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Harsh Orders From Soviet Command Authority Ashore

By Bruce Rule - Feb 28, 2015

The archived article “Two Soviet Submarine Diaasters” discusses the sinking of the NOVEMBER Class SSN K-8 in the Bay of Biscay on 12 April 1970, the result of fires and flooding in rough seas. The CO, Captain 2nd Rank Vsevolod Borisovich Bessono, had ordered his entire crew to abandon ship but was countermanded once a towing vessel arrived. Fifty-two crewmen, including the CO, re-boarded the surfaced submarine which lost stability and sank with those 52 still onboard..

Fourteen years later, Soviet Command Authority, upset over the inability of Captain Second Rank Igor A. Britanov to resume his WESTLANT missile patrol after a missile-fuel explosion and major resulting damage to the YANKEE Class SSBN K-219 on 3 October 1986, ordered the crew to return to their submarine from a Soviet merchant ship which was towing the K-219. Before that order could be executed, the K-219 sank on 6 October.

The linked site provides a detailed discussion of the sequence of events that led to the loss of the K-219. As previously discussed in an archived article, this document also discusses use of “single echelon” propulsion mode: one SSTG with its associated main propulsion power train in stand-by. The source of most of this information was the CO.

The K-219 discussion, information on the loss of the MIKE Class Soviet SSN in the book FIRE AT SEA: THE TRAGEDY OF THE SOVIET SUBMARINE KOMSOMOLETS, and internet sources on the loss of the USS COCHINO (SS-345) in 1949 in the Barents Sea confirm that submarine disasters often involve a sequence of interacting events that cannot be reconstructed without extensive communications and/or the testimony of survivors. Indeed, such sequences of events can also be “counter-intuitive:” not thought to possibly have happened. Examples include the loss of the GOLF Class SSB K-129 in which a probable battery explosion and missile ignition occurred within 17 seconds and the USS THRESHER when a reactor scam (not discussed in comms as other than as a “minor difficulty”) and the inability to blow ballast resulted in the loss of that submarine.

Conclusion: in the absence of collateral information – such as comms, survivors or acoustics, the reason for a submarine disaster may main unknown, as has been the case with the loss of the Israeli submarine DAKAR (see archived article) lost in the eastern Mediterranean in January 1968. All that is known from imagery of the wreck is that the pressure-hull was intact until it imploded at great depth. What precipitated that extremis situation is unknown.

In fact, it should always be considered a possibility (probability?) that a submarine disaster has occurred because events considered unlikely to have been coincident or sequential actually did occur. Of the multiple submarine disasters the writer has researched, only the SCORPION appears to have been the result of a single event: a battery explosion as first established in 1970 by the SCORPION Structural Analysis Group but dismissed by the Court of Inquiry.