On August 12, 2000 the Russian submarine Kursk was taking part in a naval exercise. The mission was simple enough: fire a practice torpedo at a surface ship. But something went horribly wrong. Through a combination of problems, the torpedo exploded inside the sub. Most of the crew was killed instantly, but 23 men survived in the rear compartment. The sub sank to the bottom and the crew was left to find ways to stay alive until help could arrive.
What should have been an all out rescue operation became a political, bureaucratic, and logistical nightmare. Other nations became suspicious that there had been a major accident (the blast measured 3.5 on the Richter scale), and yet the Russian government at first claimed the problem was minor and international assistance was not needed. It soon became clear to the Russians that they did not have the proper equipment to conduct a rescue. But still they brushed off offers of help and downplayed the event for days. Eventually, when the evidence made it clear to all that the Russians were covering up the truth, offers of help were accepted and the race was on to get to the sub in time.
Robert Moore interweaves the details of what happened on the sub with the international gamesmanship on the surface. He also provides the historical background on Russian budget problems, design issues, personality conflicts, and other factors that led to the disaster and complicated the rescue. What results is an extraordinary look at how the resourcefulness and sheer determination of human beings can be confounded by forces outside their control.
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