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On of the theories in the Kursk incident suggest that it was sunk by USS Memphis following the collision with USS Toledo. Theory has originally surfaced in 2005 film, but lately allegedly there are some leaks from Russian Navy officers confirming it.

French filmmaker Jean-Michel Carré, in Kursk: a Submarine in Troubled Waters, which aired on 7 January 2005 on French TV channel France 2, alleged that Kursk sank because of a sequence of events triggered by a collision with a US submarine. Carré claimed that Shkval torpedo tests were being observed by two US submarines on duty in the region: USS Toledo and USS Memphis. According to his version, these observations eventually led to a collision between USS Toledo and Kursk. Carré theorized that neither of the subs was seriously damaged in this incident, but the sound of the collision, combined with sounds of loaded torpedo tubes, made the captain of USS Memphis believe that Kursk was preparing an attack on USS Toledo, so he launched a pre-emptive strike against Kursk with a MK-48 torpedo. According to Carré, this attack was successful and was the cause of the powerful explosion within Kursk's hull, sinking the submarine and leaving Memphis and Toledo slightly damaged. Carré claimed that specific damage visible on the Kursk hull was the main evidence of this version, including signs of an initial collision, and a hole left by the torpedo when it entered the Kursk hull. He also claimed that a damaged submarine was sighted leaving the Kursk incident area, and USS Memphis was sighted soon afterwards being repaired in a Norwegian port.

In below screen capture you can see a round hole, which allegedly is point where torpedo penetrated the hull.

Alleged hole -- point of torpedo's penetration

Question:

  • is there any indication that collision actually happened?
  • is there any possibility that it was sunk by Mk-48 fired by USS Memphis?
  • 1
    Great question! – maple_shaft May 9 '12 at 11:27
  • 10
    Great question, but probably impossible to answer with the type of rigor this site demands. Conspiracy nuters can just pull random crap out their butts and they have a "theory". To actually refute or confirm this, someone would need access to US Submarine logs, which are classified. As for the hole, I bet you $1 that if you look at it from another angle, it will appear as a much different shape and the filmer is playing loose with actual facts in this case. ;) – JasonR May 9 '12 at 11:54
  • 2
    I was one of the wives who flew in to meet my husband in the Berings Strait. We greeted our men while the Russian wives arrived to find news that their husbands were dead. It was a horrifying realization for me at the time. In addition, we had undercover US agents following us, eavesdropping on conversations while we toured the area. We were not allowed to even MENTION the Kursk. In most situations, I would get an honest run-down from my husband. But that instance was different. He offered limited info when I asked. And each time he told it, the story changed...a clear sign something was amiss – user10903 Jan 1 '13 at 4:29
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    I could be wrong but I think it's grammatically (or culturally) correct to put the word The in-front of a ship name. So it would be The Kursk and The USS Memphis. – Mark Rogers Jan 28 '13 at 16:45
  • 1
    @MarkRogers Addition of "the" to the name can be done for submarines more so than for surface vessels, but omitting "the" is not wrong for either. Remember that ships are often spoken of as people, by name, rather than objects. Were we to talk about the submarine as "the Oscar III class submarine Kursk" the word "the" would be required. – jwenting Dec 9 '13 at 6:16
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There some additional photos of this round hole at this page (in russian):

Good quality shoot from unknown source. Text in russian is: "А что значит это отверстие в правом боку подводной лодки" - "And what is meaning of this hole in right side of the submarine". It is clearly seen that hole has very sharp edges on its top and left sides. Also we can see that hole is not round in its low-right side (as it was required in comments, taken from other angle):

Text says: "And what is meaning of this hole in right side of the submarine"; unknown source

This is a copy from the TV-film discussed ("Kursk: a Submarine in Troubled Waters"):

Frame from TV-film "Kursk: a Submarine in Troubled Waters"

This photo is labelled: "пресс-центр ГП РФ"; "ГП РФ" is abbreviation for "Генеральная Прокуратура Российской Федерации", so "Press-center of Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation" (press center of Federal Attorney of Russia):

Text says: "Press-center of Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation"

This photo has date mark on it "24' 4'02" = 24.04.2002 and text "район прочного корпуса напротив которого отверстие в легком корпусе. никаких пробоин нет" = "region of strong hull (=inner hull=pressure hull) opposite of which hole in light hull (=external hull) /is located/. There are no any breaches":

"район прочного корпуса напротив которого отверстие в легком корпусе. никаких пробоин нет. 24.04.2002"

And finally is frame with labels "росляково. мурманская область. РТР". It has label of Russian federal channel RTR. According to the page, Carre says that this hole was not shown on TV, but it was:

Frame from TV program aired on Russian Federal channel RTR

There is interesting phrase on military history forum "vif2ne":

От  tevolga 
К    All    
Дата    31.10.2001 11:06:44 
Рубрики Современность; Флот;    
Круглая дырка на Курске

Главком пояснил, что ее вырезали водолазы еще в прошлом году, никакого 
отношения ни к возможному столкновению, ни к торпедированию не имеет. Ее
теперь заварят, что бы не было более досужих вымыслов:-)))

C уважением к сообществу.

From: tevolga; To: All; Date: 31.10.2001 11:06:44; Rubrics: Modernity, Fleet

Subject: Round hole on Kursk

Commander-in-chief /of the Navy/ clarified that hole was cut by divers early as in previous year /2000/, no any relation is possible to hypothetical collision or to torpedo attack. The hole will be welded now to limit more of myths :-)))

With respect to the community.

Other phrase is on federal newspaper forum

Александр _Покровский, 11 август 2012 в 09:24
В "Рубине" мне сказали насчет того отверстия: был технологический разрез.

Alexander Pokrovsky, 11 August, 2012 at 09:24

In "Rubin" (=Rubin Design Bureau, operator of the Raising operation of Kursk) I was told about this hole: was technological incision

The newspaper "Независимая Газета" directly says in 2001-11-01:

Круглое отверстие на стыке первого и второго отсеков, которое наблюдали 
миллионы телезрителей во время демонстрации видеофильма Главной военной 
прокуратуры, оказывается, имеет искусственное происхождение: часть корпуса 
по просьбе главкома вырезали еще в прошлом году. Когда ее в интересах 
следствия поставят на место, многое прояснится, намекнул Владимир Куроедов.

Round hole between first and second compartments, which was seen by millions of TV viewers at the time of airing of film by Chief Military Prosecutor Office, turns out to have artificial origin: part of hull was cut in previous year (=2000) at the request of the Commander-in-chief /of the Navy/ (=Vladimir Kuroedov). When it will be returned in place for investigative purposes, much may become clearer, Kuroedov hinted.

  • 3
    PS: I can estimate diameter of this hole as 1.5 meters, and diameter of Mark 48 is 533 mm. – osgx Jan 28 '13 at 10:01
  • Maybe there exists 1.5m hull-penetrating torpedos, since it may be be so difficult to create enough pressure difference to break all layers of a hull. Under water bunker busters for submarines. – Bratch Jan 29 '13 at 21:59
  • Yeah, but there are no any torpedo on USA submarines besides 533mm Mark 48. – osgx Jan 30 '13 at 0:02
  • 3
    more correctly (there might be prototype torpedoes on US submarines of other types that are secret programs after all), there are only 533mm torpedoes on US submarines, as there are no other torpedo tubes on the boats (and thus anything larger could not be launched). – jwenting Dec 17 '13 at 6:27
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A torpedo does NOT penetrate the hull of a target vessel, it will have a proximity fuse with possible backup contact fuse and probably a timer fuse as well. So that's one claim already debunked.

Wikipedia on the Mark 48 Torpedo

Can't find independent verification of this (it's most likely classified what exact fuzing modes exist), but it is consistent with knowledge I have accumulated over the years about torpedoes from several post-WW2 designs (WW2 and earlier designs typically used contact fuses).

This DOT&E report mentions "influence fuzing", meaning magnetic, acoustic, etc. rather than impact or time delay.

The MK 48 ADCAP torpedo is a submarine launched, heavyweight acoustic homing torpedo with sophisticated sonar and an influence-fuzed warhead. The improved ADCAP torpedo includes all digital guidance and control systems, digital fusing systems, and propulsion improvements, which add speed, depth, and range capability. The Mk 48 class torpedoes are the Navy's only submarine launched torpedoes used for engagement of submarine and surface targets, contributing significantly to the submarines' precision engagement. They are also essential to the force protection role of submarines. There are a number of upgrades to the ADCAP torpedo discussed in the following paragraphs.
Every seemingly interesting bit of detail ends after a few words with: More details are provided in the classified version of this report.

This Powerpoint presentation (unreferenced, but with photographs) shows the effect of a Mk.48 torpedo detonating to sink an old frigate. Compare the damage done by the warhead exploding under the ship to the supposed "entry hole" :)

As to the collision claim, collisions between submarines have happened in the past so might have happened here, but are highly unlikely to lead to the ships sinking. And if one were to sink, I'd expect the smaller, lighter built one to sink which would be the US submarine. (The Kursk is a lot larger than a US (or Soviet/Russian) fast attack sub.)

  • yeah, that's what I've suspected. Although allegedly the under-ship explosion is only used against surface targets. – vartec May 10 '12 at 11:07
  • 5
    under ship is natural for surface targets because it breaks the keel. For submarines, any proximity detonation would create a massive bubble of overpressure in the water near the hull, enough to damage the pressure hull. What happened to Kursk was an internal explosion of a similar warhead, caused by (if my memory serves) the fuel supply of an experimental weapon cooking off. – jwenting May 10 '12 at 11:59
  • At the moment, the DOT&E site is down. I suspect/hope it is temporary. – Oddthinking Aug 4 '12 at 1:30
  • 1
    @Oddthinking it works for me, may it be that your access is blocked by a firewall? That happened to me in the past with a lot of US .mil sites, now working at a US owned company routing all internet traffic through their US HQ, and can access it. – jwenting Dec 9 '13 at 6:07
  • 1
    +1 A retired sub captain I know confirms the under-the-keel attack profile of the MK-48. He adds that such an attack would likely involve the target ship going down with all hands. – Robusto Jan 20 '17 at 1:49
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yeah... It really wasnt...

While there are many mysteries surrounding the sinking of the K141, like why the explosion wasnt investigated when it was first detected by the Peter the great, why the underwater rescue vessel had not been tested on the hull of the Kursk (which was fitted with 8 inches of acoustic rubber) and why the Russian officials lied and said first off that it was only a malfunction and that they had established communications etc. which understandably makes anything released by them in future questionable, the acoustic data recorded by several stations across alaska and europe all tally with the actual damage found on the K141.

The collision theory is rubbish, the size of the K141 in relation to a Los Angeles class or a Swiftsure class submarine, would mean the Los Angeles of Swiftsure would have been completely destroyed by the collision, if not, so damaged it would have had to surface. The reports of the Memphis being damaged are also clearly rubbish. It docked in Norway several days later, right opposite a big housing estate in Bergan, clearly visible to all and sundry. If it was damaged in an incident of this nature, i would have been hidden away in the dry dock cut into the mountain, which was only a mere hundred or so yards away in the same port, and hidden well away from prying eyes.

The torpedoing theory is also rubbish. the American MK48 torpedo, when tested by the Australian navy on a decommissioned destroyer, thats right, a destroyer, tore the ship in half, right down the middle. there was no little hole entry followed by the devastation zone, just a big explosion impact zone followed by a big crack the width of the destroyer (google it, you'll see what i mean) any MK48 torpedo that would have hit Kursk would have totally obliterated it, not just caused damage to the forward 5 sections.

The tests on the type of torpedo that were carried out in the wake of the K141's recovery, were consistant with the initial theory of the torpedo exploding in the tube. Multiple tests were carried out by using explosives under the torpedo, dropping the torpedo, lighting fires under the torpedo etc, and could not replicate the explosion in any way externally. This means the initial explosion could have only come from inside the torpedo tube, and the only source of this explosion logically, is a leak in the HTP (High Test Peroxide) reservoir which mixed with a substance that caused the rapid expansion of pressure and heat within the torpedo tube.

This in turn caused a fire that super heated the forward cabin to a temp of between 2000 and 5000 degrees, which in turn caused the fatal explosion of the other 4-8 torpedoes.

Either that, or it was due to a 'Shkval' torpedo misfiring. a 'Shkval' is a supercavitating torpedo that reduces water resistance by producing a gas bubble around the torpedo, which minimises water resistance. The Shkval is rocket powered and can likely achieve speeds in excess of 370 MPH, making it almost impossible to defend against.

It is theorised that the rocket motor fired whilst still in the tube and before the tube had been flooded, causing the first explosion picked up by the acoustic data when the hatch door was blown off (the hatch door was found embedded into the rear bulkhead of the torpedo room confirming the was some sort of explosion in the tube) this then superheated the chamber and caused a number of the remaining conventional torpedoes to 'cook off' and explode

This was the event that registered 3.5 on the richter scale and was picked up over several thousand miles.

Of course, the Russian government has never actually announced that they were testing a new type of shkval that day, but then, if they were, they would hardly announce it, even after the accident.

Occum's razor suggests that the simplest answer is most often the correct one. And i'm afraid, that in the case of the K141, this actually is the case. Somewhere between the official HTP explosion explaination and the unofficial Shkval explosion theory, is likely the truth. But either way, have no doubt that it WAS a torpedo explosion in the tube that caused the Kursk's sinking, both the acoustic and the physical evidence prove that beyond doubt.

Although given the Russian governments attempt at covering things up and lying at the beginning of the whole saga, i can totally understand why people think there is more to it that.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

  • 2
    Welcome to Skeptics! On Skeptics, answers need references. – ff524 Jan 17 '17 at 22:31
  • also adds nothing substantial to the other answers posted several years ago. – jwenting Jan 18 '17 at 14:57

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