Mystery of the Kursk Submarine Disaster: A Closer Look at the Watertight Leviathan of the Russian Navy

Kursk Submarine Disaster: It was meant to be watertight. Even a direct torpedo attack would be able to avoid striking it. As a battle machine, the Kursk had an almost legendary reputation, making it a leviathan. The pride of the Russian navy was this enormous nuclear submarine, which was the size of two large jets.

No one in Russia could quite believe it when, during training in the Barents Sea a year ago this month, a tremendous explosion tore open the steel nose of the Kursk. Massive enough to be compared to an earthquake with a Richter value of 4.2, the boom was felt in Alaska.

Few people will soon forget the images of distraught family members, who were waiting at the quayside for word on the sailors and were becoming more and more enraged with the government’s misinformation campaign. Upon reflection, those sequences appear even more brutal because the navy must have known from the beginning that there was no chance of saving the crew.

Conspiracy theorists had their fill regarding the Kursk catastrophe, with some of the craziest theories coming from the top of the Russian naval hierarchy. Initially, there were rumors that a friendly fire drill or a vintage World War II mine may have hit the submarine. The catastrophe claimed the lives of all 118 crew members, dealing a severe blow to Russian military prowess and the standing of newly elected President Vladimir Putin, who refused to interrupt his vacation to address the situation.

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The Story of the Kursk Submarine Disaster

The city of Kursk, the site of the Kursk war, is where the Russian submarine Kursk got its name. This 1943 engagement is recognized as the greatest combat tank engagement in Army history.

Understanding the Kursk submarine disaster is crucial, not only because of the accident itself but also because of the naval ship’s design and the theories that emerged after it sank on August 12, 2000, at 11:28 a.m. local Russian time, in the Barents Sea.

From the perspective of the waning Russian military, the nuclear submarine Submarine Kursk was crucial in demonstrating Russia’s supremacy in nuclear power. But for the highly advanced Russian submarine members, classified as K-141 cadre, what was meant to be a routine Russian naval practice turned out to be the greatest nightmare when the submarine detonated and drowned in the deep blue water, murdering every person on board.

Kursk Submarine Disaster
(Credit: Wikipedia)

On the 1994-built Oscar II Class submarine belonging to the Russian Northern Fleet, 118 crew members perished. The submarine did not have nuclear warheads on board, according to navy officials. There could therefore be no radioactive leaks. Days passed as the rescue effort was ongoing, and other countries, including Britain, joined in. But no one was able to get in touch with the doomed submarine via radio. Poor visibility, inclement weather, and freezing seas complicated rescue efforts.

After two blasts, the submarine sank to a depth of just 350 feet below the surface. The rear compartment served as a safe haven for 23 crew members while they awaited assistance. But it was already too late. They were discovered dead within the container, most likely from carbon monoxide poisoning, when the Norwegian divers opened it.

Before beginning a search and rescue operation, the bewildered Russian fleet command delayed for several hours and even rejected offers of help from the west. Their Russian mini-submarines were unable to complete the mission. President Vladimir Putin came under fire for improperly managing the rescue operation after the disaster rocked the country.

Following the occurrence, the following is a list of some of the numerous explanations that were put forth:

  • A former Russian admiral suggested that an American torpedo that struck Kursk and exploded the submarine’s dual-pressurized hulls may have been to blame for the country’s worst naval disaster since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
  • These conjectures stemmed from the fact that the tremendous explosion also caused damage to the western submarine, which also signaled for help.
  • Three US submarines were observed close to the scene of the accident, according to claims from the Russian media.
  • Although Moscow acknowledged the NATO Submarine’s unverified assertion, US officials rejected the accusation that the mishap was caused by a British submarine.
  • The second idea put forth was that when the submarine struck the seabed, its internal weaponry exploded, resulting in an enormous number of casualties.

The most plausible and well-supported argument, however, is that the undersea torpedo was filled with propellant of lower grade, which caused an explosion. Regular exercises simulating the military were being conducted at the same time. The key major culprit, which caused an explosion that resulted in an even larger explosion, has been identified as the submarine’s torpedo’s use of hydrogen peroxide. It should be mentioned in this context that hydrogen peroxide’s explosive, flammable, and volatile properties led the British navy to outlaw its use as a liquid propellant.

In keeping with the other military ships, the general agreement regarding the chronology of the casualties was two explosions that took place two minutes apart. Trinitrotoluene (TNT) force was released in two different ways: the first explosion released around 100–250 kg of TNT force, while the second explosion released approximately 3–7 tons.

The initial explosion’s density was 2.2 on the Richter scale, and the second explosion’s thickness density ranged from 3.5 to 4.4. Of the 118-man crew, 95 perished instantly when the submarine burst, and the remaining 23 fought for their life in an interior compartment for almost 24 hours before meeting a terrible end.

For a considerable amount of time, the magnitude and impact of the explosions on the submarine raised concerns about an impending nuclear catastrophe. However, these worries were quickly allayed when the nuclear reactors were turned down and no unusual nuclear activity was conducted on the submarine.

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Kursk Submarine Disaster: People’s reaction

Kursk Submarine Disaster
(Credit: RFE/RL)

The incident’s most striking feature is how persistently Russian officials refuse to acknowledge how serious the situation is. They refused rescue assistance from the United States and the United Kingdom. This blatant rejection of the desperately needed assistance that might have saved the lives of the 23 people on board the ship painted a poor picture of the Russian government.

For the Kursk submarine crew, it was too late when, five days after the tragedy, the Russian government eventually gave in and permitted Western rescue assistance to be sent. The 118 members were all dead.

These soldiers frequently served their country without receiving a fair compensation for their devoted naval service, so their death was quite tragic. Innocent lives were sacrificed in order to climb the previously obtained pedestal of military dominance and unwelcome pride. A year after the accident in 2001, the Dutch salvage company was able to raise the submarine’s remains from the ocean floor. The relatives of the crew members received much-needed solace when the bodies of 115 of the 118 dead were found.

The Kursk catastrophe occurred more than ten years ago. The parents and other loved ones on board the submarine Kursk will always remember that day, even though many others around the world may have forgotten about it. Even though the Kursk submarine and her crew are no longer with us, the question of whether the catastrophe could have been avoided will never truly go away.

The torpedo compartment may still contain live warheads, and the Russian government has stated that it would be too risky to lift it.

However, many Russian critics feel they are afraid that if they did, investigators would be able to conclusively show that a malfunctioning torpedo, rather than a collision, caused the catastrophe.

Would the families of the 118 sailors who perished in the mishap ever be able to forgive the individuals who had allowed such weapons, which were known to be extremely unstable, to be on board?

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