During the Cold War, Soviet submarines and American aircraft carrier strike groups (AUG) constantly searched for each other and practiced training attacks. On March 21, 1984, such actions ended in a clash. The American aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) rammed the Soviet submarine K-314, after which both ships went for repairs. What preceded these events, and what happened in their wake?
Teaching and observation
In March 1984, the US and South Korean navies began another Team Spirit joint exercise in the Sea of Japan. The key component of the American group was the AUG, led by the Kitty Hawk ship. The group and its aviation were entrusted with solving all the main tasks, from providing air defense to searching for underwater objects.
US and South Korean aircraft during Team Spirit exercise, March 15, 1984. Photo by US Navy
A major international doctrine could not fail to attract the attention of the USSR. The command of the Pacific Fleet ordered several ships and submarines to go to the area of maneuvers to detect and track the actions of the US Navy. Covert long-term surveillance of the AUG was assigned to the nuclear submarine K-314, project 671 “Ruff” under the command of Captain 2nd Rank Alexander Evseenko.
A few days after receiving the order, K-314 was in a given area and was searching for ships of a potential enemy. The carrier group was successfully detected and followed, observing and sending data to the headquarters of the fleet. This work continued for a week.
Project 671 submarine on the surface. Photo by US Navy
Later, the US Navy published data on the progress of the exercise. It was argued that the AUG with the USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) timely detected the Soviet submarine and was also conducting surveillance. In addition, the ships and aircraft of the group imitated the attack of an underwater target 15 times.
A few hours before …
The Pacific Fleet submarine continued to track the American AUG without losing sight of it. However, during the next communication session, K-314 lagged behind its target. For a safe ascent, the submarine had to increase the lag behind the observed ships, and those, taking advantage of the situation, broke away by 15-20 miles.
After the completion of the data exchange, the K-314 had to catch up with the potential enemy. The submarine developed a high underwater speed, but this led to an increase in noise. The American hydroacoustics spotted the boat, and the AUG command took action. Flights were suspended, radio electronic means were turned off, the group went into the territorial waters of South Korea.
A little later, the ships of the US Navy showed themselves again. The Vladivostok BMD, engaged in the tracking operation, found the AUG 150 miles off the coast. On the evening of March 21, the K-314 submarine was able to enter the area where the aircraft carrier was located and began to search for it.
Two powerful blows
At 22:10 local time, the submarine began preparations for the communication session and reached the periscope depth. With the help of a periscope, the commander examined the water area and found several surface targets. The side lights of the ships were observed at a distance of 20-30 cables. At the same time, the ships of the US Navy were moving towards the boat.
Aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk accompanied by a missile cruiser, 2004. Photo by US Navy
The commander ordered an urgent dive to avoid collision. Soon after the start of the dive, the submarine felt a strong blow. A few seconds later, a second powerful push. It was clear that the submarine did not have time to go to a safe depth, and it was hit by some of the American ships. As they learned later, it was the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk.
K-314 urgently surfaced behind the American warrant, the crew was already inspecting the materiel and preparing for a possible battle for survivability. A couple of helicopters were raised on the USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63). They found and examined a Soviet submarine. The aircraft carrier commander, Captain David N. Rogers, later spoke of his readiness to provide assistance to those in distress. However, the inspection of the boat also pursued reconnaissance goals.
Consequences of a collision
Fortunately, serious measures to ensure survivability were not needed. The ship was damaged, but there were no leaks or fires. General ship systems worked, the retractable devices continued to function. At the same time, the propeller shaft line beating was observed. Upon further examination, they found torn damage to the light hull and deformation of the propeller.
The aircraft carrier surface ship also received significant damage. The submarine razed the bottom skin and made a hole several tens of square meters in size. The aviation fuel tanks were damaged, some of which leaked into the sea. Fortunately for the crew, vital structural elements remained intact and the kerosene did not catch fire. Later, a fragment of a propeller and several pieces of the submarine’s rubber coating were found in the hole.
Due to damage to the propeller and shaft, the K-314 lost its speed and needed the help of a tug. “Kitty Hawk” could continue to move independently, but the performance of combat missions was difficult.
Submarine K-314 while tracking the American AUG, March 1984. Photo by US Navy
According to various sources, during the collision there was a risk of a nuclear incident. Several dozen tactical nuclear weapons were present on board the American aircraft carrier. The Soviet submarine also had several missiles with a similar warhead. In the collision, all these products were not damaged, and the whole situation ended only with mechanical damage.
Help rushed to the two damaged ships. With the help of other ships, the submarine and aircraft carrier went to the bases. K-314 was delivered to Chazhma Bay and docked for repairs. USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) was sent to the port of Yokosuka (Japan) for preliminary repair. Then the aircraft carrier departed for the Subic Bay base in the Philippine Islands. A few months later, the ships returned to the combat strength of their fleets after repairs.
The US and the Soviet Union conducted their own investigations and did not exchange information. However, the findings appeared to be similar – albeit with different results.
The American side considered that the culprit of the collision was a Soviet submarine. According to the US command, it was the K-314 crew who showed unprofessionalism, as a result of which the boat was in the path of a larger surface ship, which led to a collision. However, no claims were made and no compensation was demanded.
Submarine K-314 after surfacing. Damage to the light body is visible. Photo Vpk.name
As the participants in the incident from the Soviet side later recalled, when returning to the base, the command of the fleet literally cursed them and urged them to prepare for the consequences. The commander of K-314 was removed from his post and transferred to the shore. No further action was taken.
As follows from the available data, the collision of the K-314 submarine and the Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier on March 21, 1984 was a direct consequence of an unfortunate set of circumstances. There were no direct and obvious violations by the participants in the incident, but some of their actions, combined with external factors, led to known consequences.
The command of the Pacific Fleet criticized the submarine commanders for not being able to detect several large surface targets in time – moreover, at a minimum distance. Why this happened is unknown. There are several different versions, from negligence to the specifics of the water area.
The hit of a potential enemy’s submarine in the center of the order and its subsequent collision with an aircraft carrier is a reason for uncomfortable questions to the hydroacoustics and commanders of the American AUG. In fact, a potentially dangerous underwater object was missed to a confident shooting range – and even closer. It is not hard to imagine what this could lead to in a real conflict.
After the completion of the repair, the K-314 submarine returned to the fleet of the Pacific Fleet. However, the full service did not last too long. Already in 1985, the ship had to be sent back for repairs due to an accident at the main power plant. After several years of service, in 1989, the ship was withdrawn from the Navy and put on hold.
Aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk in 2017 Photo Navysite.de
K-314 was the tenth representative of Project 671 “Ruff”, but finished the service first. Soon the process of writing off the remaining submarines of this type began. Disposal started only in the two thousandth. K-314 was the last to go for cutting – this happened already in 2010-11.
The aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) returned to the San Diego base in August 1984 and soon re-entered combat service. The ship regularly operated in different areas of the Pacific region, and in 1987-88. sailed around the world. After that, the aircraft carrier was put on scheduled repairs and modernization, due to which the service life was extended by 20 years.
Hiking, performing training and combat missions, etc. continued until the end of the two thousandth years. In 2009, the ship, which had served for almost half a century, was withdrawn from the Navy. Despite numerous claims, Kitty Hawk has not yet been sent for recycling. And the public is trying to turn the ship into a museum.
As a result of the incident on March 21, 1984, the command of the fleets of the two superpowers drew conclusions and took action. All of this seems to have produced the desired results. At least since then, aircraft carriers have never rammed submarines.