In 1984, A Russian Submarine Accidentally Rammed A U.S. Aircraft Carrier

December 17, 2019 0 By HearthstoneYarns

Key point: Undersea stalkings sometimes go awry.

It was common throughout the Cold War for NATO and Soviet submarines to stalk surface ships and other submarines in order to gather intelligence and work out tactics for sinking the vessels in the event the conflict escalated into a shooting war.

More than once, these undersea stalkings went awry. Collisions damaged ships and subs on both sides. In 1984, the Soviet Victor-class attack submarine Petropavlovsk struck the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk.

The New York Times covered the March 21, 1984 collision. “Naval officers said the Kitty Hawk, which carries 85 planes, was in the Sea of Japan about 150 miles east of South Korea in joint naval exercises with South Korean forces,” the Times reported.

From the Times

Wire-service UPI explained that the carrier, accompanied by eight escorts, “apparently ran over the stern of the submarine as it was surfacing.”

“A submarine’s sonar is blind at its stern because of the sound of its own engines, and Pentagon officials indicated the Soviet boat’s skipper was unaware of the presence of the carrier when he attempted to surface.”

Capt. David Rogers, Kitty Hawk’s skipper, was on the bridge at the time of the collision and felt a “noticeable shudder, a fairly violent shudder,” according to the U.S. Navy’s official website.

As the Navy described it:

“The naval officers said there was no evidence of nuclear leakage from the submarine,” the Times continued. “Naval officers said the Kitty Hawk had received only a superficial dent and had resumed maneuvers.”

“The Sea of Japan has long been the scene of near-collisions and collisions,” the newspaper added. “In the late 1960s, Soviet destroyers frequently sailed close to American ships and occasionally collided.”

The Kitty Hawk scrape wasn’t the most serious collision involving a submarine during the Cold War. Ten years earlier in 1974 a Soviet attack submarine struck the U.S. Navy ballistic-missile sub James Madison while both nuclear-powered vessels were submerged off the Scotland coast.

Kate Hudson from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament told The Guardian that the 1974 incident, which became public only in 2017, exposed the “enormous risks” of nuclear weapons. “The history of nuclear weapons is a history of near misses, accidents, potential catastrophes and cover-ups.”

David Axe serves as Defense Editor of the National Interest. He is the author of the graphic novels  War Fix,War Is Boring and Machete Squad. This first appeared in September 2019.

Image: Wikimedia.

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