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There are books and articles about the Soviet submarine K-129 and the USS Scorpion in 1968, with various stories of attempted nuclear attacks and reprisals. Is there a factual narrative about these events (or non-events, if that's the case)?

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2 Answers 2

The original source for the stories you heard is apparently the book "Scorpion Down" by Ed Offley. The book's statements are questionable to say the least and this book review makes a good point.

I checked what the Russian sources say about K-129. This 2008 interview with Viktor A. Dygalo, the commander of the division that K-129 belonged to, covers this topic among others and should be as close to the truth as one can get (at least on the Russian side):

  • The Russian side doesn't know for sure what sunk the submarine but suspects that Americans (who managed to raise it six years later even though the Russian search couldn't find the submarine) know the reason.
  • The most likely theory is that K-129 unintentionally collided with a US submarine. The suspect is USS Swordfish that had to be repaired a few days later. Photos of the submarine supposedly indicate a collision as well.

Obviously, the American side denies involvement of the USS Swordfish in the accident - supposedly it was damaged in an ice pack and wasn't even close to the area in question. But a retaliation by Soviets would have been a reasonable assumption - if there were any convincing evidence to support this theory. As it stands now, there are many speculations about these two incidents but not much linking them together.

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if the Soviets had any evidence a US ship was involved in the sinking of one of their ships they'd have made a major stink, fact they didn't is enough to show they didn't have any such evidence. They would obviously think it (they were that paranoid), but no more. See what happened to the Kursk decades later, there they openly blamed the west without any evidence whatsoever and were made to look massively foolish. –  jwenting Jun 14 '13 at 7:01
@jwenting The Soviets couldn't have made a big fuss about K-129 even if they had evidence a US ship was involved, as K-129 sunk in a part of the Pacific that she had absolutely no reason to be. There would be no way for them to (publicly) accuse the US without raising a lot of questions about K-129's mission and presence in the area. –  Yannis Rizos Jun 18 '13 at 5:37
@YannisRizos "absolutely no reason" doesn't apply in international waters, which are by definition free to the transit of all vessels, military or civilian. Unless the sub was in someone's territorial waters (or maybe a declared and recognised ADIZ) it could go where it pleased and nobody can legally tell it it has no business there. –  jwenting Jun 18 '13 at 5:42
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Each of these submarines were sunk in separate incidents, so I wanted to make sure that anyone seeing this understood that these two were not directly involved with one another in any form of conflict. The Soviet sub K-129 was sunk a few weeks prior to the loss of the USS Scorpion, and some theories suggest that the Scorpion was sunk in retaliation for the loss of the K-129.

I found a rather extensive discussion on the USS Scorpion which provides another theory. It appears that the Scorpion was sent out of her way to spy on Soviet naval operations off the coast of Africa. There are some who believe that the Soviets discovered the Scorpion and followed her before deciding to sink her.

Ultimately, this article summarizes that both the US and the USSR agreed to cover up the details of the sinking of both submarines to prevent the outbreak of war. It seems highly likely that this was indeed the case.

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Ah, the article you link to is written by the same Ed Offley that I mention in my answer. Looks like he is the only one who believes his theory... –  Wladimir Palant Nov 16 '11 at 22:17
This is very unlikely that the Soviets would sink an US submarine even in retaliation. It was very much contrary to the ideology. On the other hand I suspect that the US could assault the Soviet submarine just to test the weapons or something the like. –  Anixx Jun 6 '12 at 14:14
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