A retired Russian admiral has once again alleged that the August 2000 Kursk submarine explosion and sinking was the result of a collision with a NATO submarine, defying the official ruling that the explosion was caused by an explosive propellant that had leaked from a faulty torpedo.

Retired Admiral Vyacheslav Popov, the commander of the Russian Northern Fleet at the time, told the RIA Novosti news agency that three NATO submarines, two U.S. and one British, were monitoring the large Barent Sea naval exercises and one of them was shadowing the Kursk but inadvertently bumped the sub which caused the explosion. 

Admiral Popov had received the brunt of the blame for the bungled and painfully slow rescue effort.

Popov has made this claim before, which flies in the face of the details of Russian’s own investigation. However, this time he added much more detail, although he readily admitted that he had no proof of his allegations. 

Popov insisted that after the Kursk’s collision with the NATO submarine, the NATO submarine sent a distress signal of its own. Conspiracy theorists point to the USS Memphis, an American submarine that docked in Norway soon after the sinking of the Kursk. 

The Kursk sank on August 12, 2000, after two explosions. Both explosions registered on seismographs in Alaska. The first was recorded at about 11:28 am on August 13; it sent the Kursk to the bottom which was only 354 feet beneath the surface. But 135 seconds later, a massive explosion, 250 times larger than the first, rocked the submarine. It was believed by Russian investigators that the first explosion in the forward torpedo room started a massive fire that eventually caused all of the torpedoes to explode. The second explosion measured 4.2 on the Richter scale.

Russian submarine Kursk crew
Officers and crew of the Russian submarine Kursk prior to the sinking. (Russian Navy via the AP)

Most of the 118 crew members were killed instantly, but 23 managed to escape to a rear compartment awaiting help.

The Russian Navy, much like the Soviet one preceding it, was slowed by inefficiency. After several failed attempts to reach the survivors, the Russians waited a week before asking the West for help. By then all of the survivors had died. It was Russia’s worst post-Soviet naval disaster. 

The Kursk was an Oscar II nuclear-powered Project 949A Antey submarine that was designed to hunt NATO aircraft carrier groups. It measured an impressive 754 feet in length, and carried a mix of cruise missiles as well as conventional and nuclear torpedoes. 

The Kursk was carrying some older torpedoes that used hydrogen peroxide liquid as a propellant. The use of High Test Peroxide (HTP)-powered torpedoes had been stopped in Western submarines after an accident in the 1950s but was still cleared for use by the Russian Navy in 1997.


The Crew’s Last Notes

Finally, the Norwegian submersible Normand Pioneer, attached to the British rescue submarine LR5 discovered the Kursk. 

The submersible found a forward section measuring 57 feet of twisted, mangled wreckage. It found the rescue trunk which was full of water. All 23 sailors who had initially escaped the explosions were badly burned, and had drowned or were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning.

A note was found in the pocket of Lieutenant Captain Dmitri Kolesnikov. Written several hours after the explosions, it stated that the 23 men had escaped. 

“It’s 13:15. All personnel from sections six, seven, and eight have moved to section nine, there are 23 people here. We feel bad, weakened by carbon dioxide… Pressure is increasing in the compartment. If we head for the surface we won’t survive the compression. We won’t last more than a day… All personnel from sections six, seven, and eight have moved to section nine. We have made the decision because none of us can escape.”

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A second note was written two hours later. “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 despair. Kolesnikov.”

Kursk submarine wreck
The wreck of the Kursk in dry dock after it was raised. (Wikimedia Commons)

A year later in October 2001, the Kursk was raised by a Dutch salvage team contracted by Russia. The forward section of the hull that housed the torpedo room was cut away from the hull due to the danger of unexploded torpedoes, some of which had nuclear warheads. The rest of the hull was raised by the salvage team.

If indeed the Kursk had been bumped by a NATO submarine to the extent of causing an explosion onboard, the damage would have been visible in the rear, not the front of the submarine and that would have been immediately claimed by the Russians.