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Russian submarine Kursk


Russian submarine Kursk

An Oscar II class submarine drawing
Career (Russia)
Name: K-141 Kursk
Namesake: Named after the Russian city Kursk
Laid down: 1992
Launched: 1994
Commissioned: December 1994
Struck: August 2000
Fate: Sank 12 August 2000 with all 118 hands in 100 m (330 ft) of water in Barents Sea
Status: Raised from the seafloor, towed to shipyard, and dismantled
General characteristics
Class & type: Oscar II class submarine
Displacement: 13,400 to 16,400 tonnes (13,200 to 16,100 long tons; 14,800 to 18,100 short tons)
Length: 154.0 m (505.2 ft)
Beam: 18.2 m (60 ft)
Draft: 9.0 m (29.5 ft)
Propulsion: 2 OK-650b nuclear reactors , 2 steam turbines, two 7-bladed propellers
Speed: 32 knots (59 km/h; 37 mph) submerged, 16 knots (30 km/h; 18 mph) surfaced
Test depth: 300 to 500 metres (980 to 1,640 ft) (by various estimates)
Complement: 44 officers, 68 enlisted
Armament: 24 × SS-N-19/P-700 Granit, 4 × 533 mm (21.0 in) and 2 × 650 mm (26 in) torpedo tubes (bow)
Notes: Home port: Vidyaevo, Russia

K-141 Kursk was an Oscar-II class nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine of the Russian Navy, lost with all hands when it sank in the Barents Sea on 12 August 2000. Kursk, full name Атомная подводная лодка «Курск», which, translated, means the nuclear-powered submarine "Kursk" [АПЛ "Курск"] in Russian, was a Project 949A Антей (Antey, Antaeus, also known by its NATO reporting name of Oscar II). It was named after the Russian city Kursk, around which the largest tank battle in military history, the Battle of Kursk, took place in 1943. One of the first vessels completed after the end of the Soviet Union, it was commissioned into the Russian Navy's Northern Fleet.


Work on building Kursk began in 1990 at Severodvinsk, near Arkhangelsk. Launched in 1994, it was commissioned in December of that year. It was the penultimate Oscar II class submarine designed and approved in the Soviet era. At 154 m (505 ft 3 in) long and four stories high, she was the largest attack submarine ever built. The outer hull, made of high-nickel, high-chrome content stainless steel 8.5 millimetres (0.33 in) thick, had exceptionally good resistance to corrosion and a weak magnetic signature which helped prevent detection by magnetic anomaly detector (MAD) systems. There was a 2 metres (6 ft 7 in) gap to the 50.8 millimetres (2.00 in)-thick steel pressure hull.[1]

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 kilometres (62 mi) from Murmansk.[2] 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. The end of the decade saw something of a renaissance for the fleet; in 1999, Kursk carried out a successful reconnaissance mission in the Mediterranean, tracking the United States Sixth Fleet during the Kosovo War. August 2000's training exercise was to have been the largest summer drill — nine years after the Soviet Union's collapse — involving four attack submarines, the fleet's flagship Pyotr Velikiy ("Peter the Great") and a flotilla of smaller ships.


Kursk sortied on an exercise to fire dummy torpedoes at the Kirov-class battlecruiser Pyotr Velikiy. These practice torpedoes had no explosive warheads, and were therefore manufactured and tested to a much lower quality standard.[3] On 12 August 2000, at 11:28 local time (07:28 UTC), there was an explosion while preparing to fire.[4] The most credible report to date indicates the explosion was due to the failure of one of the Kursk's hydrogen peroxide-fueled Type 65 torpedoes.[5] It is believed HTP, a form of highly concentrated hydrogen peroxide used as propellant for the torpedo, seeped through rust in the torpedo casing. (A similar explosion caused by an HTP-fuelled torpedo was responsible for the loss of HMS Sidon in 1955.)[6]

The explosion produced a blast equal to 100–250 kilograms (220–550 lb) of TNT and registered 2.2 on the Richter scale. The submarine sank in relatively shallow water, bottoming at 108 metres (354 ft) about 135 kilometres (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, measured between 3.5 and 4.4 on the Richter scale, equivalent to 3-7 tons of TNT.[7] One of those explosions blew large pieces of debris back through the submarine.

Rescue attempts

Though rescue attempts were offered by the British and Norwegian teams, Russia declined initial rescue offers. All 118 sailors and officers aboard Kursk perished. The Russian Admiralty at first thought that most of the crew died within minutes of the explosion; however, some of the sailors had time to write notes.

Captain Lieutenant Dmitriy Kolesnikov, one of the survivors of the first explosion, survived in Compartment 9 at the very stern of the boat after blasts destroyed the forward spaces of the submarine. Recovery workers found notes on his body. They showed 23 sailors (out of 118 aboard) had waited in the dark with him.

There has been much debate over how long the sailors might have survived. Some point out that many potassium superoxide chemical cartridges, used to absorb carbon dioxide and chemically release oxygen to enable survival, were found used when the craft was recovered, suggesting some of the crew survived for a significant time. Kolesnikov's last note has a time of 15:15, indicating that he and the others in the aft compartment lived at least four hours after the explosion.[8] However 32 hours after the first explosion no attempt was made acoustically (i.e. hull tapping) to signal the Russian Submarine Rescue Vehicle (SRV) Priz when it attempted to mate with the aft escape trunk.[9] Western media criticised the 32 hour response as being very slow however the international published SRDS response time in 2000 was 72 hours.[9]

The oxygen generator cartridges appear to have been the cause of death; a sailor appears to have accidentally brought a cartridge in contact with the sea water, causing a chemical reaction and a flash fire. The official investigation into the disaster showed some men appeared to have survived the fire by plunging under the water. (Fire marks on the walls indicate the water was at waist level in the lower area at this time.) However, the fire rapidly used up the remaining oxygen in the air, causing death by asphyxiation.[10]

While the tragedy of Kursk played out in the Far North, Russia's then President Vladimir Putin, though immediately informed of the tragedy, waited for five days before he broke a holiday at a presidential resort house in subtropical Sochi on the Black Sea before commenting publicly on the loss of the pride of the Northern Fleet. 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."[11]


A consortium formed by the Dutch companies Mammoet and Smit International[12] using the barge Giant 4 eventually raised Kursk and recovered the dead,[13] who were buried in Russia – although three of the bodies were too badly burned to be identified. The heat generated by the first blast detonated the warheads on 5 to 7 torpedoes[14] causing a series of blasts big enough to be measured on a geological seismometer in the area – and those secondary explosions fatally damaged the vessel.

Major concerns existed throughout the salvage operations relating to the armed cruise missiles remaining in the silo compartments, the risk of detonation of unaccounted-for torpedo and torpedo charge fragments, and recriticality or radioactive release from the two nuclear propulsion reactors on board. The London-based nuclear consultant John Large undertook the risk and hazard assessment, adapting this as further facts came to light throughout the salvage period.[15]

Russia said that that the sub's Granit cruise missiles[16] were not carrying nuclear warheads, and no evidence has been provided to the contrary. When the salvage operation raised the boat in 2001, there were considerable fears that preparing to move the wreck could trigger explosions, because the bow was cut off in the process, using a tungsten carbide-studded cable. This tool had the potential to cause sparks which would ignite remaining pockets of volatile gases, such as hydrogen. The successfully recovered portion of Kursk was towed to Severomorsk and placed in a floating dry dock where extensive forensic analysis was accomplished.

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 defuelled the boat in early 2003.[17] The rest of the boat was then dismantled.

In the end the bow was not recovered and was destroyed by explosives in 2002. Only small pieces of the bow were recovered (some torpedo and torpedo tube fragments etc.)


In July 2002, the investigation committee concluded that a technical malfunction on a single Type 65-76 "Kit" (Whale) torpedo caused the first explosion[18][19] triggering a fire in the torpedo room which, 2 minutes later, caused a detonation of additional torpedoes stored in the torpedo room (second explosion).[20] The second explosion destroyed a large section of the submarine (at least 4 of the 9 compartments) killing up to 95 of the 118 crew members and causing the submarine to sink. Around 23 crew members survived the sinking and took refuge in the ninth compartment where they died due to carbon monoxide poisoning following a fire in that compartment (between 6 and 32 hours after the sinking).[9]

See also



  • Gary Weir and Walter Boyne (2003), Rising Tide: The untold story of the Russian submarines that fought the Cold War, Basic Books, NY, NY.
  • Ramsey Flynn (2004), Cry from the Deep: The Submarine Disaster That Riveted the World and Put the New Russia to the Ultimate Test, Harper Collins.
  • Dunmore, S. (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


  • Russian band DDT or ДДТ wrote a song called Kapitan Kolesnikov, or Капитан Колесников about the Kursk.
  • "Barren the Sea" - song about the incident, by Sequoya
  • Scottish band Mogwai wrote the song Travel Is Dangerous about the tragedy from the viewpoint of the men who perished on board the Kursk.
  • Swedish heavy metal wolf wrote a song called K-141 Kursk detailing the events of the disaster
  • Canadian musician Loscil wrote a song called Kursk - an ambient music piece on his album, Submers - an album dedicated to different submarines.
  • English musician Matt Elliott wrote the song The Kursk about the thoughts of a man trapped in the sunken ship.
  • Hungarian metal band Cool Head Clan wrote a song Torpedó about the tragedy of Kursk.


  • "The Kursk" - play about the trapped survivors, By Sasha Janowicz.
  • "Kursk" - a play by playwright Bryony Lavery from the British point of view.

External links

  • Documentary Internet Movie Database
  • Project 949 Granit / Oscar I Project 949A Antey / Oscar II
  • mistakes haunt Russia
  • KURSK on the wrecksite, chart and position
  • memorial website
  • A detailed timeline of the recovery operations
  • , 31-minute technical documentary video

Template:Oscar class submarine

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