oxygen. The investigation showed that some men temporarily survived the fire by plunging under water, as fire marks on the bulkheads indicated the water was at waist level at the time. Ultimately, the remaining crew burned to death or suffocated.[19]

Putin interview on the tragedy (with subtitles)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, though immediately informed of the tragedy, was told by the navy that they had the situation under control and that rescue was imminent. He waited for five days before ending his holiday at a presidential resort in Sochi on the Black Sea. Putin was only four months into his tenure as president, and the public and media were extremely critical of his decision to remain at a seaside resort. His highly favourable ratings dropped dramatically.[20] The president's response appeared callous and the government's actions looked incompetent.[21] A year later he said, "I probably should have returned to Moscow, but nothing would have changed. I had the same level of communication both in Sochi and in Moscow, but from a PR point of view I could have demonstrated some special eagerness to return."[22]

Submarine recovery[edit]

Submarine wreck after the disaster

A consortium formed by the Dutch companies Mammoet and Smit International[23] was awarded a contract by Russia to raise the vessel, excluding the bow. They modified the barge Giant 4 which raised Kursk and recovered the remains of the sailors.[24]

During salvage operations in 2001, the team first cut the bow off the hull using a tungsten carbide-studded cable. As this tool had the potential to cause sparks which could ignite remaining pockets of reactive gases, such as hydrogen, the operation was executed with care. Most of the bow was abandoned and the rest of the vessel was towed to Severomorsk and placed in a floating dry dock for analysis.

The remains of Kursk's reactor compartment were towed to Sayda Bay on Russia's northern Kola Peninsula, where more than 50 reactor compartments were afloat at pier points, after a shipyard had removed all the fuel from the boat in early 2003.[25]

Some torpedo and torpedo tube fragments from the bow were recovered and the rest was destroyed by explosives in 2002.

Official inquiry results[edit]

Notwithstanding the navy's oft-stated position that a collision with a foreign vessel had triggered the event,[26] a report issued by the government attributed the disaster to a torpedo explosion caused when high-test peroxide (HTP), a form of highly concentrated hydrogen peroxide, leaked from a faulty weld in the torpedo's casing.[5][12][27] The report found that the initial explosion destroyed the torpedo room compartment and killed everyone in the first compartment.[28][29] The blast entered the second and perhaps the third and fourth compartments through an air conditioning vent. All of the 36 men in the command post located in the second compartment were immediately incapacitated by the blast wave and possibly killed.[30] The first explosion caused a fire that raised the temperature of the compartment to more than 2,700 °C (4,890 °F).[31] The heat caused the warheads of between five and seven additional torpedoes to detonate, creating an explosion equivalent to 2–3 tons of TNT[32] that measured 4.2 on the Richter magnitude scale on seismographs across Europe[33] and was detected as far away as Alaska.[34]

Alternative explanation[edit]

Vice-Admiral Valery Ryazantsev differed with the government's official conclusion. He cited inadequate training, poor maintenance, and incomplete inspections that caused the crew to mishandle the weapon.[35] During the examination of the wrecked sub, investigators recovered a partially burned copy of the safety instructions for loading HTP torpedoes, but the instructions were for a significantly different type of torpedo and failed to include essential steps for testing an air valve. The 7th Division, 1st Submarine Flotilla never inspected Kursk's crew's qualifications and readiness to fire HTP torpedoes.[29] Kursk's crew had no experience with HTP-powered torpedoes and had not been trained in handling or firing HTP-powered torpedoes. Due to their inexperience and lack of training, compounded by incomplete inspections and oversight, and because the Kursk's crew followed faulty instructions when loading the practice torpedo, Ryazantsev believes they set off a chain of events that led to the explosion.[4][36]


Monument over Kursk.


  • Truscott, Peter (2002), Kursk: Russia's Lost Pride. Simon & Schuster UK. ISBN 0-7432-3072-8
  • Dunmore, Spencer (2002), Lost Subs: From the "Hunley" to the "Kursk", the Greatest Submarines Ever Lost – And Found. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo. ISBN 0-306-81140-5
  • Moore, Robert (2002), A Time to Die: The Untold Story of the Kursk Tragedy. Crown Publishers NY, NY. ISBN 978-0609610008
  • Weir, Gary E. and Boyne, Walter J. (2003), Rising Tide: The Untold Story Of The Russian Submarines That Fought The Cold War. Basic Books, NY, NY. ISBN 978-0465091126
  • Flynn, Ramsey (2004), Cry from the Deep: The Sinking of the Kursk, the Submarine Disaster That Riveted the World and Put the New Russia to the Ultimate Test. Harper Collins. ISBN 978-0060936419
  • Rear Admiral Mian Zahir Shah (2005) Sea Phoenix: A True Submarine Story. ISBN 978-9698318048



  • The Kursk[37] – play about the trapped survivors, By Sasha Janowicz.
  • Kursk – a play by playwright Bryony Lavery from the British point of view.


  • Kursk[38] (also known as "The Command", and "Kursk: The Last Mission"). - The film from 2018 follows the 2000 K-141 Kursk submarine disaster and the governmental negligence that followed. By Thomas Vinterberg.


  • Kursk, a 2004 art work by Finnish sculptor Markus Copper. The work consists of eight live size diver figures hanging from a steel frame and slowly knocking a steel wall with monkey wrenches. The action is launched by a glowing electronic unit.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Marine Nuclear Power:1939 – 2018" (PDF). July 2018. Retrieved 30 December 2022.
  2. ^ ""Курск": 15 лет со дня гибели". ТАСС (in Russian). Retrieved 26 August 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Potts, J.R. (5 September 2013). "K-141 Kursk Attack Submarine (1994)". militaryfactory.com. Archived from the original on 20 February 2014. Retrieved 3 February 2014.
  4. ^ a b c Barany, Zoltan (2007). Democratic Breakdown and the Decline of the Russian Military. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. p. 32. ISBN 9781400828043.
  5. ^ a b "Weapon". Weaponsystems.net. Retrieved 6 February 2013.
  6. ^ a b "Kursk Stats". 11 February 2014. Archived from the original on 22 February 2014. Retrieved 11 February 2014.
  7. ^ Moore, Robert. "A Time to Die 0". Random House. Retrieved 5 February 2014.
  8. ^ N. A. "Kursk Inner Hull Breached." Australian, The (n.d.): Newspaper Source Plus. Web. 7 December 2011.
  9. ^ Andreyeva Bay is a ticking bomb, Bellona’s documents prove – Rashid Alimov, Bellona Foundation, Oslo, 7 June 2007. Retrieved on 8 August 2007.
  10. ^ a b Underwood, Lamar, ed. (2005). The Greatest Submarine Stories Ever Told: Dive! Dive! Fourteen Unforgettable Stories from the Deep. Guilford, Connecticut: Lyons Press. ISBN 978-1592287338.
  11. ^ "Russian Sub Has 'Terrifying Hole'". 18 August 2000. Archived from the original on 1 January 2011. Retrieved 31 January 2014.
  12. ^ a b Brannon, Robert (13 April 2009). Russian civil-military Relations. Farnham, England: Ashgate Publishers. p. 140. ISBN 978-0754675914.
  13. ^ Dikkenberg, John (19 October 2001). "Raising the Kursk". Sydney Morning Herald. Newspaper Source Plus.
  14. ^ Rosenberg, Debra, et al. "A Mystery In The Deep." Newsweek 136.9 (2000): 34. Academic Search Premier. Web. 7 December 2011.
  15. ^ Sviatov, George. "The Kursk's Loss Offers Lessons." U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 129.6 (2003): 71. Academic Search Premier. Web. 7 December 2011.
  16. ^ Marshall, Geoff (July 2008), "The Loss of HMS Sidon", In Depth, vol. 28, no. 4, Submarines Association Australia, archived from the original on 16 February 2011, retrieved 2 September 2010
  17. ^ Rogers, J. David; Koper, Keith D. "Some Practical Applications of Forensic Seismology" (PDF). Missouri University of Science and Technology. Retrieved 5 September 2010.
  18. ^ Williams, Daniel. "'Terrifying Hole' in Russian Sub". Wayback Machine. Washington Post. Archived from the original on 1 January 2011. Retrieved 2 April 2016.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  19. ^ Moore, Robert (2003). A Time to Die–The Untold Story of the Kursk Tragedy. New York: Crown Publishers, Random House. pp. 65–66. ISBN 0-609-61000-7.
  20. ^ "Kursk closure leaves questions unanswered". BBC News. 31 July 2002. Retrieved 1 February 2014.
  21. ^ "Kursk Relatives Make a Plea for Facts and Justice". St. Petersburg Times. 23 February 2001. Retrieved 21 February 2011.
  22. ^ Spectre of Kursk haunts Putin – BBC News, 12 August 2001 Retrieved on 8 August 2007
  23. ^ Smit website on Salvage project of Kursk Archived 21 January 2012 at the Wayback Machine, URL visited 12 February 2012
  24. ^ Spitz, D.J. (2006), Investigation of Bodies in Water. In: Spitz and Fisher's Medicolegal Investigation of Death. Guideline for the Application of Pathology to Crime Investigations (4th ed.), Springfield, Illinois., pp. 846–881{{citation}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  25. ^ Kudrik, Igor (3 March 2003). "Defuelled Kursk will join submarine graveyard". Oslo: Bellona Foundation. Archived from the original on 6 October 2007. Retrieved 8 August 2007.
  26. ^ "Russian admiral: Kursk disaster caused by NATO sub". 22 November 2021.
  27. ^ Tony DiGiulian (19 November 2008). "Russia / USSR Post-World War II Torpedoes". Navweaps.com. Retrieved 6 February 2013.
  28. ^ "Final report blames fuel for Kursk disaster". BBC News. 1 July 2002. Retrieved 1 February 2014.
  29. ^ a b Милашина, Елена (15 July 2010). Как погиб Курск (in Russian). Retrieved 14 February 2014.
  30. ^ Wines, Michael (27 February 2001). "Russian Sub's Officer Wrote Of Torpedo Blast, Izvestia Says". New York Times. Retrieved 19 February 2014.
  31. ^ Faulconbridge, Guy (3 December 2004). "Nightmare at Sea". Moscow Times. Retrieved 22 February 2014.
  32. ^ Peter Davidson; Huw Jones; John H. Large (October 2003). "The Recovery of the Russian Federation Nuclear Powered Submarine Kursk" (PDF). World Maritime Technology Conference, San Francisco. Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 February 2012. Retrieved 3 July 2009.
  33. ^ "Do Bombs Cause Earthquakes?". Archived from the original on 18 October 2006. Retrieved 20 February 2014.
  34. ^ "What really happened to Russia's 'unsinkable' sub". The Guardian. 4 August 2001. Retrieved 1 February 2014.
  35. ^ Ryazantsev, Valery. "The death of the "Kursk"" (in Russian). Archived from the original on 13 June 2011. Retrieved 12 February 2014.
  36. ^ Ryazantsev, Valery. "The death of the "Kursk"" (in Russian). Archived from the original on 20 November 2011. Retrieved 12 February 2014.
  37. ^ Janowicz, Sasha. "THE KURSK". Archived from the original on 3 March 2014. Retrieved 16 January 2017.
  38. ^ Vinterberg, Thomas. "Kursk". IMDb. Retrieved 20 January 2019.

External links[edit]