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.
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
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.
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.
By Raj Bhattacharya
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