K-19’s final stop?

You may be familiar with the story of the first Russian nuclear submarine, the ill-fated “K-19”, which had a nuclear accident on board which killed 8 main and others later. K-19 seemed to be one of those boats that was doomed from the start, having deaths that occurred during construction, a failed christening where the champagne bottle didn’t break, as well as all sorts of problems on the trial runs. Wikipedia has a timeline.


K-19 was the subject of a movie  K-19: The Widowmaker (2002), starring Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson, is loosely based on the story of the K-19‘s first disaster. I happened to watch it last night on one of the movie channels on DirecTV and wondered whatever happened to the sub. I decided to go looking.

According to this news report (and others), K-19 was sent to the Nerpa shipyard in Snezhnogorsk, Murmansk Oblast for scrapping:

On 28 March 2002, the K-19 nuclear submarine was sent to the Nerpa Shipyard for dismantlement. The ship was decommissioned and its reactor removed in the 1970s; it has been in Ara Bay since 1990.The ship’s history, which earned it the nickname “Hiroshima,” includes a 1961 reactor accident that killed eight members of the crew, and a 1972 fire that killed another 28. Shortly after the second accident the K-19 was decommissioned from the Northern Fleet. In July 2002, an American movie about the accident, made by National Geographic, will be released, starring Harrison Ford as former Soviet Navy Captain Nikolay Zateyev. [1,2,3]
[1] “Legendaraya podlodka K-19 otpravlena na utilizatsiyu,” Interfax, 28 March 2002.
[2] “Plavuchaya ‘Khirosima’ otpravlena na utilizatsiyu,” Izvestiya, 29 March 2002.
[3] “Nuclear Submarine Sent for Scrapping,” RIA-Novosti, 28 March 2002; in FBIS Document CEP20020328000135. {Entered on 6/19/2002 TM}

I wondered if the boat might be visible in Google Earth via the historical imagery feature. I set about finding out. The first thing I needed to know was what the boat looked like, particularly from the top down view. I located these plans:

Basically a long thin tube, of course every boat from the air looks like that. The trick to being sure would be measurements. In the Wikipedia article, I found what I needed:

Length: 114 m (374 ft 0 in)
Beam: 9.2 m (30 ft 2 in)
Draft: 7.1 m (23 ft 4 in)

Now I set about the task of finding the shipyard. I was able to locate it in Google Earth using the search feature. Doing some online search I found the Nerpa shipyard was located at Snezhnogorsk, Murmansk Oblast, Russia, which I could find in GE at  69.194167°  33.233056°. From there I was able to spot the Nerpa shipyard with the help of a Panoramio image:

Zooming in on the Nerpa shipyard, I started looking through the older imagery. I went on the premise that the shipyard probably could not scrap the boat immediately upon arrival, and given it’s bad karma and radioactive nature, they would likely moor it away from the main facility until they could get to it.

I found one reasonable clear image dated April 30th, 2002 that looked like a good candidate. The shape was right, the conning tower looked right, and no dive planes were visible because the Hotel Class submarines have retractable dive planes to make it easier to moor several boats together without the planes impacting other hulls. Here’s a photo of what is claimed to be K-19 during a towing operation, but I think it is another similar submarine based on the sonar dome at the bow.

Source:  http://www.dynamicscience.com.au/tester/solutions/war/nuclearpower.htm note the slot for the dive planes:

And here. moored, with diving planes retracted:

K19 after her rebuild and bough up to project 701 or HOTEL II standard Date unknown. Source: Subsim Radio Room

Here is K-19 at Gremikha naval base along side other submarines prior to towing in 2002:

Source: Subsim Radio Room

Note in the photo above, the dive planes appear to be retracted.

And here is Gremikha naval base from Google Earth,  68.068431°  39.488358° August 2nd, 2003, note the two boats at the dock missing, one of which was K-19 as shown above:

So the news reports timeline of removal fits the images above.

Finally here is what I think is the K-19 at Nerpa shipyard in April 2002, click to enlarge the image:

The reasoning as to why I think this is the K-19 follows:

  • The timing is right – one month after news reports said it would be there
  • It is away from the main facility – waiting to be scrapped
  • The top down view shape is right
  • No bow planes – retracted for mooring
  • The length (114 meters) is correct, based on Google Earth’s measurement tool
  • There is a hole where the two nuclear reactors would be – they were removed many years before
  • It isn’t there in later photos. News reports and the Submsim Radio Room suggest it was started scrapping by 2005. For that they’d move it from the mooring dock.

Here is the GE measurement view:

Here’s a 2003 news report:

Scrapping of the infamous Russian nuclear submarine K-19 will take place at Nerpa shipyard in Snezhnogorsk, Murmansk region. Bellona, 03/09-2003

And the SubSim Radio Room BBS showing a photo of it being cut up

It seems though, the story has not stopped there. A former conscript who served on the sub, now turned millionaire, bought the remains of the sub before scrapping got too far along:

The submarine – the USSR’s first underwater nuclear vessel – was scrapped in 2003, some 13 years after it was taken out of service. Mr Romanov has bought the main section of the submarine, including its conning tower which will now be painstakingly repaired.

“I will get it restored by September and then it will be moved to near Moscow and put back in the water. Around it we will build a club for submarine veterans with a little hotel for them to stay in.”


And finally, bad luck seems to follow even the movie version of the K-19, which was a tourist attraction in Providence, RI, but was sunk in a storm in 2007.

Then it was raised, then scrapped, then caught fire.


April 2007 Providence Journal photo / Bill Murphy

More photos here.

Military Teams Raise Sunken Russian Sub Museum

AP July 25: This photo shows former Soviet submarine Juliett 484 coming to the surface of the Providence River in Providence, R.I.


Soviet Sub

When most attractions close for good, it happens quietly. Not so for the Juliett 484. The Soviet Sub that starred in “K-19: The Widowmaker,” and then went on to become a tourist attraction in Providence Harbor — until it was sunk by a freak storm in 2007 — was raised to surface and was being scrapped in the nearby Providence River when it caught fire. Three fire boats were needed to extinguish the smokey flames of the burning sub, only a few hundred feet offshore. Residual oil in the sub’s bilges was blamed. [RoadsideAmerica.com Team, 03/26/2011]

Remains of Russian sub catch fire


While the movie version seems to be finally gone, we await the original K-19 showing up with bad karma again someplace at the behest of the Russian millionaire.

, , ,

  1. #1 by Auto on May 15, 2011 - 11:43 am

    Fascinating – good work, Mr W..

  2. #2 by Robert of Ottawa on May 15, 2011 - 12:30 pm

    What is it about submarines labelled “K”?

    The British K class submarines, designed in the first world war, was likewise a disasterous series. They were steam powered (a British eccentricity). K-19 was converted to “M2”, with a hangar for a seaplane (yes, really) and sank in 1932 off Portland with the loss of 60 hands. It is now a dive site.

  3. #3 by Bill Batt on May 15, 2011 - 5:56 pm

    WW I submarines had gasoline engines (major fire hazard) and lead-acid batteries (seawater and sulphuric acid create chlorine gas) (charging batteries create hydrogen gas).
    Working out the bugs in any very expensive experimental prototype can take a very long time.
    Think about the shuttle spacecraft.

  4. #4 by Chris on May 16, 2011 - 1:33 am

    You may want to check out some of the History tagged articles on English Russia – they have been looking at old military bases in the old USSR for quite a while including where the old monster subs went.


  5. #5 by Trishia on December 5, 2012 - 12:55 am

    Thank you very much for this article. I just watched K-19 Widowmaker for the 50th time and it is a fascinating film (albeit altered from fact) about a horrendous, frightening and tragic incident. To all who served on her, may they never be forgotten. This film does for nuclear submarines what Das Boat did for Uboats. A must see film.

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  7. #7 by Daniel on April 3, 2014 - 8:30 pm

    I enjoy watching the film every night cause it show’s a submarine crew fighting to save not only themselves but their ship. only they had NBC (nuclear,biological,chemical) suits some of the crew might still be alive today. R.I.P K19 AND CREW.

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    I enjoy watching
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  15. #15 by Bonesaw on June 16, 2016 - 6:51 pm

    Great job and post! Made me curious to continue looking for it after 2002. After it was moved from the location in your 2002 GoogleEarth (GE) photo, it actually shows back up south of there at the Hepna Dock (GE image dtd 6/10/2005, LAT69.213967 LON33.288304. Then, a month later, it is still there but sandwiched in between a couple of vessels. The measurements and proportions match your 2002 image including the hole for the reactor vessels. After that, I didn’t see it again.

  16. #16 by Thomas on June 18, 2017 - 6:23 pm

    Just so everyone knows; k-19 was not the first nuclear powered submarine in the Russian Navy. Early inthe article is states as much. K-19 was the first Russian nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine. K-3 was the first nuclear powered submarine inthe Soviet Navy and its hull was laid the same year the Nautilus was launched.

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