It would not be an exaggeration to say that the K-19 boat passed its combat path literally along the razor's edge. Due to the fact that this submarine cruiser several times put the world almost on the brink of an atomic catastrophe, he received the eloquent nickname “Hiroshima”. To understand the origins of all the events that resulted in the most terrible catastrophe at K-19 1972 of the year, it is necessary to return many years ago to the birth of the vessel.
In the middle of the 50s, the Soviet government decided to create the first atomic bomber. The submarine with nuclear missiles on board was to play the role of a decisive argument in the “cold” confrontation between the two political worlds. Due to the paramount importance of the task to create K-19, all the possibilities and means of defense enterprises, as well as the design offices of the country, were thrown. In the same period, in 1958, a special bureau was established in the USA, the task of which was to build the American nuclear submarine "George Washington". The director of the created bureau was endowed with unlimited powers; he had at his disposal the economic opportunities of practically the entire western world. Thus, the starting positions of the rivals were approximately equal.
October 17 1958 of the year is considered the day of the beginning of work on the creation of the first atomic rocket carrier in the USSR. Engineers strongly rushed, it was necessary to get ahead of the accursed Americans. The designers and shipbuilders employed in the project worked around the clock, the bill went on for days, and sometimes for hours. Eyewitnesses say that the construction took place in three shifts, that is, the process was almost continuous. In each shift directly involved in the construction of more than three thousand people. Such hasty actions, of course, were not long in coming. The boat, which was built in Severodvinsk misfortune began to pursue already on the stocks. During the painting of the holds a fire broke out in which two people died.
After the resumption of paint work choked a painter. And when the keel of the K-19 touched the water for the first time, the bottle of champagne, which was traditionally smashed against the side of a newly launched vessel, remained intact, which is considered to be a bad omen. When the dock chamber was filled with water, the submarine simply did not surface, as the staff forgot to give off the mounts that held the ship on the trigger cart.
And then everything was only worse. When the reactor was started up, the pressure in the chamber exceeded the norm twice, and just by a miracle no one received a lethal dose of radiation. In addition, the designers did not manage to eliminate the initial roll in one degree, which arose when the boat was immersed. As a result, when the vessel for the first time went to its maximum depth, it was tilted by forty degrees. An urgent ascent of the K-19, which took place in emergency mode in just ten seconds, almost led to a collision with nearby vessels participating in the testing of the submarine.
After the incident, many asked themselves a belated question: was it worth it to hurry? Could it be much more reasonable to first eliminate all the shortcomings on paper, carefully calculate the indicators, and only then proceed to their implementation in the metal? But the government, which was well aware of the nature of the problems that had arisen, postponed the achievement of quality excellence for the future, preferring terms. In fairness it should be noted that some designers also considered the trial and error method as the most acceptable when it came to creating new generation vessels. They believed that it was impossible to foresee everything without using practical possibilities and not carrying out real tests.
When, on December 30, 1959, the nuclear submarine George Washington joined the naval fleet USA, on its board were installed sixteen missiles that could launch from under water and hit a target at a distance of two thousand kilometers. At the same time, the nuclear charge of each missile was approximately equal to the five bombs dropped earlier on Hiroshima. On the same day in the USSR, work was already underway on K-19 to prepare the vessel for testing. Only three missiles were installed on the Soviet missile carrier, and their flight range was only 650 kilometers, that is, three times less than their American counterparts. In this case, the submarine could only fire from the surface. Given the tough confrontation between the two powers, this situation, to put it mildly, did not please the leadership of the USSR. In the summer of 1960, George Washington was ready to aim the missiles on board at sixteen large military and industrial centers located on our territory. And the act of acceptance of the Soviet missile carrier was signed only three months later.
Few people know that the date that we consider the Day of Astronautics, could become the day of the first major underwater catastrophe on a global scale. 12 On April 1961, in the Barents Sea region, K-19 managed at the last moment to avoid a collision with the American submarine “Nautilus”, which conducted reconnaissance patrols off the coast of the USSR. Imagine the consequences of a possible collision and the inevitable subsequent explosion was not difficult for anyone who knew about the danger of cargo on both vessels. However, the crew did not have time to recover, and K-19 presented a new unpleasant surprise — it plummeted into the depth, hitting the bottom of the nose, which, fortunately, was covered in this place by a thick multi-meter layer of silt.
The catastrophe was avoided that day, but in the summer of 1961, the first major tragedy occurred in its distant campaign to the Arctic on K-19, about which the world only found out decades later. In bitter irony military exercises, the submarine was supposed to portray the enemy vessel "George Washington." At this time on the first submarine missile carrier there was a reactor breakdown. The team did the impossible - not having special knowledge and appropriate equipment, people saved the ship from death. But for this, some crew members had to sacrifice their lives by entering the radiation-contaminated compartment. However, the courageous sailors understood that saving the boat, save the whole world from disaster, since the death of K-19 would lead to the contamination of the waters of the world’s ocean. With an unfavorable outcome, humanity would have gained the sad experience of the Chernobyl accident half a century earlier and on a wider global scale. In addition, the explosion on the submarine, which was located near the NATO military base, could well be the first step towards a third world war.
Later, when the head of state, Khrushchev, considered the views of the sailors working in the reactor compartment at that time, to awards with the title of Hero of the USSR, he cynically flared up and imposed the following resolution: “We do not award awards for accidents”! Meanwhile, to that day, the submariners Boris Korchilov, Yuri Ordochkin, Yevgeny Koshenkov, Semyon Penkov, Nikolai Savkin, Valery Kharitonov, Yury Povstyev and Boris Ryzhikov have already died in terrible agony. They were awarded orders posthumously, but at the same time the country's leadership did everything so that no one would know about that accident. For a long time, few people had information about the real reason for awarding courageous sailors.
The submarine commander, who was the first to arrive at the K-19 accident site, became an unwitting witness to the funeral of Boris Ryzhikov. To his question about why the chief officer died, he was told that Boris was simply killed by a current ....
Little known and curious data that in the same 1961 year, the crew of the K-19 again saved the ship. After the first accident of the reactor, the state commission, headed by Academician Aleksandrov, decided to flood the submarine, refusing to repair and restore it. But the crew decided to independently conduct decontamination of the emergency reactor compartment and unload the warheads. And those who had to prepare the ship for destruction literally centimeter thoroughly washed it with almost bare hands, while receiving significant doses of radiation. The higher ranks were aware of the actions of the crew, but they silently, through their fingers, watched the actual suicide of people and their desire to thwart the sinking of the submarine at the established time limit. And the sailors simply felt the burden of responsibility and realized that they could not abandon the ship after their friends and colleagues had given their lives to save the ship.
When the submarine was washed, twelve volunteers took K-19 for repairs. And here the unexpected happened again. Already on the way to Severodvinsk the boat ran aground. The fuel ran out, the generators stopped, the lighting and heat were gone, and very soon there was no food. And then people had to be rescued again. During repairs, the K-19 reactor compartment was replaced, and the old one was flooded near the coast of Novaya Zemlya. The submarine was modernized and equipped with newer missile systems. Now the ship could fire from a submerged position. The veil of secrecy around the ship was so dense that even the new crew was unaware of the tragedy that had happened earlier on their ship. No one in the country was supposed to know how much the competition with a political opponent cost us.
In the 1965 year, K-19 successfully conducted combat service for more than a month, completing all the tasks assigned to the crew. And in 1967, the boat will even receive a prize from the commander-in-chief of the Navy for success in rocket shooting, becoming the best ship in the Northern Fleet. To the initiate to all the secrets of the top leadership it began to seem that the misfortunes of the submarine were over and the worst was over. But only two years later, K-19 again became the cause of the almost starting world war.
On the morning of November 15, the boat was on a training task in the Barents Sea when 1969 was in motion at a slow speed at seven o'clock in the morning, the crew felt a strong blow in the bow area. The ship began to rapidly fall into the depths. The submarine commander was able to lift the vessel, which, as it turned out later, collided with the American submarine Gato, conducting reconnaissance off the Soviet coast. Unfortunately, the blow fell on the part of the ship where the reactor was located. At the time of the collision, the commander of the torpedo compartment on a US ship decided that the Soviet boat deliberately went to the ram, and gave the order to retaliate the attack - preparing for the firing of three torpedoes and nuclear missiles. But a nuclear explosion near the bases of the Northern Fleet could well be perceived as the first stage of an attack on the USSR. But the American captain, having oriented himself in a timely manner, canceled the order of attack, managing to prevent a terrible catastrophe.
However, this was not the end of the sad biography of the boat. Three years later, on February 24 of 1972 in 10 hours of the 15 watch, watch the ninth compartment, detecting the fan’s smoke, asked the watch mechanic for permission to start ventilating the room. A little time later, a fire message was received from there, and from the compartment there were shouts, coughing and knocking on the bulkheads. Two minutes later, the connection with the fire-ridden compartment was cut off. It should be noted that the fire started under water is a bit like a volumetric explosion, and the ignited compartment almost instantly turns into a hot furnace. All crew members knew what people were left in the compartment, but according to the rules they could not open the access hatch and help their fellow soldiers. In order to avoid the spread of fire, the compartment had to be sealed so that everyone else would get a chance at salvation.
Despite the measures taken, the fire and carbon monoxide was able to quickly spread through the ship, the number of victims began to grow. Then the submarine commander captain 1-th rank Kulibaba ordered the immediate ascent. On the rise took thirty minutes. According to the charter, the commander was supposed to report "up" the reason for the violation of the secrecy of a warship. Half an hour after the report to the authorities about the accident, members of the leadership of the country and the party had already learned. For the purpose of secrecy, the mode of transferring data on the situation on the ship was determined only once a day, and eight ships went to the aid of the emergency submarine.
But the submariners could not wait, they had to fight for the survivability of the boat, because getting into the torpedo compartment could lead to a strong explosion and leakage of radiation. The captain decided to shut down the reactor in order to avoid the tragedy. The situation was complicated by the fact that at the time of the ascent of K-19 a nine-point storm was raging at that time. The stopped boat was covered with a wave, the water was flooded with an emergency diesel, which could not be started. This eliminated the possibility of restoring lighting and the beginning of the ventilation of the premises. Meanwhile, the eighth and ninth compartments continued to blaze.
On the second day of the disaster in 2 hours of 40 minutes in the Danish Strait area, the tanker Liepāja approached the ship. Attempts to take the K-19 in tow ended in failure due to the ongoing strong storm, which did not allow to approach the submarine at a sufficient distance. By this time, Kulibaba first reported to the authorities about the victims of the accident, the number of which had already reached twenty-five people. The fate of another fifteen sailors was unknown. At that moment, when everyone had already come to terms with the idea that there were no living people left behind the fifth compartment, in 2 hours of 55 minutes the ship’s telephone rang, which the sailors humorously called the “1916 year miracle”. This reliable means of communication had undoubted advantages as a result of the accident, because it worked even with the vessel completely de-energized, besides possessing high strength. The surviving people from the tenth compartment called. As the submariners themselves later tell, they managed to use individual breathing apparatus SP-60. There were only four of them. When checking one of the oxygen cylinders in the compartment was empty, and one of the masks - untight due to oversight of the staff. In order to prevent carbon monoxide gas from poisoning the neighboring compartment, the sailors had to share with each other oxygen from the masks.
Having received the message, the rest of the crew attempted to free the survivors. For this it was necessary to overcome two (eighth and ninth) burnt-out compartments. But after opening the bulkhead, oxygen entered the ninth emergency compartment, causing the fire to flare up even more. When the rescue attempt ended in failure, and the crew realized that as long as it was not possible to pick up people, the question arose of how to alleviate their situation. The aft compartment was no more than 140 cubic meters, but half of this space was occupied by equipment. The air volume was small and rapidly decreased with each passing hour. It was necessary to urgently supply oxygen to the compartment with people. And then they remembered the pipe through which water was pumped into the feed tanks. This pipeline survived, and therefore became a real salvation for people cut off from the rest of the crew. Oxygen was allowed through the pipe, which significantly improved the situation. Now people’s lives were threatened with factors such as hunger, thirst, and especially cold. After all, the boat was in the North Atlantic, and there were only four degrees of heat behind.
In the tenth compartment was a tank with fresh water, but for someone's negligence, it was empty. However, the sailors knew that the “dead supply” of water with a volume of 100-150 liters was always kept in such tanks. The quality of this water, which stood for a long time in a closed container, was not important at that time, because the question was about life and death. To taste, as the “hermits” themselves said, it was disgusting and, most likely, rusty, but in the dark it was not visible. The lanterns in the compartment had already reached their end of life. Gathering water through the broken instrument panel, people poured it into bottles and warmed under padded coats, saving every sip. During the inspection of the entire premises, the sailors also found four packs of sugar, two cans of condensed milk, and canned cabbage, which helped to hold out for a period of time. There was also a large amount of salt in the compartment, which saved the sailors from overcooling.
On the fourth day of imprisonment, February 27, in the area of the K-19 accident there were already seven Soviet ships, one of which was a rescue ship. But attempts to take the submarine in tow still failed, the storm did not subside, and the height of the wave was twelve to fourteen meters. The death toll has risen to twenty-eight people, and the condition of people in the tenth compartment has become almost critical. Another attempt to release them ended like a previous new outbreak of fire. Meanwhile, when the storm slightly weakened the grip, the vessels were able to approach the boat and take it in tow. But then a new problem appeared - the ropes broke off as soon as the rescue ships began towing.
On the fifth day of imprisonment of the crew on a submarine, four aircraft dropped several dozen containers with rescue equipment and food near the submarine. Sailors of rescue ships four times tried to take K-19 in tow, but the ropes were still torn. On the sixth day, the emergency batteries, radio and flashlights were transferred to the crew. The connection with the tenth compartment was no longer present, and the supply of fresh air for the people isolated there failed, which further worsened the atmospheric conditions in the room. Locked there people made filters from pieces of a woolen blanket in order not to get poisoned, but even such air had to be saved. Everyone who was not busy, tried to lie down in order to consume less oxygen. One sailor was constantly on duty near the bulkhead, pouring it with seawater to reduce the temperature. However, the water quickly evaporated, and in the compartment it became stuffy, like in a steam room.
On the seventh day, with the help of a rescue rope, the first twelve crew members were removed from the submarine, and the hot tea and food products were transferred to the boat. 3 March, the ninth day, arrived large anti-submarine ship "Vice-Admiral Drozd." In the conditions of an eight-point storm, despite the prohibitions and rules, a helicopter rose from its rocking deck. The first attempt to pick up the crew of the boat and disembark the emergency team failed, but the next two days, when the storm subsided, sixty-two more people managed to take off with the help of a helicopter and rescue ships.
By 5 March, thirty-one people remained on K-19, twelve of whom were in the ill-fated tenth compartment. The sea was raging again, and the lurch of an emergency vessel at times reached sixty degrees. Attempts to take a submarine in tow were hopeless, and people from the deck of the submarine simply flushed overboard with strong waves. So because of the breakage of the safety ends, two more people died.
When the second week of imprisonment ended, 7 March managed to deliver low-voltage lighting to the cut-off compartment, but this did not help the people there, who had completely lost hope of staying alive. Two days later, the weather improved, the remaining crew managed to start the emergency diesel, and they began to ventilate the compartments. But only 12 March turned out to send emergency crews to the ship, who prepared to rescue the tenth prisoners. At this point, the Leningrad cruiser and the US patrol ship approached the accident area. In the sky periodically flew NATO planes.
Only on the twenty-third day, a report arrived at the command post of the Navy in Moscow that personnel had been withdrawn from the tenth compartment at 18.58 and taken to the Gadzhiyev floating base. In order not to go blind after a long stay in the dark, all the sailors were blindfolded. Many had to carry on their hands, as people were completely exhausted. On the eighteenth day, the Russian rescue vessel Beshtau finally managed to take the K-19 in tow. The ship began to travel at a speed of six kilometers per hour.
For more than three weeks the crew of the K-19 fought for the ship. But the main thing - they did not allow the spread of fire into the torpedo compartment and prevented the leakage of radiation. After inspecting the boat, it became clear that the three compartments had completely burned out. Despite the prepared acts of the fleet commission to write off the ship, again there were those who defended the boat. A complete repair of the unlucky ship was made, and a new, even more advanced equipment was installed again. Within five months, the submarine again went on combat duty. And again for the whole country, the cause of death of many nuclear submariners remained covered in mystery, and all the circumstances of the accident were highly classified.
One of those who gained fame from the events in connection with the 1972 accident of the year was Vice-Admiral Sorokin, who received the Hero Star and was promoted. Becoming the commander of the flotilla, which included K-19, he ordered to demolish the monument erected after the first accident, to the sailors killed on the submarine. He explained his move by saying that such a structure negatively affects the morale of people.
Up until the very last day, K-19 did not leave sailors alone. In November, the 1978 of the year there was again a fire on it, and it was repeated in August of the 1982. Then there was a training torpedo hit and the boat, having got a hole, almost sank. However, for unknown reasons, submarines always had powerful defenders. Considering the K-19 as the first ship of this type, the ancestor of the nuclear submarine fleet, for forty years they returned it again and again. In August, the fleet command again tried to save X-NUMX from saving the K-2003 from destruction, but the idea of preserving this tragic ship seemed monstrous to someone "upstairs". The decision to dispose of the first submarine missile carrier remained in force.
During its existence, the submarine more than twenty thousand running hours passed about 560 thousand kilometers, six times went on combat duty, the total duration of which was 310 days. Twenty-two missiles were launched from the K-19 and about sixty torpedo firing operations were carried out. But who has the right to measure the listed achievements with the lost human lives and the grief of their loved ones?