Monday, June 9, 2008

Cold War Stories - Playing Chicken

One of several photographs of a collision with the Echo II K-22, 22 August 1976. Source: Aviation Week via John Kessler and Destroyersonline

K-22 and Voge (FF 1047) Collide in the Mediterranean Sea

The Soviet Echo II class SSGN K-22 was finishing up operations in the Mediterranean Sea near Crete. On 28 August, 1976 the boat was 150 miles to the south-west of the island when it came to PD at 1628. The commander spotted the Knox-class frigate Moinester (FF 1097) in the periscope. The captain immediately estimated bearing and range by eye, bearing 183 relative, range 40-50 cables (in reality, B192 R20 cables). Instead of breaking off, the captain decided to maintain contact for training.

At 1636 the boat dove to 140 meters, turning on C110 10kts and began to close the American frigate. The water depth was 2900 meters, SS 1-2, wind 280 3m/sec, visibility daytime unlimited. The captain of the submarine considered himself as detected by the frigate and maneuvered and varied his speed in order to carry out a break away maneuver. Thanks to his incompetent actions he created a poor sonar environment for his sonar and received spotty data from the targets, and didn’t have a clear view of the surface situation. Maneuvering on a parallel course with the Moinester, distance became 17.5 cables, unacceptably close (course 050).

In these conditions, he came to PD three times – 1650, 1738 and 1753 – and never saw the second frigate. The submarine captain gave the verbal order to quit updating the log, did not sound a general alarm, did not share the data on target movement with the XO, the Nav or the tracking party. He constantly made mistakes in estimating distance and more than once approached at high speed into the skip zone (3-5 cables) from the frigate Moinester. At 1753, the captain detected the frigate bearing 062 relative, 7 cables and turned sharply left, beginning a zig-zag maneuver. The SSGN continued on a general heading of 320 at a depth of 4-5 meters, exposing the sail above the surface of the water. Because of the zig-zagging and the vibration produced by the violent maneuvers, observation through the periscope was difficult and the captain lost sight of the frigate several times, finally losing contact at 1815.

Ten minutes later, unexpectedly for him he saw a second American frigate at very close range. At 1825 the commander of K-22 gave the command “Emergency deep” and “Down periscope”. These measures were too late and the SSGN plowed into the port side of the frigate Voge a minute later at 17 knots under the helo hanger. The blow was struck by the bow of the boat and followed up with the forward part of the sail. The boat received huge dents in the hull, cracks in the bulkheads and a damaged screw. The Voge lost way and was towed at first to the base in Crete and to Toulon, France for repairs in September. The Soviet boat suffered damage to the bow on the outer hull and the sonar dome for the “Kerch’” system was damaged as was the “Argument” missile guidance antenna. The boat had to surface and departed the area of the accident under its own power while being escorted by Soviet ships. Emergency repairs were conducted at Kithera anchorage and after than the boat returned to Severodvinsk for major repairs.

Time Magazine described the incident in its 27 March 1977 issue like this:

One day last August a Soviet Echo Il-class submarine cruising almost submerged trailed a slowly steaming American frigate, the U.S.S. Voge, for nearly an hour. Suddenly, the sub turned straight toward the Voge and sped up sharply. The American sailors, who photographed the sub as it charged toward them, waited for it to turn away. But it kept coming. Moving fast—about 17 knots—the sub slammed into the left quarter of the Voge, bounced off, then wallowed in the frigate's wake. The Voge limped off with one injured crewman and a gashed hull. The sub, with damage visible on its bow, deck, conning tower and missile ports, eventually churned off slowly in another direction.


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