On Mar. 21, 1984, while US Navy Battle Group Bravo sailed southerly courses toward the Tsushima Strait into the Yellow Sea during Exercise Team Spirit 84-1, Soviet submarine K-314, a Victor I-class attack boat, collided with USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) aircraft carrier while surfacing.
According to Naval History and Heritage Command, the collision occurred at 2207, about 150 miles east of Pohang, South Korea, in the Sea of Japan, near 37º3’N, 131º54’E. Captain David N. Rogers, on the bridge, felt a “noticeable shudder, a fairly violent shudder,” and he and the starboard lookout saw the outline of the sub’s sail moving away from Kitty Hawk, the sub failing to display navigation lights.
RADM Richard M. Dunleavy, Director, Carrier (CV) and Air Stations Program, later noted that during the previous three days, the sub was detected by helos launched from Battle Group Bravo “and killed more than 15 times,” the Victor I initially being sighted on the surface 50 nautical miles ahead of the carrier’s intended course before submerging, on Mar. 19.
Then on Mar. 21, K-314 rose to a depth of just 10 meters after having lost track of USS Kitty Hawk due to bad weather.
Through the periscope, Captain Vladimir Evseenko discovered that the entire USS Kitty Hawk CSG was only 4 to 5 kilometers away. More alarmingly still, the Americans and K-314 were heading towards each other at full throttle.
Evseenko gave an immediate order to submerge, but it was too late. K-314 and USS Kitty Hawk collided.
“The first thought was that the conning tower had been destroyed and the submarine’s body was cut to pieces,” Evseenko recalled. “We checked the periscope and antennas – they were in order. No leaks were reported, and the mechanisms were ok. Then suddenly another strike! In the starboard side! We checked again – everything was in order…. We were trying to figure out what happened. It became clear that an aircraft carrier had rammed us. The second strike hit the propeller. The first one, most likely, bent the stabilator…”
The only option for K-314 was to surface and showing themselves to the Americans. As its sailors were waiting for emergency tow ships, the Soviet submarine immediately received visit from several U.S. Navy aircraft which inspected K-314 from above.
“We immediately launched two helicopters to see if we could render any assistance to them but the Soviet sub appeared to have suffered no extensive damage,” said Kitty Hawk’s commander, Captain David N. Rogers.
K-314’s propeller was heavily damaged as a result of the collision. Kitty Hawk instead had a huge hole in its bow, causing several thousand tons of jet fuel to leak into the sea; by sheer miracle, it did not explode.
Luckily, nor did the nuclear weapons on board the Soviet and American vessels detonate.
Close escorted by a US Navy frigate for part of the route, the Soviet Submarine was towed to the nearest Soviet naval base.
For USS Kitty Hawk, exercise Team Spirit was over: the aircraft carrier in fact made its way to the port of Subic Bay for repair.
According to Russia Beyond, the Americans blamed the Soviet submarine captain for the incident, and the Soviet Naval command concurred. Vladimir Evseenko was suspended from the post of captain and continued his service on land.
Evseenko could not agree with such verdict, since the incident had caused no loss of life or the submarine itself: “Everybody was lucky. We didn’t sink, no one got burned.”
“We even managed to kick out the ‘enemy’ for a long time,” he pointed out.
Photo credit: U.S. Navy
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