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Hostile Waters - The Death of Soviet Submarine K219

Hostile Waters - The Death of Soviet Submarine K219

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Published by: laksmana on Mar 27, 2009
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posthumously awarded the Red Star for his bravery. His parents were

given a somewhat larger apartment in their village and a telephone.

The only survivor of the sinking to be honored was Senior Lieu-

tenant Sergei Voroblev, the damage control officer who had been

smoking in the bottom level of the missile room when silo six blew

up in his face. He received the Red Star for carrying Markov, the

injured communications officer, out of the burning, flooding compart-

ment in his arms.

The K-219 sank in October 1986, but the chain of events set off by

a leaky missile silo hatch continues to kill more than a decade later.

Acid-seared lungs yield to pneumonia; livers poisoned with nitric

fumes fail. Memories haunt men to desperation, to suicide. Each year

the sunken sub, rifled for her secrets and left to be buried by the Gulf

Stream's steady snow of silt, claims new victims. Of the 115 survivors

of the explosion, the flooding, and the fires, four have since perished

from their injuries. Eleven more are crippled. Many of those still alive

have no access to special medical care from a bankrupt Navy, nor

money to pay for care at the new private hospitals.

In 1996, Chief Engineer Igor Krasilnikov's lungs began to fail him,

the acid he'd breathed going into compartment four finally taking its

toll.

GADZHIEVQ, ARMED FORCES DAY, 1995

The town of Gadzhievo is nicknamed Rocky because of its rugged

setting. Officially known as Murmansk-130, it has not aged well in the

post-Soviet era. Its slab-sided apartment flats are unpainted and crum-

bling. The docks tilt alarmingly into the icy fjord and the roads have

potholes deep enough to bear the names of their unlucky discoverers.

Electricity is cut off for days at a time, even to critical base areas, for

nonpayment of bills to the local, and now privately owned, utility.

Many of the Flotilla's submarines have not left port in years, nor

284

HUCHTHAUSEN, KURDIN & WHITE

are they even safe to board. Some have sunk outright, still tethered to

the pier.

Winter, for all its harshness, covers the raw bones of the military

town with a clean white blanket. It was on such a winter day, February

13, 1995, that a ceremony was held honoring Gadzhievo submariners

who had been lost at sea. Britanov had been invited. His friend Gen-

nady Kapitulsky begged him to come. No one knew whether he

would.

The day was clear and bright, the low sun sparkling on the snow,

as officers and their families gathered outside one of the drab apart-

ment flats. On a corner of the building was a shrouded plaque. A band

played martial tunes that the deep cold and empty blue sky swallowed

whole.

Two guards flanked the memorial. After a short speech by the

mayor of Murmansk, a rope was pulled and the shroud fell away.

It was a monument to Seaman Sergei Preminin. As the military

band played a slow funeral dirge, his friends and family stepped up

to touch the cold bronze and to place bright, fresh flowers at its base.

Survivors of the K-219 crew were there in force. All those still healthy

enough to travel, except for Zampolit Sergiyenko, were there. A ban-

quet was scheduled to be held that evening in their honor at the

Gadzhievo Officers' Club. After nearly a decade, their harrowing or-

deal, their bravery, their endurance, would be recognized by the broth-

erhood of submariners.

Grandfather Krasilnikov was one of the last to put a spray of flow-

ers at the memorial. As he turned away he stopped and stared at a

lone figure walking down the snowy road from the main gate.

He stiffened to attention as the crowd erupted in whispers, then fell

silent.

Igor Britanov, his bearing tall and erect, his face determined, his

bare head covered by a cloth beret, walked by the ranks of his former

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