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USS Scorpion (left) USS Thresher (right)

A mission to discover the wreck of the Titanic was actually a cover story for examining the remains of two Cold War nuclear submarines, the man who located the liner has revealed. He said: “I couldn’t tell anybody. There was a lot of pressure on me. It was a secret mission. I felt it was a fair exchange for getting a chance to look for the Titanic.” He added: “We handed the data to the experts. They never told us what they concluded – our job was to collect the data. I can only talk about it now because it has been declassified.”

When USS Thresher and USS Scorpion sank, more than 200 men lost their lives and suspicions were raised that at least one of them, Scorpion, had been sunk by the USSR. In 1982, Dr Ballard approached the US Navy for funding to search for the Titanic with a robotic submarine craft he had developed. He was told that the military were not prepared to spend large sums of money on locating the liner, but they did want to know what had happened to the submarines. Officials were anxious to find out how the nuclear reactors had fared after being under water for so long. The oceanographer was given funding to embark on two expeditions, one to find the wreck of Thresher in 1984 off the eastern coast of the US, and another to find Scorpion in the eastern Atlantic. It was only once these missions were complete that Dr Ballard located the wreck of the Titanic in 1985, which sank in 1912 after it hit an iceberg with the loss of 1,500 lives.

If it was the Soviets, I’m sure we will never know, although I think the families are owed an explanation.




  1. Ah_Yea says:

    Just a little more info:

    Dr Ballard said what he had seen during the inspection of the wrecks gave him the idea of finding a trail of debris that would lead to the main sections of the Titanic. Thresher had imploded deep beneath the surface and had broken up into thousands of pieces and Scorpion was almost as completely destroyed. “It was as though it had been put through a shredding machine. There was a long debris trail.”

    Scorpion disappeared with 99 crew in 1968, and there had been speculation that it was sunk by Soviet forces. Dr Ballard’s visual examination of the wreck site showed that the most likely cause of its destruction was being hit by a rogue torpedo that it had fired itself.

    http://tinyurl.com/4bhbb2

  2. moss says:

    I’m surprised the Navy didn’t just go their usual route. When I worked in the offshore oil industry, the Navy, CIA, whoever would just contract with KBR or one of the other “trusted” drilling outfits for – exploration.

    They would do the deepwater work and anything that smelt of oil was theirs.

  3. McCullough says:

    #2. Yes, I too am surprised.

    #1. “Dr Ballard’s visual examination of the wreck site showed that the most likely cause of its destruction was being hit by a rogue torpedo that it had fired itself.”

    I remember reading that theory years ago, and it wasn’t Ballards, at least not originally and I dont remember where I read it, , although it sounded plausible at the time.

  4. edwinrogers says:

    Hull implosions at great depth are as catastrophic as this. Sodium reactor coolant coming into contact with sea water will also result in an enormous blast. The torpedo theory is probably a plot lead for one of Dr Ballard’s novels. Torpedo’s don’t arm themselves.

  5. Jeff says:

    There were also to theories about one of Scorpion’s own torpedoes detonating. One was a torpedo battery explosion, that blew up the torpedo. The second was a “hot run”, the torpedo failed and started to run inside the torpedo room. There is some evidence that points to the Scorpion attempting a 180 degree turn to get the torpedo to shut down.

  6. McCullough says:

    #5. Well, we don’t need to speculate anymore, under FOIA right?

  7. Olo Baggins of Bywater says:

    The battery problem was pretty well documented in Blind Man’s Bluff, and regardless FOIA the manufacturer will never reveal additional facts. The circumstantial evidence is fairly convincing that the batteries were defective; far more likely than anything else.

  8. boru says:

    Everything I’ve read a bit about Thresher (from published sources) considers a problem with valves in the production of the craft’s design.

    I haven’t read too many “official” releases about Scorpion’s demise.

    The debris field can be speculated for years, as possibly could the glowing fish roundabout Norway.

  9. Stu Mulne says:

    Perhaps my memory is faulty, but I recall Dr. Ballard freely stating that he’d done work for the Navy on those subs as part of the Titanic project.

    As to which came first, and who paid for what, I don’t remember.

    Regards,

    Stu.

  10. Glenn E. says:

    It wouldn’t be the first time that a cover mission was used to hid a Navy exploration and salvage job. There was that downed russian sub, in the pacific ocean, that Howard Hughes’ company designed a special ship for retrieving. I remember it because of all the phony press about its cover story of mining minerals from the ocean floor. There was even a comedy movie made about that time, staring Tony Randal, called “Hello Down There”. Which reenforced the fiction of finding gold in the sea floor. Question is, was Hollywood an innocent partner in this game? Or knowingly in on the cover up?

    Years later, the Deep Submergance Rescue Vehicles were developed. Supposedly to rescure downed sub crews. But once again that was a fiction. And it true mission was to plant listening devices on the soviet military’s underwater cable system. And once again, Hollywood made another movie featuring the DSRVs, called “Gray Lady Down”, staring Charleton Heston. Hollywood seems to be at the military’s beck and call, doesn’t it?

  11. Angus says:

    There’s some intersting stories going around the Scorpion. The most interesting is that the Soviet Union was on High Alert after blaming the sinking of their K129 on a collision with the USS Swordfish off of Hawaii. It is theorized that officials in the US Government basically gave the USS Scorpion to the USSR as a sort of an “eye for and eye” retribution, in order to avert an open conflict.

  12. Mr. Catshit says:

    If the debris field is spread over miles, how can they tell if the cause was because of its own torpedo or an enemy torpedo?

  13. stormadvisor says:

    This is actually not a new story. Robert Ballards own book talked about this in detail. The book’s name is “Explorations: A Life of Underwater Adventure” copyright 1995.

    I can’t remember what was first, the Navy or Ballard. Reading about Ballard’s persistence I would think Ballard. If i remember right, he had been trying to get funding for a new submersible manned or unmanned I can’t remember. The Navy agreed if he did some jobs for them.

    I regards to the debris field. They discovered that it would lead to the wreck like an arrow. It does nothing in determining how the wreck happened.

  14. Rusty says:

    Conspiracy theories will always posit a more interesting conclusion than the facts warrant. Always.

    I can tell you with absolute 100% authority – I’m a submarine vet – that the Scorpion sank as a result of a battery room fire. Saltwater + lead-acid batteries results in hydrogen gas. Nobody knows what the ignition source was, but that’s what sank Scorpion.

    Thresher sank as a result of uncontrollable flooding (not caused by hostile action :rolleyes:) and a failure in the main ballast tank emergency blow valves. When compressed gas is released, the drop in pressure causes a drop in temperature as well – Boyle’s law – and moisture in the compressed air caused the valves to ice up, thereby preventing the air from entering the ballast tanks to safely blow her to the surface. As a result of this, there have been some major changes in the way that the E-blow valves work, and some more stringent standards on the drying of compressed air. Actually, the whole SUBSAFE program grew out of the loss of Thresher.

    There was no Soviet action. There was no rogue torpedo. There was no conspiracy.

    There was simply a series of unfortunate events in each case which, taken individually, should have been survivable … but when taken together, were fatal.


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