USS Scorpion, SSN 589

42 years ago today, USS Scorpion was lost. Her wreckage lies approximately 400nm southwest of the Azores, in 9800 feet of water.  USS Scorpion, a Skipjack Class SSN, was returning home from a deployment to the Mediterranean when she was given orders to investigate a group of Soviet Naval Vessels south and west of the Azores.  At some point after she began her intelligence gathering, she suffered an unknown casualty and sank, with the loss of all hands.

The loss of Scorpion has been the subject of much speculation, from a Soviet attack,  to an onboard torpedo malfunction, to being rammed by another submarine, etc. The official US Navy Report puts it’s findings as an explosion in the Torpedo room, likely caused by a hot-running torpedo. The truth, however, will probably be never known.

Part of the problem is the depth of the wreckage. Almost 2 miles down, it’s difficult to reach. So far, only two explorations of the wreckage have taken place. The last was by Dr Robert Ballard. Between water and soil samples from around the wreckage, and images and other sensor data, it was shown that despite the number of years on the bottom and the damage incurred, Scorpion’s reactor and two nuclear-tipped Mk 45 torpedoes have not leaked any radiation.

The wreckage itself is interesting. The Bow section, forward of the operations room is intact and separated. The sail is also separate. The stern, aft of the operations room, is also intact, although the after section has telescoped into the engineering spaces. The screw was also knocked off, although laying nearby. The entire operations compartment is missing, likely blown to fragments.

What is apparent is that the submarine likely was flooded prior to it’s implosion, or at least the bow and engineering spaces were.  Otherwise, very little recognizable pieces would have survived.

I had the opportunity, when attending AW “A” school, to listen to the SOSUS tapes of Scorpion’s demise. I can tell you this much: It was VERY difficult to correlate those sounds with other known and identifiable sounds.  Having heard them, and being able to examine only the publicly available official documents and information, I can understand WHY some folks would believe Scorpion was the victim of an attack, vice a mechanical casualty. There are just too many unknowns and secrets still hidden in archives.  1968 was a tense time all around, with East and West still very much at arm’s length during the Cold War.

We’ll likely never know the truth of the incident, but what we can do is remember Scorpion’s crew’s sacrifice, and keep them and their families in our prayers. They were fighting a cold war to protect Western Civilization, and keep the lamp of freedom lit against the darkness of soul-crushing communism.

May God Bless all our shipmates on eternal patrol.

One of the last known images of Scorpion.


17 Responses to “USS Scorpion, SSN 589”

  1. 1 Scott Cochran "Scooter Pie" AW1 Retired
    May 22, 2010 at 20:09

    Thanks Tim for writing this article. You are right, we will never know for sure but my gut tells me it was a “cold war” attack. I am quite surprised there were not any serious “cold war” attacks on the P-3 Orion in the 70’s due to some of the “extreme” ASW ops and some other even higher covert operations you and I and others did on the P-3 that invited an attack. I do remember the soviet ships guns trailing us as we went by and flares being shot at us from time to time from soviet warships and trawlers. We were very fortunate since we were out there in some serious places without any air support whatsoever, not even a relief P-3. I quite often said prayers on those flights. My hat and heart to all those that perished who sacrificed themselves during the cold war.

  2. May 22, 2010 at 20:17

    You are right Scott. There are stories yet to be told, and some that likely never will be. They were heady times, and dangerous times. I’m glad we were young and immortal back then. 🙂

  3. 3 Scott Cochran "Scooter Pie" AW1 Retired
    May 22, 2010 at 20:49

    Found a tribute to the crew of USS Scorpion. Hope everyone will take the time to watch it.

  4. 4 ClarkWard
    May 22, 2010 at 23:48

    The official line that we got in Nuke School is the very vanilla ‘torpedo malfunction’. No idea what the truth of it is, but as bad as Soviet sub sonar was, I’d have a hard time imagining that one got the drop on Scorpion. Then again, it could’ve been one of those tesne close range ‘who blinks’ things, and someone might’ve got a little too excited. Like you, I’m going to go with honoring the sacrifice her crew made in the name of keeping the homeland safe.

    • 5 UltimaRatioRegis
      June 1, 2010 at 22:54

      Direct result of the intelligence breach by John Walker, Jr. Precisely the kind of information that turncoat was supplying to the Soviets.

      • June 2, 2010 at 16:07

        You betcha. There’s a special place in hell for bastards like that. I could understand someone becoming a turncoat if they truly believed in the politics of the other side, if they had the courage of their convictions. I wouldn’t forgive them, but I could understand it.

        The Walkers, though, were in it for the money, and that makes them a special kind of traitor, one for whom no one should ever shed a tear. Those kinds of folks deserve to have their memories, the facts that they ever existed, wiped from the history of our nation, all traces eradicated forever, as if they never existed.

        The Walkers got people killed, in the same way that Hanson did when he sold out the CIA. They can never be forgiven.

  5. 7 ewok40k
    May 23, 2010 at 03:48

    Is it me or Scorpion was really small compared to LA class?

    • May 23, 2010 at 04:00

      The 688 class (Los Angeles) were about 100 feet longer and 10 feet wider than the Skipjack class boats. Almost 7000 tons submerged, versus 3500 tons for Skipjack class.

  6. May 23, 2010 at 21:15

    I recall reading that Dr. Ballard wasn’t prevented from seeking the TITANIC, until he went and did the op that found/photoed the SCORPION.

    Thanks for the memorial on your digital real estate.

  7. 10 virgil xenophon
    May 28, 2010 at 04:42

    Tim, IIRC some REALLY smart and REALLY experienced Navy submariner came to the conclusion that someone had installed an electrical lead to the torp battery backwards, (if a part is capable of being installed backwards it eventually will be) which eventually–can’t recall tech details–caused battery to explode, setting off chain of disasterous events. Ever read that anywhere?

  8. 11 Peter
    November 13, 2010 at 12:38

    We had friends that were lost on that boat so long ago now back in 1968. It is still painful to relive any of this but I am grateful that you did such a wonderful job with this tribute. I do not think I will ever buy the Government’s public conclusion regarding the fate of this valiant crew. We are lied to all the time, and with no good reason. These many years later they should be forthright and give us the real cause of the sinking. Do we really believe that the US Navy did not know that something happened to the Scorpion on May 22 of that year before the June scheduled arrival back in Norfolk? The Navy actually let the families and loved one’s of the crew go to the pier at NOB, in the rain, to meet a ship that was not coming home. For Danny Petersen who we still love dearly, Wally Bishop and Frank Mazzuchi, and all the other crewmen we still mourn your loss and celebrate your brave young lives. The families that you left here will never forget how much you all still mean to so many of us. Peace be to the souls of the men who served and loved us well.

  9. 12 Peter
    May 19, 2011 at 12:29

    Another sad anniversary, 2011, of this dreadful avoidable tragedy. I am still heartsick over the loss of this brave, valiant, handsome young crew and disgusted that we will never know the truth of what really happened. Of course the Government knows. When a country puts it’s citizens in danger, they owe it to the families of those who serve and those who pay the bills to come clean. They are cowards and corrupt and yet they will never diminish the brave young lives and the wonderful spirits that this crew shared with so many of us. I miss you all, still. It is a pain that is never far from my psyche. God Bless the crew of SSN 5891

  10. March 6, 2015 at 05:29

    Thanks for finally writing about >USS Scorpion, SSN 589
    | AW1 Tim’s Blog <Loved it!

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