27.10.

1981: Soviet Submarine Runs Aground in Sweden

1981: Soviet Submarine Runs Aground in Sweden
Photo Credit To http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:U-137.jpg

Story Highlights

  • historical event:
  • The accident occurred dangerously close to the greatest Swedish naval base at Karlskrona. Because of this, the Swedes raised the alarm – they thought some sort of Soviet infiltration attempt may be taking place. The S-363 submarine was even capable of bearing torpedoes with nuclear warheads.

An unusual, but potentially extremely dangerous incident took place on this day in 1981, when the Soviet submarine S-363 ran aground dangerously close to the greatest Swedish naval base at Karlskrona. Because of this, the Swedes raised the alarm – they thought some sort of Soviet infiltration attempt may be taking place.

The submarine belonged to the Whiskey class according to NATO classification. Namely, NATO used letters of the phonetic alphabet to identify Soviet submarines (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta etc., ending with Zulu). The media came up with a witty name for the incident: “Whiskey on the rocks”.

The submarine was quite large, being around 80 meters in length and possessing six torpedo tubes. The Soviets produced 236 of these submarines, and planned to make many more. However, in comparison to the larger Soviet submarines, which are mostly nuclear-powered, the S-363 was actually rather small. For example, the Typhoon class submarines are the largest submarines ever built, and have a 35 times greater displacement than the S-363.

The Swedes sent only an unarmed navy officer to investigate the situation. The official Soviet explanation was that something had gone wrong with the sub’s navigation equipment, which caused it to unexpectedly change course. This, however, doesn’t seem like a very convincing argument, since the sub would have to pass through a virtual maze of reefs and islands (that part of the Swedish coast is very indented).

War almost broke out when the Soviets sent a fleet to assist the submarine. The Swedes activated their coastal anti-ship systems when it seemed that the Soviet fleet would enter Swedish territorial waters. However, once they registered that the Swedish tactical radars were active, the Soviets withdrew their ships to international waters. The Swedes made a detailed investigation and concluded that the submarine could have been armed with torpedoes with nuclear warheads. Namely, an isotope of Uranium, U-238, was present in the torpedo tubes.

After some 10 days, the Swedes used their own tow barges to recover the submarine and return it to the Soviet fleet. Conflict was thus avoided. Later, it became known that the Soviet sailors were ordered to destroy the submarine if the Swedes tried to capture it.

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