The Kursk was a marvel of modern engineering but during a war game conducted by Russia, an explosion in the bow of the ship sent it to the bottom of the Barrets Sea along with 118 Russian Navy men. All but 23 men were killed instantly or within few minutes after the explosion. It is thought that the thick material around the Reacter shielded the 23 men in the compartments behind it towards the stern of the submarine. All the men in compartments 6, 7 and 8 moved to compartment nine at the very back of the ship.
The Initial Events
The Kursk was a nuclear-powered submarine. It was part of the northern Russian fleet and its crew was recognised as the best submarine crew in the northern fleet. The Kursk was 154 meters long. It could travel at a top speed of 32 knots which is equivalent to 59 kilometres an hour and it could dive to a depth of 500 meters below sea level. The Kursk was commissioned in December of 1994, less than six years later its fate would be sealed along with its crew. She served one mission, a six-month deployment in the Mediterranean sea in 1999. Its mission was to monitor the US sixth fleet which was responding to the Kosovo incident.
The war game was the largest naval exercise conducted by Russia in over 10 years. It included 30 ships including the fleet's flagship "Peter The Great". The Kursk was carrying a full set of combat weapons, one of the few Russian navy assets authorised to do so.
Kursk successfully launches a Granite class missile equipped with a dummy war head.
Day 3, the explosion
Kursk prepares its dummy torpedoes, which would have been launched at Peter The Great. It's worth noting that these dummy torpedoes were tested a significantly low-quality standard, this may have contributed towards the disaster the Kursk succumbed too. At 11:28 local Russian time an explosion occurred while preparing to fire the practice torpedoes. The explosion had the same amount of power as 100-200 kilogrammes of TNT. 135 seconds later a second explosion in the bow of the ship was detected with a force equivalent to 3-7 tonnes of TNT. The first three compartments of the submarine collapsed.
Captain-lieutenant Dmitri Kolesnikov and the remaining crew
Second-in-command, Captain-lieutenant Dmitri Kolesnikov, was one of the 23 survivors of the explosions. Realising the Captain was dead he assumed command of the remaining sailors. Kolesnikov had written a note to his wife, Olga, and he had listed the names of the 23 surviving men. The men huddled for warmth. Water was seeping into the submarine and alarming rates due to the pressure experienced at that depth.
As well as the possibility of drowning, the carbon-dioxide filters had become dysfunctional which stopped carbon-dioxide from being filtered out of the air. The potassium superoxide cartridges of the chemical oxygen generator had become contaminated with sea water. This sparked a flash flood that caused the remaining oxygen to burn up. The remaining men were burned to death or suffocated.
Rescue and Recovery
The fleet commander on board Peter The Great realises that Kursk is late to check in. The commander is then informed that two explosions had been detected. Twelve hours later an emergency is declared. Unfortunately, the navy was a victim of Russian budget cuts and it lacked sufficient equipment to recover any survivors. The UK and Norwegian navies offered Russia assistance but they were refused.
The British navy owned a submarine that was designed to recover submarine crews during a disaster. It was capable of carrying 16 people. The submersible was capable of diving to a maximum of 400 feet. The UK also had "Saturation Diving" capabilities, something Russia lacked completely. Saturation Diving allows divers to dive to depths not accessible to regular divers due to the bends. Rescue attempts failed and all crew was lost. President Putin was informed of the events during his holiday but he chose to remain at the resort in Sochi. This is was frowned upon by the public and his approval ratings plummeted. He would later regret this decision.
Investigation and Conclusion
The Kursk was raised by two Dutch companies Mammoet and Smit international. The Russian government ordered them to raise all of the Kursk except for the bow, where the explosions occurred. A tungsten carbide cable was used to cut the bow from rest of the submarine. The submarine was raised and placed on a floating dry dock for analysis. Torpedo fragments were recovered from the bow before the bow was destroyed by a deliberate explosion in 2002.
The final report detailed the events that caused the Kursk and it's crew to perish. A faulty weld on one of the torpedoes caused high-test peroxide(HTP) to leak from the casing. HTP is used as the propellant for torpedoes. When HTP comes in contact with oxygen it expands by a factor of 5000. The pressure produced by the expansion ruptured kerosene fuel tanks and set off the first explosion. Everyone in the first compartment was killed. The explosion the reached the second, third and possible fourth compartment where it killed or incapacitated anyone in its way. The explosion caused a fire which raised the temperature of the rooms to over 2,700 °C. This set activated the warheads of additional onboard torpedoes, causing the second explosion.