Anniversary of Kursk disaster – 17 years later, no one has been brought to justice


August 12 , 2017 – Fort Russ News – 

Rusvesna – translated by Inessa Sinchougova

On August 12, 2000 at 11:28 cruiser Peter the Great recorded a violent hydraulic signal in area of exercises of the Russian Northern Fleet. At that time, they did not attach much importance to this.

Five hours later, a communication session with a submarine K-141 “Kursk” was scheduled. But at the appointed time there was silence. The admirals who led the exercises became worried, but no one thought that one of the greatest tragedies of our time was unfolding.

Submarine in troubled times

Even in the Brezhnev era, the command of the fleet of the Soviet Union reflected on how to confront aircraft carrier groups of the United States. A similar program for the construction of heavy aircraft carriers, the USSR could not afford. Therefore, an aymmetric answer to this challenge was decided.

The submarines of Project 949A were born, they are the Antei, underwater missile cruisers. These monsters, nine-storey house size were equipped with anti-ship missiles “Granite”.

True, the original design of the Anteev contained many controversial decisions.

During the 1980s, the Antei were gradually put into operation in the Pacific and Northern Fleets. They became a kind of last gift of the Soviet shipbuilding program to the naval forces of modern Russia: the last of 11 submarines were delivered in August 1991, when the USSR was already disintegrating.

Submarines received names of Russian cities: Krasnodar, Irkutsk, Voronezh … The tenth Antei, founded in 1990 and launched in 1994, received the number of K-141 and the name “Kursk”.

In the 1990s Kursk operated in the Northern Fleet. This period was incredibly difficult for the country and the fleet, which affected, of course, the condition of the submarine, as well as the qualifications of the crew and command. All the problems of the then Russian Armed Forces affected the capabilities of the Kursk. The lack of funds did not allow for constant training. In 1998 and 1999, the Kursk never conducted torpedo firing at sea.

In the summer of 2000, the planned repair of the ship began, with many violations of the regulations. By July the crew had not been out to sea for almost nine months. Now it was to participate in large scale exercises of the Northern Fleet together with other warships.

The only rescue vessel of the fleet did not receive any tasks in connection with the preparation of the exercises, and the diving boat participating in them did not have deep-sea divers.

At the same time, the task posed to the sailors of the Kursk were not at all elementary. Kursk received “Kit” torpedoes, which the crew had never fired before. On board there were no relevant operational documents. The Kursk team was simply not skilled enough in the use of this particular type of torpedo. 

August 10, “Kursk” went into its last campaign and began to implement the program of exercises. On the 12th at 08:45 am the submarine commander Gennady Lyachin got in touch and informed that everything is going according to plan. At ten o’clock the boat takes up positions for training firing.

Dying hopes

Later, the death of “Kursk” gave rise to many versions of what happened on board. However, some points can be judged accurately. At 11:28 the torpedo explodes in the first compartment. All who are in the first and second compartments are killed on the spot, and inside there is a high-temperature fire.

The sailors, who were in the third compartment, begin to go to the stern, but manage to pass only to the fourth. The submarine hits the ocean floor at a depth of 108 meters.

At this point, because of the fire, the remaining torpedoes on board are detonated. The blast wave travels through the compartments. It was stopped only by heavy-duty bulkheads around the nuclear reactor.

There were 23 sailors in the aft compartments. The signal buoy, which could indicate the exact location for the search, was blocked. The surviving submariners assembled in the ninth compartment after the nuclear reactor was shut down. 135 seconds passed between the explosions.

Strangely enough, no one reacted to the report of the acousticians from Peter the Great, who were first to record the hydraulic impact; the submarine was not firing, and then it did not get in touch at the scheduled time.

The cruiser Peter the Great began to signal. No answer. Only half an hour before midnight the fleet raised an alarm and rescuers went to sea.

At 04:51 in the morning the submarine was spotted lying on the ocean floor. “Rudnitsky” arrives around 9am the next day. The trouble wass that the Northern Fleet did not have the necessary equipment to retrieve to the boat, and the level of training of sailors was inadequate.

At this time in the stern compartment of the “Kursk” the last sailors were painfully dying.

Part of the light on their fate is shed by Captain Lieutenant Dmitry Kolesnikov. He compiled a list of those gathered at the stern, briefly described the state of affairs and, finally, wrote a couple of lines for his wife Olga. The officer understood that, most likely, he would die: “the chances seem to be a little, 10-20 percent.”

Nevertheless, there was no panic among those who remained on board. To avoid flooding, the submariners slightly increased the pressure and put on insulated suits. There was no lighting, but so far the lights were functioning. Apparently, people tried to communicate with other parts of the submarine: the phone for communication between the compartments was connected to the network.

Theoretically, the sailors could be rescued through the escape hatch. However, the rescue equipment was insufficient for everyone. Self-evacuation through the emergency escape hatch is generally a gesture of desperation than a real opportunity to leave the boat.

The Kolesnikov group had the opportunity to hold on for quite some time due to the air regeneration system. Nevertheless, the situation inevitably worsened. Water slowly seeped in to the the ninth compartment.

Lieutenant-captain Sadylenko also sketched wrote a  text about the state of affairs inside, and it becomes clear from him how awful the last hours were:

“In the 9th compartment there are 23 people. The state of health is poor, weakened by carbon monoxide. The regeneration cartridges are coming to an end. When entering the surface, we can not withstand the compression. We will not last more than a day. “

Soon there was an event that further reduced the life time of the remaining crew. The emergency regeneration of air on was provided by devices based on potassium peroxide and sodium, releasing oxygen. 

During the recharging of the regeneration device, the machine oil got onto its plates. From the explosions and blows, the pipelines burst, the compartment was oily, and the sailors had to manipulate in the dark, at best – in the light of emergency lights. 

Instantly a chemical reaction followed, causing a short but very intense fire. It quickly died out, and the sailors were not burned. However, the fire burned out oxygen, which remained in the ninth compartment, and filled the premises with carbon monoxide, which killed everyone who was still alive.

In fact, this meant that at the beginning of the rescue operation there was no one to save.

Powerless rescuers

In fact, by the time Rudnitsky appeared on the scene, the operation was only about extracting the bodies. On the very first day of work, the command of the Northern Fleet gave a false hope to the whole country. It was announced that contact was established with the crew, and signals were sounded from within by knocking. The horrible reality was that the anchor chain was knocking on the anchor hawk.

The command of the fleet were too quick to report the alleged contact with the country’s top leadership and the public.

In the media, insane messages were transmitted, claiming that the submarine was supplied with electricity and oxygen, and communication was established with the personnel. The irresponsible behavior of both the command and the media only fueled the fire. The rumour mill was quick to blame the top leadership for deliberately not lifting the Kursk, with foreign help, due to its top secret nature. 

As the hopes for the salvation of at least part of the team faded, emotions spilled outward. Not only relatives of sailors, but the whole country was outraged.

August 19, Norwegian rescuers arrived. Divers, examining the site, according to indirect data decided that, apparently, the ninth compartment is flooded.

Soon they open the hatch and find an air bubble – but not a single living person. On the 21st of the afternoon the commander of the Northern Fleet reported the death of the crew.

An investigation began, but it could not give any answers before it could raise the boat to the surface. The rise of the “Kursk” became a separate complex international project. In 2001, 115 bodies of the dead were retrieved and buried. However, after the mourning events, many questions remained.


The investigation examined a wide range of versions. Theories of a collision with another ship, ta faulty torpedo or missile from the outside, a terrorist attack, mines from the 1940s.

Far more widely dispersed and much more popular was the version of a collision with an American submarine.

This version was secretly disseminated by some senior officers of the Northern Fleet, the benefit of a treacherous attack is to write off all responsibility and allows you not to answer questions about your own professional level.

However, during the investigation, this version also appeared unlikely. NATO submarines, of course, were in the Barents Sea. American submarines, theoretically could have collided with the Russian sub, but they are much smaller than the Kursk and the collision with a torpedo would simply destroy them.

To justify the version of Americans’ involvement, we would have to overlook too many inconsistencies: another submarine entering the zone of exercises, which was not spotted by any party, for some reason let out a torpedo against the Kursk, without leaving any traces to the site of firing.

Inside the submarine, there were no fragments of a foreign torpedo. Traces of an external explosion and explosives are also not found. On the other hand, traces of deformation from the internal explosion of the torpedo tube No. 4 were found.

The assumption of the random ram of the Kursk by a surface ship has an obvious weak point: everyone who was on board the surviving ship should have felt such a blow.

What happened in reality? Judging by the known information, there was an explosion of a “practical” (training) torpedo. In the torpedo 65-76, which was used that day at the Kursk, hydrogen peroxide and kerosene are used. Upon contact with kerosene, hydrogen peroxide decomposes into water and oxygen with a monstrous release of heat (up to 3 thousand degrees), then simply, it explodes.

Traces of this explosion were found on the surviving fragments of a torpedo raised from the bottom. The question is whether there was an explosion as a result of a defect in the torpedo or as a result of the actions of the crew. The investigation concluded the first option.

A number of circumstances speak in favor of this version of events. Inspections conducted in the Northern Fleet after the disaster, revealed the same blatant violations. Torpedoes showed signs of rust, corrosion, many knots and mechanisms of torpedoes were used far beyond the expiration date.

Regardless of whether the torpedo was faulty or the crew did not have the skills to handle it, sending Kursk to the sea was an insane initiative and a huge failure of the Russian Navy at the time. The investigation concluded a legitimate accident, albeit not without negligence – but no one was brought to justice.

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