Russian Submarine K-141 Kursk Sinks in the Barents Sea

It was a year ago that the Russian nuclear powered submarine, the Kursk, sank with all of its 118 crew.

The cause of the accident has yet to be established and amidst the controversy which surrounded it, the tragedy remains the single biggest error of judgement by Vladimir Putin during his time as Russian president.

No one blamed Mr Putin for the fact that when the news came through that the pride of the Russian navy submarine fleet was lying on the bottom of the Barents Sea, he was on holiday in Sochi.

But for the first time in the four months that Mr Putin had been president, he came in for serious criticism when he stayed in Sochi.

At 11:28:26.5 Moscow time an explosion, or rather a seismic event, was detected onboard surface vessels of the Northern Fleet which took part in the exercise and onboard an American submarine, spying on the training exercise. At 11:30 and 44.5 seconds the Northern Fleet's surface ships detected the second 'seismic event', which was much more powerful than the first.

The second explosion, or rather a chain of minor consecutive explosions, completely devastated the bow section of the submarine, including the first, second and the third compartments. It also damaged the forth, fifth and the fifth-extra compartments, killing everyone in there in a matter of seconds. The explosion stopped at the bulkhead separating the sixth compartment — the reactors' compartment. The submarine then hit the seabed at the depth of 110 to 112 metres.

For President Vladimir Putin, the Kursk crisis was not merely a human tragedy, it was a personal PR catastrophe. Twenty-four hours after the submarine's disappearance, as Russian naval officials made bleak calculations about the chances of the 118 men on board, Putin was filmed enjoying himself, shirtsleeves rolled up, hosting a barbecue at his holiday villa on the Black Sea.”

— Amelia Gentleman

The explosive reaction of 1.5 tons of concentrated hydrogen peroxide and 500 kg of kerosene blew off the torpedo tube cover and the internal tube door. (The torpedo tube cover was later found on the seabed and its position relative to the rest of the submarine served as evidence of this version of the event.) The tube door, which should be capable of resisting such explosion, was not properly closed; the electrical connectors between the torpedoes and the tube doors were unreliable and often required repeated reclosing of the door before a contact was established, so it is likely that at the moment of explosion the door was not fully closed. The blast entered the front compartment, probably killing all seven men there. The bulkhead should have arrested the blast wave, but it was penetrated by a light air conditioning channel which allowed passage of the blast wave, fire and toxic smoke into the second and perhaps third and fourth compartments, injuring or disorienting the 36 men in the command post located in the second compartment and preventing initiating the emergency blowout and resurfacing the submarine. Additionally, an emergency buoy, designed to release from a submarine automatically when emergency conditions such as rapidly changing pressure or fire are detected and intended to help rescuers locate the stricken vessel, did not deploy. The previous summer, in a Mediterranean mission, fears of the buoy accidentally deploying, and thereby revealing the submarine's position to the U.S. fleet, had led to the buoy being disabled.

Two minutes and fifteen seconds after the initial eruption, a much larger explosion ripped through the submarine. Seismic data from stations across Northern Europe show that the explosion occurred at the same depth as the sea bed, suggesting that the submarine had collided with the sea floor which, combined with rising temperatures due to the initial explosion, had caused other torpedoes to explode. The second explosion was equivalent to 2-3 tons of TNT, or about 5-7 torpedo warheads, and measured 4.2 on the Richter scale. Acoustic data from Pyotr Veliky indicated an explosion of about 7 torpedo warheads in a rapid succession.