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22 May 2009

On this day in history: Nuclear submarine sank, 1968

On 29th July 1960, the United States Navy commissioned their latest nuclear-powered submarine, the 3500-ton Skipjack class USS Scorpion (SSN-589). Scorpion (the sixth US Navy ship to carry that name) served in the Atlantic Ocean, completing various missions and taking part in exercises, particularly those relating to the development of tactics for engagements between nuclear submarines.

In 1967, she received emergency repairs at Norfolk Naval Shipyard and sent back to sea rather than receiving the scheduled extensive overhaul she was due. Later that year, Commander Francis Slattery took command of Scorpion. In February 1968, boat and crew departed for a tour of duty in the Mediterranean. During the assignment, which lasted until May of that year, Scorpion had several mechanical problems.

After a short assignment observing Soviet naval activity near the Azores. While travelling back to the United States after completing her surveillance mission she ran into difficulties. On the night of 20th/21st May her crew repeatedly attempted to contact US Naval Station Rota, Spain but only managed to contact a communications station near Greece. Six days later she had still not arrived at her home-base at Norfolk, Virginia, so naval personnel reported her overdue and began a search.

On 5th June 1968, the US Navy declared Scorpion and her crew of 99 hands "presumed lost." Later that year, the crew of the Navy's oceanic research ship Mizar discovered parts of the submarine's hull 740km south-west of the Azores. To date the US Navy has not confirmed a precise cause of the sinking of USS Scorpion.

In the absence of an official explanation, various theories have surfaced as to the causes of the tragedy, some suggest a darker scenario as this 1998 report from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer shows.

Related posts
Nuclear Disarmament logo designed, 1958
First French nuclear test, 13th February 1960
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty signed, 1st July 1968


Pam Walter said...

What a nightmare for all souls on board!

Borkiman said...

Agreed, being on a damaged sub would be bad enough without the nukes on board.

Thanks for the comment.