Soviet submarine K-278 Komsomolets

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K-278 Komsomolets was the only Project 685 Плавник (Plavnik, meaning "fin", also known by its NATO reporting name of "Mike"-class) nuclear-powered attack submarine of the Soviet Navy. The boat sank in 1989 and is currently resting on the floor of the Barents Sea with its nuclear reactor and two nuclear warheads still on board.

Contents

Design

Project 685 was tasked with developing an advanced submarine that could carry a mix of torpedoes and cruise missiles with conventional or nuclear warheads. The order to design the submarine was issued in 1966 and design was completed in 1974. The first (and only) keel was laid down on 22 April 1978 at Severodvinsk. K-278 was launched on 3 June 1983 and commissioned on 28 December 1983.

K-278 had a double hull, the inner one being composed of titanium, which gave her an operating depth far greater than that of the best American submarines. The pressure hull was composed of seven compartments with the second and third protected by stronger forward and after bulkheads creating a "safety zone" in case of an emergency. An escape capsule was fitted in the sail above these compartments to enable the crew to abandon ship in the event of an underwater emergency. Initial Western intelligence estimates of K-278’s speed were based on the assumption that it was powered by a pair of liquid-metal lead-bismuth reactors. When the Soviet Union revealed that the submarine used a single conventional pressurized-water reactor, these estimates were lowered.

In October 1988, K-278 was honored by becoming one of the few Soviet submarines to be given an actual name: Комсомолец (Komsomolets, meaning "a member of the Young Communist League"), and her commanding officer, Captain 1st Rank Yuriy Zelenskiy was honored for diving to a depth of 1020 meters (3,345 feet).

Sinking

On 7 April 1989, while under the command of Captain 1st Rank Evgeny Vanin and running submerged at a depth of 335 metres (1,099 ft) about 180 kilometres (100 nmi) southwest of Bear Island (Norway)[1], fire broke out in the aft compartment, and even though watertight doors were shut, the resulting fire spread through bulkhead cable penetrations. The reactor scrammed and propulsion was lost. Electrical problems spread as cables burned through, and control of the boat was threatened. An emergency ballast tank blow was performed and the submarine surfaced eleven minutes after the fire began. Distress calls were made, and most of the crew abandoned ship.

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