The Russian submarine Kursk was a nuclear-powered submarine of the Russian Navy.

It was built in the 1990s and launched a few years later.

The submarine was designed to be a state-of-the-art vessel. It was equipped with advanced weapons and sensors, and was considered one of the most modern submarines in the world at the time.

Building the Kursk

The Kursk was built at the Severodvinsk Shipyard in Russia, which is one of the largest shipyards in the country. The shipyard has a long history of building submarines, dating back to the Soviet era.

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Construction of the Kursk began in 1990, and the submarine was launched in 1994. It was commissioned into the Russian Navy in 1995. It was one of the most advanced submarines in the world at the time.

The Kursk was classified as an Oscar-II class submarine, which is a type of nuclear-powered attack submarine. It was designed to operate in the harsh conditions of the Arctic Ocean. Here it could carry out a variety of missions, including surveillance, reconnaissance, and attack operations.

The offices of the Severodvinsk Shipyard in Russia where the Kursk was designed.

The submarine was approximately 154 meters (505 feet) long and weighed around 17,000 tons when fully loaded. It was armed with a variety of weapons, including torpedoes, anti-ship missiles, and land-attack cruise missiles.

One of the most notable features of the Kursk was its propulsion system. This used a combination of nuclear and diesel power. This gave the submarine a top speed of around 32 knots (59 kilometres per hour), making it one of the fastest submarines in the world at the time.

The Kursk was also equipped with advanced communication and sensor systems. These allowed it to operate effectively in the Arctic environment. It had a crew of around 118 sailors, who were highly trained and experienced in submarine operations.

The Severodvinsk Shipyard

The Severodvinsk Shipyard, officially known as the JSC Sevmash (Northern Machine-Building Enterprise), is a major shipbuilding and ship repair facility located in Severodvinsk, Arkhangelsk Oblast, Russia. It is situated on the White Sea coast, near the mouth of the Northern Dvina River.

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The shipyard has a long and rich history, dating back to 1939. Originally it was established as a centre for building submarines. Over the years, Severodvinsk Shipyard has been responsible for the construction of numerous submarines and surface vessels for the Russian Navy and other countries.

One of the notable aspects of the shipyard is its specialization in building nuclear-powered submarines. It has been a key contributor to the development of Russia’s strategic and attack submarine fleet. Severodvinsk Shipyard has played a crucial role in the construction of various submarine classes. These included the Akula, Oscar, and Borei classes.

Speciality

The shipyard’s expertise in nuclear propulsion systems and submarine construction has earned it a reputation for excellence. It has a skilled workforce consisting of engineers, technicians, and shipbuilders who possess extensive knowledge and experience in submarine design, construction, and maintenance.

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Severodvinsk Shipyard has modern facilities and infrastructure to support its shipbuilding activities. It boasts large assembly halls, dry docks, slipways, and advanced equipment necessary for constructing complex naval vessels. The shipyard has undergone modernisation and upgrades to ensure its capabilities align with the demands of the contemporary naval industry.

The K-141 Kursk submarine in the mid 1990s.

The shipyard’s contributions extend beyond constructing submarines. It also carries out repairs, modernisation, and retrofitting of existing naval vessels. This includes extensive overhauls and upgrades to improve the capabilities and lifespan of submarines and surface ships.

Severodvinsk Shipyard, through its dedication to quality and technological advancements, has played a vital role in maintaining Russia’s naval power. It continues to be an essential institution for the country’s defence industry and serves as a hub for developing advanced naval technologies.

The Crew of the Kursk

The Kursk had a crew of 118 people, including 16 officers and 102 enlisted personnel. The crew members were highly trained and experienced submariners, and many had served on other Russian submarines before joining the Kursk.

The crew of the Kursk returning to port in 1996/1997.
(Russian Naval Photo)

The crew of the Kursk was led by Captain Gennady Lyachin, who had served in the Russian Navy for over 20 years. Lyachin was well-respected by his crew and was known for his calm and competent leadership.

The Accident

The sinking of the Kursk occurred during a naval exercise in the Barents Sea, which is located in the Arctic Ocean north of Russia and Norway. The exercise, known as Operation Summer-X, involved a number of Russian naval vessels, including several submarines.

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On the morning of August 12, 2000, the Kursk was participating in the exercise when an explosion occurred on board the submarine. The explosion was so powerful that it was detected by seismological stations in Norway and Finland. Remarkably it was also heard by fishermen in the area.

The wreck of the Kursk sank 354 feet below the surface.

At first, the Russian Navy did not acknowledge that anything had gone wrong with the Kursk. However, it quickly became apparent that something serious had happened. Family members of the crew began to receive mysterious phone calls telling them to prepare for bad news.

It was several days before the full extent of the damage to the Kursk was known. The submarine had suffered significant damage to its forward compartments, and all of its torpedoes had exploded. The crew of the Kursk had been killed instantly, and the submarine was lying on the seabed. It lay at 108 meters (354 feet) below the surface.

The Search

The Russian Navy immediately launched a search and rescue operation, but it was hampered by a number of factors. First, the Kursk was located in deep water, which made it difficult for divers to reach the submarine. Secondly, the Russian Navy was initially reluctant to accept assistance from other countries, which slowed down the rescue effort.

Despite these challenges, international assistance eventually arrived. A team of Norwegian and British divers were able to reach the Kursk and inspect the submarine. Unfortunately they found that all of the crew members had perished in the explosion.

The British helped locate the Kursk wreck. Here is the UK deep submersible rescue vehicle LR5.

However, the rescue effort was hampered by the depth of the submarine and the cold water. This made it difficult for divers to access the wreckage.

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The Aftermath

The aftermath of the sinking was marked by grief and anger among the families of the crew members and the wider Russian public. Many people criticised the Russian government for its handling of the situation, and there were widespread calls for greater transparency in the military.

The sinking of the Kursk was a significant blow to the Russian Navy and to the Russian people. It was the worst submarine disaster in Russian history, and it led to calls for greater accountability in the Russian Navy.

The Russian Navy eventually managed to recover the bodies of the crew, and an investigation was launched into the cause of the accident. The investigation determined that the most likely cause of the explosion was a faulty torpedo that had detonated inside the submarine.

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The sinking of the Kursk led to a number of changes in the Russian Navy. It highlighted the need for greater safety measures and improved training for submariners, and it led to a renewed focus on modernising the Russian Navy’s submarine fleet.

Legacy

The Russian submarine Kursk was a state-of-the-art vessel that was built to be one of the most advanced submarines in the world. Its tragic sinking in August 2000, however, highlighted the dangers of submarine operations and the importance of safety and accountability in military organisations.

President Putin meets families at the time of the sinking. The disaster caused a public outcry.

The loss of the Kursk and its crew was a significant event in Russian history and had a profound impact on the families and loved ones of the crew members. The incident also led to increased international cooperation in submarine rescue and recovery operations, with countries around the world working together to improve their capabilities in the event of a submarine disaster.

Today, the Kursk remains a powerful symbol of the dangers of submarine operations and the need for greater safety measures and improved training for submariners.

While advances in technology have made submarines safer and more capable than ever before, the risks of operating in the depths of the ocean remain significant, and it is important that military organisations continue to prioritise safety and accountability in their submarine operations.

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In conclusion, the Russian submarine Kursk was a remarkable vessel that represented the cutting edge of submarine technology at the time of its launch. Its tragic sinking and the loss of its crew, however, served as a reminder of the dangers of submarine operations and the importance of safety and accountability in military organizations.

While the legacy of the Kursk will always be marked by tragedy, its story also serves as a testament to the courage and sacrifice of those who serve in the Russian Navy and other military organisations around the world.