Almost 50 years ago, the Soviet diesel submarine with a ballistic missile project 629А, which in August 1974 was secretly lifted from the bottom of the ocean by Americans in August, tragically died in the waters of the Pacific. This operation was called the “Azorian Project”, and some experts compared it in complexity and ambition with the flight to the Moon.
A terrible tragedy with our submarine happened 8 March 1968, killed 98 people. The 1968 year was very tragic for the submarines of many countries: the Israeli Dakar, the French Minerva, the American Scorpion and, finally, the Soviet K-129 - all of them died at that time.
The materials about the CIA operation for lifting from the bottom of the Pacific the Soviet diesel submarine of the 629 project "K-129" with the D-4 missile system, the US national archive of classified materials declassified only 12 in February of 2010.
Ship "Glomar Explorer". Photo from www.navy.mil
The published document is an 50-page report of American intelligence for internal use. True, the researchers were not able to get the full text of the document from the CIA, because part of the report is washed out. Prior to this, the CIA for a long time adhered to the policy of silence on this issue.
The operation itself became public after a year, in February, 1975, when the Los Angeles Times published an article about the Jennifer project, the real name of which became known in the 2010 year.
According to statements by US officials, the bodies of six Soviet seamen, found in raised compartments, were buried with military honors at sea. In October, 1992, CIA Director Robert Gates, at a meeting in Moscow, handed over a videotape recording of the burial ritual of Soviet submariners from the crew of K-129 to Russian President Boris Yeltsin. But on the video presented to the Russian side, the burial of only two bodies was captured. The burial of the bodies in the sea was carried out according to the ritual adopted in the Soviet Navy with the naval flag covered with the sounds of the Soviet Anthem.
ONE OF THE FIRST STRATEGES
The government resolution of the Soviet Union on January 26, 1954, provided for the creation of two carriers of ballistic missiles: a diesel submarine of the 629 project and a nuclear submarine of the 658 project. In accordance with the tactical-technical assignment issued in May 1954, the armament of these boats was to consist of four R-11FM ballistic missiles. The task provided for maximum unification with the torpedo submarine of the 611 project and the more modern one - the 641 project.
The project of the first boat was prescribed to develop TsKB-16, headed by N.N. Isanin, and the second - SKB-143 - led by V.N. Peregudov. Already at the stage of preliminary design of diesel-electric submarines of the project 629 N.N. Isanin expressed doubt in the desirability of arming both boats with an obsolete complex. He, in particular, wrote: “The armament of submarines with ballistic missiles with a range of 250 km with sufficiently deep anti-submarine defense off the coast of the enemy, reaching 300 – 400 km, cannot ensure the successful performance of a submarine of its main task - striking targets in depth enemy territory. " Earlier for the R-11FM missiles of the D-1 complex developed by S.P. A queen with a range of 150 km was built five submarines of the project 611АВ with two launch shafts in the felling fence.
The point of view of the head of TsKB-16 was supported by S.P. Korolev and Navy Commander-in-Chief Admiral fleet Soviet Union S.G. Gorshkov. According to them, on August 25, 1955, that is, even before the start of testing the R-11FM from a submarine in September 1955, the government of the Soviet Union adopted a decree obliging industry to develop the D-2 complex. It was based on a ballistic missile having a flight range of 400-600 km and limited dimensions — a length of not more than 12 m and a diameter of 1,3 m. It is important to note that for the first time in our country there was a requirement to develop not only a missile, but also its carrier. They, together with the coastal infrastructure, were a complex.
11 January 1956 of the year came out a modified technical task for the submarine of the project 629 and the D-2 missile system with a new surface launch missile. At the initial stage, work on the missile system was conducted at OKB-1, NII-88, under the guidance of S.P. The Queen, but in March 1956, they were transferred to the authority of the newly formed SKB-385, which was headed by V.P. Makeev. Missile complex D-2 received the designation P-13. Compared with its predecessor (P-11FM), it had twice the starting mass (13,56 versus 5,52 t), but at the same time the same way to start was from the surface position of the boat with the ascent to the upper cut of the shaft (actually cutting) and subsequent turning of the launch pad for targeting. This circumstance caused, for reasons of ensuring the required parameters of carrier stability, to reduce the ammunition to three missiles.
The construction of two 629 project headboats began in 1957, in Severodvinsk and Komsomolsk-on-Amur. At the end of 1958, they were submitted for testing. By the beginning of 1960, the Northern Fleet received five boats, and the Pacific Fleet - two. In total, they built 22 units. Prior to the adoption of the P-13 missiles, three boats, delivered by that time, carried three P-11FMs each.
The P-13 rocket was adopted in October 1960. A year later, on October 20 of the year 1961, in the course of the Raduga exercise, the world's only practical launch from a submarine was performed (the commander of K-102 was GI Kaymak, the commander of the missile warhead was VN Arkhipov, the commander of the control group, VF Savenko, of a P-13 ballistic missile in combat equipment with a megaton-class thermonuclear charge.
The shooting was carried out by two launches at the landfill on Novaya Zemlya. The head of the first missile in inert equipment came to the battlefield with a significant deviation in range and direction from the aiming point. This happened because the launch was carried out in conditions of stormy weather and the boat was unable to clarify its coordinates. The launch of the missile with a warhead was made in the same difficult weather conditions. The equipment of the battlefield on Novaya Zemlya recorded an airborne nuclear explosion at a point with coordinates slightly different from the place where the first rocket fell.
However, the P-13 rocket practically became immediately obsolete, although it met the requirements of the TTZ, due to its relatively short range and method of firing. The last drawback was recognized as the most significant, and already on February 3 of the year, 1955 was decided to start working out the underwater missile launch. As a result, the USSR Council of Ministers Decree of 15 of May 1963 of the year adopted the D-4 complex with the P-21 missile. Starting from 1963, the 14 ships were upgraded by the 629A project under the ballistic P-21 with an underwater launch and a firing range of up to 1400 km.
The project was developed with the condition to minimize the amount of work on modernization. The main changes underwent the fourth compartment and its inter-shell space. New rocket mines and additional ballast tanks were installed to prevent the boat from ascending after firing. The mines of the Р-21 missiles, as well as Р-13, were located in the fencing of the wheelhouse.
The P-21 missile of the D-4 complex in terms of its technical level was a significant step forward. Shooting was carried out from depth to 50 m, at sea state up to 5 points and submarine speed to 4 nodes. The time between the launches of the first two missiles was about 5 minutes. At the same time, the D-4 complex in range was inferior to the American Polaris A-1 complexes (2200 km range), adopted for service in the 1960 year, that is, three years earlier, and the Polaris A-2 (range - 2800 km), taken a year earlier. The accuracy of the American missiles was higher (the 1800 CBO against the 2800 of the P-21), but the P-21 thermonuclear warhead was more powerful. In addition, American missile carriers carried 16 missiles against Soviet submarines against 3.
The first Soviet submarines with underwater launch ballistic missiles were in combat until the end of the 80s. During the operation of the missile carriers with the P-21 missiles, invaluable experience of combat patrols was obtained, which later made it possible to create a highly efficient naval component of the strategic forces and, ultimately, to ensure nuclear parity.
LOSS OF THE UNDERWATER K-129
8 March 1968, the operational duty officer at the central command post of the Navy announced the alarm - “K-129” did not signal the passage of the control line, due to the military order. It turned out that the crew of the squadron did not even have a list of the crew, signed by the submarine commander himself and certified by the ship’s stamp.
From mid-March to May 1968, a secret operation, unprecedented in scope, was conducted to search for the disappeared submarine, in which dozens of ships of the Kamchatka flotilla and aviation Pacific Fleet. "K-129" stubbornly searched at the calculated point of the route. The faint hope that the submarine was drifting in the water position, having no progress and radio communications, did not materialize in two weeks. The place of the probable death of "K-129" in official documents was designated as the point "K".
The search for the submarine continued for 73 days. After they were completed, the relatives and friends of all the crew members received funerals with an unconventional record “declared dead”. Commander-in-Chief of the USSR Navy S.G. Gorshkov made an unprecedented statement, refusing to acknowledge the death of the submarine and the entire crew. The official refusal of the USSR government from the sunken submarine "K-129" led to the fact that it actually became an "unowned find." Thus, any country that discovered the missing submarine, it was not clear under what flag went, could claim it. And of course, everything that is inside the underwater ship. At the same time, at that time, all submarines going to the march from the bases from the shores of the USSR were painted over the tail number. Thus, upon detection of "K-129" did not even have any identifying marks.
In any case, the tragedy led to an investigation into the causes of the death of K-129, for which two commissions were created: the government commissioned by the vice-chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers L.V. Smirnova and the Navy Commission, which was headed by one of the most experienced submariners, First Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Navy V.A. Kasatonov. The conclusions that both commissions made were similar. They recognized that the fault of the crew of the submarine in the death of the ship is missing. The most reliable cause of the catastrophe could be a dip to a depth below the limit due to the freezing of the float valve of the air shaft RDP (mode of operation of diesel engines under water). An indirect confirmation of this version was that the command of the fleet headquarters ordered the commanders to use the RDP mode as much as possible. In addition, the percentage of time sailing in this mode has become one of the criteria for the success of the tasks of the hike. The second official version was underwater collision with a foreign submarine.
There are also a number of unofficial versions expressed by different specialists in different years: a collision with a surface vessel or transport at a periscope depth; failure to the depths exceeding the maximum immersion depth, and violation of the design strength of the body due to this; hitting the slope of the internal ocean waves (the nature of the occurrence of which has not yet been precisely established); the explosion of the battery (AB) during its charging as a result of exceeding the permissible concentration of hydrogen (one of the American versions).
In 1998, the book by Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew was published in the USA: Hidden-Hidden Color Game. Unknown история American underwater espionage. It presented three main versions of the death of "K-129": the crew lost control; technical accident, which grew into a catastrophe (AB explosion); collision with another ship. The AB explosion version on a submarine can hardly be considered probable, because throughout the history of submarine fleets of the world a significant number of such explosions were recorded, but none of them resulted in the destruction of the strong hull of the boat.
The most likely version of the collision may be "K-129" with the American submarine "Suordfish" (translated as "swordfish"). Its very name makes it possible to imagine the structure of this submarine, the conning tower of which is protected by two “fins” similar to sharks. The same version, according to a number of experts, is confirmed by the pictures taken at the place of the death of the K-129 from the American nuclear submarine Helibat using a deep-water apparatus. They depict the hull of a Soviet submarine, on which a narrow deep hole is visible from the port side in the bulkhead area between the second and third compartments. The boat itself lay on the ground on an even keel, and this could mean that the collision could occur underwater at a depth safe for a ram attack of a surface ship. Apparently, “Suordfish”, following the Soviet submarine, lost acoustic contact, which forced her to go to the K-129 location to re-establish contact, but when it appeared, there was not enough time to prevent a collision.
Some researchers cite as evidence of this version, for example, evidence that in the spring of 1968, reports began to appear in the foreign press that a few days after the disappearance of K-129, the Japanese port of Yokosuka came in with a crumpled barricade of the conning tower and became an emergency repair. The whole operation was classified. The boat stood on the repair only one night, for which she was made redecoration: patches imposed, tinted hull. In the morning she left the parking lot. After this incident, “Suordfish” did not sail for a year and a half. The Americans tried to explain the fact of damage to their submarine by its collision with an iceberg, which clearly did not correspond to reality, since icebergs were not found in the central part of the ocean in March. And in general, they do not swim in this area even at the end of winter, and not in spring.
Everyone can choose what he wants to believe - the fact remains that thanks to the SOSUS hydroacoustic antisubmarine system data, by the summer of the 1968, the Americans were able to determine the exact location of the K-129. Specialists of the US Navy listened to kilometers of tape recordings received from bottom acoustic stations. In the cacophony of the sounds of the ocean, they managed to find a fragment where the “clap” was recorded. The signal came from a ground station installed on an elevation of the Imperial Mountains (part of the ocean floor) at a distance more than 300 miles from the intended crash site. Given the accuracy of SOSUS direction finding in 5 – 10 degrees, the position of “K-129” was defined as a “spot” the size of 30 miles. The submarine rested at a depth of 5600 m, at a distance of almost 3000 km from the Hawaiian Islands.
The United States, convinced of the death of K-129, launched the secret Azorian project, which was personally approved by US President Richard Nixon in 1969. According to Nixon and National Defense Advisor Henry Kissinger, the United States should have raised a Soviet submarine and studied it in order to learn the strengths and weaknesses of the enemy.
Indeed, if successful, you can get access to Soviet ciphers, secret documents and code books. Of particular interest was the Soviet nuclear weapon - aboard the K-129 were three P-21 missiles with megaton warheads and two torpedoes with nuclear warheads. In addition, the USSR did not declare the loss of the ship, which means that the party that had found it would have become its owner. In the 1960-ies, the cold war was at its height, and the state of tough confrontation bore fruit — the thought itself involuntarily sneaked into the head: why not secretly lift the submarine?
The project was overseen by John Parangoski, one of the leaders of the CIA’s science and technology department, as well as Ernest Zellmer, a World War II veteran and a submarine specialist at the United States Naval Academy. This strictly secret department worked in a pavilion called "Jennifer". Therefore, many articles in 1970-x mistakenly called this operation the project "Jennifer". In the USSR, this name of the secret operation was also widely adopted. In a published report, it was noted that initially the Azorian project leaders believed that the probability of success for the entire enterprise was only 10%. It was necessary to lift a sunken ship weighing 5 tons from the depth of 1750 km. Nevertheless, in October 1970, the Parangoski team came to the conclusion: the only way to lift K-129 was to create a special ship with a unique mechanism of high-strength winches.
As a result, Hughes Tool Co., the owner of which was an eccentric millionaire reclusive Howard Hughes, was chosen to carry out this unusual order. He was beautifully played in the American film Aviator by actor Leonardo DiCaprio. As they say, the designers began to doubt the realism of the project, but then, of course, started to work. Everything, starting from the development of the concept and ending with the first tests, took only a whole 41 a month and spent 350 million dollars - taking into account inflation now this amount would be 1,7 billion.
To begin with, it was necessary to establish the exact location of K-129 and assess its condition. This took up the atomic submarine for special operations USS "Khalibat". The former missile carrier was thoroughly modernized and saturated to the top with oceanological equipment: side thrusters, anchor device with bow and stern mushroom anchor, diving camera, far and near side sonars, and the deep-sea towed Fish module.
When Halibat was at a design point, days of hard work were stretching. Every six days they lifted the deep-sea apparatus to recharge the film in the cameras. Then the photo lab was working at a frantic pace (the camera was making 24 frames per second). Then one day a picture with a clearly delineated feather of the K-129 submarine was laid down on the table. After the discovery of the K-129, the Halibat made 22 more thousand of shots of the Soviet submarine.
During the study of the remains of the "K-129" it turned out that the submarine broke into several parts. To get everything desired, it was necessary to raise the 42-meter bow “K-129”, which was of the greatest interest for intelligence.
In November, the ship “Glomar Explorer” was laid in the shipyards of Pennsylvania 1971, and in November 1972 was launched. At the same time, in the shipyards in San Diego, the barge HMB-1 and the deep-sea seizure Clementine were under construction. Such a distribution of production ensured complete secrecy of the operation. Even the engineers directly involved in the project, separately, could not understand the purpose of these devices (ship, capture and barge).
"Glomar Explorer" was a single-deck twin-screw vessel with a displacement of 50 thousand tons with a central slot (the so-called moon pool), above which was a huge stabilized tower and two mobile columns, the bow two-tier and aft four-tier superstructures, aft arrangement of the engine room. The “lunar basin” (its dimensions were 60,6 x 22,5 x 19,8 m) occupied almost a third of the vessel and served as a dock for accommodating deep-sea capture and parts of a raised submarine. The length of the "K-129" was 98,9 m, so, given the size of the dock, the popular version that, they say, the submarine intended to lift the whole, is hardly true - it simply would not fit there. And, in fact, it is now known that the main goal was the 42-meter submarine section. Bottom "moon pool" was closed with bottom sheets with rubber seals.
Along the diametral plane, in the bow and in the stern from the central slot, movable columns were installed, designed to receive a gripping device from a submerged barge. In appearance, they resembled retractable supports on offshore drilling rigs and, according to the authors, were supposed to mislead outside observers that the vessel was supposed to be officially engaged in geological prospecting on the sea shelf. After a series of tests on the East Coast in 1973, the Glomar Explorer was transferred to the West Coast, where the HMB-1 barge was waiting for him with a grab installed on it.
The barge was slowly loaded and fixed at a depth of 30 m, the “Glomar Explorer” stood above it; the flaps of its central connector were parted and two columns were lowered into the water; at this time, the roof of the barge opened, and the columns, like Chinese chopsticks while eating, moved the Clementine inside the vessel to the Moon Pool. As soon as the capture got on board the ship, massive underwater shutters were closed and water from the internal pool was pumped out. After that, the ship began work on the preparation of the seizure to lift the submarine.
In July 1974, the Glomar Explorer, disguised as an oil production vessel, arrived at the K-129 accident site and began the descent of the Clementine deep-sea capture. For this, a pipe column was used, which was assembled by a crane from sections of length 18,2 m. In order to reach the bottom, it took more than 300 of such sections.
The works stretched for more than a month - almost all the time, there were two Soviet ships near the Glomar Explorer. The ship of the “Chazhma” measuring complex and the rescue tug SB-10 brought a lot of trouble. The stay of the “Glomar Explorer” in this region of the Pacific Ocean and the fact that deep-water operations in the middle of the ocean were suspected by the command of the Soviet Navy. However, all lifting work was carried out under water and were reliably hidden from prying eyes. Therefore, in the end, the Soviet ships were gone.
9 August operation was completed, and the "Glomar Explorer" lay on the reverse course. Naturally, the question arises, what exactly did you manage to raise? The most popular version, which was voiced, including some of the participants in the operation, says that when climbing at a depth of about 1500 m, part of the claws of the grip failed and broke, going to the bottom along with the main part of the submarine. In the raised 12-meter section "K-129" six bodies were found, of which three were identified by documents.
Sufficient information to determine the number and characteristics of the raised wreck of the submarine has not been published. At the same time, it is known from the leaked information that at least three fragments of a submarine, including its nose, were lifted. The published report also does not give the answer that was found in these fragments. However, researchers believe that ballistic missiles, code books and other equipment remained at the bottom. In general, it is believed that the objective of the operation was not fully achieved. Nevertheless, two torpedoes with nuclear warheads and a number of other objects of interest to American intelligence were found in the raised part.
Even after almost 50 years, this story continues to capture the imagination with its intrigue, drama, complexity and scope. The Azorian project as a whole took more than 800 million dollars, and this money at that time could be enough to send an expedition to the moon. This price of one of the unusual episodes of the Cold War underlines the severity of the confrontation between the parties.