Soviet submarine K-219

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K-219 was a Navaga-class ballistic missile submarine (NATO reporting name "Yankee I") of the Soviet Navy. She carried 16 (later 15) SS-N-6 liquid-fuel missiles powered by UDMH with IRFNA, equipped with an estimated 34 nuclear warheads.[1]

K-219 was involved in what has become one of the most controversial submarine incidents in the Cold War.


The incident

On 3 October 1986, while on patrol 680 miles (1,090 km) northeast of Bermuda, K-219 suffered an explosion and fire in a missile tube. The seal in a missile hatch cover failed, allowing seawater to leak into the missile tube and react with residue from the missile's liquid fuel. The Soviet Navy claimed that the leak was caused by a collision with the submarine USS Augusta. Augusta was certainly operating in proximity, but the United States Navy denies any collision.[2] K-219 had previously experienced a similar casualty; one of her missile tubes was already disabled and welded shut, having been permanently sealed after an explosion caused by reaction between seawater leaking into the silo and missile fuel residue.[3]

The authors of the book Hostile Waters reconstructed the incident from descriptions by the survivors, ships' logs, the official investigations, and participants both ashore and afloat from the Soviet and the American sides.[4] Shortly after 0530 Moscow time, seawater leaking into silo six of K-219 reacted with missile fuel, producing nitric acid.[5] K-219 weapons officer Alexander Pertachkov attempted to cope with this by disengaging the hatch cover and venting the missile tube to the sea.[6] Shortly after 0532, an explosion occurred in silo six.[7] The remains of the RSM-25 rocket and its two warheads were ejected from silo six into the sea.[8]

An article in Undersea warfare by Captain First Rank (Ret.) Igor Kurdin, Russian Navy - K-219's XO at the time of the incident - and Lieutenant Commander Wayne Grasdock, USN described the explosion occurrence as follows:

Three sailors were killed outright in the explosion. The vessel surfaced to permit its twin nuclear reactors to be shut down, which was only accomplished when a 19-year old enlisted seaman, Sergei Preminin, sacrificed his life to secure one of the onboard reactors. He had secured it and tried to reach his comrades on the other side of a door, but he couldn't open it and died of radiation poisoning. Captain Second Rank Igor Britanov was ordered to have the ship towed by a Soviet freighter back to Gadzhievo, her home port, some 7,000 kilometres (4,300 mi) away.

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