USS Scorpion (SSN 589)
USS Scorpion (SSN 589) was a nuclear-powered submarine of the Skipjack-class, and the sixth vessel in the United States Navy to bear the name; she also bears the distinction of being the second such submarine lost in as yet unclear circumstances in the Atlantic Ocean while returning home from deployment in 1968.
Scorpion (SSN-589) was laid down on 20 August 1958 by the Electric Boat Division, General Dynamics Corporation in Groton, Connecticut. She was launched on 19 December 1959; sponsored by Mrs. Elizabeth S. Morrison; and commissioned on 29 July 1960, Commander Norman B. Bessac in command.
Assigned to Submarine Squadron 6, Division 62, Scorpion departed New London, Conn., on 24 August for a two-month deployment in European waters. During that period, she participated in exercises with units of the 6th Fleet and of other NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) navies. After returning to New England in late October, she trained along the eastern seaboard until May 1961, then crossed the Atlantic again for operations which took her into the summer. On 9 August, she returned to New London and, a month later, shifted to Norfolk, Va.
With Norfolk her home port for the remainder of her career, Scorpion specialized in the development of nuclear submarine warfare tactics. Varying her role from hunter to hunted, she participated in exercises which ranged along the Atlantic coast and in the Bermuda and Puerto Rican operating areas; then, from June 1963 to May 1964, she interrupted her operations for an overhaul at Charleston, South Carolina. Resuming duty off the eastern seaboard in late spring, she again interrupted that duty from 4 August to 8 October to make a transatlantic patrol. In the spring of 1965, she conducted a similar patrol in European waters.
During the late winter and early spring of 1966, and again in the fall, she was deployed for special operations. Following the completion of those assignments, her commanding officer received the Navy Commendation Medal for outstanding leadership, foresight, and professional skill. Other Scorpion officers and men were cited for meritorious achievement.
On 1 February 1967, Scorpion entered the Norfolk Naval Shipyard for another extended overhaul. In late October, she commenced refresher training and weapons system acceptance tests. Following type training out of Norfolk, she got underway on 15 February 1968 for a Mediterranean deployment. She operated with the 6th Fleet, into May, and then headed west for home. On 21 May, she indicated her position to be about 50 miles south of the Azores. Six days later, she was reported overdue at Norfolk.
A search was initiated, but, on 5 June, Scorpion and her crew were declared "presumed lost." Her name was struck from the Navy list on 30 June.
Discovery of the wreck
The search continued, however; and, at the end of October, the Navy's oceanographic research ship, Mizar (T-AGOR-11) located sections of Scorpion's hull in more than 10,000 feet of water about 400 miles southwest of the Azores. Subsequently, the Court of Inquiry was reconvened and other vessels, including the submersible Trieste were dispatched to the scene and collected a myriad of pictures and other data.
Although the cause of her loss is still not ascertainable, the most probable event was the inadvertent activation of the battery of a Mark 37 torpedo during a torpedo inspection. The torpedo, in a fully ready condition and without a propeller guard, then began a live "hot run" within the tube. Alternatively, the torpedo may have exploded in the tube owing to an uncontrollable fire in the torpedo room.
The explosion—recorded elsewhere as a very loud acoustic event—broke the boat into two major pieces, with the forward hull section, including the torpedo room and most of the operations compartment, creating one impact trench while the aft section, including the reactor compartment and engine room, created a second impact trench. The sail is detached and lies nearby in a large debris field.
Owing to the pressurized-water nuclear reactor in the engine room, deep ocean radiological monitoring operations were conducted in August and September 1986. The site had been previously monitored in 1968 and 1979 and none of the samples obtained showed any evidence of release of radioactivity.
Bermuda Triangle connection
Several authors have added the loss of the sub to the list of victims of the Bermuda Triangle, despite the fact that the sub sank well outside the Triangle's traditional boundaries. One author (Limbo of the Lost) had even "stretched" the apex of the Triangle to cover the site of the sinking; he as well as the others who placed the sub within their books added the level of mystery the Triangle story required; indeed, the loss of the sub still has explanations with are to this date still unknown. But to include Scorpion as a victim of the paranormal that is the hallmark of the Bermuda Triangle tale is seen as a disservice to the families of the crew, as well as the Navy as a whole.
One issue that gained ground during the 1980's was the allegation that the Scorpion was sunk after being discovered by a Soviet flotilla, which the sub had been given a message to divert from her homeward course and shadow. Author Peter Earley postulated that in 1968 Naval communications were being read with ease, courtesy of a U.S. Navy warrant officer-turned-spy named John Walker. Although sinking by the Soviets was, and remains, unproven, Walker did serious damage to the Navy and his country. Top secret code books, code keys, and messages were stolen by him and passed along to the Soviets for nearly 20 years before being caught in 1985. One of new communications machines he gave information of in 1968 was onboard USS Pueblo, which was seized by North Korea soon after Walker began his spying.
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