Soviet submarine K-219

K-219 was a Project 667A Navaga-class ballistic missile submarine (NATO reporting name Yankee I) of the Soviet Navy. It carried 16 R-27U liquid-fuel missiles powered by UDMH with nitrogen tetroxide (NTO), and equipped with either 32 or 48 nuclear warheads.[1][2][3][nb 1]K-219 was involved in what has become one of the most controversial submarine incidents during the Cold War on Friday 3 October 1986. The 15-year-old vessel, which was on an otherwise routine Cold War nuclear deterrence patrol in the North Atlantic 1,090 kilometres (680 mi) northeast of Bermuda, suffered an explosion and fire in a missile tube. When the seal in a missile hatch cover failed, saltwater entered the missile tube and reacted with residue from the missile's liquid fuel. Though there was no official announcement, the Soviet Union claimed the leak was caused by a collision with the submarine USS Augusta.[4] Although the Augusta was operating within the area, both the United States Navy and the commander of K-219, Captain Second Rank Igor Britanov, deny that a collision took place.[5]

US Navy photo of K-219 on the surface after suffering a fire in a missile tube
Soviet Union
Name: K-219
Laid down: 28 May 1970
Launched: 8 October 1971
Commissioned: 31 December 1971
Stricken: 1986
Homeport: Gadzhiyevo
Fate: Sunk by explosion and fire caused by seawater leak in missile tube, 3 October 1986, killing 4
Status: Located in 6000 m (18,000 ft) of water, Hatteras abyssal plain, North Atlantic Ocean
General characteristics
Class and type: Yankee-class submarine
  • 7,766 long tons (7,891 t) surfaced
  • 9,300 long tons (9,449 t) submerged
Length: 129.8 m (425 ft 10 in)
Beam: 11.7 m (38 ft 5 in)
Draft: 8.7 m (28 ft 7 in)
Propulsion: 2 × 90 MWt OK-700 reactors with VM-4 cores producing 20,000 hp (15 MW) each
Speed: 26 knots (48 km/h; 30 mph)
Test depth: 400 m (1,300 ft)
Complement: 120 officers and men
  • 4 × 21 in (533 mm) torpedo tubes
  • 2 × 16 in (406 mm) torpedo tubes
  • 16 × SLBM launch tubes

The incident was novelized in the book Hostile Waters, which reconstructed the incident from descriptions by the survivors, ships' logs, the official investigations, and participants both ashore and afloat from the Soviet and the American sides.[6]


Location of the incident

Shortly after 0530 Moscow time, seawater leaking into silo six of K-219 reacted with missile fuel, producing chlorine and nitrogen dioxide gases and sufficient heat to explosively decompose additional fuming nitric acid to produce more nitrogen dioxide gas. K-219 weapons officer Alexander Petrachkov attempted to deal with this by disengaging the hatch cover and venting the missile tube to the sea.[7] Shortly after 0532, an explosion occurred in silo six.[8] 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.[9]

An article in Undersea warfare by Captain First Rank, Igor Kurdin, Russian Navy – K-219's previous XO (executive officer) – and Lieutenant Commander Wayne Grasdock, USN described the explosion occurrence as follows:

At 0514, the BCh-2 officer and the hold machinist/engineer in compartment IV (the forward missile compartment) discovered water dripping from under the plug of missile tube No. 6 (the third tube from the bow on the port side). During precompression of the plug, the drips turned into a stream. The BCh-2 officer reported water in missile tube No. 6, and at 0525, the captain ordered an ascent to a safe depth (46 meters) while a pump was started in an attempt to dry out missile tube No. 6. At 0532, brown clouds of oxidant began issuing from under the missile-tube plug, and the BCh-2 officer declared an accident alert in the compartment and reported the situation to the GKP (main control post). Although personnel assigned to other compartments left the space, nine people remained in compartment IV. The captain declared an accident alert. It took the crew no more than one minute to carry out initial damage control measures, which included hermetically sealing all compartments. Five minutes later, at 0538, an explosion occurred in missile tube No. 6.[10]

Two sailors were killed outright in the explosion, and a third died soon afterward from toxic gas poisoning. Through a breach in the hull, the vessel immediately started taking on sea water, quickly sinking from its original depth of 40 metres (130 ft) to eventually reach a depth in excess of 300 metres (980 ft). Sealing of all of the compartments and full engagement of the sea water pumps in the stricken compartments enabled the depth to be stabilised.[citation needed]

Up to 25 sailors were trapped in a sealed section, and it was only after a conference with his incident specialists that the Captain allowed the Chief Engineer to open the hatch and save the 25 lives. It could be seen from instruments that although the nuclear reactor should have automatically been shut down, it was not. Lt. Nikolai Belikov, one of the reactor control officers, entered the reactor compartment but ran out of oxygen after turning just one of the four rod assemblies on the first reactor.[11] Twenty-year-old enlisted seaman Sergei Preminin then volunteered to shut down the reactor by following the instructions of the Chief Engineer. Working with a full-face gas mask, he successfully shut down the reactor. A large fire had developed within the compartment, raising the pressure. When Preminin tried to reach his comrades on the other side of a door, the pressure difference prevented him from opening it, and he subsequently died of asphyxiation in the reactor compartment.[citation needed]

In a nuclear safe condition, and with sufficient stability to allow it to surface, Captain Britanov surfaced K-219 on battery power alone. He was then ordered to have the ship towed by a Soviet freighter back to her home port of Gadzhiyevo, 7,000 kilometres (4,300 mi) 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, but remained aboard K-219 himself.[citation needed]

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 the flooding reached a point beyond recovery and on 6 October 1986 the K-219 sank to the bottom of the Hatteras Abyssal Plain[12][13] at a depth of about 6,000 m (18,000 ft). Britanov abandoned ship shortly before the sinking. K-219's full complement of nuclear weapons was lost along with the vessel.[citation needed]


Preminin was posthumously awarded the Order of the Red Star for his bravery in securing the reactors.[12] Britanov was charged with negligence, sabotage, and treason. He was never imprisoned, but waited for his trial in Sverdlovsk. On 30 May 1987, Defense Minister Sergey Sokolov was dismissed as a result of the Mathias Rust incident two days earlier, and replaced by Dmitry Yazov; the charges against Britanov were subsequently dismissed.[citation needed]

In popular cultureEdit

In 1997, the British 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, 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.[14] Russian media reported that the filmmaker paid a settlement totaling under $100,000.

After the release of the movie, The U.S. Navy issued the following statement regarding both the book and the movie:

The United States Navy normally does not comment on submarine operations, but in the [sic] 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 Soviet Yankee-class submarine K-219 or that the Navy had anything to do with the cause of the casualty that resulted in the loss of the Soviet Yankee-class submarine.[15]

An article on the U.S. 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 also denies a collision, and he has stated that 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.[16]

In a BBC interview recorded in February 2013, Admiral of the Fleet Vladimir Chernavin, the Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Navy at the time of the K-219 incident, says the accident was caused by a malfunction in a missile tube, and makes no mention of a collision with an American submarine.[citation needed] The interview was conducted for the BBC2 series The Silent War.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ The missiles involved in the accident must have been the R-27U version as the original version was retired by 1983. Sources given conflicting numbers on the number of warheads carried by the R-27U, either two or three.


  1. ^ Ramana & Reddy 2003, p. 131
  2. ^ Wade, Mark. "R-27U". Retrieved 5 May 2020.
  3. ^ {{cite web|title=667A YANKEE I |url= May 2020}
  4. ^ Irza 2004
  5. ^ Captain 1st Rank (Ret.) Igor Kurdin, Russian Navy; Lt. Cmdr. Wayne Grasdock, USN (Fall 2005). "Loss of a Yankee SSBN". Undersea Warfare. 7 (5). Archived from the original on 23 July 2013.
  6. ^ Huchthausen; Kurdin; White. Hostile Waters. p. xi.
  7. ^ Huchthausen; Kurdin; White. Hostile Waters. p. 93.
  8. ^ Huchthausen; Kurdin; White. Hostile Waters. p. 97.
  9. ^ Huchthausen, Peter; Kurdin, Igor; White, Allen (1997). Hostile Waters. St. Martin's Press. p. 24. ISBN 0312966121.
  10. ^ Kurdin & Grasdock 2005.
  11. ^ "Soviet Submariner Gave His Life For Peace Officers Nominate Seaman For U.S. Heroism Medal".
  12. ^ a b Offley 2007, p. 112
  13. ^ [1] Archived 5 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ Irza, John (2004). "Soundings". IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society. Archived from the original on 16 December 2004. Retrieved 29 November 2004.
  15. ^ "U. S. Navy: Hostile Waters". Retrieved 15 May 2011.
  16. ^ Kurdin, Igor; Grasdock, Wayne (Fall 2005), "Loss of a Yankee SSBN", Undersea Warfare 2005 Vol. 7, No. 5

Coordinates: 31°25′N 54°42′W / 31.417°N 54.700°W / 31.417; -54.700