Little Bits of History

April 7

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 7, 2017

1989: K-278 Komsomolets sinks. It was the only Project 685 Plavnik (fin) nuclear-powered attack submarine of the Soviet Navy. It’s NATO reporting name was “Mike class” and it was part of the fourth generation of nuclear subs built by the USSR. She was laid down on April 22, 1978 and launched on June 3, 1983 with commission coming on December 28 of that year. The 385 foot long submarine had a top speed of 14 knots or 16 mph while surfaced and 30 knots or 35 mph while submerged. A fully staffed ship would have 33 officers, 21 warrant or petty officers, and 15 enlisted men aboard.

The sub was designed by Rubin Design Bureau for Project 685 in order to craft a submersible capable of carrying a mix of torpedoes and cruise missiles with either conventional or nuclear warheads. The call for designs was issued in 1966 and it was completed in 1974. The double hulled Komsomolets was able to dive deeper than the best American subs because of the titanium inner hull. The pressure hull had seven compartments with stronger forward and aft bulkheads which created a safety zone in case of emergency. Also included in the design was an escape capsule filled into the sail above the stronger compartments which would allow the crew to abandon ship in an underwater emergency. There were many automated systems included which allowed for fewer crewmembers than would be expected for a submarine of that size.

On August 4, 1984 Komsomolets was recorded at a submergence of 3,350 feet in the Norwegian Sea. This proved she was able to withstand the pressure for which the ship was designed. On this day, under the command of Captain 1st Rank Evgeny Vanin, the ship was cruising at a depth of 1,099 feet and had traveled about 100 nautical miles southwest of Bear Island, Norway. A fire broke out in the engine room due to a short circuit. The watertight doors were shut, but the fire spread along the bulkhead cable penetrations and soon propulsion was lost. As the cables burned, more electrical problems emerged and control was threatened. An emergency ballast tank blow was done so the ship could surface eleven minutes after the fire broke out. Distress calls were sent and most of the crew abandoned ship.

Komsomolets was able to remain on the surface for several hours as the fire continued to burn, fed by compressed air. The ship was unable to be saved and at 3.15 PM local time, it sank into 5,510 feet of water. The captain and four others still on board were able to enter the escape capsule and make their way to the surface but only one of the five escaped the capsule before it sank in the rough waters. Rescue aircraft arrived and dropped small rafts but many of the men had already died of hypothermia. In all 42 of the 69 crew died, including the captain. Four died in the fire and 34 froze or drowned in the bitterly cold water awaiting a slow to arrive rescue. The ship with its nuclear reactor and two nuclear warheads remains a mile underwater.

The question of whether a computer can think is no more interesting than the question of whether a submarine can swim. – Edsger Dijkstra

In the long course of history, having people who understand your thought is much greater security than another submarine. – J. William Fulbright

I’ve been to the Titanic in a yellow submarine and the North Pole in a Russian nuclear ice breaker. – Buzz Aldrin

My own grandfathers were a submarine commander and a ‘desert rats’ tank operator in the Second World War. – Benedict Cumberbatch


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