The Ekaterinburg fire: the plot thickens?

I just came across an interesting post at the Barents Observer, which makes the argument that the Ekaterinburg fire started in the torpedo compartment, rather than on the submarine’s exterior. This is based on visual analysis of photos posted by a local blogger in the Murmansk area. I don’t have permission to cross-post the photos, so I urge those who might have expertise in this area to go look at the photos and accompanying discussion.

The argument, in brief, is that the rubber outer covering of the submarine, which is what supposedly burned, does not appear in post-fire photos to have sustained much damage. Instead, the fire may have started near the hydro-acoustic apparatus that is located inside the outer hull. Again, I have no idea whether this argument makes any sense or not, as I’m neither an expert on firefighting nor on submarine construction. But it’s worth at least noting the rumors circulating in the Russian internet, which also include the possibility that torpedoes had not been offloaded. Here’s a good summary of the alternative version of what happened during the fire.

Finally, one other question: If there was a 4×4 meter hole in the submarine, as seems fairly clear from the first of the Barents Observer photos, then what happened to the submarine’s interior when the sub was submerged in order to put out the fire? At the very least, it would seem to me that the torpedo compartment must have sustained extensive salt water damage, no?

Anyway, I’m not one to hold to conspiracy theories, so I will assume that the official version of events is the one most likely to be true, unless there’s good evidence to the contrary. But it’s worth knowing that other explanations are floating around.


5 thoughts on “The Ekaterinburg fire: the plot thickens?

  1. The conspiracy that the fire started in the torpedo room or the Sonar doesn’t make much sense… especially if the torpedo room was supposedly loaded with torpedoes.

    I think what happened to the Kursk shows what happens to any sub with an uncontrolled fire in their torpedo room… and I can tell you that one didn’t burn for 9 hours.

    Very simply a Delta IV class sub is covered in a rubber and synthetic material similar in appearance to car tyres. There is an outer hull several centimetres thick made of steel, and then there is a cavity that is up to 2 metres wide between the inner hull and the outer hull that is normally filled with a whole lot more of that sound dampening stuff.

    In other words it is like a pile of car tires… if that sort of thing catches fire on land it is generally left to burn as almost nothing will put the damn stuff out.

    It would burn hot and would certainly damage the outer hull and the inner hull would sustain serious heat damage as would things inside the hull adjacent to the fire… so the sonar would likely largely be destroyed… just as your home computer would be destroyed if you put it in your oven at max temperature for 6-7 hours.

    There would likely be serious damage to all compartments in the front of the sub and that includes the Torpedo room.

    That makes sense where the fire starts from the outside… note the material covering the sonar is different and does not have steel inner or outer hulls or sound dampning material.

    To suggest the fire started in the Torpedo room begs the question… why wasn’t it put out straight away like any other fire in a torpedo room?

    If the torpedo room had no torpedoes then the fire should have been controllable and put out fairly rapidly… they will train to do this all the time at sea.

    The only way an uncontrollable fire could break out in the torpedo room would be if it was full of torpedoes… so then the question becomes if the fire got out of control and was intense enough to burn through the steel inner hull and the 2 metres of thick rubber/synthetic material similar to car tires, plus several cms of outer steel hull and the outer layer of sound dampening material… why didn’t any of the torpedo warheads explode? The record of the Kursk showed an explosion… likely of HTP propellent starting a fire and then minutes later an enormous explosion that was considered to be several of the torpedo warheads detonating… blowing out the fire but structurally weakening the hull and letting sea water flood in to put out the fire permanently.

    Note explosive will simply burn if ignited, so to set off an explosion you need a detonator. Torpedoes have detonators but also have safeties to prevent warhead detonations until the torpedo is prepared for use. The detonator contains low explosive which creates an explosion that sets off the high explosive. If ti quite likely that the faulty torpedo was responsible for both explosions as the propellent (HTP) or hydrogen peroxide creates intense heat, water in the form of superhot steam, and pure oxygen. It was likely a release of HTP that started a fire and eventually detonated that torpedoes warhead. If one torpedo warhead explosion sank the Kursk then a torpedo room full of torpedoes burning for 9 hours should have obliterated the whole vessel as the first torpedo exploding would not have blown a hole for the sea to come in and put out the fire, so as the fire raged all the other torpedoes would have exploded too… likely in rapid succession.

  2. >>what happened to the submarine’s interior when the sub was submerged in order to put out the fire?

    Um. Nothing?

    The sonar chamber is flooded with seawater when the submarine is underway and is drained when the submarine is in a floating dock.

  3. I think the suggestion is that sea water might damage equipment in the torpedo room.

    Of course the threat of leaks due to battle damage or accidents means that most navies regularly flood various compartments on subs with sea water and get the crew in those compartments to take action to stop the water flooding in and them pump out the section. For this reason most of the interior is waterproof and painted to protect it from sea water.

    Another emergency situation is fires… which they will generally put out with sea water on most submarines.

    Very simply they will have closed off as many internal doors on the sub as they could and then flooded the slipway… which would have taken several hours as they are moving an enormous amount of water to fill it.

    The Sonar and likely torpedo room will have flooded, but the heat from the fire will have done all of the damage… very simply once the fire was out and the burning parts cooled by the water the time it would take to then remove the water from the slipway and inspect the damage the salt water will not have had much time to do any damage at all… except perhaps anything that has been burnt away to expose material that can be damaged by water, but such things will likely need to be replaced anyway.

    The heat will likely have warped racks and walls and tubes and things that will need replacing, but compared to the cost of a new SSBN it will be cheap.

    They might even take the opportunity to put in a newer sonar array and improve its performance a bit.

  4. >>I think the suggestion is that sea water might damage equipment in the torpedo room.

    Whoever suggested that has no f–cking clue about submarines then.

    The technological cut-out was in the hydroacoustic chamber sidewall, which is made of synthetic polymer (and hence easy to breach during collision). The chamber is separate from the rest of the submarine compartments. The only thing located there is sonar antenna and connecting cables. The torpedo room is located about 7 m aft.

  5. Likbez for those who want something more visual:

    This is a cut-away of the Delta III. There are some important differences from a Delta IV, but you can get an idea of the things being discussed here. Number 1 is the sonar chamber. Number 10 is the torpedo room.

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