35 years ago today, 680 miles NE of Bermuda, the Soviet Yankee 1-class ballistic missile submarine K-219 was on patrol when seawater leaked into a missile tube, triggering an explosion of the missile's volatile liquid fuel that killed three sailors and crippled the submarine.
Under very dangerous conditions, the crew managed to shut down the submarine's reactors and stabilize it. Captain Igor Britanov was ordered to have the K-219 towed by freighter 4,300 miles to its homeport of Gadzhiyevo (near Murmansk), but it flooded and sank three days later.
The K-219's two reactors, 16 SLBMs, and 32-48 warheads sank 18,000 feet to the bottom of the Hatteras Abyssal Plain. In 1988, the Soviet research ship Keldysh found the sub upright but broken in two. Several missile hatches were open and the missiles and warheads were missing.
The 1997 made-for-television movie "Hostile Waters" (based on the book of the same name) dramatized this accident, showing a US submarine colliding with the K-219 to trigger the leak—a claim the Soviet Union made in 1986 that was disputed by the US Navy and Captain Britanov.
In 2001, Britanov sued Warner Brothers Studio, arguing they had not asked his permission to portray him, and that the story was inaccurate and made him appear incompetent. Three years later, the court awarded Britanov a settlement of less than $100,000.
The K-219 accident happened just over five months after the catastrophic reactor explosion at Chernobyl. Top secret minutes of a Politburo meeting published in 2016 reveal the Soviets learned critical lessons from that disaster, especially not to deny it. nsarchive.gwu.edu/briefing-book/…
On October 6, 1986, the Politburo discussed the intelligence value of the submarine if the United States attempted to salvage it. Deputy Defense Minister and Commander in Chief of the Soviet Navy Admiral Vladimir N. Chernavin told the Politburo this posed no serious concerns:
It's unknown whether the United States retrieved some SLBMs and their nuclear warheads from the K-219, but there was precedent. In 1974, the CIA used the purpose-built Hughes Glomar Explorer to secretly raise another sunken Soviet missile sub in the Pacific Ocean, the K-129.

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More from @AtomicAnalyst

1 Oct
OTD in 1975, the Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex at Nekoma, North Dakota, became fully operational, defending Minuteman ICBMs at Minot AFB with 30 Spartan (armed with 5-Mt W71 warheads) and 70 Sprint (armed with 1-kt W66 enhanced radiation warheads) antiballistic missiles. Image
Less than two months later, word leaked that the Army planned to deactivate Safeguard, days after Congress had voted to immediately shut it down, citing its growing ineffectiveness against Soviet MIRVs. By January 1976, only the site’s phased-array radar remained operational. ImageImageImage
Republican Mark Andrews—North Dakota's lone representative—bravely voted for the shutdown: “Because this ABM site does not have defense capability in today’s technology, it does not make much sense for me to…argue for [it] just because the expenditure happens to be in my State.” Image
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30 years ago tonight, Pres. George H.W. Bush ordered the unilateral elimination of all land-based US nuclear weapons in Europe and S. Korea, all naval tactical nuclear weapons, the end of ground alert for all bombers, and the immediate de-alerting of all 450 Minuteman II ICBMs.
This sweeping move—which was fully supported by US military leaders—was unprecedented and came as a complete surprise to almost everyone. “America must lead again as it always has, as only it can,” said President Bush. Here's why he announced these dramatic changes when he did:
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This memorable episode aired less than two months after President John F. Kennedy—in a nationally-televised speech as the Berlin crisis rapidly escalated—urged Americans to start making plans for fallout shelters to save themselves and their families in case of a nuclear attack.
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Tonight in 1980 at Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota, the number five engine on the right wing of a B-52H on ground alert caught fire during a drill. The aircraft was loaded with 8 Short-Range Attack Missiles (armed with 170-200-kt W69 warheads) and 4 B28 bombs (70 kt to 1.45 Mt).
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