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By Clyde Burleson
Warner BooksCopyright © 2002 Clyde Burleson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE BEAUTY
SHE WAS A BEAUTY. THERE WAS NO OTHER WORD. SHE SAT wide and low in the water, her curving hull a black that absorbed rather than reflected the soft Arctic summer sunlight. She was a leviathan of the deep, made by the hands of man to live under the sea. Here was a dark angel of death, a wreaker of havoc, bringer of war and destruction.
Those who served on her revered her. Some also feared her, because of her power and great size.
Although larger than most ships, submarines are traditionally called boats. This boat was named K-141 or the Kursk-not a graceful title for a lady of her breeding. But the Russian Navy is more practical than poetic. And the city of Kursk, grateful for the honor, has a heroic past.
She'd first been christened Project 949A. Carefully conceived, she was a vastly improved enlargement of an earlier model. K-141 was one of the biggest nuclear attack submarines in the world.
Her design was radical. She had a double hull. The outer shell, called the superstructure, gave the boat its distinctive oval shape.
Covered with a rubberlike polymer that slicked the surface to add silence and more speed underwater, she had a dark, wet sheen as opposed to the dry look of paint on metal.
Between the superstructure and the inner hull was a space of some 7 to 12 feet. A thousand miles of wiring, hydraulic tubing, piping, and bracing, filled this cavity. Here, too, 24 cruise missiles were stored in their ready-to- launch tubes. Submerged and hiding in the depths, K-141 could rip-fire a salvo of atomic warheads that doomed targets over 600 miles away.
The inner hull encapsulated the living part of the vessel with crew, controls, and nuclear reactors. Each compartment of the Kursk had three or four decks and housed a specific function. Watertight doors separated every section.
The design team planned the double hull to make her a hardier lady. They wanted her to be able to withstand a direct hit by a conventional enemy torpedo or depth charge. To reflect their intent, they dubbed her "unsinkable!" K-141 was laid down in 1992 at the yards in Severodvinsk, a famed shipbuilding town on the Beloye More or White Sea. Skilled craftsmen cut and shaped each steel plate. Every centimeter of every weld was tested, every joint pressure-checked and x-rayed. Form followed function and beauty emerged. The boat's function was devastation. Therefore, the beauty was tinged with subdued violence.
Launched in 1994, she was almost 500 feet long and nearly 60 feet wide. Lying still, her bottom reached some 30 feet beneath the cold water. The line of her vast curving deck was broken by a large sail or conning tower bearing the proud red and gold symbol of the Russian Navy. Jutting upward from the sail, like shining lances, were slender radio masts, periscopes, and air intakes.
At the rear, her huge rudder reached clear of the water, hinting at the boat's enormous maneuverability.
Submerged, she was home. She could remain down for 120 days, traveling at a speed of 28 knots, and dive to depths approaching 3,000 feet. When running, she hummed and the twin propellers made a distinctive cavitation sound. When hiding, she could lie still and silent, defying detection.
K-141 was the best of her sisters. There was pride in those assigned to the other boats. Those who served on the Kursk were reverent. They knew and sensed her superiority. An indescribable feeling ran through her many corridors, compartments, and decks. It was as though the iron that formed her was special-as if she were made of steel from meteorites, the metal fallen to earth after being forged by a journey through space.
While her destructive power might have had many uses in time of war, she was created for one purpose- to hunt and sink aircraft carriers. Hers was a daunting assignment. She had to avoid the protective cordon of ships ringing her prey, slip quietly past opposing submarines, attain a launch position for her torpedoes or missiles, and make her kill.
She had been built for that moment, armed for that moment, her crew trained for that moment. It was her destiny. Or so her creators, and those who served aboard K-141, believed.
Excerpted from Kursk Down! by Clyde Burleson Copyright ©2002 by Clyde Burleson. Excerpted by permission.
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