English television correspondent Moore crafts a fast-paced, absorbing account of the 2000 sinking of the Russian submarine Kursk and the political intrigues that followed.
The Kursk was a wonder of naval architecture, a giant displacing 23,000 tons and designed to hunt down and destroy aircraft carriers and elude detection by sonar. Commanded by a legendary sailor, it was held by its designers to be unsinkable. Vessels that are not supposed to sink always do, of course, though the Kursk’s fate was particularly gruesome: leaking hydrogen peroxide inside a torpedo casing apparently set off a massive explosion that ripped the guts of the submarine apart. Many sailors were killed immediately, while others drowned as the vessel sank to the floor of the Barents Sea and slowly filled with seawater. Some crewmembers survived but could not escape or make their whereabouts known; the vessel’s emergency buoy had been disabled lest it “accidentally deploy and reveal the sub’s position to Western naval forces,” Moore writes, and few of its safety mechanisms worked. By his account, Western observers had been following the Kursk all along as the Russian ship participated in naval exercises, which made it easy enough for the Western powers to offer to join in rescue efforts. The Russian admiralty was reluctant to accept due to nationalistic pride, fear that military secrets might be given away, and embarrassment that it could not take care of its own emergencies, having starved the navy of an adequate search-and-rescue service. (Moore writes that in 1999 the Northern Fleet requested a million dollars to fund such a service, but was given only fourteen thousand.) In the end, survivors of the explosion having since drowned, it was a combined group of Russian, Norwegian, and English sailors who found the Kursk’s remains, to the deep embarrassment of the Putin government.
A fine job of reporting—and a good read for Tom Clancy fans and students of contemporary world politics alike.