The Loss of USS Scorpion

 
USS Scorpion (SSN-589) was a Skipjack-class nuclear powered submarine of the USN (United States Navy). It was commissioned on July 29, 1960 however was declared lost on June 5, 1968. It was not at war that time.  
 
Brief Background 
After initial assignments of training and other short operations, Scorpion's home port became Norfolk in 1962 and remained so for rest of her career. The Scorpion specialized in the development of nuclear submarine warfare tactics. Varying her role from hunter to hunted, she participated in exercises which ranged along the Atlantic coast and in the Bermuda and Puerto Rico operating areas. 
 
In 1966, she was deployed for special operations and entered an inland Russian sea during a "Northern Run" where it successfully filmed a Soviet missile launch through its periscope before being forced to flee by using its high speed capability. On completion of such special operations, her commanding officer received the Navy Commendation Medal for outstanding leadership, foresight, and professional skill. Other Scorpion officers and crewmen were also cited for meritorious achievement. Scorpion was a fast attack submarine and had a reputation for excellence. 
 
The Disappearance of USS Scorpion 
On February 1, 1967 the Scorpion entered the Norfolk Naval Shipyard at her home port for an extended overhaul. In late October, she commenced refresher training and weapons system acceptance tests. Later on February 15, 1968 she got underway for a Mediterranean deployment. Upon departing the Mediterranean on 16 May, she headed west for home. On May 21, she indicated her position to be about 50 miles south of the Azores. Six days later, she was reported overdue at Norfolk. A search was initiated. But on June 5th, Scorpion and her crew were declared "presumed lost." Her name was struck off from the Navy list on June 30. 
 
 
 
Wreck of USS Scorpion 
The search continued and a Court of Inquiry was setup by the US navy. At the end of October, the Navy's Ocean research ship Mizar located sections of Scorpion's hull in more than 3000 meters (i.e. about 10,000 feet) deep water and about 400 miles southwest of the Azores. Other vessels including the submersible Trieste that were later sent to the wreck area, collected lots of pictures and other information. 
 
The submarine was broken into two major pieces: The forward hull section, including the torpedo room and most of the operations compartment, created one huge trench on impact with the sea floor. And the aft section including the reactor compartment and engine room, created a second impact trench. The sail is detached and lies nearby in a large debris field. Much of the operations compartment had disappeared, and most of the debris was identified as coming from the operations compartment. One of Scorpion's running lights was locked in the open position as if it had been on the surface at the time of the mishap. 
 
US Navy photo 1968 of the bow section of Scorpion 
USS Scorpion Wreck 
 
So what was the cause of USS Scorpion loss? 
At the time of her sinking, there were 99 crewmen aboard Scorpion. The submarine contained a treasure-trove of highly sophisticated spy gear and spy manuals, two nuclear-tipped torpedoes, and a nuclear propulsion system. The best available evidence indicates that Scorpion sank in the Atlantic Ocean on May 22, 1968. 
 
Several theories and explanations have been given as cause of the loss, but none are conclusive. Some have suggested that attack by a Soviet submarine caused Scorpion's loss. The most likely cause was the activation of a torpedo by mistake at the time of inspection. The torpedo, in a fully ready condition and without a propeller guard, then began a live run within the tube. As soon as it got released from the tube, it struck its nearest target, the Scorpion itself. Alternatively, the torpedo may have exploded in the tube due to an uncontrollable fire in the torpedo room. 
 
 
 
However, no one till date knows the real cause. The Navy's Court of Inquiry did not reconvene after the 1969 investigation, and did not take testimony from a group of submarine designers, engineers and physicists who spent nearly a year evaluating the data gathered from the wreck of Scorpion. 
 
Related Articles 
 
1) Check out Bermuda Triangle Incidents to know about many other amazing mysteries of Bermuda Triangle. 
 
2) Check out Bermuda Triangle Theories that try to explain the major disappearances. 
 
Your Reviews 
NOTE: I manually evaluate all posts and include only the ones that are original (not copy pasted from other sources) and having some serious matter. 
 
James J. Simpson (February 2015) 
Initial event was an internal explosion in the Torpedo Room caused by a low yield detonation of a skid mounted torpedo. The cause of the detonation may never be known. The force of the explosion (over pressure) resulted in both the escape trunk personnel hatch and the torpedo loading hatch being blown open and detached from their hinges. Pictures of the wreck clearly show the detachment. Recent reanalysis of the sounds recorded at the time of the sinking, indicate the blown hatches to have occurred .5 seconds apart. The Torpedo Room flooded quite rapidly and the forward main ballast tank blow system may have failed due to the explosion. The resulting down angle prevented the ship from surfacing in the forward direction. Most likely, the crew tried to back the ship to the surface. This may have been successful but a severe down angle still would have been present causing the propeller to repeatedly break the surface and submerge. This then resulted in stress to the propeller shaft causing it to break within the pressure hull, extruding through the seal mechanism and flooding the Engine Room. Flooding of the Engine Room would have been complete by the time the ship had descended to crush depth. The hull collapse of the Auxiliary Machine Space resulted from the pressure on the Engine Room bulkhead and the pressure hull exterior stress of the AMR. This then caused the 'telescoping' of the Engine Room into the spaces forward of it. This then resulted in the rapid flooding, atmosphere pressurization and breach of the fuel oil tanks within the Operations Compartment. The resulting explosion caused the ship to break in two at the forward end of this compartment. The sequence of events stated here are the result of extensive review of the wreck site photos. Many who have speculated on the cause of the sinking have never reviewed the photos and may never have set foot in a submarine. I was qualified in submarines and crewed aboard one for 7 years, I know what I'm talking about. 
 
Jim (Submariner) January 2015 
Walt is incorrect, The Scorpions operating depth was limited by Sublant to 500 ft (not deep). Reactor Scrams do not cause a ship to sink, negative buoyancy does. The ship would not have scramed the reactor. that is pure speculation. The only people who know the exact reason, are those brave men who gave their life aboard that ship. May they rest in peace.  
 
Walt (Ex-Submariner) November 2011 
USS Scorpion sank not in the Triangle but across the Atlantic off the Azores. Sub was deep and doing training, they scrammed the reactor and could not get passive measures re-balanced and slipped backwards down past crush depth and imploded, the site is currently monitored for radio active leakage, none so far. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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By Raj Bhattacharya 
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