The Kursk was one of Russia’s most advanced submarines so it was a shock as well as a complete tragedy when the vessel was shattered by an explosion that was to cost 118 lives.
The events of that day, back in August 2000 will always be remembered as one of the worst peacetime accidents in Russian naval history.
About the Kursk
The Kursk was a Russian Oscar II Class Submarine which is a term used for a class of submarine that is primed to carry cruise missiles. The Oscar Class grew from a submarine known as Project 949 which was developed in the 1970’s.
In simple terms, this was one of the most advanced military submarines in the World.
The fateful day
On the 12th of August 2000, the Kursk was set to take part in an exercise where dummy torpedoes were to be fired at the Battle Cruiser Pyotr Veliky.
A Torpedo was duly loaded into the number four tube but a leak in the fuel system caused Hydrogen Peroxide to leak into the casing. The resulting build up of pressure was unsustainable and in time, a powerful explosion was the inevitable result.
The explosion itself registered a small seismic signature several hundred kilometres away but it was contained enough for some crew to survive. As the vessel sunk to the sea bed however, a much larger explosion was registered.
Although many of the crew were killed instantly, it became evident that others were still alive and the rescue attempts that followed were accompanied by great controversy.
Each of the vessels employed in the operation were unaware of the Kursk’s fate and had assumed that the explosions were as a result of scheduled depth charges. It wasn’t for several hours that the Kursk’s silence was finally taken as a sign of distress.
As the full facts became known, it became apparent that twenty three crew had survived both explosions and were still alive in the wreck of the Kursk. Russia tried to play down the Kursk disaster in these early stages but in time, the world’s media became aware of the scale of the situation.
Offers of help
The twenty three men were gathered in the ninth compartment which contained the secondary escape hatch. This hatch was either damaged so that it didn’t open or the men chose the option to sit tight and wait for a rescue.
Offers of assistance were received from the US and from the British governments but the Russian authorities refused these until four days after the explosions. Finally, on the 20th of August, eight days after the Kursk disaster, British and Norwegian deep sea divers reached the ninth compartment and confirmed that it was completely flooded. As a result, the remote hope of finding anyone alive had gone.
After the initial investigation, deputy Russian Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov said: “What is absolutely clear is that the destruction we spoke about during the past year…was caused by the initial explosion of one of the torpedoes.”
In time, the bodies of the crew and the majority of the Kursk were brought to the surface to bring to an end one of the biggest peacetime tragedies to befall the Russian military.
For a fascinating Kursk timeline I recommend checking out this infographic from RIA Novosti.