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.