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The Day a Soviet Nuclear Attack Submarine Rammed an American Aircraft Carrier

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
July 18, 2023 3:02 am

The Day a Soviet Nuclear Attack Submarine Rammed an American Aircraft Carrier

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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July 18, 2023 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, in 1984, during a period of Cold War tension, a Soviet submarine collided with a United States aircraft carrier. Here’s The History Guy with the story of the USS Kitty Hawk collision.

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His videos are watched by hundreds of thousands of people of all ages on YouTube. The History Guy is also heard here on Our American Stories. In 1984, during a period of Cold War tension, a Soviet submarine collided with a United States aircraft carrier. Here's the History Guy with the story of the USS Kitty Hawk collision. It was March 21st, 1984, and the supercarrier USS Kitty Hawk was in the Sea of Japan.

Commissioned in April 1961, Kitty Hawk was the first of a class of three so-called supercarriers, upgraded versions of the previous Forrestal class. Capable of carrying 85 aircraft and with a crew complement of 5,624 officers and men, the Kitty Hawk had served throughout the Vietnam War and continued serving in the Western Pacific. She had been sent to the Sea of Japan in March to participate in Team Spirit exercises.

Team Spirit was a joint exercise with the United States and the Republic of Korea, held annually from 1976 to 1993. The exercise was designed to evaluate and improve the interoperability of the ROK and US forces. The operation, so close to the Soviet Far East, attracted the attention of the Soviet military. Kitty Hawk reported that over the course of the exercise, the carrier and its escorts came in contact with 43 Soviet aircraft, six Soviet surface elements, and one Soviet submarine. The submarine was the Victor-class submarine K-314. Designated Project 671, or Scorpionfish, by the Soviet Navy and given the NATO designation Victor-1, the Victor-class was a series of nuclear-powered attack submarines designed to counter enemy vessels, especially American nuclear attack submarines. Although its exact armament at the time is still classified, the submarine was likely armed with both torpedoes and missiles, including SS-N-15 Starfish nuclear-armed anti-submarine missiles. The Kitty Hawk was aware that it was being shadowed by the submarine since it had left the South Korean port of Pusan on March 19th. Such behavior was not uncommon, as an officer aboard Kitty Hawk explained to the New York Times, they play cat and mouse with us all the time. As part of their tracking, the U.S. had simulated destroying the submarine, that has had units in a position where they could have destroyed the submarine in a combat situation, 15 times. A former aviator who piloted a P-3B Orion anti-submarine and surveillance aircraft explained, chasing Ivan was great fun.

Serious business, but nevertheless great fun. The only problem was that when you caught Ivan, you had to let him go. On the night of March 21st, the Kitty Hawk was leaving the Sea of Japan, heading south to the Yellow Sea. As they deployed, the Kitty Hawk's escorts moved away, some 2.5 miles distant.

This, in essence, left the Kitty Hawk blind to the location of the K-314. The carrier did not have its own sonar equipment, but instead relied on its escort vessels and aircraft to track the submarine. If it were a wartime situation, the submarine would never have gotten within the battle group, Pentagon spokesman Michael Birch explained in a UPI report. In peacetime, it's not required that the Navy keep 24-hour watch on Soviet submarines.

Birch continued, these were peacetime conditions. It's not unusual to lose contact. Still, the pilot of the P-3B Orion explained that he and his crew knew that the submarine was in the area of the carrier, and in fact speculated that the submarine was attempting a maneuver where it tries to hide underneath the carrier to mask the submarine's sound, a technique which the pilot said generally doesn't work. But the K-314 wasn't trying to hide. Instead, the submarine, under the command of Captain Vladimir Evsenko, had lost track of the Kitty Hawk. The most likely reason was simply the rough seas. An expert quoted in the Washington Post commented that it is a very confusing world beneath the surface, and observed that the Sea of Japan, which is relatively shallow and is teeming with commercial and military ships, is one of the noisiest in the world, confusing the sonar that submarines use to track other ships. There is an additional problem as well, as sonar, which tracks sound, leaves a notorious blind spot in the baffles behind a submarine, where the noise of its own screws makes it impossible to detect other ships across from approximately 60 degree arc. Some sailors suggest that either the Kitty Hawk had made an abrupt course change, or was engaging in a deceptive lighting exercise, so the ship would change its running lighting configuration to appear like the guided missile cruiser USS Long Beach. While such operations would have been intended to confuse surface ships, it may also have confused the K-314. In any case, having lost his target, Captain Evsenko decided to bring the K-314 to periscope depth. When he looked through the periscope, he was stunned to see that he and the Kitty Hawk were on a collision course.

He immediately ordered the submarine to dive, but by then, it was already too late. At approximately 10 p.m., some 150 miles off the coast of Korea, in rough seas and pitch black night, the nuclear powered and armed Soviet submarine K-314 collided with the nuclear armed carrier USS Kitty Hawk. Captain Rogers was on the bridge at the time, bombarding one of the ship's radars.

He said, we felt a sudden shudder, a very violent shudder. The radar was designed to detect surface contacts, and would have not have seen the still submerged submarine. There was no indication that anyone on the Kitty Hawk saw the submarine in the moments before the collision, and there likely wouldn't have been time to make a response if they had. A sailor on the flight deck felt the shudder, too, explaining, that is something you normally don't feel on a carrier. A sailor in the mess room said, his trade jumped up four inches. Others, however, seemed to barely notice, writing the shudder off as rough seas.

One sailor described f'ing shipmates in a TV lounge if they felt something, and they insisted that he was crazy. On the P-3 Orion, they could hear a great scraping noise through their hydrophones. Sailors on the Kitty Hawk said the scraping noise lasted five to eight minutes as the submarine dragged along the keel. Evsenko was quoted on the website Russia Beyond, recalling that, the first thought was that the conning tower had been destroyed and the submarine's body was cut to pieces. They confirmed that the periscope and antennas were still working when they felt a second strike on the starboard side.

The collision could have been much worse. It was a glancing blow off the right side of Kitty Hawk's bow. The second strike that Evsenko felt was when the submarine's propeller struck the hull of the Kitty Hawk, breaking off a piece that was left in the Kitty Hawk's bow. The submarine was forced to surface.

The Kitty Hawk immediately launched a pair of SH-3 Sea King helicopters to render assistance. The submarine appeared to have a dent or crease between its stern and sail. It was reported moving at a slow five knots towards the Soviet naval base at Vladivostok, while the guided missile cruiser, Petropavlovsk, steamed apparently to the submarine's assistance.

The submarine did not answer the Kitty Hawk's offers of assistance, nor did it request any, and the Soviet government refused to comment. News reports at the time said that the Kitty Hawk detected no nuclear leak from the submarine, and that President Reagan was apprised of the situation. The Kitty Hawk remained for approximately two hours in order to be available in case it needed to render assistance, but then continued on its course.

Other US Navy ships remained in the area. While the initial reports were that the Kitty Hawk had taken only superficial damage, within a day the Navy reported that the carrier was taking on water. The collision had ruptured the fuel tanks during aircraft fuel, which was then becoming contaminated with seawater.

The crew had to pump the fuel from the tank. The Kitty Hawk had a hole in the bow and a gash from the submarine's propeller below the water line. Divers the next day brought up a piece of the propeller that had been lodged in the hole, and the crew had it mounted in a hangar. The Navy described the damage as minor, saying that it could be repaired at sea, and was not significant enough to affect normal operations. Although crew members aboard Kitty Hawk speculated that there was a significant risk for the crew of the submarine after being rolled over in a collision, the Russian Navy has never provided information on the extent of the damage to the K-314. Several members of the Kitty Hawk and other U.S. ships' crews noted seeing welding sparks as members of the K-314 crew engaged in apparent repairs. The K-314 was not able to return to base under its own power, and was eventually met by a seagoing tug.

The report in Russia Beyond quotes Captain Evsenko saying that there was no loss of life aboard the submarine. The general feeling aboard the Kitty Hawk was that the submarine had taken more damage than the carrier, prompting jokes about the Kitty Hawk being the first anti-submarine carrier weapon. The crew painted a red submarine on the ship's island near the bridge to mark their victory, but the Navy later made them remove it. The Kitty Hawk underwent repairs at Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippines, which crew members described as filling the damaged voids with concrete. During the repairs, it was discovered that some of the submarine's specialized outer coating had scraped off onto Kitty Hawk, could be analyzed, allowing the U.S. a minor intelligence coup. The USS Kitty Hawk continued to serve clear into the next century, and wasn't decommissioned until 2009 after an impressive nearly 49-year service in the United States Navy.

She was the last oil-fired U.S. carrier to serve. Sometimes the story about what did not happen is as interesting as the story of what did. The fact that an event was, well, far less catastrophic than it might have been is history that deserves to be remembered. Indeed, and you're listening to the History Guy. If you want more stories of forgotten history, please subscribe to his YouTube channel. The History Guy. History deserves to be remembered.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-07-18 17:44:14 / 2023-07-18 17:49:42 / 5

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