World War 3: How US risked ‘all-out war’ after horrendous nuclear blunder at sea

The incident happened on March 21, 1984, at the height of the Cold War, after the US vessel entered the Sea of Japan to participate in a series of classified drills known as Team Spirit-84. The appearance of such a powerful carrier not far from the Soviet Far East could not go unnoticed by the USSR’s Pacific Fleet and so the submarine K-314 was ordered to follow. The sub started following Kitty Hawk on March 14, and a game of cat and mouse ensued until bad weather caused the K-314 to lose track of its target on March 20.

A series of shocking events then unfolded, historian Lance Geiger revealed on his YouTube channel “The History Guy”.

He said in 2019: “In this tense environment, just a month after the death of Soviet premier Yuri Andropov an event occurred that could have sparked all-out war.

“A Soviet nuclear submarine collided with an American aircraft carrier.

“Some experts suggest the Kitty Hawk had made an abrupt course change, or was engaging in a deceptive lighting exercise so the ship would look like the guided-missile cruiser USS Long Beach.

An event occurred that could have sparked all-out war

Lance Geiger

“While such operations would have been intended to confuse surface ships, it may have also confused the K-314, having lost his target, the captain decided to bring the K-314 to periscope depth.

“When he looked through the periscope, he was stunned to see they were on a collision course with Kitty Hawk.”

Mr Geiger went on to reveal how the two vessels collided.

He added: “He immediately ordered the submarine to dive, but it was already too late.

“At approximately 10pm, some 150 miles off the coast of Korea, in rough seas, the nuclear powered and armed Soviet submarine collided with the nuclear-armed carrier USS Kitty Hawk.

“The K-314 apparently rolled over as it dragged, losing ballast control, throwing the crew around rather violently, but might have saved the conning-tower communications.

“The collision could have been much worse, it was a glancing blow off the right side of Kitty Hawk’s bow.

“The second strike happened when the submarine’s propeller struck the hull of the Kitty Hawk, breaking off a piece that was left in the Kitty Hawk’s bow.”

The event risked World War 3 due to the heightened tensions between both the superpowers at the time and either of them could have easily have used it as an excuse to attack.

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But Mr Geiger revealed how the US Navy actually offered to help.

He added: “The submarine was forced to surface and the Kitty Hawk immediately launched a pair of SH3 seeking helicopters to render assistance.

“The submarine appeared to have a dent or crease between its stern and sail and reported moving at five knots towards the Soviet naval base at Vladivostok, while the cruiser Petropavlovsk steamed to the submarines assistance.

“The submarine did not answer the Kitty Hawk’s offers of assistance, nor did it request, but the Kitty Hawk remained for approximately two hours in order to be available in case it needed to render assistance.”

Although the outcome was rather minor, Mr Geiger admitted it could have been far worse. 

He added: “The damage to both ships was eventually described as minor and both fleets kept the event from escalating into something much larger. 

“But certainly a Soviet nuclear submarine running into a nuclear-armed US aircraft carrier at the height of the Cold War was an event that was fraught with danger.

“There could have been a significant loss of life.”

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