The Sinking Of The Kursk And Debunking The Conspiracy Theories Of The Tinfoil Hat Brigade

Its been a while since I posted on here. For a lot of differing reasons really, lack of time, working too much, blah blah blah. Usual pish.

However, in my spare time, what little spare time I have, I like to bash model kits together and give them a spray with my airbrush. This is my model blog if anyone happens to be interested (he said in a shameless act of self promotion)

It was whilst researching and doing the build plan for my next model, the K141 Kursk submarine, that I found out about some of the more ridiculous conspiracy theories surrounding the story, but i will get to those in due course.

In order to understand what happened to the Kursk, it is necessary to know a little about the Submarine herself, and her background.

The K141, Kursk Herself.

The K141 was an Antey class (NATO Classification name: Oscar II class) submarine. She was 154 metres long (505 FT) and 18 metres wide (60 FT) and her Draught was 9 metres (29.5 FT) and displaced 18,000 tons submerged. She was a Nuclear powered cruise missile submarine, she was armed with 24 SS-N-19/P-700 Granit cruise missiles, and eight torpedo tubes in the bow: four 533 mm (21 in) and four 650 mm (26 in). The Granit missiles with a range of 550 km (340 mi), were capable of supersonic flight at altitudes over 20 km (12 mi). They were designed to swarm enemy vessels and intelligently choose individual targets which terminated with a dive onto the target. The torpedo tubes could be used to launch either torpedoes or anti-ship missiles with a range of 50 km (31 mi). Her weapons included 18 SS-N-16 “Stallion” anti-submarine missiles, each carrying a conventional warhead of 250 KGs of explosives. Her primary role, was as an anti Aircraft carrier fleet weapon, and she was fully capable of taking out an entire fleet of aircraft carriers, or indeed a fleet of any type of ship from a long range.

The Biggest Russian Naval Exercise In Ten Years.

On the 10th Aug, 2000, she, and the rest of the Russian Northern fleet, set off for exercises in the Barents sea, It included 30 ships including the fleet’s flagship Pyotr Velikiy (‘Peter the Great’), four attack submarines, and a flotilla of smaller ships. The crew had recently won a citation for its excellent performance and been recognised as the best submarine crew in the Northern Fleet. While it was an exercise, Kursk loaded a full complement of combat weapons. It was one of the few ships authorised to carry a combat load at all times.

On the 12th Aug, she was due to launch a dummy missile attack on the Pyotr Velikiyin order to test the crews efficiency as well as that of the Pyotr Velikiy‘s. These practice torpedoes had no explosive warheads and were manufactured and tested at a much lower quality standard than that of the explosive missiles she was also carrying on board.

NORES Detects Underwater Explosions

At 11:29 local time (07:29 GMT) a sound measuring approx. 1.5 on the richter scale, was picked up with underwater acoustic microphones used by NORES in Norway, and other underwater/ground listening stations that monitor seismic activity. This was the equivalent of 100-250 KGs of explosives going off. 135 second later, an explosion 100 times its magnitude was also recorded by NORES, as well as other stations all over the world, including one as far away as Alaska, that measured 3.5 on the Richter scale, which was calculated to be the equivalent of 3-7 tons of explosives going off, and contact with the K141 was lost.

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The NORES readout showing first the small explosion, then, the second, much larger explosion. The latter was picked up as far away as Alaska.

The SONAR operator of the Pyotr Velikiy heard the sound and also felt the hull of the ship shudder, and isolated it to the approx position of the K141, he reported it to fleet HQ, who decided it was no significant cause for alarm. Consequently, it would be 6 plus hours before anyone realised the K141 was missing and any search started.

The Search

Because of the K141’s previous mission in the Mediterranean, shadowing and monitoring NATO’s movements during the Kosovo crisis, the rescue buoy had intentionally been disabled, due to its tendency of being released unintentionally. Due to the fact it had never been re-enabled, it was over 16 hours before the Russian fleet located the K141.

The Russian Navy initially downplayed the incident. Late on Saturday night, nine hours after the ship sank, Northern Fleet commander Admiral Popov ordered the first search for the submarine. Twelve hours after it sank, Popov informed the Kremlin, but Minister of Defence Igor Sergeyev did not notify Putin until 07:00 Sunday morning. Sergeyev ‘did not recommend’ that Putin visit the site.

On Sunday, after Popov already knew that the Kursk was missing, he spoke to reporters about the exercise. He said the exercise had been a resounding success and spoke highly of the entire operation. Not a mention of K141 being missing was mentioned.

The K141 was found at 0900 on Sunday morning, sitting in 108 metres (354 Ft) of water, with her bow submerged 22 metres (72 Ft) into the clay like mud at the bottom.


On Sunday morning at the Vidyaevo Naval Base, rumours began to circulate among family members of the K141s crew that something was wrong. A telephone operator handled an unusual volume of calls and she overheard that a submarine was in trouble. The base was very small and news spread like wildfire. The wives and family members exchanged information, but nobody seemed to have the same story. The K141 had previously been regarded as unsinkable and so family members could not (or maybe didn’t want to) believe the rumours that she was lost. The deputy base commander assured the women that the HQ was half empty and otherwise full of officers ‘passing the time’.

The Rescue Attempts 

Over the next 4 days, the Russian navy tried unsuccessfully to attach different diving bells and submersibles to the escape hatches, whilst at the same time refusing help from various differing governments. The Russian equipment however, had never been tried with the Kursk, who’s hull was covered in 8 inches of anti-acoustic rubber, designed to both keep the noise of the submarine inside the vehicle, and to minimise the SONAR reflection signature. This also had the unwanted effect of making attachment to the hull of the boat harder, due to decreased magnetivity.

The Russians submersibles were old, and out of date, due to military budget cuts, and hadn’t been used or even trained on for years. The battery life of the submersibles was poor, and just as they had begun to make headway with the rescue operation, they had to surface and recharge the batteries, meaning the second rescue submersible had to be lowered and resume where they left off. After a series of miscommunications and errors, the first series of photos of the downed sub were made. They showed that the K141 was listing at a 60 degree angle and was also at a downward angle of about 5-7 degrees forward. The periscope was raised, indicating that, consistent with K141’s last transmission, she was indeed at periscope depth of about 20 metres (60 Ft) when the explosion happened.
The rescue operation was forced to be suspended due to bad weather.

The Government Speaks

Initially, the Russian government reported that there was a minor malfunction in the Kursk, and that communications had been established and the were pumping air and power to the ship (a blatant lie that would be uncovered later, when it was discovered all 118 crewmen had died at this point) and that there were rescue attempts underway. At this time, Russia was still refusing all offers of help from foreign authorities.

Bad Weather Continues

3.7 metre (12 foot) waves and strong underwater currents hampered the rescue operations further, but on Tuesday, two further attempts were made to attach a diving bell to the hull of the sub, and one further attempt with the submersible were made, but attachment to the hull with the diving bell was impossible, and the submersible was damaged whilst being lifted to the ocean and had to be repaired. By this time, private and state media had started criticising and condemning the Russian Navy’s lack of action as incompetent, and Western media had criticised their 32 hour response time.

Further attempts were made at rescue, but were either unsuccessful due to not being able to latch on to the escape hatch by the hull on the 9th compartment, or were aborted due to further damage to the submersibles, diving bells and DSRV’s.

Russian Navy HQ in Moscow reported to the media that tapping had been heard on the hull, but it became obvious later that this had been fabricated.

Russia Asks For Help 

On Thursday the 17th, President Putin eventually accepted help from the British and Norwegian governments. The divers arrived on Friday the 18th Aug, and the Norwegian Vessel, The Normand Pioneer, loaded with the British submersible, LR5, arrived on the Saturday, 7 days after the sinking.

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The ‘Normand Pioneer’ Norway’s Rescue Vessel

On Sunday 20 August, the Norwegians lowered a ROV to the submarine. They found that the first 18 metres (59 ft) of the ship had been destroyed by the explosions. The entire bow of the ship was a mass of twisted metal and debris.

Russian officials imposed specific constraints that restricted the Norwegian divers to only work on the stern of the ship, specifically the escape hatch over compartment nine and an air control valve connected to the rescue trunk. The Norwegian deep-sea divers protested against the restrictions which they felt impeded their rescue operations, but continued under these restrictions regardless.



A Photo Supposedly Showing The Kursk Underwater And Some Of Her Damage. It Is Unconfirmed Whether This Photo Is Genuine Or Not.

When the divers attempted to open the air control valve, it would not move. Russian experts on one of the most technologically advanced submarines in the Russian fleet told the divers that they must open the valve counter-clockwise or they would break it. The divers finally went against the experts’ advice and tried turning it clockwise, which worked.

Entering The Sub

The divers tried to use the arms of the ROV to open the hatch but were unsuccessful until the morning of Monday, 21 August, when they found the rescue trunk full of water. That morning, they used a custom tool to open the internal hatch of the rescue trunk, releasing a large volume of air from the ninth compartment. Divers lowered a video camera on a rod into the compartment, but found it flooded and containing several bodies.

The salvage companies agreed that the Norwegian divers would cut the holes in the hull but only Russian divers would enter the submarine. The Norwegian divers cut a hole in the hull of the eighth compartment to gain access, using a cutting machine that shoots a high-velocity water-and-cutting-grit mix at 15,000 pounds per square inch (100,000 kPa) pressure. The Russian divers entered the wreck and opened a bulkhead hatch to compartment nine.

They found that dust and ashes inside compartment nine severely restricted visibility. As they gradually worked their way inside the compartment and down two levels, Warrant Officer Sergei Shmygin found the remains of Captain-lieutenant Dmitry Kolesnikov. All of the casualties had clearly been badly burned. The divers cut additional holes in the hull over the third and fourth compartments. The Russian divers removed secret documents and eventually recovered a total of 12 bodies from the ninth compartment. This contradicted earlier statements made by senior Russian officials that all of the submariners had died before the submarine hit the bottom. They also found the ship’s log, but then had to suspend work because of severe winter weather. The rescue teams conducted ongoing measurements of radiation levels inside and outside the submarine but none of the readings exceeded normal ranges and it was declared safe.

On 21 August, the Chief of Staff of the Russian Northern Fleet, Mikhail Motsak, announced to the public that the Kursk was flooded and the crew was dead. Additional plans were made to continue to remove the bodies, but the Russian Navy could not agree on a contract with a foreign company, and the families of those who died on the submarine protested that they did not want additional lives put at risk to bring up the dead.

After the Norwegian divers confirmed that no one was alive in the ninth compartment, Vice Admiral Mikhail Motsak, chief-of-staff of the Northern Fleet, officially confirmed at 5 p.m. on 21 August, nine days after it sank, that all of the Kursks crew members had died. On 22 August, President Putin issued an executive order declaring 23 August a day of mourning

Official Explanations And Conspiracy theories

The presence of two US submarines, the USS Memphis and the USS Toledo, as well as the British HMS Splendid, was not a secret. NATO often monitored Russian exercises, as Russia did to NATO, the Russians required each of their submarines to stay within a specified area, to eliminate the possibility of a collision and to allow surface ships to detect the presence of a Western spy sub.

Russian officials were however, quick to conclude that it was a collision with a NATO sub that had caused the loss of K141. An opinion that was reiterated by some (mostly those keen to foster a negative relation with Western powers to continue) for up to two years. Right wing politicians supported this theory.

Russia Claimed, that Memphis had collided with Kursk and then had slid over the top, creating deep gashes in her front and causing an explosion.

Comparison In Size Between An Oscar II And A Los Angeles Class Submarine. It Is Quite Easy To See Which Of The Two Submarines Would Have Come Off Worse If The Two Had collided.

I call Bullshit. Look at the size difference between the two.

Kursk would have decimated Memphis if the two had collided.

At the very least it would have damaged Memphis so much she would have had to surface. As no such encounter was reported by either US or Russian sources, we can only conlcude it never happened.

Russia claimed that the evidence of this was that Memphis had then docked in Bergan, Norway, and satellite photos has proven beyond doubt that the Memphis was


The Satellite Imagery The Russian Navy Claimed Showed Damage To USS Memphis In Haakonsvern Naval Base, Bergan. Note: The Norwegian Ship in Front also Shows The Same ‘Marks’.

When questioned on the matter, United States Secretary of Defence William S. Cohen responded to Russian accusations of a collision with a submarine at a press conference in Tokyo on 22 September 2000 with the following answer:

Press: Russians are suggesting that one of the possible reasons is a collision with a NATO or American submarine, they are asking to let them, well, have a look at a couple of United States submarines and the answer from the American side is no; so I ask, why not? And what is your own explanation of that particular accident. Thank you.

Cohen: I know that all our ships are operational and could not possibly have been involved in any kind of contact with the Russian submarine. So frankly, there is no need for inspections, since ours are completely operational, there was no contact whatsoever with the Kursk.

Lets take a look at Haakonsvern Naval Base. Haakonsvern, in Bergan, Norway, is a NATO naval base and dry dock on one side of the river, overlooked by the town of Bergan on the other. Any ship that docks at Haakonsvern is in full view of the good people of Bergan on the other side of the river, making it not so ideal for trying to hide anything, particularly anything that may be of the potential magnitude that a collision between a Russian and a US sub, with the loss of the Russian sub. ‘Maybe it was just the closest base’ you say. In truth, it probably was, BUT, and this is a huge but here… Haakonsvern has a HUGE dry dock, cut into the side of a mountain, which is easily big enough to take a submarine of an Oscar Class submarine, never mind a Los Angeles Class. If the US military had anything to hide, Memphis would not have been berthed in open view for all to see, she would have been in the dry dock, away from prying eyes, especially when you consider that the dry dock was a mere 200 metres away from where Memphis berthed.

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Haakonsvern Dry Dock. A Mere 200 Metres From Where The Memphis Docked.

It was not until after K141 was salvaged, that the official Russian Line was changed from ‘collided with NATO submarine’ to ‘Faulty torpedo caused explosion in front compartment’ but, i will come back to the latter of that, because i wish to address a few more theories before we come to the conclusion.

The WW2 Mine Theory

The Russian Navy, before any investigation had happened, concluded it was possible that an old world war 2 mine could have triggered the explosion that had sunk the K141. The Damage caused from a mine would have caused INWARD damage on the bow, the damage that the K141 actually showed, pointed to the fact the explosion had come from within the submarine, effectively ruling this out as an explanation. In honesty, i dont even think the Russian Navy seriously believed this could have been the real cause, and were just throwing ideas out there that they though might placate the families of the lost sailors.

The ‘Torpedo’ Theories

There are a couple of theories which state that K141 was sunk by a torpedo, either a Russian one by mistake, or a US one on purpose. We shall address the Russian claim first.

The Russian Torpedo Theory

It was actually a member of the Russian parliamentary team who was investigating the disaster that first put forward the claim late in 2000. It claimed ‘A misdirected missile from a Russian cruiser caused the disaster of the Kursk nuclear powered submarine during a training exercise’.

Sergei Zhikov, a deputy and a former submariner, said yesterday that the Kursk and the Piotr Velikiy, a Russian cruiser, were on an exercise in the Barents Sea in which ‘the cruiser acted as an enemy aircraft carrier and the submarine was expected to attack it’. He said the Piotr Velikiy fired five anti-submarine missiles at the Kursk but only four could be found afterwards.

‘It looks like the submarine was hit by the missing [anti-submarine] missile,’ Mr Zhikov told the Interfax newsagency. The Kursk then tried to rise to the surface in an emergency but had hit the bottom of the Piotr Velikiy.

Wait… What? The Kursk was fired upon by 5 live torpedoes before it sank? I find it unlikely that anyone could confuse a dummy missile with a live missile, and i find it extremely unlikely that the Russians fired live anti-submarine missiles at its most advanced submarine, with the best crew. I also find it highly doubtful that it hit the bottom of the Piotr Velikiy but yet the Battle cruiser still managed to carry on searching for the stricken submarine for hours afterwards with no signs or reports of damage. Pull the other one… its got bells on it… I Think we can dismiss and debunk this as an option due to the complete and total lack of evidence.

The MK48 Torpedo Theory

This one really gets my goat. Not because it has been put forward as a theory, but because it persists to this day on the strength of one photo, and some people are actually stupid enough to believe it without checking the facts that easily dispel it.

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The Photo That Started The MK48 Torpedo Theory. A Hole Can Clearly Be Seen In The Midsection Of The Kursk.


First off, a Little about the MK48 Torpedo:

‘The Mk-48 torpedo is designed to be launched from submarine torpedo tubes. The weapon is carried by all U.S. Navy submarines, including Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines and Seawolf-, Los Angeles-, and Virginia-class attack submarines. It is also used on Canadian, Australian, and Dutch submarines.

Mk-48 and Mk-48 ADCAP torpedoes can be guided from a submarine by wires attached to the torpedo. They can also use their own active or passive sensors to execute programmed target search, acquisition, and attack procedures. The torpedo is designed to detonate under the keel of a surface ship, breaking the ship’s back and destroying its structural integrity. In the event of a miss, it can circle back for another attempt’

Please notice the highlighted passage in bold.‘designed to detonate UNDER the keel of a surface ship.’

So, not pierce the armour of a submarine with a double hull configuration and 8 inches of rubber on the outside then no? NO…

Torpedoes are not designed to punch through the armour of its target, they are either designed to detonate upon contact using a percussion cap fuze, or underneath a ship using either a timer fuze or a magnetic detonator. This is not to say that torpedoes CANNOT punch holes in a ship, but i can almost guarantee that a MK48 will not. I will demonstrate with pictures.

Please Note: Neither of the damage on either ship looks like the hole on the K141. The Hole on USS Cole is jagged and substantially wider than the exact width and outline of the torpedo that hit it, and the MK48 does exactly what it is designed to do, break its target in half. Given that both the USS Cole and the HMAS Torrens are approx. 1/3 wider than the K141, try to imagine what would have happened if a MK48 had hit it… there would have been a lot less left of the Kursk to salvage than was brought up, i can assure you of that.

The hole was cut by divers to affect entry so they could remove sensitive documents and the log book. (see paragraph above headed ‘Entering The Sub’) and it has been confirmed several times by the Norwegian divers that this is the case. Similar holes were cut near compartment 8 and 9 so they could effect entry to the rear of the sub and remove the bodies of Captain Lieutenant Dimitri Kolesnikov and the rest of his comrades who died trapped in compartment 9.

A Closer view of the hole, shows it not to be round at all, but a cut circle with a 90 degree square in the bottom right corner. Even if torpedoes did pierce the outer hull (which they dont) they certainly wouldn’t be capable of leaving a nice neat little square in the corner.

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The Closer View Of The Hole, Showing The 90 Degree Angle In The Right Corner

The HTP Exploding Missile Theory

After the salvage of K141, and forensic examinations of the submarine, its contents, damage and all associated factors, The official investigation concluded that the first explosion had been caused by HTP (High Test Peroxide, a propellant that has been used to power torpedoes since the 50’s) leak.

HTP, when it touches certain elements or chemicals, reacts violently, it expands 500 fold, creates gas and builds up pressure. Within the confines of its torpedo, this creates the inertia to propel it from its tube toward its target, in a torpedo tube that isn’t open or flooded, this would created the same amount of energy, only it wouldn’t be directed out of the tube, the pressure and energy would be directed towards the weakest point in the structure. In this case, the hatches.

The Russian Navy’s investigation concluded that a fracture in the HTP reservoir caused it to leak, and a fracture in the weld caused it to leak out of the torpedo casing. this welled and built up in the torpedo tube, and reacted with a minute piece of rust, which caused it to oxidise, build up pressure and create energy.

In line with the Russian Navy’s standard operating procedures, the hatch was not locked shut properly. The massive build up of pressure caused the hatch to fly backwards at great speed and the sudden source of pressure and heat caused the highly volatile Kerosene to explode (the torpedo hatch was in fact found buried into the bulkhead of the torpedo compartment after K141 was salvaged supporting this theory somewhat) The 7 sailors in the forward compartment were killed instantly by the explosion and the build up of pressure, which also caused a fire that within seconds super heated the compartment to between 2000 and 5000 degrees. The explosion, which ripped through the bow section of the double hull and sent K141 plunging to the sea floor. After the Kursk hit the bottom, this sudden heat rise caused between 4 and 8 of the remaining torpedoes to ‘cook off’ and explode.


The Torpedo Tube Hatch Blown Backward By The Force Of The Blast And Embedded Into The Bulkhead. Note Also The Fire And Blast Damage.

The second explosion instantly killed all in the second compartment (the command and control compartment) Captain Gennady Lyachin amongst them, through to the 5th compartment. The blast wave ripped through the first 5 compartments buckling the structure and killing all in its path until it reached the fifth bulkhead, just in front of the nuclear reactor, which had been sealed and shut down by a quick thinking sailor after the first explosion. The action of the quick thinking sailor in all likely hood saved the reactor from damage, and averted a massive nuclear accident.

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Captain Lieutenant Dimitri Kolesnikov.

Aft of the 5th bulkhead, 23 men still remained alive, and they tried to co-ordinate attempts to save the stricken submarine, but in the end, decided it was better for them to seal themselves into the 9th compartment, closing every watertight door in between the 9th compartment and the 5th and await a rescue, that would ultimately come too late due to bureaucracy and incompetence.

With The water rising to chest level, Captain Lieutenant Kolesnikov, who had assumed command of the survivors when it became apparent there was nothing they could do to save the Kursk, wrote a letter explaining the sequence of events that led him to his current situation.

He explained it had been a torpedo malfunction, and that all forward of the sealed, 5th section were dead. He also wrote to his family, telling them that he didnt see how there was much hope, and not to despair.

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Kolesnikov’s Letter To His Wife

Somehow a fire broke out, possibly because the oily water came into contact with the outdated breathing apparatus cartridge, which reacted and exploded, killing Kolesnikov instantly, Whatever the explaination, the horrific burns to most of the bodies, the burn marks and the ash in the flooded cabin, show that the fire in the cabin consumed the remaining oxygen and the rest of the crew either suffocated or died from carbon monoxide poisoning.


The ‘Shkval’ Theory

Another variation of the same story, is that K141 was testing an upgrade to the Shkval torpedo. The Shkval is a rocket propelled super cavitation torpedo that creates a bubble of gas around the missile, allowing to move at 370 mph (200kph) which would make it almost impossible to defend against (it is worth noting that whilst the Shkval does exist, there has never been a confirmed sighting that it does what it is supposed to do, or travels at the speed it is supposed to)

The Shkval Theory really is the same as the HTP theory, the only difference being that the projectile and catalyst are different. The Kursk was fitted to take Shkval’s 2 years prior to the sinking, but because the crew were more often than not in port, and had only been deployed once before (the 6 month Mediterranean mission) they were inexperienced with the missile, which has a vastly differing firing procedure to the stallion missiles. Somehow, the rocket ignited itself it the tube, and the following circumstances were the same as described in the HTP theory.


For me, the theory that holds the most water for me is the Shkval theory. For a weapon that secret and sensitive, they would hardly announce to the rest of the world they were firing one, so the HTP leak from the dummy stallion seems the perfect cover. Whilst the story closely echoes what really happened, the only thing omitted is the word ‘Shkval’.

There is no doubt from the evidence in pictures, and from the reports that the explosion happened from within. I readily admit to not being an expert, but for me, the explosion of the first torpedo, the subsequent rise in pressure and temperature explains the second and fatal explosion(s). The only question really left unanswered is which torpedo really caused it. The HTP powered Stallion or the rocket powered Shkval.

As it is likely Russia will never come out and say outright it was a Shkval (to do that would to confirm its capabilities to the West) i guess that the only thing we can do is read between the lines. Somewhere between the HTP and Shkval theory is what actually happened. I guess either way, it doesn’t matter. 118 brave sailors lost their lives because of cutbacks, incorrect training and bloody minded pride.

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The Kursk Memorial. Made From The Sail, The Only Piece Of The Kursk To Escape Scrapping. RIP To The 118 Men Of The K141.


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