(Ed. Note: This condensation of Captain 3rd Rank P. Ishchenko”s article in Red Star, 19 April, 1989, plus other Soviet news releases, attempts to interpret points of interest in this event, for SUBMARINE REVIEW readers.]
Captain Evgenij Vanin of the Soviet submarine KOMSOMOLETS (a “MIKE”) noted at 1100 for the watch log: “‘The boat is on a course of 242 degrees. Compartments are secured, there are no deviations.”
The “second crew” was taking their nuclear submarine on its first “combat” mission. The “first crew” had built the submarine and operated the MIKE in its training prior to deployment. “‘The necessary exercises were successfully executed in the operational training center and all of the predeployment tasks had been completed at base.”
“What a submarine: an experimental one, representing in itself not only a submarine of great combat value but also one of great scientific value — the sub was experimental in the use of ‘unusual materials.'”
“‘There was nothing to complain about at sea. The submarine was ‘carting’ home so many confirmed ship contacts that there were enough for two or three such patrols.”
“‘The peaceful atmosphere quickly turned into a dangerous one. The fire indicators began to operate alarmingly. ‘Fire in the seventh compartment.'” 1103, 7 April: The LOKh (a system for fire extinguishing) in the seventh compartment was energized. “In this case the applied measure did not give any result.” This seemed to be due to an influx of high pressure air into the compartment feeding the fire and critically raising the temperature, (an air line or air bottle rupture?). “This is why fire got into the sixth compartment (through composite bulkheads?) and then spread further. The submarine was at a depth of 50 meters.” The order was given to go to periscope depth and at 1116 the periscope was raised for a look around.
“Captain Vanin directed the struggle for damage control. Everything aboard the submarine, and even moreso in an emergency situation, is done by the crew, but only by the order or with the knowledge of the Captain.”
1121: “Fire in the fourth compartment.” (the reactor compartment?). “‘The control station for pumps is burning. The pump is useless. Circulation of water from the reactor to the generators and back again ceased.” Capital-Lieutenant Orlov said: “When the reactor’s operation was no longer needed I cut its work in accordance with the emergency instruction. The operation of the power-unit was my responsibility and I was authorized to shut it down even if the conditions were a bit off-normal. After the emergency control rods went down automatically, I clinched the matter by bringing the fuel rods as far down as possible. All the cooler pumps were on and worked non-stop to cool the core. Before leaving the submarine, five minutes before the plunge, I inspected the central board. The first loop was 35 degrees centigrade. The cooling system was autonomous and would operate even if the submarine’s power network failed. Destruction of the first loop is also excluded.”
1127: “On the submarine movement control panel there appeared a source of open flame. Gasification and worsening of visibility in the central part.”
At about this time the MIKE was surfaced. “Captain Vanin and the entire crew were hopeful of the possibility of saving the submarine.”
1134: “List to port is increasing. Main ballast is blown.”
1145: “The diesel cooling is not working. The diesel is stopped.”
1158: “No communications with the fourth compartment. There are about nine persons in there.”
1212: “Golovchenko in second compartment lost consciousness.” Then an order was given: “Transfer the crew of the second compartment who lost consciousness, topside.”
1241: “There is great smokiness in the fourth compartment. The condition in the first compartment is normal,” (the location of the batteries.)
1336: Two hours after surfacing “the reactor is extinguished with all absorbers.”
1402: “Kulapin and Bonder (who were brought out of the fifth compartment and taken topside) have died.”
1418: “VHF communications with an aircraft established.”
1518: “There is no inflow of water. The fire is being extinguished by hermitization.”
1624: “Strikes are observed resembling explosions, in the regions of the sixth and seventh compartments.”
1642: “Prepare for evacuation!”. (The bow of the boat was so high that the bow horizontal planes were visible.) Captain Smimov, in the water, was hit by the bow horizontal plane of the pitching submarine and perishes.
1645: “The first compartment is unsealed. Prepare the battery pit for ventilation.” (Throughout the emergency there was worry about the consequences of a battery explosion.)
1651: A radiogram sent, reporting: “condition normal” (But about this time, the influx of water into the stem compartments through burned up cables through the hull, and other explosion damage, forced the Captain to discontinue damage control measures and evacuate all personnel.)
“It was determined that somewhere in the bilges of the third compartment was Captain 2nd Rank, Ispenkov, commander of the electro technical division” — who apparently had not heard the command to evacuate. So Captain Vanin “dove back into the smokey interior of the perishing submarine. In the central post he bumped into Warrant Officer Slyusarenko who was hurrying toward the bridge hatch. Vanin told him to get Ispenkov and get into the escape chamber.” Ispenkov was heard yelling “water coming into the third compartment.” When Slyusarenko got to the escape chamber he was so exhausted that he had to be pulled into it by two of the four people already there. The lower hatch was closed tightly, when there was a knocking on the hatch.
Captain Vanin ordered the lower hatch opened immediately. But just then there resounded below a terrible cracking, (the bulkheads had begun to break.) Ispenkov perished. The depth gauge in the VSK was stuck on 400 meters “although the VSK was already at a far greater depth, and the depth of the water was about 1500 meters!’ Nothing happened when an attempt was made to free the VSK from the sinking submarine. But suddenly there was a sound like an explosion and the chamber had broken loose, at which Captain Vanin ordered: “Everyone plug into individual breathing apparatus.” One man fell and went into convulsions before he got his mask on. It must have been that gases had entered the chamber when the VSK broke loose.” A mask was put on Yudin, then Captain Vanin, in the lower compartment was noted to have not put on his mask and had lost consciousness. When the chamber hit the surface and the upper hatch flew open, Slyusurenko was blown out and Chemikov was half ejected into the water, where he died of hypothermia in the icy waters. Meanwhile the VSK filled with water and sank with the other three including Captain Vanin, going to their death.
1708: The MIKE sinks six hours after the fire began, and 4 1/2 hours after surfacing. (Neither the Captain or his crew seemed to have any basis for abandoning the submarine or for concluding that it would sink at any moment.)
The Soviet submarine sank in neutral waters of the Norwegian Sea. 27 of the 69 crew members were saved. When the MIKE began to capsize, the crew was forced to evacuate. “People jumped straight into the cold water. There was a force 2-3 gale at the time. Inflatable rafts were used, but several seamen got into a single liferaft, so they were semisubmerged. Aircraft appeared and dropped a number of rafts — which landed in the water 300 meters away; too far away for the weakened seamen to risk swimming that distance. It was 1820 before the first ship arrived. Medics and crew members of a floating base which showed up spent the whole night rendering assistance to the casualties. All arrived at a hospital in Munnansk on 9 April — suffering from hyperthennia.