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K-219 was a Navaga-class ballistic missile submarine (NATO reporting name "Yankee I") of the Soviet Navy. She carried 16 (later 15) SS-N-6 liquid-fuel missiles powered by UDMH with IRFNA, equipped with an estimated 34 nuclear warheads.

K-219 was involved in what has become one of the most controversial submarine incidents in the Cold War.

The incident

On 3 October 1986, while on patrol northeast of Bermudamarker, K-219 suffered an explosion and fire in a missile tube. The seal in a missile hatch cover failed, allowing seawater to leak into the missile tube and react with residue from the missile's liquid fuel. The Soviet Navy claimed that the leak was caused by a collision with the submarine . Augusta was certainly operating in proximity, but the United States Navy denies any collision. K-219 had previously experienced a similar casualty; one of her missile tubes was already disabled and welded shut, having been permanently sealed after an explosion caused by reaction between seawater leaking into the silo and missile fuel residue.

The authors of the book Hostile Waters reconstructed the incident from descriptions by the survivors, ships' logs, the official investigations, and participants both ashore and afloat from the Russian and the American sides. Shortly after 0530 Moscow time, seawater leaking into silo six of K-219 reacted with missile fuel, producing nitric acid. K-219 weapons officer Alexander Pertachkov attempted to cope with this by disengaging the hatch cover and venting the missile tube to the sea. Shortly after 0532, an explosion occurred in silo six. The remains of the RSM-25 rocket and its two warheads were ejected from silo six into the sea.

An article in Undersea warfare by Captain First Rank (Ret.) Igor Kurdin, Russian Navy - K-219's XO at the time of the incident - and Lieutenant Commander Wayne Grasdock, USN described the explosion occurrence as follows:

Three sailors were killed outright in the explosion. The vessel surfaced to permit its twin nuclear reactors to be shut down, which was only accomplished when a 19-year old enlisted seaman, Sergei Preminin, sacrificed his life to secure one of the onboard nuclear reactors by hand, trapped in the engine compartment. Captain Second Rank Igor Britanov was ordered to have the ship towed by a Soviet freighter back to Gadzhievomarker, her home port, some away.

Although a towline was attached, towing attempts were unsuccessful, and after subsequent poison gas leaks into the final aft compartments and against orders, Britanov ordered the crew to evacuate onto the towing ship. Britanov remained aboard K-219.

Displeased with Britanov's inability to repair his submarine and continue his patrol, Moscow ordered Valery Pshenichny, K-219’s security officer, to assume command, transfer the surviving crew back to the submarine, and return to duty. Before those orders could be carried out, however, the flooding reached a point beyond recovery and on 6 October 1986 the K-219 sank to the bottom of the Hatteras Abyssal Plain, more than three miles down., in a depth of about 6,000 m (18,000 ft). While the proximate cause of the sinking is unknown, some evidence indicates Britanov may have scuttled her. K-219's full complement of nuclear weapons was lost along with the vessel.

In 1988, the Soviet hydrographic research ship Keldysh positioned itself over the wreck of K-219, and found the submarine sitting upright on the sandy bottom. It had broken in two aft of the conning tower. Several missile silo hatches had been forced open, and the missiles, along with the nuclear warheads they contained, were gone.

Preminin was posthumously awarded the Order of the Red Star for his bravery in securing the reactors. Britanov was charged with negligence, sabotage, and treason. He was never imprisoned, but waited for his trial in Sverdlovskmarker. In May 1987, after a new Defense Minister took office in Moscow, the charges against Britanov were dismissed.

Hostile Waters film

In 1997, the Britishmarker BBC television film Hostile Waters, co-produced with HBO and starring Rutger Hauer, Martin Sheen, and Max von Sydow, was released in the United States by Warner Bros. It was based on the book by the same name mentioned above, which claimed to describe the loss of K-219. In 2001, Captain Britanov filed suit, claiming Warner Bros. did not seek or get his permission to use his story or his character, and that the film did not portray the events accurately and made him look incompetent. After three years of hearing, the court ruled in Britanov's favor. Russian media reported a settlement on the order of several tens of thousands of dollar.

The former Soviet Union claimed the damage to K-219 was caused by a collision with Augusta. Officially, the U.S. Government continues to deny this was the case. The U.S. Navy issued the following statement regarding the book and film:
The United States Navy normally does not comment on submarine operations, but in the case, because the scenario is so outrageous, the Navy is compelled to respond.
The United States Navy categorically denies that any U.S. submarine collided with the Russian Yankee submarine (K-219) or that the Navy had anything to do with the cause of the casualty that resulted in the loss of the Russian Yankee submarine.

An article on the US Navy's website posted by Captain 1st Rank (Ret.) Igor Kurdin (former XO of K-219) and Lieutenant Commander Wayne Grasdock denied any collision between K-219 and Augusta. Captain Britanov himself also denies a collision. He has stated he was not asked to be a guest speaker at Russian functions because he refuses to follow the Russian government's interpretation of the K-219 incident.


The following casualties were directly attributed to the incident:
Died 3 October 1986
Petrachkov, Alexander V. Captain, Third Rank Weapons officer
Kharchengo, Igor K. Seaman Machinist
Smaglyuk, Nicolai Seaman Weapons Division
Preminin, Sergei A. Seaman Reactor Team
Died later from health complications resulting from the incident
Karpachev, Vladimir N. Captain Lieutenant Commander's Deputy
Markov, Vladimir P. Captain Third Rank Communications Officer


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