Project Azorian; Norman Polmar, Michael White; 2010; Naval Institute Press; 173 pgs, appendices, index
In 1969, the diesel-electric submarine K219 set sail from Kamchatka to take up its patrol station a few hundred miles off the coast of Hawaii. It was carrying nuclear tipped torpedoes and at least one nuclear tipped ballistic missile. Shortly after taking up its station, it sank.
The Americans heard it all happen on their Sound Surveillance System ( SOSUS), their system of listening buoys. The USSR had no idea what happened toK219, or where it happened. The US knew a sub had sunk, and had a decent idea of where it was. This launched project Azorian.
Thus begins one of the most bizarre tales in naval history. The submarine sank in 15,000 feet of water... far too deep for any submarine. The US sent the Halibut, a nuclear powered sub, which searched the sea floor with a towed camera system. That alone was a major accomplishment.
They retrieved photos of the stricken submarine. The bottom of the sub was blown out. It would appear that one of its ballistic missiles had lit up accidently, sinking the submarine. Why it happened s still a mystery. The US wanted the Soviet sub and its nuclear warheads.
The US approached Howard Hughes and together, they built a ship called the Glomar Explorer. It was seemingly a deep sea mining research vessel. In fact it was a mount for what would amounts to a giant hand or claw that was to be clandestinely lowered on a drilling rig pipes to the bottom of the sea, grab the forward section of K219, and raise it to the surface for collection and detailed inspection. And it worked! An amazing feat of engineering! Unfortunately, the submarine split in two while it was being raised and the US got much less than they had hoped.
The Soviets denied any knowledge of the submarine and covered it up.
The book is pretty dry. It contains a lot of naval detail that backs up the tale. The tale is like a James Bond story. There is speculation on why the submarine sank. It was most likely a mistake made by a crewman during a drill. It could also could be the case that the K219 was about to start world war three, but was thwarted by benevolent sailor.
The whole story was kept secret for a decade or two.
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Lee Moller is a life-long skeptic and atheist and the author of The God Con.