Russian submarine Kursk

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Russian Naval Ensign

Laid down: 1992
Launched: 1994
Commissioned: December 1994
Fate: lost at sea August 12, 2000
General Characteristics
Displacement: 13.400t/16.400t
Length: 154.0 m
Beam: 18.2 m
Propulsion: 1 nuclear reactor OK-650b, 2 steam turbines, 2/7-bladed props
Speed: 30 kts
Armament: 24/SS-N-19/P-700 Granit,4/533mm and 2/650 mm bow TT
Crew: officer-44 enlisted-68

K-141 Kursk was a Project 949A Антей (Antey, Antaeus; also known by its NATO reporting name of "Oscar-II" class) nuclear cruise missile submarine named after the Russian city Kursk, where one of the biggest battles of World War II took place (Battle of Kursk). She was commissioned into the Northern Fleet of the Russian Navy. Kursk sank on August 12, 2000 with all hands lost.



Construction of the Kursk began in Severodvinsk, near Archangelsk, in 1992. She was launched for the first time in 1994 and formally commissioned in December of that year. The ship was "baptized" by an Orthodox priest in 1995. The Kursk was the last of the large Oscar-II class submarines to be designed and approved in the Soviet era. At 155 metres in length, and four storeys high, it was the largest attack submarine ever built. The class had also been described as "unsinkable" on account of its double hull. The outer hull, made of high-nickel high-chrome content steel just one-third of an inch thick, had exceptionally good resistance to corrosion and a weak magnetic signature which helped prevent detection by Magnetic Anomaly Detection systems (MAD). There was a two metre gap to the two inch thick steel inner hull.

Kursk formed part of the Russian Northern Fleet. The Fleet had suffered tremendous cutbacks through lack of funding throughout the 1990s. Many submarines had been brought into docks along the Barents Sea and left to rust. All but the most essential frontline equipment was inadequately serviced, including search and rescue equipment. Sailors of the Northern Fleet had gone unpaid in the mid-1990s due to money being re-appropriated before reaching the Arctic North. However the end of the decade represented something of a renaissance for the fleet. In 1999 Kursk had carried out a successful reconnaissance mission in the Mediterranean, spying on the United States Navy's Sixth Fleet during the Kosovo War. The ship's captain, Captain Gennady Lyachin, was made a Hero of Russia on return to Russia. The training exercise of August 2000 was to be the largest summer drill since the collapse of the Soviet Union ten years before, involving four attack submarines and the Fleet's flagship Peter the Great amongst a flotilla of smaller ships.


The mission began in earnest on the morning of August 12, 2000. As part of the exercise Kursk was to fire two dummy torpedoes at the Kirov-class battlecruiser. At 11:28 local time (07:28 UTC), high-test peroxide (HTP), a form of highly concentrated hydrogen peroxide used to provide the explosive propulsion required to fire a torpedo, seeped through rust in the torpedo casing. The HTP reacted with copper and brass in the tube from which the torpedo was fired, causing an unstoppable chemical explosion. The explosion blasted with the force of 100 kg of TNT and registered 1.5 on the Richter scale.

The watertight door isolating the torpedo room from the rest of the sub was left open prior to firing. This was apparently common practice, on account of excess compressed air being released into the torpedo room when a weapon was fired. The open door allowed the blast to rip back through the first two of nine compartments on the huge sub, certainly killing the seven men in the first compartment, and at least injuring or disorienting the thirty-six men in the second compartment.

Although no one can be sure of the events of the next two minutes, it is known that the captain of the ship, in the third compartment, did not have time to send a distress signal. An emergency buoy, designed to release from a submarine automatically when emergency conditions such as rapidly changing pressure or fire are detected and intended to help rescuers locate the stricken vessel, also failed to deploy. In the Mediterranean mission, the previous summer, fears of the buoy accidentally deploying, thereby giving away the sub's position to the US fleet, had led to the buoy being disabled.

Two minutes and fifteen seconds later a much larger explosion ripped through the sub. Seismic data from stations across Northern Europe show that the explosion occurred at the same depth as the sea bed, suggesting that the collision with the sea floor, combined with rising temperatures due to the initial explosion, had caused further torpedoes to blow up. The second explosion was equivalent to 37 tons of TNT, or about a half-dozen torpedo warheads [1] ( and measured 3.5 on the Richter scale.

The explosion ripped a two-metre-square hole in the hull of the craft, designed to withstand depths of 1000 m. The explosion also ripped open the third and fourth compartments. Water poured into these compartments at 90,000 litres per second — killing all those in the compartments, including five officers from 7th SSGN Division Headquarters. The fifth compartment contained the ship's nuclear reactors, encased in a further five inches of steel. The bulkheads of the fifth compartment withstood the explosion, causing the nuclear control rods to stay in place and prevent nuclear disaster. Western experts have expressed strong admiration for the Soviet/Russian engineering skill to create a submarine that withstood so much.

Twenty-three men, working in the sixth through to ninth compartments survived the two blasts. They gathered in the ninth compartment, which contained the secondary escape tunnel (the primary tunnel was in the destroyed second compartment). Captain-lieutenant Dmitri Kolesnikov (one of three officers of that rank surviving) appears to have taken charge, writing down the names of those who were in the ninth compartment. The pressure in the compartment at the time of the explosion was the same as that of the surface. Thus it would be possible from a physiological point of view to use the escape hatch to leave the submarine one man at a time, swimming up through 100 metres of Arctic water in a survival suit, to await help floating at the surface. It is not known if the escape hatch was workable from the inside — opinions still differ about how badly the hatch was damaged. However it is likely that the men rejected using the perilous escape hatch even if it were operable. They may have preferred instead to take their chances waiting for a rescue vessel to clamp itself onto the escape hatch.

It is not known with certainty how long the remaining men survived in the compartment. As the nuclear reactors had automatically shut down, emergency power soon ran out, plunging the crew into complete blackness and falling temperatures. Kolesnikov wrote two further messages, much less tidily than before. In the last, he wrote:

It's dark here to write, but I'll try by feel. It seems like there are no chances, 10-20%. Let's hope that at least someone will read this. Here's the list of personnel from the other sections, who are now in the ninth and will attempt to get out. Regards to everybody, no need to be desperate. Kolesnikov.

There has been much debate over how long the sailors might have survived. Some, particularly on the Russian side, say that they would have died very quickly. Water leaks into a stationary Oscar-II craft through propeller shafts. At 100 m depth, it would have been impossible to plug these. Others point out that the many superoxide chemical cartridges, used to convert carbon dioxide back to oxygen to enable survival, were found used when the craft was recovered, suggesting that they had survived for several days. Ironically, the cartridges appear to have been the cause of death. A sailor appears to have accidentally brought a cartridge in contact with the sea water, causing a chemical reaction and a flash fire. The official investigation into disaster showed that some men appeared to have survived the fire by plunging under the water (the fire marks on the walls indicate the water was at waist level in the lower area at this time). However the fire rapidly used up the remaining oxygen in the air, causing death by asphyxiation.

Alternative claims about the cause of the explosion

  • Almost immediately after the Kursk sinking, Chechen independent news agency Kavkaz-Center ( reported that the explosion in the submarine was caused by a suicide bomber on board, a crew member originating from the Muslim region of Dagestan in southern Russia. Allegedly he blew himself up in support for Muslim fighters in Chechnya.
  • French filmmaker Jean-Michel Carr, in his film Kursk: a Submarine in Murky Waters (Koursk: un sous-marin en eaux troubles [2] (, which aired on 7 January 2005 on French TV channel France 2, alleged -- without any proof being provided -- that Kursk sank because of a collision with a US submarine. According to Carr, the Kursk was performing tests of a new torpedo called Shkval and the tests were being observed by two US submarines on duty in the region, Memphis and Toledo. At some point the Kursk and the Toledo collided, damaging the latter, and in order to discourage the Kursk from pursuing it, the Memphis fired a torpedo into the Russian submarine. According to this titillating but highly unsubstantiated story, the US torpedo would have hit an old type Russian torpedo on the Kursk which did not explode until later, but when the explosion did occur it substantially damaged the Kursk. Carr alleges that Russian president Vladimir Putin deliberately concealed the truth about what happened and let the crew members die, in order not to strain relations with the US Government. (See article in French newspaper Libration ( The New York Times later revealed that Memphis had in fact been observing Kursk during the torpedo tests. Another incident purportedly supporting the truthfulness of this story is that the Toledo took refuge in Bergen, Norway, where no non-Americans were allowed to inspect the submarine in its hidden dock (standard practice). Another circumstance purporting to confirm the story and its coverup is that the USA freed Russia from payment responsibility for a substantial monetary loan and even gave Russia permission to take out another loan. Today the remains of the Kursk have been melted down and destroyed. However, an official 2000 page report, published in 2002, concluded that the Kursk's sinking was caused by a test torpedo that exploded in the torpedo room. Some conspiracy theorists claim that the report was a coverup to further strengthen the relations between Russia and the USA.
  • Nonetheless, knowledgable western submarine experts point out that there are a number of flaws with this arguably paranoid conspiracy theory regarding a collision scenario: (1) A Russian Oscar class submarine has twice the submerged displacement (physical mass) of a U.S. 688-Class submarine; it is therefore not credible from a fundamental physics perspective that the Kursk would have sustained the far worse damage in such a hypothetical collision. (2) U.S. peacetime rules of engagement (ROE) would not in any way have permitted the U.S. submarine to fire upon the Kursk without first being fired upon, and no credible argument has been made by anyone for that scenario. (3) If the alleged collision had actually taken place, the proximity of the colliding U.S. submarine to the Kursk would have prevented the other U.S. submarine captain -- even a fictional 'renegade' one -- from firing a MK-48 acoustic torpedo at the Kursk as this would have equally endangered the other U.S. submarine. (4) While collisions between U.S. and Russian submarines have happened in the past (e.g., USS Baton Rouge (SSN-689)), none have been documented during a weapons test such as Kursk was conducting. Common sense -- in other words, basic self-preservation -- dictates that a substantial stand-off range be employed while observing such tests. A close-quarters situation, much less a collision, would therefore be most highly unlikely. (5) The idea that a U.S. torpedo would be capable of 'hitting' an on-board Russian torpedo -- which only later detonated -- is neither logical nor intelligent.
  • 'Alternative claims' regarding the loss of Kursk have been broadly discredited by notable and credible investigative reports. As noted by The Guardian in its review of two very well done books on this topic, "Kursk, Russia's Lost Pride" and "A Time to Die: The Kursk Disaster" (,7369,791741,00.html): "The hopelessly flawed rescue attempt, hampered by badly designed and decrepit equipment, illustrated the fatal decline of Russia's military power. The navy's callous approach to the families of the missing men was reminiscent of an earlier Soviet insensitivity to individual misery. The lies and incompetent cover-up attempts launched by both the navy and the government were resurrected from a pre-Glasnost era. The wildly contradictory conspiracy theories about what caused the catastrophe said more about a naval high command in turmoil, fumbling for a scapegoat, than about the accident itself."

Rescue attempts

Russian Government Response:

As noted in an excerpt from The Guardian (,7369,791741,00.html): "For President Vladimir Putin, the Kursk crisis was not merely a human tragedy, it was a personal PR catastrophe. Twenty-four hours after the submarine's disappearance, as Russian naval officials made bleak calculations about the chances of the 118 men on board, Putin was filmed enjoying himself, shirtsleeves rolled up, hosting a barbecue at his holiday villa on the Black Sea.

"Several days later, amid growing international concern for the submariners trapped inside with dwindling oxygen supplies, he was still on holiday. Few Russians have forgiven him for the extraordinarily flippant remark he made when he finally gave his assessment of what had happened to the Russian navy's $1bn flagship. Sun-tanned and relaxed, he smiled and said: 'It sank.'

"This was not a time for smiling. It was four days after seismologists had registered a powerful explosion at the bottom of the Barents Sea. On the other side of Russia, several thousand miles from the balmy seaside resort, relatives of the Kursk sailors were arriving at the Arctic port of Murmansk to find out whether anyone had survived. Officials claimed on national television that knocking sounds were audible from inside the hull, indicating that some men might still be alive, yet the Russian rescue effort had so far proved ineffectual. Offers of foreign assistance to help with the rescue operation had been ignored and outrage was mounting across the nation.

"Aside from the inherent drama of the unfolding disaster, the sinking of the Kursk remains fascinating because of the unexpected insight it provided into a regime in transition. Putin's Russia was vividly reflected in the murky waters that swallowed the Kursk.

"Recriminations continue in Moscow. Putin was so dismayed by the searing criticism of his handling of the crisis by Russia's independent television stations that he resolved not to be humiliated again. Truscott charts how the Kremlin punished these critics - stifling one and then another channel, ultimately forcing their closure. Late last year, he exacted punishment on the men whose advice had lulled him into remaining at his villa - 14 senior naval officers were sacked in a one-day Kremlin purge."

Sequence of Events:

Initially the other boats in the exercise, all of whom had detected an explosion, did not report it. Each only knew about their part in the exercise, and ostensibly assumed that the explosion was that of a depth charge, and part of the exercise. It was not until the evening that commanders stated that they became concerned that they had heard nothing from the Kursk. Later in the evening, and after repeated attempts to contact the Kursk had failed, a search and rescue operation was launched. The rescue ship Rudnitsky carrying two submersible rescue vessels, AS-32 and the Priz reached the disaster area at around 8:40 AM the following morning.

The rescue vessels' batteries were in poor condition — draining quickly and difficult to re-charge. The AS-32 proved virtually useless. The Priz was somewhat successful — reaching the Kursk's ninth compartment on Monday afternoon, but failed to dock with it. Bad weather prevented further attempts on Tuesday and Wednesday. A further attempt on Thursday again made contact but failed to create a vacuum seal required to dock.

The United States offered the use of one of its two Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicles, as did the British government. On August 16, 2000, the Russian government asked the British and Norwegian governments for help. A rescue ship was dispatched from Norway on August 17 and reached the site on August 19. British deep-sea divers reached the ninth compartment escape hatch on Sunday 20 August. They were able to determine that the compartment was flooded, and all hope of finding survivors was lost.

Most of the hull of the submarine, except the bow, was raised from the ocean floor by the Dutch salvage companies Smit International and Mammoet in the fall of 2001 and towed back to the Russian Navy's Roslyakovo Shipyard. 115 of the 118 dead were recovered and are buried in Russia.


Crew list

First compartment

  • Senior warrant officer Abdulkadyr ILDAROV
  • Warrant officer Alexei ZUBOV
  • Seaman Ivan NEFEDKOV
  • Seaman Maxim BORZHOV
  • Senior Lieutenant Arnold BORISOV
  • Mamed GADJIEV

Second compartment

Visitors from 7th Submarine Division Headquarters

  • Captain (First Grade) Vladimir BAGRYANTSEV
  • Captain (Second Grade) Yury SHEPETNOV
  • Captain (Second Grade) Viktor BELOGUN
  • Captain (Second Grade) Vasily ISAYENKO
  • Captain (Third Grade) Marat BAIGARIN


  • Captain (First Grade) Gennady LYACHIN
  • Captain (Second Degree) Sergei DUDKO
  • Captain (Second Degree) Alexander SHUBIN
  • Lieutenant-Commander Maxim SAFONOV
  • Sr. Lieutenant Sergei TYLIK
  • Sr. Lieutenant Vadim BUBNIV
  • Captain (Third Grade) Andrei SILOGAVA
  • Lieutenant-Commander Alexander SHEVCHUK
  • Sr. Lieutenant Andrei PANARIN
  • Sr. Lieutenant Boris GELETIN
  • Sr. Lieutenant Sergei UZKIY
  • Captain (Second Grade) Yury SABLIN
  • Captain (Third Grade) Andrei MILYUTIN
  • Lieutenant-Commander Sergei KOKURIN
  • Warrant officer Vladimir KHIVUK
  • Captain (Third Grade) Alexander SADKOV
  • Lieutenant-Commander Mikhail RODIONOV
  • Sr. Lieutenant Sergei YERAKHTIN
  • Warrant officer Yakov SAMOVAROV
  • Senior warrant officer Alexander RUZLYEV
  • Warrant officer Konstantin KOZYREV
  • Senior warrant officer Vladimir FESAK
  • Warrant officer Andrei POLYANSKY
  • Warrant officer Sergei KISLINSKY
  • Warrant officer Sergei GRYAZNYKH
  • Seaman Dmitry MIRTOV
  • Petty officer (2nd class) Dmitry LEONOV
  • Sr. Lieutenant Maxim RVANIN
  • Seaman Andrei DRYUCHENKO
  • Sr. Lieutenant Alexei IVANOV-PAVLOV
  • Warrant officer Viktor PONOMARENKO

Third compartment

  • Lieutenant-Commander Dmitry REPNIKOV
  • Captain (Third Grade) Andrei RUDAKOV
  • Lieutenant-Commander Sergei FITERER
  • Lieutenant-Commander Oleg NOSIKOVSKY
  • Lieutenant-Commander Vitaly SOLOREV
  • Lieutenant-Commander Sergei LOGINOV
  • Sr. Lieutenant Andrei KOROVYAKOV
  • Sr. Lieutenant Alexei KOROBKOV
  • Sr. Lieutenant Alexander GUDKOV
  • Captain (Third Grade) Vyacheslav BEZSOKIRNY
  • Senior warrant officer Igor YERASOV
  • Senior warrant officer Vladimir SVECHKARYEV
  • Senior warrant officer Sergei KALININ
  • Senior warrant officer Igor FEDORICHEV
  • Warrant officer Maxim VISHNYAKOV
  • Warrant officer Sergei CHERNYSHOV
  • Warrant officer Mikhail BELOV
  • Warrant officer Pavel TAVOLZHANSKY
  • Senior warrant officer Sergei VLASOV
  • Warrant officer Sergei RYCHKOV
  • Petty officer (2nd class) Yury ANENKOV
  • Seaman Dmitry KOTKOV
  • Dubbing Seaman Nikolai PAVLOV
  • Seaman Ruslan TRYANICHEV

Fourth compartment

  • Sr. Lieutenant Denis KIRICHENKO
  • Captain Alexei STANKEVICH
  • Warrant officer Vitaly ROMANYUK
  • Senior warrant officer Vasily KICHKIRUK
  • Senior warrant officer Anatoly BELYAEV
  • Chief petty officer of the ship Salovat YANSAPOV
  • Seaman Sergei VITCHENKO
  • Seaman Oleg YEVDOKIMOV
  • Seaman Dmitry STAROSLETSEV
  • Seaman Alexander KHALEPO
  • Seaman Alexei KOLOMEITSEV
  • Seaman Igor LOGINOV

Fourth (B) compartment

  • Captain (Third Grade) Dmitry MURACHYOV
  • Lieutenant-Commander Denis PSHENICHNIKOV
  • Lieutenant-Commander Sergei LYUBUSHKIN
  • Captain (Third Grade) Ilya SHCHAVINSKY
  • Lieutenant-Commander Andrei VASILYEV
  • Captain (Third Grade) Nikolai BELOZYOROV
  • Sr. Warrant Officer Ivan TSYMBAL
  • Warrant Officer Oleg TROYAN
  • Sr. Petty Officer Alexander NEUSTROYEV
  • Seaman Alexei LARIONOV
  • Warrant Officer Vladimir SHABLATOV

Fifth compartment

  • Sr. Lieutenant Vitaly KUZNETSOV
  • Sr. Warrant Officer Nail KHAFIZOV
  • Sr. Warrant Officer Yevgeny GORBUNOV
  • Warrant Officer Valery BAIBARIN

Sixth compartment

  • Lieutenant-Commander Rashid ARYAPOV
  • Warrant Officer Alexei BALANOV
  • Sr. Lieutenant Alexei MITYAYEV
  • Chief Petty Officer Vyacheslav MAINAGASHEV
  • Seaman Alexei KORKIN

Seventh compartment

  • Lieutenant-Commander Dmitry KOLESNIKOV
  • Warrant Officer Fanis ISHMURADOV
  • Petty Officer, Second Class, Vladimir SADOVOI
  • Seaman Roman KUBIKOV
  • Seaman Alexei NEKRASOV
  • Petty Officer, First Class, Reshid ZUBAIDULLIN
  • Seaman Ilya NALYOTOV
  • Petty Officer, Second Class, Roman ANIKIYEV
  • Sr. Warrant Officer Vladimir KOZADYOROV

Eight compartment

  • Lieutenant-Commander Sergei SADILENKO
  • Sr. Warrant Officer Viktor KUZNETSOV
  • Chief Petty Officer Robert GESSLER
  • Sr. Warrant Officer Andrei BORISOV
  • Seaman Roman MARTYNOV
  • Seaman Viktor SIDYUKHIN
  • Seaman Yury BORISOV

Ninth compartment

  • Sr. Lieutenant Alexander BRAZHKIN
  • Warrant Officer Vasily IVANOV
  • Warrant Officer Mikhail BOCHKOV

See also

External links

Salvaging the Kursk ( Video of the Kursk (

Oscar-class submarine

Project 949 Granit (Oscar-I) (all Northern Fleet)
K-525 Minskiy Komsomolets | K-206 Murmansk

Project 949A Antey (Oscar-II)
Northern Fleet
K-148 Krasnodar | K-119 Voronezh | K-410 Smolensk | K-266 Orel (ex-Severodvinsk) | K-186 Omsk | K-141 Kursk
Soviet Pacific Fleet
K-132 Belgorod | K-173 Chelyabinsk | K-150 Tomsk | K-456 Kasatka

List of Soviet and Russian submarines
List of Soviet and Russian submarine classes


Some picture of Kursk submarine can be found here (

cs:Ponorka Kursk de:Kursk (U-Boot) fr:Koursk (sous-marin) nl:Koersk (onderzeer) pl:Kursk (okręt podwodny) ru:Курск (подводная лодка) sl:K-141 Kursk sv:Kursk (ubt)


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