For forty years, the Cold War was also waged beneath the sea between the United States and the USSR. Submarines faced submarines in close-quarter encounters which could have triggered major conflicts on many occasions.
‘Nuclear Sharks’ explores the silent, stealthy symbol of the Cold War. A war waged outside public view. A war about strategy and world domination. A war of technological advancement, with lethal consequences. By the early 1950’s, the United States and the Soviet Union are entrenched in a harrowing conflict many fear will bring an end to humanity. This gripping series reveals the stories of submarines sunk to the bottom, their nuclear power plants in meltdown. Such incidents remained closely guarded military secrets both on the American and the Soviet sides.
‘Nuclear Sharks’ is a chronicle of chilling adventures which, as Cold War secrets are revealed, can only now be told. ‘Nuclear Sharks’ takes us into the post-Communist Kremlin, where men who once helped define the nuclear submarine conflict can now freely speak about the Soviet strategy. In Washington, the Navy confesses the crucial importance of the nuclear submarine in the effort to puncture the Iron Curtain. NUCLEAR SHARKS tells the story of the men who gave their lives to a hidden war in the silent deep.
CineNova Production in Association with The Discovery Channel,Canal+,History Television and TFO-TVOntario
Part 1: Final Mission
In March 1968, the Soviet submarine K-129, armed with 3 nuclear missiles, sanks after a mysterious explosion on board. K-129 was on a secret mission in the Pacific, trying avoid America’s network of underwater listening posts. It was a cat-and-mouse game beneath the ocean waves.
The K-129 was a diesel-electric Project 629 submarine, capable of carrying ballistic missiles, based at Kamchatka with the Soviet Pacific Fleet. Commanded by Vladimir Ivanovich Kobzar, a captain first rank with an unblemished record, the sub had conducted two successful 70-day patrols in the north Pacific in 1967 before leaving on a new mission in February 1968, which was scheduled to end in May.
After conducting dive tests and reporting that all was well, the K-129 missed an expected contact when it crossed the 180th meridian, the dividing line marking its patrol area. Nothing more was heard by the Russian base. So something had gone wrong and a search was launched. But the wreckage of the K-129 eluded the Soviet searchers, who eventually gave up their mission and listed the submarine as missing at sea. They decide to keep the disaster secret, unaware that the US Navy has detected the submarine’s sinking.
Part 2: The Scorpion Mystery
USS Scorpion (SSN-589) was one of a number of Skipjack-class nuclear submarines that entered service in the years between 1958 and 1961. In May 1968, at the height of the Cold War, Scorpion disappears in the Atlantic Ocean. The 99 men onboard were on their way home from a classified mission in the Mediterranean facing Soviet submarines.
Scorpion’s radioman informed the Communication Station that the submarine was homeward bound, approximately 250 miles southwest of Portugal’s Azores Islands, and that they expected to arrive at Naval Station Norfolk at 1300 hours on the 27th of May. This was the last message Scorpion would ever send.
Seven days later, when Scorpion failed to arrive at Norfolk, the US Navy declared the nuclear submarine “missing and presumed lost.” Searches, which eventually consisted of more than 50 ships and subs and dozens of aircraft, were conducted immediately. The wreckage of Scorpion was discovered in October that year, along with the bodies of all ninety-nine servicemen on board – and to this day the cause of the sinking of the submarine has been shrouded in mystery and surrounded by controversy.
Part 3: Submarine Inferno
For years the Soviet Navy sent nuclear-powered fleet ballistic missile submarines to patrol off the American coast. Their missiles took aim at Washington, New York, and other major American cities.
On October 3, 1986, the Soviet Yankee-class ballistic missile submarine K-219, equipped with 16 R-27 nuclear missiles was on patrol in the North Atlantic, about 700 miles off the coast of Bermuda. In maneuvering to evade the US Navy submarine shadowing it, the K-219 suffered irreparable damage to an already leaky missile silo. Seawater poured into the rupture, mixing with liquid fuel to create clouds of lethal gas. The craft went into a near-fatal dive, but Captain Igor Britanov managed to get it to the surface. Dead in the water, with both her reactors out of commission, the K-219 was on fire belowdecks. It was a nuclear submariner’s worst nightmare.
The disaster culminates when the nuclear reactor overheats, threatening to cause a Chernobyl-like disaster in the Atlantic. Two crewmen volunteered to take on the dangerous task of entering the overheated and radioactive reactor compartment to prevent a nuclear explosion by manually shutting down the two power plants. This is the gripping story of the young Soviet sailors who fought to save their submarine, risking fire, smoke, poison gas, and intense radioactivity.