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 Anniversary of Kursk disaster infographic
Graphic shows steps in the recovery of the Kursk (K-141) submarine.


20th anniversary of the Kursk submarine disaster

By Duncan Mil

August 12, 2020 - An explosion in the bow section of the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk nuclear submarine sinks after two explosions rip through torpedo compartments. Russian authorities do not admit disaster for two days. Vessel and all 118 crew lost

Aug 15: Russian navy attempts to evacuate 118-strong crew

Aug 17: British mini-submarine and team of Norwegian divers begin rescue attempt after Russia belatedly agrees to accept international assistance

Aug 18: President Vladimir Putin returns from holiday amid mounting criticism over his lack of involvement in rescue operation

Aug 21: Norwegian divers open escape hatches at rear of submarine. They confirm vessel is completely flooded and all 118 crew are dead

October 2001, An international team led by Mammoet-SMIT recover the wreck and deliver it to the Murmansk drydock in October 2001.

At the time of the disaster, the Kursk was taking part in a major fleet exercise, along with the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov and battlecruiser Pyotr Velikity. Kursk was fully armed with Granit missiles and torpedoes and was to make a simulated attack on Kuznetsov.

At 11:20am local time, an underwater explosion rocked the exercise area, followed two minutes later by a huge blast. A Norwegian seismic monitoring station recorded both explosions.

Kursk sank in 108 metres (354 feet) of water at a 20-degree vertical angle. One of the explosions ripped a large gash in her bow, near the torpedo compartment. A Russian Navy board of inquiry later concluded that one of the submarine’s Type 65-76A super heavyweight torpedoes had exploded, causing the gash. The second explosion would have been the detonation of the remaining warheads aboard the submarine.

The Type 65-76As uses hydrogen peroxide as fuel. The danger is that this chemical can become explosive if it comes into contact with organic compounds. The first explosion was likely caused by a faulty weld that failed to hold the hydrogen peroxide fuel chamber together.

The disaster didn’t kill all of its 118 crew members right away. One of the ship’s officers, Lieutenant Captain Dmitri Koselnikov, left a note dated two hours after the second explosion recording 23 survivors trapped in the five rear chambers of the submarine. Hoping to save themselves they passed from one section to the next, gathering in the ninth compartment, at the stern of the submarine, where the rear escape hatch was located.

The Russian Navy failed to realise that the submarine had sunk. It took 11 hours for the sinking to be declared an emergency. Russian President Vladimir Putin received public criticism over his handling of the disaster. Putin, who was then on vacation at a seaside resort, refused international help and only accepted assistance from Britain and Norway five days after the accident.

PUBLISHED: 11/08/2020; STORY: Graphic News